The Epiphany of the Lord
January 7, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Is 60:1-6 / Ps 72 / Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 / Mt 2:1-12
by Rev. Dan Kelly, Guest Celebrant
In the first reading that we heard today, we heard Isaiah say “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem. Your light has come.” This is really important to us on this feast of Epiphany. “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples.” We can also see that too, in the turmoil we find on earth today: the wars, the sadness, the destruction, even in our own country where there is intolerance and all kinds of violence, breaking into stores and wreaking all kinds of havoc. But we find in that first reading, “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes,” Isaiah tells us, “And look about; they all gather and come to you.”
This first reading is a sign of hope for us, and there are other signs of hope that we have. I’m going to remind you of some things that I don’t think the children have ever heard.
When I was a youngster, growing up in a certain town, there was a planetarium. This particular planetarium was in a science museum, called the Franklin Institute, and that was the Fels Planetarium. My mom and dad took all five of us sons (we had no sisters) when I was just a young lad.
The first thing that we saw when we went into the Franklin Institute was a huge ball, hanging from a cable rising five stories high to the dome at the top. That ball was slowly moving back and forth in slow circles. It was a pendulum. There were little pegs all around a circle set up at the bottom of this huge ball, which probably weighed close to a ton. At the bottom of the ball there was a little peg, like a little spike, hanging down, and that ball would swing over and knock down the pegs. It would knock down a peg twenty-four times; every hour it would strike down another one until twenty-four hours had gone by. Early in the morning, workmen had to come out there where all the pegs had been knocked down. They had to stop that ball – Maybe it took four men to grab hold of it and slowly stop it. They would set up new pegs, and then let it go. Thus it marked the hours of the day and the rotation of our earth on its axis. It was a wonderful visual sight to see, and as a child, I was utterly amazed.
Now I’m going to move you on in that same Franklin Institute to another place. There was a huge theater, and this theater was domelike, larger than our church, and it had seating all around it, with a projector. That projector would shine onto the ceiling above, and form sights in the sky. The astronomers and technicians could display anything that they wanted to show. So, you went in there and took your seats, and everyone was chatting, just like we do coming into the church, chatting in the foyer. And then we get into church, and then we’re quiet because we’re meditating. And then the lights start to go dim. The lights in the enormous dome would continue to get dimmer until it got so black you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. Those experiences were meant to draw attention to something special. One of the announcers would say, “You can’t see your hands. It’s like nothingness.” So, you might wonder what the universe was like.
We were visiting the planetarium in that season between Christmas and the Epiphany. They had decided to put up the sky as it might have appeared when those first pilgrims from other countries – the three Magi – were following a star. They began to explain that, and then you would see the stars appear within this dome, with one star moving very slowly. They would recount the events as described in the Bible, and it brought home to us, not only the enormity of the universe, but also a fact of our own faith that we are living by.
We know who those three pilgrims, those Magi or kings or philosophers were. They might have been studying all kinds of things. They came from other countries; we don’t know where they came from, as the Bible doesn’t tell us that. But sometimes our Nativity scenes may show one from Ethiopia, another from Persia, and another from Arabia. We don’t know all that, but they did not work together until they met on a similar type of pilgrimage. They were all seeing this star moving that they had not seen before. After all, they were astronomers; they were philosophers, and they knew what they were looking for.
Later on (not found in the Bible), names were given to them: Balthazar, Melchior, and Casper. They went to King Herod, who was in charge of that whole area, because they wanted to find out if he knew anything. They had heard that there was a new king to be born, and they were following his star. As we read in Holy Scripture today, they were overjoyed at seeing the star and stopped at the place where the child was. Herod said, “Oh, this is wonderful news. Go and find out where he is and come back and report to me so that I may go and worship him, too.”
King Herod was not a good man; he was a very evil king. He was jealous, he was threatened that there was another child to be born who might be king of all this land. Why are we celebrating the feast of the Epiphany? You might think that, next to Christmas, it couldn’t be too important. Epiphany is like we heard from Isaiah in the first reading today: The light will shine down upon you.
They went and found the child, and it is said they prostrated themselves before the child. Now, if we look at our manger scene, we see the three kings. We see the scene there, but we don’t see them prostrated. We know what “prostration” is. Prostration is when you lie down flat on your stomach, head down, feet down. The only time we see a prostration in our liturgy in the Catholic Church is on Good Friday, when the Passion is being read. The priest comes in, and, if there’s a deacon with him, the deacon will join him. And the priest will prostrate, lay flat down, on Good Friday before the Passion is read, and meditate for a few moments. It’s quite a dramatic, silent scene.
