He Is in Our Midst

December 17, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Advent, Father Nixon, Joy, Sacraments, Scripture

Third Sunday of Advent
December 17, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Is 61:1-2A, 10-11 / Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54 / 1 Thes 5:16-24 / Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

The Third Sunday of Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord.  The readings for this Sunday focus on the theme of joy.  Isaiah proclaims a message of good news and glad tidings.  Our second reading encourages us to rejoice always and to pray without ceasing.  Then John in the gospel tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Advent is a time during which we prepare for the coming of the Lord.  He is coming to us sacramentally at Christmas.  He is coming to us individually at the end of our lives.  He is coming to us collectively at the end of time.

Now suppose we are told that the Christ whom we are waiting for is already here in our midst as one of us.  What difference would it make?  Here is a story of the enormous difference that the awareness of the presence of Christ among us could make in our lives as individuals and as communities.

A certain monastery discovered that it was going through a crisis.  Some of the monks left, no new candidates joined them, and people were no longer coming for prayer and consultation as they used to.  The few monks that remained were becoming old, depressed, and bitter in their relationship with one another.

The abbot heard about a holy man, a hermit living alone in the woods, and decided to consult him.  He told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and looked like a skeleton of what it used to be.  Only seven old monks remained.  The hermit told the abbot that he had a secret for him.  The secret was that one of the monks presently living at the monastery was actually the Messiah, but that He was living in such a way that no one could recognize Him.

With this revelation, the abbot returned to the monastery, summoned a community meeting and recounted what the hermit had told him.  The aging monks looked at each other in disbelief, trying to discern who among them could be the Christ.  Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time?  But he has this holier-than-thou attitude toward others.  Could it be Brother Joseph who is always ready to help?  But he’s always eating and drinking and cannot fast.

The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of camouflaging His true identity.  This only made them more confused and they could not make any headway in figuring out who was the Christ among them.  At the end of the meeting, what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the monks, excepting himself, could be the Christ.

From that day on, however, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could be the very Christ.  They began to show more love for one another.  Their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent.  Slowly, people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction.  Word began to spread, and soon candidates began to show up. The monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness.  All of this came about because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that Christ was living in their midst as one of them.

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist tries to announce the same powerful message to the Jews of his time who were anxiously waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  John tells them, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.  I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

The reason why today we would not be able to recognize Jesus as our Lord and Messiah is because, like the Jews in Jesus’ time, we have definite ideas about how the Messiah is going to come.  For the Jews, the Messiah would suddenly descend from heaven in His divine power and majesty and establish His reign by destroying the enemies of Israel.  No one would know where He came from, humanly speaking, because He came from God (John 7:27).  When finally, Jesus came, born of a woman like every other person, they could not recognize Him.  He was too ordinary and unimpressive.

Since then, God has continually reached out toward us, but we resist His coming by hiding in layers of distractions.  Christ wants to speak to us in the silence of prayer, but we drown His voice with noise from televisions and cell phones.  Christ wants to talk to us through His words.  Hearing God’s word on Sundays is not like listening to a TV recording being played.  When God’s word is proclaimed, it enlightens our minds on what to do.  It challenges us and tests our wills and moves and inspires our hearts.

He comes in the sacraments, especially in those of the Eucharist and Confession.  As Christians, we may recognize the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Eucharist and the other sacraments.  We may also recognize Him in our fellow human beings, especially among the poor, the marginalized, those who have no voice in society.  Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you did this to Me.”

There are other ways in which God comes to our lives.  The list includes events, both good and bad, people we encounter daily, the beauty of nature, books, plays, and movies that have cultural and Christian values.  The season of Advent is a time for us to get in tune with all of the ways in which Christ comes, so that when He comes at Christmas, we will be ready to recognize Him, regardless of the form in which He chooses to appear.

