The Visitors’ View

January 8, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Christmas, Deacon Barry, Eucharist, Faith, Joy, Sacraments

The Epiphany of the Lord
January 8, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 60:1-6 / Ps 72 / Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 / Mt 2:1-12
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist

At 8:22 PM on November 23, 1949, a bright light appeared in the Blue Ridge.  It flickered on and off for a few seconds, just before lighting up for good.  There were two hundred twenty-five mayors from all the surrounding areas who traveled from afar to watch and witness this spectacle, along with many locals and media.  Originally meant to be just a seasonal Christmas decoration, it has become a symbol of the region and one of the most recognized icons in Virginia, as well as one of the most photographed.  I’m talking about the Roanoke star.  It attracts visitors from all over to walk beneath its paths and to relax while enjoying the incredible view.

My family moved back to the area in 1994.  I have to confess that even though this star is so attractive and draws so many visitors from all over, I had not gone up to see the Roanoke star until 2015, some twenty-one years later.  What drew me there then was a high school graduation party we had for our oldest son.  We thought it would be a great place for our out-of-town guests to come and get an iconic view of what it is like here.  They were coming from New Jersey, New York, Richmond, and numerous other places.

It’s funny how we tend to take things for granted, like the incredible gifts available to enjoy right in our own backyards, like the Roanoke star, the Peaks of Otter, and from where I grew up, the mighty New River, Smith Mountain Lake, D-Day Memorial, Appomattox Courthouse and many others.  Very often, it takes out-of-town guests, outsiders, to illuminate this beauty and joy.  Outsiders, coming from afar, like the Magi in the Epiphany story we’re celebrating today, help us recognize the gifts around us every day.

We can become a little like the chief priests and scribes in the gospel today, because they had this beautiful thing occurring, but they had become complacent.  They had become bland and comfortable in their situation there in Jerusalem with their own things to do, their own busy-ness.  Herod probably didn’t care a whole lot about the Jewish religion and prophecies, but those around him were steeped in Hebrew scriptures, especially of the prophets, and Herod had access to that.  They all would have known the prophecy of the coming Messiah.  They knew that Bethlehem was to be the location of this future ruler.  They knew of the glory and joy about to come in this future leader, a savior, the Messiah.

This knowledge, however, wasn’t urgent or important.  The scribes knew about Jesus, but they did not seek Him.  It took out-of-town visitors, out-of-town guests talking about a rising star, to illuminate for them this new beauty and joy to be given to the world.  These Magi, astrologers, wise men gazing at the stars, looking at their charts, sought Jesus without really knowing, like the scribes did, who He was.  The scribes missed Him entirely.  They took Him for granted, even eventually becoming critical and working against the Messiah.

We, too, can become complacent and comfortable, even to the point of ignoring and criticizing lots of great things in our lives.  When guests come around, however, we see things anew.  That’s human nature.  It happens to all of us.  We become complacent and self-satisfied, missing what is important, even when it’s right in front of our eyes.

This happens with our faith life, in our church, with our faith, our doctrines, and in our own parish.  Sometimes it takes outsiders coming in, guests coming to visit, or people interested in RCIA, to bring out the noble and humble welcoming parish that we want to be.

We notice, then, that sometimes we don’t see what is important.  We can get to where we argue, complain, or just go about our busy-ness, forgetting Who is here, Who has come and why.  When a visitor comes asking questions, seeking illumination, then our light begins to stutter and flicker.  Then our love of Christ, His Church, and this parish begin glowing and we begin to brag about her, like we do of our children.  We forget about our dislikes and disagreements.  In a parish that could be disagreements about decorations, music, homilies, etc.  Instead, we beam with the honor of serving such a wonderful and loving king as our Jesus is and we are happy to share our love of Him and His Church, and our parish.  We forget about her human flaws, and we see more clearly her mission.

No matter where you are, visiting anywhere in the world, your parish is home, where the important thing, the reason the Church exists, the reason we are all here, comes.  We are here for an encounter with Him, our Lord and Savior, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Every time we are at Mass and participate in the Eucharist and any of the sacraments, we have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  That encounter is attractive, effective, beautiful, and joyful every single time.  We want to cherish it, savor it, and make it last.

The Epiphany story gives us a subtle clue of what life is like once you have this encounter with Jesus, once you truly let yourself go and let sink in the significance of that encounter.  It becomes your own Epiphany.  Afterwards, nothing is the same.  You find that your journey has been altered.  The journey of the Magi was altered as well.  After their encounter with the baby Jesus, they departed for their country in a completely different way.  Life was different.  Their trajectory, your trajectory, is different.  Everything is different.  Your new path is illuminated now by Jesus.  You are carrying with you a light to shine upon others.  (“Shine upon” is an ancient meaning of the word, epiphany.). You are carrying a light to shine upon others.  You are the epiphany.

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Our Mother

January 1, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Blessings, Christmas, Faith, Family, Father Nixon, Life, Love, Mary, Trust

The Octave Day of Christmas
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Ps 67 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

During the Christmas season, the image of the Most Holy Virgin Mary with her child comes readily to mind.  We see this image in all Nativity things, right in front of us, and in many other places, on many Christmas cards or postcards that we receive from our families or friends.  It should also be in our hearts.

We have come together here today as a family of God on this first day of the New Year.  We celebrate the maternity of Mary, the event around which this feast is celebrated.  As we start the New Year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, thus reminding us of our other mother:  of course, Mother Mary.

When a child is in danger, it will instinctively call out, “Mom” or “Mama.”  That’s because the essence of being a mother is care, love, help, support, and concern for her children.  As a Jewish proverb puts it succinctly, “God cannot be everywhere, so he created mothers.”

As we commemorate this solemn feast, the Church has for us these brief reminders.  In the year 431 AD, the Council of Ephesus, an ecumenical council of bishops of the Catholic Church, settled whether Mary was to be called “Mother of Christ” – Christotokos, implying Jesus is merely human, or “Mother of God” – Theotokos.  The Council decided on the title Theotokos, Mother of God, for Mary.  The Council said that Mary is rightfully the Mother of God, therefore affirming the divinity of Christ.