So, we have this story and the image that we have from today. They arrived in Jerusalem, but then were warned in a dream, as we heard in the gospel, not to return to Herod. What did Herod do? You know, after Christmas, we have two feast days, days of martyrs. The first day after Christmas is the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. And then the next is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Because what Herod did was, when the Three Magi didn’t return to him, he ordered his soldiers to go and kill (terrible thought!) every baby boy two years of age or younger. I don’t want to bring horror to you. I want you to know what evil is; what the killing of the innocents is. The Church even helps us to meditate upon that, and we read about that in Scripture. There must have been a wailing throughout that area of mothers and fathers as soldiers went through, taking these baby boys. Why? Because Herod did not want a king to come in his place.
We celebrate that the infant king Jesus survived. God sent the archangel Gabriel to help with this. We have four archangels. You remember three of them: Raphael, Gabriel, Michael, and the fourth one, who didn’t turn out so well: Lucifer. It is Lucifer who was driving the madness of King Herod.
Gabriel is the one who appeared to Mary many months before the birth of her child and said, “You are going to have a child.” Mary is only engaged. She’s planning on her marriage to Joseph. She says, “How can this be, because I don’t yet have a husband?” Joseph was going to quietly divorce her, so that there wouldn’t be any scandal. But then, during his sleep, the angel Gabriel, a very busy archangel, woke up Joseph and said, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take this child into your home to be your wife, because the child is a gift of God, a creation of God, the Holy Spirit.”
Later on, a child is born, and then Herod is letting out the order to kill all these baby boys less than two years of age. The angel Gabriel comes to Joseph again, the father of that family – foster father – and says, “Quick, take the baby and his mother and go to Egypt, a distant country. Go to Egypt and stay there until I tell you to come back.”
We know approximately when Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus left Egypt and returned on this long, long trek back to Nazareth. They had left Nazareth, gone to Bethlehem so that Joseph could register and pay his tax, and that’s where the baby was born. Then they went further away from Nazareth and Bethlehem to Egypt. Do you know when they came back? It was seven years. How do we know that? A lot of research was done many years ago, and it was seven years simply because that’s when the threat was gone: Herod died.
We know, unfortunately, that Herod’s death is not the end of the evil that happens, but it’s the starting of a new life. Joseph, Mary and their young son now about seven years of age, started their long trek all the way back from Egypt, trekking back through Bethlehem, passing by Jerusalem, and the other sixty-five or seventy miles more to get up to Nazareth, to live out their lives, where Jesus would learn by going to synagogue.
When I was young, my father and mother took us to that planetarium. Later on, I became interested in joining the Boy Scouts, but there was no scouting in the parish where I lived in the city. My good friend, says, “You could come and join the Sea Scouts.” Well, I knew very well there were Sea Scouts around. They were not as plentiful as the Boy Scouts. But after all, at that time my brother was in the Navy, my father had been in the Navy in the First World War, and so, I said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea!” I went up there and, on the Delaware River, there were about thirteen – we called them “ships,” and they were the bunkhouses for each group of boys who were in the Sea Scouts. We learned all kinds of things nautical. Once a month Rabbi came and gave us wonderful readings from the Scriptures, from the Bible, and gave us animated talks that young boys would really need growing up: how to behave, how to have fun, how to be good sons to your parents and good brothers to your brothers and sisters.
So, those were some experiences that I had growing up, and it all started with a memory of a father and mother who wanted to take their children to this particular museum, years ago when I was still a little pup, amazed at the pendulum, and amazed at the sky shown in that theater on a feast of the Epiphany.KEEP READING
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 12, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Wis 6:12-16 / Ps 63 / 1 Thes 4:13-18 / Mt 25:1-13
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today’s holy gospel is taken from a discourse about the end of the world and the final judgement. The point of today’s gospel story is that we should always be prepared for the end of our lives. None of us knows the day or the hour when we will appear in judgement before the Lord.