As Angelus Silesius said, “Do not seek God in outer space. Your heart is the only place in which to meet Him face to face.”  This Sunday we are called to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord.  We can do this by living in joy, by praying without ceasing, and by reflecting on the mystery of the incarnation.  As we prepare for the Lord, let us also remember those who are in need.  We can show our love for our neighbors by reaching out to those who are suffering and by working to create a more just and compassionate world.

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The Invitation

October 15, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Eternal Life, Father Nixon, Grace, Heaven, Joy, Repentance, Uncategorized, Wedding

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 15, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 25:6-10a / Ps 23 / Phil 4:12-14, 19-20 / Mt 22:1-14
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

The world is full of opportunities knocking on our doors, just waiting for us to open them.  It is full of opportunities for us to live life to the fullest.  However, they are not always present.  We must seize the opportunity while we still have the time and the opportunity, or else we will end up blaming ourselves, not others.

An invitation is an example of an opportunity knocking on our door, waiting to be opened.  But rather than getting up to open the door, we sometimes whine about the noise.

There was a story of a young man who went away to other places in search of fortune.  A few years later, he returned to his home with trucks loaded with riches. “Now I’m going to play a trick on my relatives and friends,” he said to himself.  He donned some ragged clothes and went to see his cousin Mike first.  “I’m your long lost cousin,” he said.  “I’m back home after several years in other places.  Just look at me, how miserable I am.  May I stay with you for a while?” he said.  Mike said, “I’m sorry, but there’s no room here for you.”

The man visited some more of his relatives and friends, but he was not accepted by any of them.  So he decided to return to where he had left his riches, dressed himself in luxurious clothes, rode through this place with a large entourage of servants, purchased all the businesses about to close down, and began to build a majestic mansion.  After only a few days, the news of his riches had spread all over the place.

“Who could have imagined it?” asked one of the relatives and friends who had rejected him.  “If we had only known, we would have acted differently.  But it is too late now; we’ve missed the riches.”

The readings today show us what joy there is in accepting God’s invitation and what sorrow there is in refusing.  The word of God challenges us to examine our own response to His call.  God extends to us the greatest invitation we will ever receive:  Come to the feast.  Come to the banquet of eternal life.  Sooner or later, each of us has to give Him an answer.  Our RSVP can either be “Yes, I’m coming,” or “No, I will not come.”  The choice is ours and it has eternal consequences.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable directed to the chief priest and the elders.  A king arranges a wedding banquet for his son, and sends out his servants to call the guests.  Strangely, the invited guests flatly refuse to come.  When the king tries again, those being invited treat the servants shamefully, even violently.

When we first read this, it may sound absurd.  People simply don’t act that way when they are invited to a royal feast.  Why would anyone respond so negatively when being invited to something so wonderful?  But the parable is not about an earthly wedding feast.  It is about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is exposing the disgraceful ways in which we respond to Him.  Like the invited guests, sometimes we simply refuse for no logical reason.  We do not want to be bothered.  When we hear God’s call, His words, His commandments, His prompting in the heart, we reject it, without even considering it.  Other times, we consider other things more important right now:  our farm or business, or any number of high priority matters.  God’s will is simply not that important to us.

Then there are times when we have an outrageous reaction to God’s invitation.  We do not literally kill the messenger, but the word of truth can make us hostile and defensive.  When we are called to repentance, we get angry.  We act as if we have been imposed upon, or insulted, or threatened.  Interiorly, we fight, complain, ridicule, resist.  What at first seems to be a rather absurd reaction by some strange people in a parable becomes, upon closer inspection, a disconcerting reflection of our own hearts.

God truly is like a king who wants to fill His banquet hall with guests.  The blessings He has in mind for us are symbolized by the glorious feast so beautifully described in the first reading.  The prophet Isaiah foretells a feast of rich foods and choice wines, which the Lord of Hosts will provide for all peoples.

There is more to this feast than good food.  This is a prophecy of eternal life.  God promises that He will destroy death forever.  The veil of mourning that enshrouds all peoples and nations, the tears that are shed by every generation, the wave of death that ensnares every person will be destroyed.