In the Bible, the very first person to refer to Mary as the Mother of God is her own cousin, Elizabeth, who said in a loud voice, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  There is nothing wrong with invoking Mary with the title “Mother of God.”

So what do we mean when we invoke Mary as the Mother of God?  When we say Mary is the Mother of God, we do not mean that from all eternity, our God took His Godship from Mary, or that Mary is the source of the Godship of Jesus.  As the Catholic Church teaches us, Jesus Christ was eternally begotten by God, Light from Light, True God from True God, eternally begotten by the Father.  It means that Mary did not give Jesus Christ His Godship; Mary only gave birth to the humanity of Jesus Christ.

However, right from the moment of conception, the baby in the womb of Mary was truly God and truly man at the same time.  Therefore, the baby born from the womb of Mary is God and man.  Mary gave birth to God and man.  When we say Mary is the Mother of God, it does not mean that she gave Godship to Jesus; it only means that Jesus was God right from her womb.

Saint Thomas added to this by asking, “Do mothers beget bodies or persons?”  As one priest asked, “Do our mothers merely give birth to our bodies, or to ourselves as persons?”  As people, of course.  Thus, Mary conceived in her womb the Son of God, not just His human nature, but His divine nature as well.

If we look at the attitude of the mother, it is very beautiful.  At the start, when she still bears the child in her womb, she must take care of herself, in order that the child is not in danger.  She can’t sleep at night, because she watches the child sleep.  As the child goes to school, she’s the one preparing the provisions.

But on the other hand, the womb of the mother becomes a battlefield or war zone, the worst enemy of the unborn, defenseless child.  The enemies of the unborn child are many:  abortion, artificial birth control, cigarette smoking, drinking hard liquor, and many more.  That is why the child, while still in the womb of the mother, experiences rejection, insecurity, human rights violations, and lack of love from the parents.  This is not so of Mary, who follows God’s will to be the mother of Jesus, even though she is in danger of being punished through stoning.

There was a teacher who had just given her primary grade class a lesson on magnets.  In the follow-up test, one question read My name starts with M, has six letters and I pick up things.  What am I?  She was surprised to find half of the class answered the question with the word mother.  Of course, the answer was supposed to be magnet.

People especially need their mothers in times of need, of uncertainty, or insecurity.  We need our mothers to pick us up.  Perhaps even more so for those of us who are already old, not necessarily physically, but emotionally and spiritually.

So as we begin another year, with all the uncertainties that it may bring us, the Church is telling us that we need our Blessed Mother Mary.  May we all be like Mary with our total trust and faith in the Lord.

Let us not put our hopes in someone or something that may only give us false and ephemeral hope in the end.  Instead, we place our entire lives in the loving and caring presence of our God who is always there for us.  He is Emmanuel, “God with us.”  With Mary, we pray that the Lord will bless us this new year, and all the days of our lives.

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Where True Power Resides

November 20, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Deacon Barry, Discipleship, Faith, Hope, Mercy, St. Paul, Wisdom

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
November 20, 2022 — Year C
Readings: 2 Sm 5:1-3 / Ps 122 / Col 1:12-20 / Lk 23:35-43
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.  Why is this Feast Day of Christ the King placed at the end of the liturgical season?  Today we finish with the Liturgical Year C, reading from the Gospel of Luke.  We begin Year A next Sunday with the first Sunday of Advent and will switch to the Gospel of Matthew. Why Christ the King today?

Some background thoughts on the reasons for and need for this Feast:

Godless, atheistic nations and states rising in power, threatening their neighbors.  God and Jesus forced out of the public forum and leadership, forced out of politics.  Society and culture diminishing God.  It’s not safe in some places to talk about Jesus.  He’s kept in a small box at church or in your living room.

I’m not talking about society and the world today.  I’m talking about 1925.  In 1925, Pope Pius XI was looking out over the world in a post-World War I environment, and these are the evils that he saw.  He, along with the Church, decided to create a Feast, a Feast to remind the faithful and the world where true power resides, where to place our allegiance and devotion.  As we’re ending this cycle, this Liturgical Year, we’re punctuating this ending and transition time with this Feast of Christ the King.

But why not Christ the Risen or Christ Ascended or Christ the Shepherd?  Christ the King is what the Church chose.  It makes the point Pope Pius wanted to precisely make.  Jesus is Christ the King, and He supersedes all worldly views of power and influence.

But He doesn’t look like a king.  Imagine this scene from the gospels.  There are people gathered around.  Rulers were there, as were soldiers.  Jesus was hanging there on the cross with criminals.  The inscription above His head was, “This is the King of the Jews.”  Almost all of these people were deriding Him, poking fun at Him.  They were taunting Him with, “If you are the Christ, if you are the Chosen One, if you are the King of the Jews.”  These three taunts mirror the three temptations that the devil gave to Jesus in the desert.  (“If you are the Son of God, save yourself by turning these stones into bread, etc.”).

Remember also that the people of the Roman government of that day thought their methods were good, noble, kind, advanced, progressive, and fair.  Jesus didn’t look like a king.  He was a criminal, actually a slave.  At that time, if you were not a Roman citizen and you did something against the state, you became a slave.  He had no rights.  Convicted slaves, for a crime that warranted it, were subject to the painful and humiliating death by crucifixion.  (On the other hand, Roman citizens like the Apostle Paul were given a more humane sentence of beheading.)

Jesus was there on the cross as a slave with the criminals.  He was poor, beaten, humiliated, crushed.  He did not look like a king.  He did not act like a king either.

We know that God is all-powerful.  We know that Jesus is God.  In Paul’s letter to the Colossians that we heard today, he describes Jesus: “He is…the firstborn of all creation.  For in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.”

Do you think He was scared to death of Pilate?  Do you think He worried at all about what the emperor of that day might do?  He is all powerful.  Everything that exists, exists because of Him.  He could care less about the emperor, or the governor, or the president, or the czar, as these are merely a speck of dust in time.

Jesus had and has infinite power.  He could have annihilated everything in existence in the flick of a second while He was there on that cross.  He could have called a host of angels to save Him and everyone that was hanging there.  But He chose not to exercise that power.  We think that kings portray force, power, superiority, dominance, and violence.  But Jesus didn’t choose to lord power over us.