There was a story about a sparrow who overheard from a squirrel up a tree that the sky was falling. Greatly disturbed by that news, the sparrow flew from its comfortable nest to spread the news. The cow, the dogs, the cats, and all the members of the animal kingdom were simply doubtful. They dismissed the sparrow’s tale as purely hearsay and therefore untrue. Finally, dejected and frustrated, and convinced that the animals would not cooperate, the sparrow lay on its back and started to raise its legs up toward the sky.
A wise man happened to be passing by and, seeing the creature in an unusual stance, inquired, “My little friend, what’s wrong with you?”
The sparrow replied, “Oh, dear sir, haven’t you heard that the sky is falling? I am here to support the weight of the sky, should it fall.”
The wise man could not help but smile and say, “But with your frail body, how could you possibly support the sky?”
“We do what we can. We do what we can,” said the sparrow.
Most of the time, we are like the dog, the cow, the cat, and the rest of the animals in the story, who are doubtful and do not want to respond to the needs and the signs of the times. When somebody tells us, “Let us go to Mass,” we would respond, “I don’t have any sin. Just go there and pray for me.” We don’t want to be disturbed. We want to be on our own. We are unconcerned and unresponsive when somebody needs our help. Today’s first reading and the gospel both teach that we must have wisdom and prudence to be prepared for the Lord’s coming at the end of our lives.
As we get close to the end of the Church’s liturgical year, we concentrate on the end of things. That is why we consider if we are ready for the end of our lives, the end of the world, and the final judgement. Nature itself reminds us of the end of things. During the fall season, we see leaves fall from the trees, and it teaches us that someday we, too, will have an end to our life. The grass dies off and the flowers no longer bloom as nature teaches us a great lesson each fall. Someday we too shall die.
Our Blessed Savior wants us to get to heaven, so He’s instructing us today to be vigilant, to be ready, to be wise, and be prudent. In today’s gospel story, the task of the bridesmaids was to lead the way with light through the narrow and dark streets of the city. There were no street lamps in those days, and it was pitch dark at night. We may presume that the bridesmaids prepared for the wedding over a significant period of time. They probably made new dresses, new shoes, had their hair done, and so forth. The foolish bridesmaids failed in the one task for which they were required. The foolish virgins were not prepared to light the way for the groom.
We do not know too much about ancient marriages, but according to Joachim Jeremiah, in his book entitled The Parables of Jesus, published in 1972, one thing seems to be sure: The highlight of the marriage is the nocturnal entry of the bridegroom into the paternal house where the marriage takes place, followed by the festival banquet. The task of the bridegroom was to fetch the bride in her home, and then the procession would go to the house of the father of the groom. The task of the bridesmaids is to carry torches and light the way, and to give everything and everybody a very festive mood.
So now the question is: What is our task in this life? Did not God create us to know Him, to love Him, and to be happy with Him in this life and the next? Are we attending to the purpose for which we were created? Are we prepared for the task at hand? Or are we like the foolish virgins? Now is the time for us to make necessary changes to our lives. Now is our one chance, perhaps, to obtain sufficient oil for the lamps of our souls, so that we will be able to complete the task that God has given us in our life.
When we were baptized, we received a baptismal candle. The celebrant, priest, or deacon, said to us, “Receive the light of Christ, parents and godparents. This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. These children of yours have been enlightened by Christ. They are to walk always as children of the light. May they keep the flame of faith alive in their hearts. When the Lord comes, may they go out to meet Him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
Are we ready to go out to meet Jesus at the end of our lives?
Now that we are responsible adults, is Jesus the light of the world through us? The light of Christ that we receive in Baptism is to shine before others by the way we live our daily lives. To accomplish all the things that God wants of us, it is necessary for us to worship at Mass every week. The Mass is the most perfect and most powerful prayer that there is. In every Mass, Jesus offers Himself through us to the Father. By attending Mass regularly, we will grow and be holy. Each time we have the privilege of receiving Holy Communion, something awesome takes place in our soul. We become what we eat. We become more like Christ. Jesus living in us will continue to shed His gentle light to those among whom we live. We will come to know and love Him more deeply.
Sometimes we ask, is Matthew’s message to his fellow Christians still relevant to the Christians of our time? Very much so. As we draw close to the end of the Liturgical Year, the Church, through the Gospel, invites us to contemplate the end: the end of our lives, and the end of the world. The way to prepare for the end is not to live in fear and anxiety, or to go after prophets and visionaries that claim to have access to God’s secret calendar of how and when the world will end. Jesus told us that the Son of Man would come back on the last day to judge the living and the dead. How and when will that be? We do not know for sure.