What God is inviting us to is a victory celebration: a feast of everlasting rejoicing, a life without tears, or mourning, or death; everything we mean by the word Heaven.

In our Lord’s time, wedding invitations went out well in advance, and were accepted definitively.  The final call just before the event occurred was a mere formality.  It would be an unspeakable insult to decline when the final call arrived.  They had already accepted and had made their firm commitment.  And so the master in the parable sends out messengers to the highways and byways, that is, to everyone, respectable or not.  All are invited.  From now on the invitation is being made, not to a select and exclusive minority of privileged people, but to the wider public forum, to all people.  All who respond are welcome.  There is no special preference anymore.  Sinners, outcasts, gentiles—and you—are all invited.

Those accepting the invitation are not any better than those who declined.  It’s just that the poor and the outcasts, not having any other options and seeing what a rare gift this was, accepted and attended.  Again, it reminds us not to be complacent or superior, as all of us are truly blessed to be invited.

This parable reminds us that this invitation is for all of us.  But the invitation can be refused.  The kingdom is open to all, but guaranteed to none.  We don’t earn the kingdom, but we sadly can decline it, which would be madness.

One final thought:  The waifs and strays enter the banquet, but then one gets kicked out for not wearing a wedding garment.  It seems unfair at first glance.  Consider, however, that although the invitation is for all, acceptance means a change of standards and values.  These are symbolized by being clothed in the garment that resembles and represents the baptismal garment of goodness and Christ-like living.  We must wear this robe with devotion and humility, keeping the Gospel values of Christ in our hearts, very central and very safe.

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True Happiness

January 29, 2023 |by N W | 2 Comments | Blessings, Father Nixon, Joy, Life, Obedience, St. Matthew

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 29, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Zep 2:3; 3:12-13 / Ps 146 / 1 Cor 1:26-31 / Mt 5:1-12a
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

A newspaper in England once asked this question of its readers: Who are the happiest people on earth?  The four prize-winning answers were: a little child building sandcastles; a craftsman or artist with a job well done; a mother bathing her baby after a busy day; and a doctor who has finished a difficult and dangerous operation to save a human life.

The editors of the newspaper were surprised to find that virtually no one submitted kings, emperors, millionaires, or others of wealth and rank as the happiest people on earth.  Even W. Béran Wolfe, a psychiatrist and author, said, “If you observe a really happy man, and you find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert, he will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under a radiator.   He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself.  He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living twenty-four crowded hours of the day.”

In our gospel today according to St. Matthew, Jesus is talking about this popular heavenly constitution – the Beatitudes.  In Greek, the word beatitude is makarios, which means happiness.  So the meaning of the word “blessed,” as Jesus told it, is that this is happiness.  All that Jesus wants is for us to be happy, not according to the understand of the world of what happiness is all about, but according to what God meant by this word.

“Happiness is that which all men seek,” so says the great philosopher Aristotle.  Aristotle also observed that everything people do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is what they believe will bring them happiness in one form or another.  But the problem is that what people think will bring them happiness does not, in fact, always bring them true and lasting happiness.

Think of the drunkard who believes that happiness is found in a beer bottle – one bottle too much and he is driving home, runs the red light, hits a car, and wakes up the following morning in a hospital with plaster and stitches all over his body.  Then it begins to dawn on him that the happiness promised by alcohol may be too short lived.

Or take the man who frequents the casinos to deal with excitement – by the end of the month he finds that his account is in the red, and that he can no longer pay his mortgage.  Creditors go after him until he loses his house and his car.  Then it dawns on him that the happiness promised by the casino is fake.

So, Aristotle says that the ethical person is the person who knows and does what can truly bring them not just excitement or pleasure, but true and lasting happiness.