Even His closest disciple, Peter, did not comprehend what was going to happen.  Jesus told His disciples that He was going to go to Jerusalem, going to suffer and die, going to rise again.  Peter pulled Him aside and started to rebuke Him, saying that he would allow no such thing to happen.  Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan.  You are thinking as humans do, not as God does.”

Jesus did not choose power, but rather mercy.  He allowed Himself to become powerless, to become a slave.  He allowed Himself to become the sacrificial lamb.  Why?  To atone for our sins and to save all of us.  His mercy is unbounded.  The good thief, the one who recognized what was happening, only asked to be remembered: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  In His unbounded mercy, Jesus granted that thief eternal paradise with Him right then.  His mercy is far beyond anything that we could comprehend.

Jesus did not act like any other ruler or king.  But He’s the king I choose to follow: a king that loved me so much that He gave up everything.  He suffered for me.  He took all those insults and humiliation for me.  He died, just for me and for you.  That is my king and yours.  Live that.  Be His living example in a fallen world.  Our society, our governments, think they are good, noble, kind, advanced, progressive, and fair, just like the Roman empire did.  They are far from it, and they need our help.

Go in peace, glorifying God by your life.  Serve our King in this world.  Our baptism demands it.  Jesus won’t be kept in a box, or here at church, or just in our living room.  As if He could be.  He can’t be contained.

This is the end of the Liturgical Year.  I am here on Pope Pius’s behalf, to give an annual reminder that Jesus Christ is King.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.

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Persevere in Faith

November 13, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Courage, Discipleship, Faith, Father Nixon, Heaven, Prayer, St. Paul

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 13, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Mal 3:19-20a / Ps 98 / 2 Thes 3:7-12 / Lk 21:5-19
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Thomas Alva Edison, the great inventor, used to say, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” He conducted about eighteen thousand experiments before he perfected what we now call “the ordinary light bulb.” He became great through untiring work and utmost endurance.

For some of us nowadays, we are inclined to reverse Edison’s slogan by our longing for instant things. Thus, instead of ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration, we would rather reverse that and have one percent perspiration and ninety-nine percent inspiration.

Yet Jesus, in today’s gospel, exhorts us, “By your perseverance you will gain your lives.” This statement highlights two important things. First, the need to endure. Secondly, the salvation of the soul.  The first, to endure, is absolutely necessary in order to have the second, salvation of the soul.

Why is it absolutely necessary to persevere in order to be saved? Perseverance is an active rather than a passive virtue for us Christians. Perseverance is built up against temptation to sin and apathy through a life of regular prayer, such as the rosary, our devotions to saints, meditation upon scripture, Sunday liturgy and recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, and the graces given in Baptism and strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation.

Today’s readings teach us the importance of perseverance. In the first reading we heard of the necessity to persevere in righteousness, because evildoers will be wiped off the face of the earth. But those who receive the Most High, the Lord shall raise them, sanctify them, and carry them to a safe place where no harm shall ever come to them. The safe place is heaven, where the Lord rules forever.

In the second reading, we heard of the necessity to persevere in our imitation of the saints. We heard St. Paul’s harsh words for those who fall short of imitating the saints. He told them that, if they were unwilling to work, they should not eat.

Why were some unwilling to work? Some of the faithful believed that Jesus was about to return at any time to establish His kingdom. As such, why work? This is wrong because, according to St. Paul, living in idleness, they occupied their time with small talk, rumors, hearsay, slander, with all of these things leading to disharmony and division. So every Christian, when he’s able to, must support himself and his brothers and sisters and not live off the income or wealth of others.

St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives us three characteristics of saints. First, they are human beings like us; they are made in the image and likeness of God. They have body and soul; they are made of flesh and blood. They need things all other human beings need.  Second, like you and me, they are also tempted. They can be tempted to do evil and be indifferent in their commitment to God. Third, which makes them different from us, the saints cling to God at all times. The saints rely on the power of God and not their own power.

In the gospel reading, we heard of the necessity to persevere in our living faith. We heard Jesus’ discourse around 30 A.D. on the fall of Jerusalem. While Jesus was speaking of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 A.D., those who were present were associating this event with the arrival of the kingdom of God on earth, since the temple was associated with God’s presence. So if the temple were to be destroyed, it would mean the end of the world. Forty years later, those who were still living around 70 A.D. saw the completion of Jesus’ prophecy.

Our gospel today reminds us that, while waiting for the great moment to come, which is the end of times where God will reign as Lord, we must adjust to a long period of waiting. We must persevere in our living faith by taking our crosses and carrying them as Jesus did, so that we too may arrive into our eternal glory. As St. Paul said, we must not be idle, waiting for things that will not come to pass in the present time. We must move on with our lives and be fruitful in the work of the Holy Spirit, while awaiting the final return of Christ that will precede Judgment Day and the resurrection of the bodies.

The question is, are we ready to suffer and to shed our blood, if necessary, for our faith? Christianity is a religion of martyrdom. Jesus willingly shed His blood for our sake, and He calls us to be martyrs. The word martyr in Greek means “witness.” The Book of Revelation says that Jesus was the faithful witness who freed us from our sins by His blood.

Tertullian, the second century lawyer who converted when he saw Christians singing as they went out to die, exclaimed, “The blood of the martyrs is seed. Their blood is the seed of new Christians, the seed of the Church.” Why is this the case? The martyrs witness the joy and truth and freedom of the Gospel by their life, their testimony, and by their blood.

Brothers and sisters, some of us may not have very heavy crosses to bear. Our lives have been pretty good, filled with blessings from the Lord. But we have some brothers and sisters who do have very heavy crosses to bear. We must pray for them, so they will persevere until the end, that they not be counted among those who have renounced their faith and their salvation in Jesus Christ.

We will be well prepared, too, if we try every day to live our Christian life well and full; if we do our best to build that part of the kingdom which God expects from us in the here and now, a kingdom of peace and justice; if we daily water the seed of love that Jesus has already planted; if we pass onto others the light of faith that He has already lit; if we act as yeast that Jesus has already put in the dough, in order to ferment the world with the Gospel values; and if we serve the world as its salt, which He called us to be, to preserve the world from every corruption.  All this means that we cannot sit down, doing nothing, just waiting for the end time. It means that we need to keep ourselves always busy in order to hasten the coming of God’s kingdom.