How then is the wise Christian to prepare for the end times? Today’s parable gives us the answer. The best way to prepare for the end is to follow the example of those wise virgins; the wise virgins who took oil to keep their lamps burning. In the same way, we should engage and persevere in good works to keep our faith alive. That is the best way to make ourselves ready and prepared for the Lord, no matter when the Lord chooses to come.
So, in this holy Mass, let us beg Jesus to help us change our lives, so that we, too, will radiate the light of Christ in our world and be prepared for His coming.KEEP READING
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
August 6, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Dn 7:9-10, 13-14 / Ps 97 / 2 Pt 1:16-19 / Mt 17:1-9
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is a story of a young man who thought he was a worm. He would hide under the bed whenever he saw a chicken, because chickens eat worms. One day he was hiding under the bed, because he saw a chicken roaming around. His best friend decided to help him overcome his problem. He went under the bed with him and told him to repeat after him, “I am a man, not a worm.” After a few repetitions, his best friend urged him to come out and prove himself a man. He came out and walked around confidently until he saw a chicken and then immediately hid under the bed again. His best friend went under the bed and asked him, “Why don’t you believe you are a man, not a worm?” The young man replied, “I do believe I am a man, not a worm, but does the chicken believe that?”
Jesus believed that He was the beloved Son of the Father. Even in His most painful and despairing moments, He believed that. The disciples also believed that Jesus was the Son of God, but the moment the trials and persecutions came along, they ran and hid under the bed. Later on, however, they truly believed and laid down their lives for Jesus.
The Feast of the Transfiguration reminds us of who Jesus is and also reminds us of who we are. Today we are celebrating this feast. The word, transfiguration, is derived from the Latin word, transfigurare, or the Greek word, metamorphosis, which means change in form or appearance. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, a special trio in the twelve, up the high mountain of Tabor where the glory of His destiny is revealed to them. This glory belongs to Him as God’s beloved Son. Transfiguration is the foretaste of heaven. This is signified by His dazzling white clothes.
Peter wants to preserve this moment by erecting tents. He’s overwhelmed and terrified by the experience, and yet he doesn’t want it to end. Moses and Elijah are seen talking to Jesus about His death which He is to suffer in Jerusalem. This is seen by the three apostles. The three are wondrously delighted with this vision and Peter calls out to Christ, “Lord it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tents, one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Then they hear the voice of the Father saying, “This is My Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”
This moment, not a permanent state of bliss, is given to them to help them realize the true identity of Jesus, that Jesus is the true Messiah, the Son of the living God. This conversation of Jesus with Elijah and Moses shows us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. (Moses represents the law, and Elijah represents the prophets.) His mission is not to destroy the ways in which the Father has already revealed Himself, but to bring this revelation to completion.
The vision that we are given today on this great Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord shows us that we are called to something far beyond anything we could have imagined.
Our first reading from the book of Daniel gives us a tiny glimpse into the awesome glory of Heaven, where the Father reigns with His Son. We get the sense that Daniel can barely find the words to describe the wonder of what he has seen. Everything is bright white, glowing as if on fire, seemingly blinding in its brilliance. Myriads of people from every nation are worshipping God. This vision already fills us with great hope. We want to be invited into this place where we can experience the glory of God and be counted among those who are privileged to stand before Him and worship Him.
The gospel, however, encourages us to hope for still more. Peter, James, and John are shown the same glory of God shining out through the very humanity of Jesus. They begin to understand that God is not content merely to have us join Him in heaven so that we can witness His glory. He wants to transform us so that we shine with that very same glory. The Transfiguration shows us more deeply who Jesus is. It also shows us who we are called to be in God’s plan.
St. Peter assures us, in the second reading, that this is not just some cleverly devised story. He himself was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration. He speaks of what he saw and heard. He declares that this promise of God is altogether reliable and exhorts us to be attentive to it.
Another possible reason for this display was that Jesus wanted to strengthen these three apostles for the trials of faith that they would have to face and endure at Mount Calvary when Jesus would not be on Mount Tabor, the mountain of the Transfiguration, but on Mount Calvary, the mountain of the cross.