Another word for true and lasting happiness is blessedness, or beatitude.  In today’s gospel, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, shows that He wants His followers to have true and lasting happiness – the happiness that the world and everything in it cannot give.  This is the state of blessedness that Jesus calls being in the Kingdom of God or being in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The beatitudes that we have in today’s gospel constitute a road map for anyone who seeks to obtain the happiness of the Kingdom.  So why does Jesus deem it necessary to establish this guidepost to the Kingdom from the very first teaching that he gives the disciples?  It is because of the importance of this teaching.  Everyone seeks happiness, but often we look for it in all the wrong places.

Ask people around you what makes them happy and compare the answers you get with the answers Jesus gave.  We see that the values prescribed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are in fact countercultural.  We cannot accept these teachings of Jesus and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live.

Of course, Jesus does not demand that we abandon the world, but He does demand that we put God first in our lives, because only God can guarantee the true happiness and peace that our hearts long for.  Nothing in the world can give this peace, and nothing in the world can take it away.  Our God wills us to be happy.

It is interesting to note that the first miracle of Jesus happened in the wedding party at Cana, where everyone was enjoying the occasion, the wine, and the food.  He chose such an occasion of joy to make His first miracle in order to show that He was a happy person who could love and enjoy Himself.  He wanted to show that each of us has a right to happiness.

Happiness is not wrong or a sin.  Since joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit, a happy person does not fall into sin very easily.  Satan stays away from happy and joyful people; they are too hard to tempt.

The eight beatitudes do not describe eight different people such that we need to ask which of the eight suits us personally.  No, they are eight different snapshots taken from different angles of the same godly person.  The question for us today, therefore, is this – do we live our lives following the values of the world as a way of obtaining happiness or do we live by the teachings of Jesus?

If we live by the teachings of Jesus, then we may rejoice and be glad, for the reward in Heaven is great.

 

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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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His Coming in Gentleness

December 25, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Christmas, Comfort, Father Nixon, Hope, Humility, Joy, Love, Thanksgiving

The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
December 25, 2022 — Year A
Readings: Is 52:5-10 / Ps 98 / Heb 1:1-6 / Jn 1:1-18
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There was an inquisitive 4-year-old who happened to be rooted strongly to the “why” and “tell me” stage of life. The little boy was helping to sort out ornaments and said, “Daddy, what does ‘ignore’ mean?” The father explained, “Ignore means not to pay attention to people when they talk to you.”

Immediately, the little boy looked up at his father and said, “I don’t think we should ignore Jesus.” Puzzled, the father knelt closer to his animated son and replied, “I don’t think we should ignore Jesus either, son. I think we should give Him our full attention. So why do you say that we ignore Him?” “But daddy, that’s what the Christmas carol says: O come let us ignore Him.”

Kids sure say the darnedest things sometimes. But you know, brothers and sisters, often we actually get so caught up in the frenzy of preparations — parties, shopping, and decorating — that we appear to ignore the true meaning of Christmas and fail to prepare a place in our hearts to come and adore Him.

Let us adore the baby Jesus in the manger. A baby easily wins the heart and love of anyone with human feelings, but how much more does this baby win our heart and love? Imagine Jesus, the son of God and our savior, born in a stable and placed in a manger instead of a crib. When God comes, He usually comes in humility, silently and peacefully, without causing a great disturbance.

God’s humble coming in Jesus would not surprise us if we knew God better, but of course we will never know God sufficiently to understand. So, no matter how much we try to understand God becoming human in Jesus, we will not be able to comprehend. It will remain a mystery. The best reaction is that of the shepherds, simply to praise God.

So let us praise God now in our own words. As we look at the baby Jesus, we think of the mystery of God’s love for us, and ask ourselves: Why did God, who is almighty and all powerful, become small and powerless as a baby? Quite simply out of love for us. God became human so that we might become more like God. If Jesus had not come as a human like us, we might have had difficulty in believing God really loved us, but now we know for sure.

John the Evangelist says this is the revelation of God’s love for us: that God sent His only son into the world that we might have life through Him. This Christmas, brothers and sisters, let us thank God for revealing His love for us in Jesus, that He who is so big and powerful became so small and weak for us, that He became one of us to help us be more like Him, to have life through Him.