So, brothers and sisters, as we go home today, let us persevere in our living faith until the end of times, through righteousness and the imitation of the saints. Let us also pray for one another, that we all endure until the end, so we will gain our lives.

May Jesus Christ be praised.

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The Resurrection

November 6, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Baptism, Deacon Mark, Eternal Life, Faith, Resurrection

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 6, 2022 — Year C
Readings: 2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14 / Ps 17 / 2 Thes 2:16-3:5 / Lk 20:27-38
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

Many years ago, in a different parish, I gathered with a handful of adults to talk about the creed. That was the first time I learned that some people mistakenly think the “resurrection of the body” that we profess at the end of the Apostle’s creed is Jesus’. In fact, we are professing that our bodies will be raised on the last day.

Bishop Barron was reflecting on this miracle in his book, To Light a Fire on the Earth, and he referenced C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis dedicated a book to miracles, and in it he argued that of all the world’s great religions, only Christianity depended on miracles for its authenticity. He wrote, “The mind that asks for a non-miraculous Christianity is a mind in the process of relapsing from Christianity into mere religion (Barron 138).” Preeminent among all those miracles was Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection of our bodies is at the heart of today’s readings.

In today’s gospel Jesus is countering the Sadducees’ disbelief in this. The Sadducees try to show that this belief is comical by asking which of the widow’s seven husbands is her husband in the afterlife (Lk 20:33). Jesus, by the Sadducees’ admission, gave a solid answer. First, He points out that after our resurrection, things will be different. We will no longer need to marry or to be married. In Moses’ time, a brother was to marry his dead brother’s wife to ensure she had children, and his brother’s name would carry on. But in heaven, there is no need for having children and therefore no need for marriage (Gadenz 340). Second, Jesus quotes from the book of Exodus, because it is one of the five books the Sadducees consider inspired by God. (He meets them where they are and then tries to build a bridge from there to the fullness of the truth.) He points out that Moses called God the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and says, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive (Lk 20: 37-38).”

Some things don’t change, and four hundred years later St. Augustine wrote, “On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body (CCC 996).” And as for today, many believe they will live on spiritually, but regarding our mortal bodies coming back to life too, maybe not so much. Jehovah’s Witnesses are one such example. However, bodily resurrection is a core teaching of our faith, and we need to believe it and be able to share it with non-believers.

Let’s start with God’s word “which is useful for teaching (2 Tim 3:16).”  In the first reading from 2nd Maccabees, a mother and her seven sons refuse to violate God’s law even when threatened with death, not even after watching how painfully the others died before the executioner got around to them. Why did they endure such suffering? The second brother said this, “The King of the world will raise us up to live again forever,” and the third brother added that he hoped to receive his hands again from God (2 Mac 7: 9, 11).”  Clearly, they believed that this life is fleeting, but there will be another and it is eternal, with their body, and without any suffering (Rev 21:4).

Peter Kreeft, in his personal reflection on today’s readings, points out that in the second reading, St. Paul articulates how the eight martyrs in Maccabees could find the courage and strength to do what they did (Kreeft 632). Paul wrote, “May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through His grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word (2 Thes 2:16).”  It was in “good hope and through [God’s] grace” that the seven brothers and their mother were able to stay faithful to the end. Sounds good, but what is the “good hope” Paul mentions that we receive through grace?

The “good hope” is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1817).” In other words, we hope in the resurrection from the dead, of which Christ was the first (1 Cor 15:12-14). And here is the good news. “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 that dwells in you (Rom 8:11).”

Some of you may be wondering then, what happens immediately after death? Here is what the Church teaches. “In death, [which is] the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in His almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection (CCC 997).”

Sacred scripture and sacred tradition speak so often of our bodily resurrection that, if we are not careful, we nod in agreement but fail to stop and, like Mary, ponder it in our heart (Lk 2:19). Obviously, the author of 2nd Maccabees pondered it, and six hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Ezekiel did. His words on the resurrection are prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours, “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and make you come up out of them, my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may come to life… (Ez 37: 13-14).” God placed His Spirit in us at baptism. Thus, the hope of our bodily resurrection is solemnly symbolized by the white pall we place on the casket, reminding us of a loved one placing a white garment on our body when we were baptized.

A friend and Holy Name of Mary parishioner named John, experienced in a powerful way this past week this connection between baptism, death, and resurrection. Ten minutes after receiving Holy Communion, John felt a pain in his chest which then traveled up to his shoulder and down his arm. His arm went limp, and his hand clenched involuntarily. They took him to the ER. A nurse walked in and said, “They call me Princess and I’m here to get you started on your way.” This was very unsettling to John because he is fond of calling himself “Prince John” in light of becoming a brother of our most high king through baptism. John said he had this discomforting awareness during all this that his soul was up there and his body down here. Our priests anointed him and prayed for him. The tests were all negative and John walked out of the hospital feeling greatly moved by all this. He said, “I cannot stop thinking about it.” In other words, John was pondering it in his heart. God has called him to a deeper awareness of the mystery of the resurrection and through John’s story all of us too.

Here are a few closing thoughts. Our bodies are sacred. They are not disposable shells for our immortal soul. This is very evident at a Mass of Christian burial. We reverence the deceased’s body, either in a casket or an urn, by praying at their side, and if in a casket, kissing their forehead. Once the casket is closed, we place a radiant white pall over it, sprinkling holy water upon the urn or casket, moving the casket or urn to the foot of the altar and placing the paschal candle near them just as it was at their baptism. We incense the casket or urn in the sign of the cross, tenderly placing our hand upon the casket, or putting our hand on our heart while looking at the urn, as we come forward for Holy Communion.

From birth to death our bodies smile, laugh, cry, sing, hug, kiss, learn, sin, love, forgive, bring new life into the world, and are anointed with oil and blessed. It stands to reason that all this beauty and wonder of our body, that God took on in Jesus, would be just as immortal as the soul that animates it. For, as Jesus said, “I am the life and the resurrection…In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. (Jn 11:25; 14:2-3).”   Amen.