God sometimes gives us moments of consolation and joy. We want such moments to never end, but that is not our lot here on earth. Before enjoying glory, we must first undergo suffering. These moments of consolation will help us to go on, to persevere in spite of difficulties. God invites us to see the many little transfiguration experiences that we have in our daily lives, such as changes of nature, the gradual opening of a flower, the blooming of trees, transformation of people, the growing of children, the cycle of birth and death, the realization that God is there.
Through the eyes of faith, we realize that it is a continuous process of seeing, not the flower, but the blooming, not the people but their talents, not the sun but its rising, not the miracle but God.
Every time that we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist, we also experience a moment of transfiguration where our Lord Jesus Christ is transfigured before our very own eyes. The bread and wine are transfigured and become His body and blood, thus our spiritual food for life in our journey toward eternal life. May we slowly come out of our fears, weaknesses, and sinfulness, and show others what we really believe in and who we are called to be—the people of God.KEEP READING
Third Sunday of Easter
April 23, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33 / Ps 16 / 1 Pt 1:17-21 / Lk 24:13-35
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
[Parish children received their first Eucharist today. The first part of the homily is directed toward them.]
The Eucharist makes us like Jesus, who said, “I am the light of the world (Jn 8:12).” Therefore, when you receive Holy Communion, you become a light in the world. This is why St. Paul wrote that you are meant to “shine like stars in the world (Phil 2:15).” So, it is right that you all decorated candles and put them on the windowsills. Candles are a sign of Jesus, our light. There are candles by the ambo to signify Jesus, the light as the Word of God, and by the altar, Jesus, the light as the body and blood of God. Jesus wants us to be a light in the world. How?
Jesus told us how. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you (Jn 13:34).” So be kind to everyone, especially those that others are mean to or make fun of or ignore. Be loving to everyone in your home. Obey your parents; remember that Jesus was made perfect in His obedience (Heb 5:8-10). Spend time with Grandma and Grandpa; you are their joy, and the time you spend with them is a great treasure for them. Ask them to tell you stories from their life and you will learn much. Pray; God loves it when you talk with Him. He becomes a good friend when you spend time talking to Him every day. And by the way, if someone tells you the bread is only a symbol, you say: “That is heresy (Fr. Dan Beamon homily).”
[Rest of Homily]
As the youth are receiving First Holy Communion in our two parishes this weekend, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the mechanics of receiving. Please do not think I am judging your technique when you come forward. What I want to do is reduce the number of times Jesus’ precious body falls to the floor and to remove some of the anxiousness of the priest, deacon, and extraordinary Eucharistic ministers. Here is a refresher.
Now let’s open up God’s word a bit. Have you ever wondered what Jesus told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? Oh, to have been there and hear Jesus, the Word made flesh, teach scripture! In the gospel Luke wrote, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the scriptures (Lk 24:27).” Fr. Pablo Gadenz, in his commentary of the Gospel of Luke, suggests that we could be hearing what Jesus taught them when we read what is said by His followers in the Book of Acts (395).
We just heard an example of that in the first reading from Acts. Peter interprets to them what referred to Jesus in the scriptures. Peter said, “For David says of [Jesus]: I saw the Lord before me…My flesh, too, will dwell in hope, because You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld (Acts 2: 25-27).” He was quoting King David’s Psalm 16, which we sang a few minutes ago.
I think Fr. Gadenz is on to something here, and it is exciting. It makes me want to read Acts again with the mindset that when Peter and Stephen speak, they are sharing what Jesus taught on the road to Emmaus! (By the way, the Hallow app has a daily podcast for the Easter season where Jonathan Roumie reads one chapter from Acts each day and Dr. Scott Hahn explains it.)
In this Road-to-Emmaus gospel passage, there is another important point. Jesus explains the scriptures and then He blesses and breaks the bread. This is what we do at every Mass. Why did Jesus not simply get straight to the Eucharist and then talk about scripture? Was the order important or simply coincidental?
In Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Bible, he points out, as does Fr. Gadenz, it is the “divine purpose” to use scripture to gradually prepare our hearts and minds and to stir up our faith, but it is not until we see the Eucharist that we truly see Christ (Barron 445). This makes sense. Those two disciples were sad and agitated and downcast. Once they heard the Word of God and heard it explained, their hearts were “burning within them (Lk 24:32).” Then their “eyes were opened” and they were ready to see Jesus in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24: 31).