So, as we see baby Jesus in the manger, we reflect on God’s way being a way of gentleness and tenderness. God’s way is not one of violence, but gentleness. There’s a lot of goodness and love in the world but God is always tender and loving. As we look at baby Jesus in the manger, we see that He is the answer to today’s problems.

Instead of violence, in baby Jesus in the manger we see gentleness. Instead of hatred, in baby Jesus in the manger we see tenderness. Instead of selfishness, in baby Jesus in the manger we see love for us. So let us ask baby Jesus to help us to be gentle, tender, and loving with those around us, as He was in the manger.

Jesus in the manger gave us hope. In the darkness of our world His light has shone. His coming in gentleness encourages us to hold out the hand of reconciliation, to help one another, to work for peace. And we remember the message of the angels: Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth, peace!

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Rejoice!

December 11, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Advent, Christmas, Deacon Barry, Joy, Light

Third Sunday of Advent
December 11, 2022 — Year A
Readings: Is 35:1-6a, 10 / Ps 146 / Jas 5:7-10 / Mt 11:2-11
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist

Today is the third Sunday of Advent.  It is known as Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is taken from the first word of our entrance antiphon.  Because we had a beautiful opening hymn, Father didn’t say the entrance antiphon, but I’m going to say it to you now.  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I say rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.”  Isn’t that a beautiful entrance antiphon?  So, Gaudete – rejoice! 

Some seven hundred and fifty years before Jesus’ ministry, Israel was in captivity.  They were exiled from their precious homeland and far distant from their beloved holy temple.  Generation after generation after generation of families had lived this existence, this exile existence in Babylon.  It was there that the great prophet Isaiah spoke to the people, telling them that change was coming.  He had a beautiful vision of the people being reunited with their place, a new Jerusalem to be rebuilt and reinhabited. 

“Rejoice,” he writes, “rejoice with joyful song.”  The first line we heard from Isaiah today says, “The dry, parched desert will exult,” which also means rejoice.  He will come to save you, the weak will be strong, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will rise.  Those whom the Lord had ransomed will return and enter Jerusalem, singing and crowned with everlasting joy.  Rejoice! 

As with most prophets, Isaiah’s message in this prophecy has more than one meaning.  The first meaning is that, yes, the Jews will be released from exile.  Yes, they will be allowed to return to Judah.  Yes, they will be allowed to rebuild the temple and to resume their religious practices.  All these things, because of a new ruler, Cyrus the Great, who conquers Babylon two hundred years after Isaiah made that prophecy. 

But Isaiah’s message has a different meaning as well.  It foreshadows a future Savior even further than those two hundred years, whose reign is forever; his message is of true everlasting joy. 

So, let’s fast forward to what I proclaimed in Matthew’s gospel and in Jesus’ time, where Jesus affirms John the Baptist and confirms that He himself is the Anointed One, fulfilling the prophecy.  Now how does He do that? 

We hear that in prison, John has heard about what Jesus is doing and what is happening in the world around him while he is in prison.  And so, he sends his two followers to go and talk to Jesus and to ask Him a question:  Is he the one to come, or should we be waiting for somebody else? 

Jesus does not give a simple, straightforward answer; He doesn’t say, “Yes.  Next question.  What else you got?”  He doesn’t give a simple answer, and He also doesn’t declare openly, “Yes, I am the Messiah.”  He doesn’t do that either.  What does he do?  He proclaims the kingdom.  He proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven with this prophecy.  And just like John the Baptist proclaimed, he says, “Go and tell John what you see and hear, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers cleaned, the deaf hear, the dead rise.”  Does that sound familiar?   We just heard that in Isaiah. 

Through His actions, through what He has done and is doing, His works of love and mercy, He is fulfilling that well-known prophecy that we just heard from Isaiah, written seven hundred and fifty years before.  He’s also saying that that prophecy wasn’t pointing toward violent overthrow of civil government.  It was pointing to Jesus.  And you can trust this because of His work of love and mercy, which were spoken of by Isaiah so many years before. 