Citations for Further Study

  1. Gadenz, Fr. Pablo T. Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Luke. 2018 Baker Academic
  2. Barron, Bishop Robert. To Light a Fire on the Earth – Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age. 2017 Word on Fire Ministries.
  3. Kreeft, Peter. Food for the Soul – Reflections on the Mass Readings for Cycle C. 2021 Word on Fire Ministries.
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Just as He Promised

October 16, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Deacon Barry, Eternal Life, Faith, Prayer | ,

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 16, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Ex 17:8-13 / Ps 121 / 2 Tm 3:14-4:2 / Lk 18:1-8
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist

Something that I learned this week I found pretty interesting: That is, from a really early age, some studies say that, as early as three years old, children exhibit an understanding and a sense of fairness, of justice.  At the age of three! They’re barely able to walk and talk, and yet they understand fairness.

How many have heard this: “That’s not fair!” “He got more ice cream that I got!” [Invites those watching the livestream to post comments about what’s not fair.] It’s not fair that both Virginia Tech and UVA have horrible football teams at the same time. ONE should be good, right?

Here’s a secret also, because just a few years later, at the age of around eight, children begin to understand something that many of us, if not all of us, in this room already know all too well: Life’s not fair. At the age of eight, just five years after they figured out fairness and justice, they’re learning that life isn’t fair.

And when has life ever been fair? Throughout all of history, pride and power and politics, war, wealth, sickness, accidents, natural disasters, school, work, play, taxes, death. Life isn’t fair. It’s just not.

But we learn, we adapt. We deal with it, but sometimes this unfairness, this lack of justice just builds up and beats us down. It seeds discouragement; we lose heart. We become weary. It’s just not fair.

In this parable that we hear from Jesus, He talks about this judge. This is not a good guy. This judge is about as far away from fairness and goodness as you can get. We hear from Jesus that we’re supposed to love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbor as ourself.  And yet, this judge even repeats himself, “I do not fear God nor respect any human being.” He’s pretty much the opposite of good and just. He’s only out for himself. He’s corrupt. He couldn’t care less about justice. If someone of influence or means, or had a good bribe, or someone who’s a friend, or a friend of a friend, someone that could do him a favor, that’s where his decision is going to be swayed. That isn’t fair.

What about this widow that we hear about? Jesus chose this character of a widow very carefully and wisely, because a widow in that society was about the lowest status that you could possibly be. With the loss of her husband, she had zero status. In fact, all of the inheritance that was owned by her husband would have been claimed by his family. If there were children involved, they would have to go to court, and we just heard about the judge. In that society, life is completely and totally against a widow.  In fact, she shouldn’t really even be speaking to a civil authority. She isn’t worthy enough in that society for that. Talk about unfair. That isn’t fair.

So what’s the point? This is an unusual situation with parables that Jesus gives, because Jesus tells us what the point of the parable is before He tells us the story of the parable. He told us that it is about the necessity to pray always, without becoming weary.

We can get confused about this parable.  Jesus isn’t saying that if we nag God long enough, hard enough, often enough, we’ll eventually get Him to do exactly what we want Him to do. No way.

He’s contrasting God with this judge. He’s talking about how God is different.  If an unrighteous and unjust judge with limited power would give in to persistent petitions, how much more so would a righteous judge and just judge with limitless power hear the cries of those who call to Him?

The point, Jesus is telling us, is to pray always and not get weary. But Jesus is also teaching us something that goes a little deeper.  Typical Jesus. There’s something a little bit deeper: Life’s not fair, and it never will be until Jesus, the just judge, returns. Jesus, Son of the Creator, who came to be with us and one with us.  He lived, suffered, died, and rose, and He ascended, justifying us for our salvation, even though we aren’t worthy of that. He cleared the path for us to live with Him in love eternally, and He promised He would come again in glory. He promised, and He will do it. That’s the point.

All of our prayer, like the widow, our relentless prayer and petitions, in spite of discouragement, in spite of weariness, in spite of setbacks and trials and burdens in our life, the prayer of the chosen ones is to bring us justice, to bring us to the world that is to come. To bring us to the kingdom that is to come, forever and ever. That’s the prayer that will come speedily and when we least expect it. That’s the prayer we long for. That’s the prayer we want to pray for incessantly. That’s the point.

That’s not to say that we don’t want to pray for a cure to cancer, or world peace, or to be appreciated and loved, or health for ourselves and for our family members and for our loved ones, strength and wisdom to our leaders, and a good parking spot at the mall. Of course, we want to pray for these things, and of course our loving God hears these prayers.

But the point of this story, this parable, is an eschatological one. That means it’s of the kingdom to come. It’s for life everlasting. It’s for a just God bringing about a just end and a just life everlasting, just as He promised. That’s the point.

But…When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?

Amen.

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Trustful and Steadfast Faith

October 2, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Faith, Father Nixon, Holy Spirit, Trust

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 2, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4 / Ps 95 / 2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14 / Lk 17:5-10
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

An elderly woman lived in one half of a duplex apartment.  She was extremely poor but was a good woman.  She prayed a great deal.  In the other half of the duplex lived the owner.  He was a man of no faith, no prayer, no religion.  He often made fun of the old lady’s trust in God.  One day, this woman was praying quite loudly, telling the Lord that she had no food in the house.  The godless one heard her and decided that he would play a trick on the old lady.  He took a loaf of bread, laid it at her front door, rang the bell, and hurried back to his apartment to hear through the wall her cry of delight:  Thank you Lord.  I just knew that You wouldn’t fail me!  With a devilish grin, the man came back to her front door and told her, “You silly old woman!  You think God answered your prayers?  I’m the one who brought that loaf of bread.”  Without any dismay, the old woman exclaimed, “Praise the Lord!  He always helps me in my needs, even if He has to use the devil to answer my prayers.”

The readings this Sunday teach us lessons about faith and trust in God.  In the first reading, the prophet Habukkuk complains to God: How long, O Lord?  I cry for help but You do not listen.  The prophet is asking whether or not God cares for His people.  There is war and violence, misery and death all around their place.  The powerful Babylonians are about to demolish the people of Israel.  How can God allow things like this to happen?