This is why it is so important to get our families to Mass. A mountain hike, a walk at sunset on the lake shore, holding hands with that special someone on the porch, gazing at the moon on a starry night, etc., reveal God to us Who is in all things, but ONLY at Mass do we hear Him clearly in the Word and see Him clearly in the Eucharist.
Bishop Barron says of Jesus in the Eucharist that He is “breaking his heart open in compassion.” What images does this bring to your mind? One is the priest breaking the consecrated bread and placing a piece in the chalice of blood and water. This is evocative of the blood and water that poured forth from His side on the cross, which is the like the image we celebrated last week on Divine Mercy Sunday with red and blue rays coming from His heart. And then I think of the Eucharistic miracles posted in the hallway of Holy Name of Mary, where the Eucharist became flesh. Scientists who were asked to analyze the tissue, without knowing where it came from, said that the tissue is that of a heart. Do you see a recurring image here? It is the image of Jesus’ Sacred Heart.
No one knew Jesus’ heart more intimately than his mother, Mary. St. Pope John Paul II wrote about this, “And is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled Him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion (Ecclesia de Eucharistia)?” John Paul is describing the Third Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary, the Nativity, and is tying it to the Fifth Luminous Mystery, that he gave us, which is the Institution of the Eucharist. Imagine Mary looking at her Son’s heart in her hand at her first Holy Communion and her mind flashing back to holding Him in her arms at Bethlehem.
Mary, pray for us that every time we receive your Son in Holy Communion, we will see Him with your eyes and love Him with your Immaculate Heart. Amen.
Peter Kreeft. Food for the Soul – Reflections on the Mass Readings for Cycle A. Word of Fire 2022.
Bishop Robert Barron. The Word on Fire Bible_The Gospels. Word on Fire Ministries 2020.
Fr. Pablo T. Gadenz. Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture. The Gospel of Luke. Baker Academic, 2018.
Katie Yoder. 15 Quotes from St. John Paul II on his love for the Eucharist. Catholic News Agency (CNA) Oct 22, 2022.KEEP READING
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 12, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Sir 15:15-20 / Ps 119 / 1 Cor 2:6-10 / Mt 5:17-37
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
I was at lunch several years ago with a very kind priest, and we got to talking about a young man we knew who started missing Mass and avoiding church and the sacraments and prayer life. In fact, he was openly disagreeing with many of the Church’s teachings. I said, “Father, even so, he’s a good guy; he’s nice and thoughtful, kind and generous,” and as I was saying that, the priest started getting visibly agitated. And pretty strongly he said, “Deacon, I’m tired of hearing ‘He’s a good guy, or a good boy, or a good girl.’ We’re not called to be good; we’re called to be holy.”
So, I had to kind of think and take it back a little bit; one, it was uncharacteristic of his demeanor, but two, it made me think quite a bit about it. And in a way, in today’s gospel, Jesus is saying something similar.
Does it work for me to say, “I’m ok, I’m a good guy, I haven’t killed anyone.” That’s our goal? That’s our standard? That’s the bar that we set for ourselves in our moral and spiritual lives? Just to simply avoid the major obvious sins, and I’m ok, I didn’t kill anyone, haven’t cheated on my wife, haven’t bad mouthed God. I haven’t lied, at least no big ones, just little white ones.
No, brothers and sisters, that’s not the goal. Jesus says today, “I have come.” That’s pretty important, the Son of God has said, “I have come.” What’s going to follow? I have come to fulfill the law and the prophets. I have come to fulfill, to extend, to complete, to make perfect. I have come. I have come. He’s come to call us to something higher, something better, something more noble, something heaven-like.
He shows us that worldly dominance passes the closer we get to God, and it’s replaced with humility, and love, and mercy. He sets the bar higher and calls us, not only to recognize that bar, especially the thou-shalt-not bars, but to look the other way for our goal: to look the other way from that bar, and to look inside for the ideals, inside of us where He planted His Holy Spirit at our baptism.
Do I look at that boundary, that thou-shalt-not-kill, that murder boundary, and just see how close I can get to it in my life without crossing over it into moral badness, if you will? I stay safe on this side: I really want to hurt the guy, but I’m not stepping over the line.
Or do I hold in my heart the love of my neighbor, the love of the other, and of their God-given true dignity? Do I work to remove my anger, or my resentment, or my jealousy, and replace it with love? Love, wishing the good of the other, wishing for that person to join me in the kingdom?