And also, “Messenger, when you go back with this message that I’m giving you from Isaiah’s prophecy, you are also saying John, you can believe in yourself, because you too are fulfilling that prophecy.”  Amazing!  As the messengers are leaving and are going to return to John the Baptist with what they’ve heard and what they’ve seen, Jesus honors their master, saying that he is the awaited messenger.  That’s affirming.  He is the one foretold by Isaiah – remember the voice the one who cried out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord?  That’s the one! 

And because of this, he is the greatest prophet of all.  And yet, the least of the Kingdom of Heaven is even greater than he.  That’s a curious statement right there at the end; it kind of threw me as I was reading it.  I think I know a little bit about what that means.  Each of us Christians, we followers of Jesus, we believers are more blessed than John, because we get to live in this age brought on by Jesus.  We are blessed to live on this side of the resurrection and so we can be part of His mystical body, a part of His community of believers, and truly be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and we get to be a part of that kingdom.  How awesome is that? 

Gaudete!  Hallelujah!  Rejoice!  Amen.

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A New Day, a New Life

June 26, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Family, Guest Celebrants, Joy, Life, Mission, Thanksgiving

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 26, 2022 – Year C

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21 / Ps 16 / Gal 5:1, 13-18 / Lk 9:51-62
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant

This was a week like no other, with the big elephant in the little living room: major cultural shifts.  And to many of us, what came down from the courts is not necessarily friendly.

There were three decisions that came down from the high court.  The first one was about the second amendment. The second sort of gets blocked out, about faith in education.  It was a case brought from the state of Maine, in which the county agreed to pay for public or private schools, as long as there was no religion involved.   Parents challenged the decision that no religion could be involved.  The court’s ruling stated that as long as a full education was offered, public funding could be used regardless.  So, we’ve all learned that it’s very important for Catholic parents to keep a close eye on education.

The third one on Friday has to do with the whole culture of life.  I think of all of your prayers that have been going up for these forty-nine years since January of 1973, for an end to abortion and to respect the dignity of every human being from moment of conception to moment of natural death.  That’s the first right, after which all other rights follow.

The Supreme Court decision does not mean an end to abortion.  It was more of a judicial thing that says we took a case forty-nine years ago that was not settled law.  In fact, it overturned state law for most of the states in the country and almost guaranteed an ongoing controversy.  And so it returns to the states, for those of us who consciously wish to establish that culture of life in which every life is welcomed.

When I visit the nursing home and see the person whom I once knew in the prime of life, ranting and incontinent – no, you’re not a vegetable!  You’re never a vegetable; you’re a human all the way to the end of your natural life.  We don’t interfere with that.  And you are human from the moment of your conception.

So, it’s up to us going forward, because in Virginia nothing has changed between Thursday and Saturday.  To work for that right to life is still what lies before us.  It has just been brought back to the state level now.  The feeling was that the judiciary had been too activist – they had taken too active a role in what should have been up to the people at the polls to decide, not the unelected judge, so it wasn’t a constitutional issue.

I have the sense that you are probably getting hammered by those who know you are Catholic, because not everybody out there is friendly to what we stand for.  Like in the early Church, in some ways we stand alone.  I hope to give you a couple of things that you can say, because I don’t want to see you unequipped or defenseless.  I want to see you with some words that you can believe in.

Long ago, as early Christians, we separated ourselves, often at the cost of life and limb, from the Roman Empire, and it was remarked upon by commentators and historians, that all these Christians don’t want to abort their children and they don’t expose their children.

What was common under the Roman Empire was that children who weren’t wanted were put out where the animals were, or in the forest, or on the roof overnight.  Of course, many of them didn’t survive.  That was called exposing, and if they survived, the family would often take them back.  Christians didn’t do that.

And I suspect that it was because we were taken from all walks of society, and we recognized that since Christ came for all, and since all were made in the image and likeness of God, and that since Christ had taken on flesh, that means that I have to treat their lives with enormous respect.