Habukkuk is trying to question the loving presence of God, perhaps like many of us when we are confronted with so many problems and so much pain.  Remarkably, God appears not to be displeased with Habukkuk, since He answers him with gentle and reassuring words.  It sounds as if He’s telling the prophet, “Be patient.  I have a plan.  I will intervene when it is time.  What I ask of you now is faith and if you have it, you will live.”

What kind of faith does God ask of Habukkuk?  The prophet believes in God’s existence.  In fact, he is already imploring for divine intervention.  Yet God wants Habukkuk to develop a kind of faith that is trustful and steadfast in the face of trials and difficulties.  God would like Habukkuk to keep believing that God will not abandon His people, and that He will save them in His own time.

In today’s gospel, the Apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith.  The Apostles themselves realize their need for a more solid kind of believing in order to persevere in following the Lord.  Real faith is necessary, considering the fact that it is not easy to understand the radical teachings of Jesus, like leaving homes and families, daily carrying the cross, forgiving one another, and loving one’s enemies.  It is even more difficult to follow the Lord’s way of life, like living simply, serving the poor, teaching the ignorant, exorcising demons, touching lepers, and challenging authorities.

The Lord says in reply, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”  Jesus compares faith with a tiny mustard seed whose power does not depend on its size, but on its great potential hidden within itself.  Faith, even when it’s little, has the capacity to do unbelievable things in the life of individuals and communities.

The use of the image of the mustard seed also suggests that the quality of faith is more important than its quantity.  We might think that the more we know theology, the more prayers we recite, the more religious organizations we join, the stronger our faith becomes.  Such is not necessarily true.  In the Gospel of John, the Lord says, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?  The words that I speak to you, I do not speak on my own.  The Father who dwells in Me is doing His works.  Believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.  Or else believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will do the works that I do.”  (John 14:10-12)

Somehow these words can help us understand the kind of faith that we need to develop in our lives.  Faith is our unqualified acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of humankind.  Our faith is genuine if we believe in the person of Jesus, His salvific words and actions, and if we trust in His absolute power over darkness and sin.  The believer would manifest this faith meaningfully by participating in the saving works of Jesus.

There is a story of a small boy, a passenger on a luxury ship.  The ship was nearly sinking because of a very strong typhoon.  Everyone was in panic, grabbing lifeboats and life jackets from each other.  This little boy was sitting in a chair as if nothing was happening.  One adult passenger approached him and asked, “Boy, it seems that you don’t mind what is happening.  Don’t you know that in a few minutes, we are going to sink?”  The boy answered, “Excuse me, sir, the captain of the ship is my father.  Because he is my father, I trust him.  Why would I be afraid?”  The captain of our lives is none other than God Himself.

Saint Paul writes from prison to encourage Timothy to keep the faith.  His words to Timothy remind us that we have all received a special gift from God, a gift which is more than enough to enable us to remain strong in faith.  That is the Holy Spirit:  the spirit of power, the spirit of love and self-control.

So today, let us ask God to increase our faith.  As we try to face with courage our own problems in life, let us not forget that our difficulties can never equal the sacrifice of Jesus which He offered for our sake.  When we pray to the Lord, “Lord, increase our faith,” we are opening ourselves to be moved more and more by the power of His spirit.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, we can stir into flame the gift of faith.  We become capable of guarding this rich trust and of witnessing to our faith before others.

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Difficult Times

August 14, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Courage, Deacon Barry, Faith, Trust |

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 14, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Jer 38:4-6, 8-10 / Ps 40 / Heb 12:1-4 / Lk 12:49-53
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist

Jesus makes a very striking statement to His disciples in today’s gospel: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather, division.”  Why would Jesus say this?  Isn’t He all about peace?  We hear so often:  Peace be with you.  One of His titles is Prince of Peace.  Peace is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  From the Beatitudes, we remember, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  And yet, He is bringing up division.  Why is it that He says this?  I think there are two primary reasons.

The first is the practical advice He is giving to His followers.  Many of His followers were thinking that they were with the Messiah now.  He was expected to usher in a whole new era of God’s Kingdom.  All the tribes would come back together; there would be peace in the land; the Holy City would be returned.  Serenity, tranquility, harmony.  Everyone getting along, etc.

Jesus lets them know that this is not the way it is going to be.  He says that some will love Him, some will follow Him, some will join Him, but others will not.  Not only will some not love Him, they will also despise those who do.  According to Jesus, that is not His will, but it is the will of those who do not believe, their own free will.  So He is letting His followers know that there will be division, and it will put strain on relationships.

I’ve said in homilies before that the moment you make a big step, a big commitment, a vow toward Jesus Christ, you will be challenged.  Obstacles will present themselves, fear being one of them.  Satan himself, or the lies that he has planted in the world, will be against you, even in your own household and among those you hold most dear.  Jesus is clarifying that for us in this gospel.

Secondly, as is often the case, Jesus also has a deeper meaning when He is saying something, especially if He is saying something that may be a little confusing to us.  His meaning may not be as readily understandable to us today as it would have been to His original listeners.  Jesus is revealing something about Himself as He quotes from the prophet Micah.

Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, whom Jesus also often quotes.  The general idea with Micah is that he is making a movement in his prophesies and proclamations from judgment, trial, testing, into confidence in God’s salvation.  In chapter 7 of the Book of Micah, the chapter quoted by Jesus in today’s gospel, he starts with this theme of trials and testing.  Here are some excerpts:

“The faithful have disappeared from the land, and there is no one who is upright.…Their hands are skilled to do evil….The official and the judge ask for a bribe….The powerful dictate what they desire and therefore pervert justice….Put no trust in a friend.  Have no confidence in a loved one…. Guard the doors of your mouth.”

Here is the part that Jesus quotes:  “For the son treats the father with contempt.  The daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and your enemies are members of your own household.”

Whenever Jesus or any of the teachers of His time are quoting ancient scriptures, there is a whole theme and message that they are referring to, not just the individual quote.  Up to this point Micah has delivered a theme of trials and tribulations signified by even division within families.

But then, Micah continues: “But as for me, I will look to the Lord.  I will wait for the God of my salvation, my God will hear me.  As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us marvelous things.  (The Exodus, pointing to the new Exodus.)  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.  You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.”