The ideal is a high bar and it’s not defined by a list of borders, a list of boundaries, a list of what’s morally good and what morally isn’t. It’s not contained in two lists: Here are the do’s and here are the don’ts. The bar is a change in our hearts; it’s a modification of the direction of our lives and our love.
What must I do to follow Jesus, to be a good Christian, to become holy? Every now and again in my spiritual life I ask myself that question, and I imagine some of you have asked it as well; what am I supposed to do to be a good Christian? And oftentimes when I’m talking with folks in RCIA who are considering coming into the Church, they have that same general question: What do I do to be a good Christian, and follower of Jesus?
And in moments of clarity, very rare moments of clarity, I can give them an answer: If you want to be a good Christian, doing what Jesus asks is a good start. Pope Francis had a similar answer, and he didn’t ask me for any help when he came up with it. He explains, “So if anyone asks what one must do to be a good Christian, the answer is clear: We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.”
We’re in the third out of four weeks of going through the Sermon on the Mount during this ordinary time. Two weeks ago, we did the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they…” Last week we were salt and light. We’re still salt and light this week too. Next week we have another reading from the Sermon on the Mount.
So Pope Francis says, “Just do what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.” That’s pretty easy, isn’t it? Pretty simple? Well, it isn’t quite so easy when we probably have to hear the message over and over. Let’s read about it, let’s pray over it, let’s meditate over the gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven. Wash, rinse, repeat. Read it again.
Let it sink into our hearts, so they’re pointing the opposite directions of those boundaries, those borders, the “I didn’t kill anybody.” Because the message is love centered on Christ, and it is directed toward others, wishing, praying for the good of the other. It’s our relationship in the world. It’s salt and light, and it’s mercy, forgiveness and mercy.
Now remember, mercy doesn’t mean leniency. It doesn’t mean morally compromising. It doesn’t mean lowering the bar. When Jesus is giving His teaching today, you don’t see Him lowering the bar, He’s extending the bar into the heart. He’s not appeasing the social norms or the civil norms or the governmental norms of his day, He’s not doing it then, He’s not doing it today, because the ideal is high and we as Christians are bound to Him and our goal is heaven, our goal is to be a saint. That’s my goal, I pray that it’s your goal as well. It’s a very high ideal.
Mercy is there, mercy is available, sure, when we fall short of the ideal, when we miss the mark, which is another way to say when we sin. But Jesus and His Church don’t lower the bar, because it’s that important. Instead, we are called to extend His love, and extend His mercy, to live a moral life. We can’t do that alone; we cannot do it by ourselves; we need help.
And we get help, praise God we get help, because we’re washed of our sin and filled with light at our baptism, the light of Christ at our baptism. So that Jesus accompanies us and assists us because he becomes our moral compass and He is our only goal, He is our moral bar, and our earthly wish is to carry Him always in our hearts, because we don’t want to just be a good guy or a good girl or a good woman or a good boy. We don’t want to be just a good guy, but we want to be saints.
At the beginning of every mass, we have this opening prayer, when Father says “let us pray” after the Gloria. It’s called the “Collect.” That’s when we’re all collecting together and beginning the Mass, and that prayer is a summary of the purpose of today’s Mass. I want to repeat it because I think it’s beautiful: “O God who teach us that You abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by Your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to You.” Isn’t that beautiful? Praise God and amen.KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 5, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 58:7-10 / Ps 112 / 1 Cor 2:1-5 / Mt 5:13-16
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Pierre Charles, the son of St. Ignatius of Loyola once asked, “How can I see Christ if I do not see Him in Christians?”
Also, the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, once wrote, “If Christians wish us to believe in their Redeemer, why don’t they look a little more redeemed?”
What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in our country? This is a question that is bound to elicit a variety of answers, depending on whom you ask. Possible answers might include mass media, popular culture, materialism, bad government policies, other religions, etc.
Jesus said to us in today’s gospel, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” Both salt and light are indispensable in our daily lives. Without them, we have major problems. We use salt to prepare delicious meals, and we rely on light to go about our normal activities. These two, salt and light, symbolize how we act and live as Christians in the world, to others, and also to ourselves.