I always love first confessions.  You know when the kids come in, and some of them have very keen consciences, and some not so much.  But I always remind them that God loves you and that you are not here by accident.  You’re not some cosmic waste; you’re here for a reason (although they may not know it yet), but you’re not here by accident.  And so, it opens us up early on, hopefully.  From the beginning we stood apart, regardless of how the empire went, and regardless of how the empire goes now.

This is in the future and I don’t have a crystal ball for you.  Whatever happens, we’ll stay the same.  Now we think it’s a great way to live.  It is profoundly liberal, because it says there’s room for you.  We don’t know how we’re going to put that extra plate at the table, but there’s room for you.  That’s the best of the word “liberal” – an openness to the unexpected, an openness to what God’s doing that I may not be completely in touch with.

So, not only do I go back to the beginnings of things, I go back to when my own life began, which wasn’t the day that I appeared to the world in August of 1947.  I’m guessing it was around Thanksgiving time the year before when my life first began inside my mom.  She didn’t know I was there.  Dad didn’t know; I guess God was the only one who knew.  But what I know now that I didn’t know then is that even at that point, I was a person.  I had a right to life.  I was a human being.  And now we know scientifically that I even had my own DNA.  My mother was the one who carried me, but I wasn’t her, I wasn’t a part of her in that sense.  I was dependent on her, but I was not her; I was somebody different.  And that’s what we keep saying – the baby is somebody different, and the baby deserves that protection.  We speak of the baby because maybe our first experience of faith was to think of a baby, because babies are voiceless.

A number of different numbers come to mind as I reflect back.  The number 49.  The number 43.  The number 95.  Forty-nine years ago, when I had just quit the seminary, I had been in for ten years – high school, college in Rhode Island, where I am from, and then over to Belgium for my graduate work for three years.  Times were sort of wild in 1972; it was a crazy, crazy time.  I said to myself that I had too many reservations, so I left the seminary, stayed in Europe after being in Belgium for three years where it was always cloudy and gray.  I needed to clear out the cobwebs, so I hitchhiked down to the south of Spain and worked there for six months, got some sun, and then hitchhiked up to Switzerland where I waited on tables in the Alps and was a ski bum for six months before coming back to the states.

It was during that time that the Roe ruling came down.  Of course, it was not on my radar, so I knew nothing about it.  I only heard about it later on, and life has a way of coming full circle. After a business career I was drawn back to the priesthood, and I moved from Boston down to Virginia and was ordained here.  There I became involved in the Pro-Life movement, because once I began to think about it, I said, “This can’t be.”

And on a day like today, I think of those in parishes throughout the world who are praying.  I think of all those Marches for Life rarely covered by the news media and the longest peaceful protest in history.  All those people who said, “This ain’t right.”  In a culture that doesn’t have an attention span of 49 seconds, this is 49 years and that March for Life becomes like a great family reunion every year.  It’s sort of like Woodstock without the dope – it’s the same average age as Woodstock was.  There’s a sense of ‘we need to be here.’  And of course, now that is reversed and sent back.  I think of all the people who have gone before us during those forty-nine years and those whose prayers, in this respect, have been answered.

Think of the number 43.  There was no long history, no constitutional right to abortion.  It was a very activist decision because the laws of 43 states were changed by this, overnight.  And that was hard to swallow.  So, this time around, the court says it is not constitutional – it must be taken back to the people.

I think of the number 95, for it was 95 years ago, not far from here in Amherst and Charlottesville – that the Supreme Court case was Buck v. Bell, dealing with involuntary sterilization of imbeciles, feebleminded, and people who were ‘less.’  It was the eugenics movement.  It eventually got exported to the Third Reich.  The eugenics movement – some lives are worth more than others – who would breed and who wouldn’t.  And that Supreme Court, perhaps the most illustrious of all time, came down to permit it.