In no uncertain terms, Jesus, in the message He quotes from Micah, is proclaiming to His listeners, His disciples then, and His followers today, that He is the fulfillment of that prophecy.  He is the one to achieve the new Exodus to the heavenly kingdom.  He is the one to free us from slavery to sin.  He is the one to answer the oath sworn to our ancestors.  He is the one to bring about the hope for salvation.

He is also saying, in this quote from Micah, that before salvation, there will be difficult times.  Before salvation, we will experience that time of trial and tribulation.  The upside-down world despises Him.  Why wouldn’t it despise us as well?

In the gospel today, Jesus reveals that He is ready to purify the world through fire and the Holy Spirit, as predicted by John the Baptist.  The most wonderful part about all of this is that Jesus takes on all of those trials, all of our debts, all of our sins, upon Himself in the baptism of His passion and death, which He said He must endure before the resurrection.  He restores what is broken and beaten.  He reconciles us to the Father.  He recreates us new and brings about salvation.

Before that, however, as we heard in the letter to the Hebrews today, “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”

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With Us Always

June 19, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Eucharist, Faith, Father Nixon, Prayer, Sacraments

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
June 19, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Gn 14:18-20 / Ps 110 / 1 Cor 11:23-26 / Lk 9:11b-17
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

I read this story told by Archbishop Fulton Sheen: that, during China’s 1911 republican revolution, in response to the earlier Boxer Rebellion, anti-Catholic militants seized a Catholic parish.  They confined the parish priest to house arrest, so from his rectory window, he witnessed the desecration of the church. He knew that there had been thirty-two consecrated Hosts in the tabernacle.

An eleven-year-old girl was praying at the back of the church, and the guards either did not see her or else paid no attention to her. She returned to the church that night and made a holy hour and then consumed one of the sacred Hosts, bending down to receive Jesus on her tongue.

She continued to return every night, making a nightly holy hour and consuming one sacred Host. On the last night, the thirty-second night, unfortunately a guard was awakened. After she consumed the sacred Host, he chased her, grabbed her, and beat her to death with his rifle.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen became aware of her martyrdom while he was a seminarian. He was so inspired by her sacrifice that he promised to pray a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament each day for the rest of his life.

Brothers and sisters, the eleven-year-old girl could have had no idea how she would influence a future bishop, who would in turn influence millions of people and promote Eucharistic adoration. We also have no idea how our witness and sacrifices influence other people.

Today we are celebrating the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This feast reminds us that Jesus gives His very own body and blood, so that we might live in our faith and alive in our deeds. If we do not live in our faith and alive in our deeds, this is because the Body and Blood of Jesus are not part of our food.  So let us not deprive ourselves of this most important ingredient of our earthly life.

When Catholic converts are asked to talk about the reason why they converted to the Catholic faith, for most of them, one of the main reasons is their discovery of the truth about the Holy Eucharist. When they learn that the Eucharist is not merely a symbol, but Jesus Christ Himself, given to us in the form of bread and wine, they begin to experience a deep spiritual hunger and longing for it.  Our Catholic faith taught us that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ Himself.

Through the Eucharist, Christ becomes physically present in the church, keeping His promise that He would always be with us, until the end of the world. And, because the Eucharist is preserved in the tabernacle, we can be with Him any time we want, just like the eleven-year-old little girl in the story that I heard.

Whatever our spiritual condition may be, today’s feast of the Holy Eucharist is the greatest banquet of all. The greatest sacrifice of all. The very source and summit of our whole Christian life. This is the feast of us all, because Jesus is present in the Eucharist, and He is the Eucharist Himself, awaiting us all.

He is here for the child who receives his or her First Holy Communion, for Catholic converts, and for the lifelong believers like us Catholics. He is here for those who cannot receive him sacramentally: the little children, for the non-Catholics who are mysteriously drawn to the Eucharistic banquet.  Some people or friends we know who are in the catechumenate program show love for the Eucharist and continue to attend Mass every week, even if they cannot receive Holy Communion, and they continue to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

He is here for the sick people who cannot join us in this Eucharistic celebration because of their situation. That is why the Church reserves consecrated Hosts in the tabernacle, so that the Eucharist can be brought to the sick and the faithful who can worship the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass.

So now the question is: How can be apply this belief of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist into our lives? There are so many suggested ways how, like Eucharistic devotion and participation in the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament as our thanksgiving, reparation, adoration, and petition to Christ, present with us in the Blessed Sacrament. We can also spend a few minutes after receiving the Eucharist in silent thanksgiving. We can visit our Lord preserved in the tabernacle.  There, we can silently speak with Him about anything we please.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up Eucharistic devotion in the words of Saint John Paul II: “Jesus awaits us in the sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet Him in adoration, in contemplation, full of faith and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease.”

So Brothers and Sisters, in a few moments, when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, let us try to remember our faith, not only in the Real Presence in the Host, but also Jesus’ real presence in us.  That is why we are here, and that is why Jesus nourishes us, so that we can also nourish others.

At the end, let us remember this: If we celebrate the Eucharist with faith, we shall be transformed into what we eat. We shall become Christlike and be true to our name, “Christians.”

May Jesus Christ be praised.

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Obedience and Trust

May 22, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Deacon Mark, Discipleship, Faith, Humility, Obedience, Self-Reflection, Trust

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 22, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 / Ps 67 / Rev 21:10-14, 22-23 / Jn 14:23-29
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

I’ll always remember when my wife and I learned the Church’s teachings on birth control. We were newly married and living in Austin, Texas, while I attended the university there. We were a sharing couple on Engaged Encounter weekends and needed to learn about Natural Family Planning, so that we could answer couples’ questions on the retreat weekends. But as we were driving home down I-35 in our Chevy Luv pickup, with no AC and no radio, after the Natural Family Planning class, we were somewhat in a state of shock at what we had learned. We drove in silence for a time, and then I looked over at Catherine, and said, “We are going to do this, aren’t we?”  She said, “Yes.” And I remember a feeling of excitement and rightness.