Jesus did not say, “You should be…” or “You have to be like…” He said, “You are.” This is already the nature and the characteristic of a Christian. That is, to give good examples to somebody, so that, as the gospel says, “They may see your goodness.” They will see the goodness in your acts and they will give praise to your Heavenly Father, and not to your own self.
That is why, when I say something nice, or I say I appreciate someone, they respond to me, “Praise be to God, Father.” That really humbles me. Yes, we are so proud if someone praises us, and that is normal, but let these praises lead us to pray, praise, and thank God, who is the giver and author of all real talents and abilities.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says to His disciples, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) But elsewhere in John 8:12, Jesus says of Himself, “I am the light of the world.” So, who, then, is the light of the world, Jesus or His followers? This apparent contradiction can be solved by another passage in John 9:5, where Jesus modifies His statement about Himself. He said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
This shows that Jesus is talking about the flesh and blood as the embodiment of the light. As long as He is physically present in the world, He is the light of the world. But when He is no longer physically present, His followers will assume the role of being the light of the world.
The role of the Christian can be defined with two words in today’s gospel: salt and light. Now, what do these mean? Do you know that the word “sugar” never occurs in the Bible? In ancient times, salt was the ultimate seasoning that gave taste to food. Without salt, food would be tasteless. Jesus is saying that as salt is to food, so are Christians to the world. Christians are in the world to make it a better place.
How can we make the world a better place? We find the answer in the parallel passage in Mark that says, “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50) As salt, we are called to be good disciples, friendly and kind, living at peace with everybody. As light, we are called to show the way. Without light, we bump into each other and fall into the ditch. But light says, “Here is the road: take it. Here is the danger: avoid it.” Without light and salt, the world would be in very bad shape, uninteresting, and impossible to live in. With light and salt, the world becomes a safer and better place. It is our duty as Christians to make the world a better place.
The Church tells us today how to do it: the same way that salt and light do it. First, salt must be different from the food before it can be of use. If salt loses its taste, it is useless, and can no longer make a difference. Light must be different from darkness in order to be of help. A flashlight with a dead battery is no good for someone in the dark. Being the salt and the light of the world means being different from the world. If believers have nothing that distinguishes them from the nonbelievers, then they are like salt that has lost its saltiness, and therefore cannot make a difference.
And what distinguishes us from nonbelievers should not be so much what we claim to be, or the badges and pins we wear, but the lives we live. As Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” Love is the distinctive mark by which you can tell the true Christian from the false.
Secondly, both salt and light operate by associating with the thing they want to change. Salt cannot improve the food unless it goes into the food and changes it from within. Light cannot show the way unless it encounters darkness.
Sometimes Christians think that the way to go is to keep away from getting involved with society and popular culture. But by shying away from the realities of our society and our world, we might indeed be hiding our lamp underneath a bushel basket. To make a difference, we must get up and get involved.
Today’s gospel is frightening. It says, in effect, that if there is so much darkness and bitterness in the world today, it is because we, as Christians, have failed in our job to be salt and light in the world. But we can decide to make a difference starting from today. We can decide to light a candle, rather than curse the darkness. Even the smallest candle helps in a world of darkness. This is our task; this is our challenge; this is our mission; and this is our goal.KEEP READING
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.KEEP READING
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…)KEEP READING
Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 14, 2021 — Year B
Readings: 2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23 / Ps 137 / Eph 2:4-10 / Jn 3:14-21
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
This, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, is also known as Laetare Sunday, from the first word of today’s antiphon: Laetare! which means Rejoice! Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, gives us this special Sunday right in the middle of Lent. Lent tends to be a little bit somber: We’re fasting; we’re giving things up. Today, we’re called to take a break from that. It’s an opportunity to refocus, to reevaluate, to ask ourselves, “How are we doing?” (more…)KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 7, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Jb 7:1-4, 6-7 / Ps 147 / 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mk 1:29-39
by Rev. Salvador Añonuevo, Pastor
It’s a beautiful snowy day in our area today, Super Bowl Sunday. Whether you are rooting for the Chiefs or the Buccaneers, I believe that you are hoping and praying that your team will win. There is a possibility that we will hear the words “Hail Mary” in the last few seconds of the game tonight, and for the record, American football did not popularize these words. Millions and millions of Catholic Christians have been praying the Hail Mary through the years, since the Angel Gabriel said these words to the Blessed Mother more than two thousand years ago. (more…)KEEP READING