All the way up to the 60s, thousands were victims of involuntary sterilization, and that Supreme Court consisted of luminaries.  Former President Taft was on it, and perhaps the most well-known of all Supreme Court justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandeis.  This is a list of the greats, and they came out 8 to 1 in favor of eugenics.  Now it had to get overturned and was overturned in the 1940s, when we saw what it wrought.  But the one dissenter, which sort of struck me, was the one Catholic justice.  He was raised not in the lap of luxury, not with a silver spoon, but in a log cabin in Minnesota with ten other kids in the family.  Somehow, he knew.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and I feel very inadequate.  The first time around we didn’t have the words; we didn’t know what to say.  Perhaps when you get confronted, maybe we can begin to get the words now.  What I always ask is if a baby is a baby is a baby, and I was who I was before my mom knew I was there.  Science tells me that.  I wasn’t part of Mom in that sense.  I was who I was.  The other thing I say is when you look at much of this back and forth is that nobody talks about Baby.  And I simply say, “Who speaks for Baby?”  You’d expect Mom to be the one to speak for Baby, but if not, we will.  Keep Baby at the center of the conversation.

Listening to today’s gospel, I would say put this on my tombstone.  Where he says to Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go.  And Jesus says, “Foxes have dens and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head.”  That to me, is the great romance of the priesthood, or trying to follow Christ, I think for all of us.  To eventually let go of all the little props and little securities that I need, and to turn myself over completely to Him.  Where the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head, there is no security but Him.

This is a chance for us to move forth, to say no, we think a culture of life is a great thing, and yes, we may have to revise the whole sexual revolution.  We may have to revisit that and say that it was not such a great idea.  Look at a lot of the results.  Now we may have to go back and do a lot of work, but the battle is always Christ’s, and so may we be graced with all the fruits of the spirit in going forth.

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Following the Right Star

January 2, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Christmas, Father Nixon, Joy, Light, Love

The Epiphany of the Lord
January 2, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Is 60:1-6 / Ps 72 / Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 / Mt 2:1-12
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Today we celebrate the feast of the Magi, or of the Epiphany. This feast is called Epiphany because Jesus revealed Himself, not only to the Jews, the chosen people, but also to pagan visitors.  The word epiphany is from the Greek word, epiphaneia, which means manifestation.  In other words, Epiphany is first and foremost the feast of God’s revelation of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, to the world. Jesus is Savior, not only of the Israelites, the chosen people, but of everyone.  In this sense, the Magi represent all the other peoples of the world. (more…)

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Most Blessed By Obedience

December 19, 2021 |by N W | 0 Comments | Advent, Christmas, Father Nixon, Generosity, Joy, Mary, Obedience

Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 19, 2021 — Year C
Readings: Mi 5:1-4a / Ps 80 / Heb 10:5-10 / Lk 1:39-45
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Today is the last Sunday of Advent.  This season is about to end, and we are closer to the Christmas holidays.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord took flesh in the Virgin Mary, and He remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament.  And every Christmas we commemorate His birth.

During these four weeks of Advent, we have been listening to and meditating on the readings from the Holy Scriptures that remind us of the need that we all have to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. (more…)

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The Missing Piece

December 12, 2021 |by N W | 0 Comments | Advent, Deacon Mark, Joy, Mission, Sacraments, Trust

Third Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2021 — Year C
Readings: Zep 3:14-18a / Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6 / Phil 4:4-7 / Lk 3:10-18
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

Good morning and welcome to Gaudete Sunday, which in Latin means rejoice. To help us understand that word, I would like you to recall a time in your life when you went from feeling incompleteness, or pain, or uncertainty, or loneliness, or boredom, or aimlessness to feeling whole and joyful.

Maybe it was when that person you liked asked you on a date or agreed to go on a date with you, or when your significant other first said, “I love you”, or when your boss, out of the blue told you that you are doing a great job, or when your doctor relieved your pain, or when your best friend or family member forgave you, or when you and your wife first realized you were going to have a baby. (more…)

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