And when we conceived a child a few months later, we were a little frustrated. But the Church proved wiser than us. That child is our oldest son. He has given us much joy over the years. Some angst too, to be sure. But when I needed help at the drop of a hat, when my brother died in New Orleans a few years ago, he dropped everything and flew there to help. And he has helped us on our property, when my health gets me behind. And he and his wife have blessed us with five grandchildren. None of those blessings would have come to us if we had not taken a leap of faith and submitted to the authority of the Church, trusting that the Holy Spirit guides her to all truth (Jn 16:13).

We should have the same feeling about submitting to the Church’s authority as we do to Jesus’, because He gave His moral and teaching authority to the Catholic Church.  A great proof of this is the apostle Paul, who received a powerful, life-changing personal revelation from Jesus that no one received. Despite that supernatural moment in his life, he submitted himself to the Church’s authority when a dispute over matters of morals and faith arose (Acts 15:1).

To understand why St. Paul did this, it helps to read the readings in reverse order. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the apostles, “Whoever loves me will keep my word… and the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (Jn 14: 15, 26). He expands this teaching a little later, telling them that “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16: 12-13). The Church is led to and bound to the truth by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ words about the Holy Spirit are fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In the first reading, which comes from Acts, we heard that there was a heated debate about whether circumcision was required in order to be saved (Acts 15: 1). To resolve it they each read the scripture and prayed to the Holy Spirit and came to their own personal conclusions. Not! What the reading said was, “It was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders (same Greek word used for presbyters and bishops elsewhere in the Bible) about this question” (Acts 15:2). The apostles discussed the question and made a proposal, which Peter then announced. This was the first Church Council.

In the second reading, from Revelation, we hear of twelve courses of stone with the names of the twelve apostles on them (Rev 21:14). Here is the thing about foundation stones. They do not sit there passively. They transmit their power to the stone above them, and those stones to the stone above them and on and on. Thus, this analogy gives us a powerful image of Apostolic Succession.

According to Apostolic Succession, today’s bishops are the successors to the apostles, and the bishop of Rome is the successor to Peter who had primacy among them. The bishops in communion with each other and the Pope form the magisterium, which is the teaching arm of the Church. It was to this body that Jesus gave His authority and the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide them to all truth. Therefore, we should be obedient to that authority.

Obedience is not a popular topic. There is a lot of talk about freedom in our world, but lately, it is increasingly focused on personal beliefs and choices. However, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and the truth will set us free” (Jn 8:32; 14:6). Our personal opinions will not make us free when they conflict with the Church’s teaching. Through the Holy Spirit, the Church’s teaching is the same as Christ’s teaching. St. Joan of Arc said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”

To be truly free, we must obey Christ who speaks to us through His Church by the Holy Spirit. To speak and to do things contrary to Christ’s teaching is a sin, and sin always enslaves us. Sin is a cruel master that entices us with attractive packaging and then snares us. Sin always has strings or chains attached that latch on to us and pull us away from our brother, Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. It dulls our intellect, mutes our creativity, corrupts our charity, and just plain makes us miserable.

What do I mean by “corrupt charity?”  One of the best examples is the belief that killing someone is an act of mercy. One example of this is physician-assisted suicide. A Holy Name of Mary parishioner named Bill shared a story that highlights this corrupt charity and contrasts it with the Church’s divinely inspired wisdom.

His brother Joe was dying from COPD, so Bill traveled to see him in the hospital, which was in another state. He asked the nurse what the plan was. She described a process where they would give him morphine and slowly turn down his oxygen until he died. Bill said, “You are going to euthanize him!” The nurse shrugged her shoulders. Bill demanded an alternative plan. They came up with one, and it worked. As a result, they were able to stabilize Joe’s oxygen level so that he could be transported safely back to his home. This gave Joe his final wish to die in his home. God blessed Bill for taking a leap of faith and obeying the Church’s teaching by blessing him and his brother with six more weeks together, and Joe, God bless him, died in the peace and comfort of his own bed, next to his wife.

We can see from both the stories I’ve shared that the Catholic Church has wisdom, but does she claim too much authority? No. I think Peter Kreeft defends her authority well, writing, “Her teachings on matters of morals and faith are non-negotiable, not because she claims too much authority, but because she claims she has none…but Christ’s.” (Kreeft 309)

To help us understand the need to obey and the good that obedience brings, Jesus used the image of Himself as our Good Shepherd (Jn 10). The Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name, and they know Him and follow Him. And if the sheep get into trouble, He lays down His life for them to save them. The sheep obey their shepherd because they know Him. By praying, reading our Bible, and going to Mass we come to know Him. They obey Him because they trust Him to lead them to safe pastures where they will live life abundantly (Jn 10:10). We learn to trust Him by taking leaps of faith and experiencing the good it brings. He calls us by our name, not by a label like Satan does when he calls us by the name of our sin to shame us.

When we, the sheep, disobey, we stray away from the Good Shepherd; this is sin. This is a dangerous time for us. Mind, body, and soul are in danger away from the shepherd. When one sheep strays, it can lead another into danger; sin is contagious. We see this in the world today. Isaiah described this dangerous situation like this, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Is 53:6). Interestingly, this dire warning is in the middle of Isaiah’s passage about the suffering servant, our Good Shepherd and Savior.

When “every one goes his own way,” individuals, communities, cities, states, and nations become unstable and unhappy. This state of affairs was captured beautifully in Psalm 42, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” (Ps 42:5). Jeff Cavins points out that when a sheep is cast down, it means it has fallen over and cannot get up. Cast down sheep are unstable and unhappy, and if the shepherd does not right them, they will die. (Jeff Cavins; Hallow App)

I will close by addressing an issue that may be on your mind when speaking of being obedient to the Catholic Church. The Church consist of laity, consecrated religious, deacons, priests, and bishops, and all are sinners. Some have committed horrific, criminal acts. No human institution is free from sin. However, only the Church is One, Holy, catholic, and Apostolic. It is One through Christ, Holy through the Holy Spirit and catholic (meaning universal) through all of us in communion with all the believers around the world. Finally, it is Apostolic by Jesus’s decree to his disciples. “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16)” Lord Jesus, who were perfected through obedience, may we choose happiness and abundant life by following and obeying only you, our Good Shepherd, through our Mother Church, Amen.

Citation for Peter Kreeft: “Food for the Soul – Reflections on the Mass Readings for Cycle C.”  Published by Word on Fire in 2021.

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