Joy of Living in Communion With the Trinity

May 26, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Deacon Mark, Eucharist, Family, Holy Spirit, Mary, St. Joseph, Trinity

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
May 26, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Dt 4:32-34, 39-40 / Ps 33 / Rom 8:14-17 / Mt 28:16-20
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

Before there was YouTube, Scott Hahn, and the Catechism, I was asked to teach 9th grade faith formation. It was a small college parish that had few resources and, accordingly, I wasn’t given a book to teach from. I knew very little about my faith like most 20-something Catholics in the early 1990s. One evening, one of the 9th grade boys told the class that the Trinity is nowhere in the Bible. In my ignorance, I was incapable of saying, “Yes, it is,” and then showing him, much less leading him to the joy of living in the Trinity. I pray in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit that I can do that for you now.

I am going to show you where the Trinity is in the Bible, and how the scriptures present the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God in three Persons, equal in power and knowledge, all existing for all time, uncreated with no beginning and no end.  Once we have that firm footing, I will give some pastoral guidance on living in communion with the Trinity, especially for teenagers.

If I was teaching that 9th grade class today, I would show that teenage boy where the Trinity is in the Bible. Jesus’ use of the Trinity at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” was not brought up out of the blue by Matthew (Mt 28:19). He reveals the Trinity at the baptism of Jesus in chapter 3:16-17, saying when Jesus (the second Person of the Trinity) came up out of the water, the Spirit of God (third Person of Trinity) descended upon Him in the shape of a dove, and then the voice of the Father (first Person) says He is well pleased in His Son (Mitch, pg. 371). Sooo, when someone says the Trinity is not in the Bible, you can show them Matthew 3 and 28.

I’m guessing, though, that teenage boy, in the annoying way teens can excel at, would say, “Hey Mr. De La Hunt, look at the first reading where Moses tells the people, ‘The Lord is God…and…there is no other (Dt 4:35).’ It doesn’t mention Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Worshiping only one God, which is called monotheism, set Israel apart from all other nations in its day, and they fiercely defended this belief. To this day, the Jews’ belief that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cannot be one God, is said by some to be the biggest stumbling block for their embracing Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  The confusion and unbelief are understandable. The Trinity is not easy to wrap your head around. It took the Church over three hundred years to articulate the doctrine (Mitch, pg. 371).

Fortunately, one of the greatest biblical preachers on the Trinity was a fiercely devout and highly learned Jew, St. Paul. When he was still going by the name of Saul, he was persecuting Christians, because they were calling Jesus God. But when Jesus removed those scales from Paul’s eyes in Damascus, Paul saw Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as that one God of whom Moses spoke (Acts 9:18).

In today’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he tells the Christian community that they have received a “Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. (Rom 8:15-17).” This wasn’t the only place Paul invoked the Trinity while spreading the Good News.

In chapter 13 of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul greets the people with words that Father greeted you with at the beginning of the Mass. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you (2 Cor 13:13).”  Sounds pretty Trinitarian. I could also show that 9th grader 1 Corinthians 12, Galatians 4, and 1 Thessalonians 1. Oh, if only I had Curtis Mitch’s and Ed Sri’s Catholic bible commentary when I was in my twenties. Hopefully that young man kept pursuing the truth.

All I have proven, though, is that a devout, fiercely monotheistic Jew came to see a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit. But you are excellent at debating and call me on it. You rightly say, “Deacon Mark, you must prove all three are God.” Ok. Let’s start with the easiest one. God is God, creator of heaven and earth and all that is visible and invisible. The Old Testament, like today’s first reading with Moses and today’s Psalm speak to this.

You smile, confident you will disprove the second Person of the Trinity, asking, “What about Jesus? To be God, you must have existed for all time, be uncreated, no beginning, no end. But Jesus was born of a woman.”  John’s gospel best speaks to Jesus being God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him…And the Word became flesh and lived among us. It is God the only Son (Jn 1:1, 10, 14, 18).”

At this point, I want to defend Our Lady, that “woman” who gave birth to Jesus. I would be remiss to not mention that Mary was declared the “Mother of God” at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. But it wasn’t only that gathering of bishops who believed that. A crowd of the faithful waited in the streets for them to affirm what they already believed. And they celebrated joyfully when Mary, mother of Jesus, was affirmed as Mary, mother of God the Son.

Your confident smile falters, but you recover and move on to the third Person of the Trinity. You, with noticeably less bravado, say, “Jesus says the Father will send the Holy Spirit, and He even breathes the Spirit onto the apostles (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 20:22). For all three to be God, they must all three be equal in power and knowledge, which is to say in omnipotence (all powerful) and omniscience (all knowing). Doesn’t sound like the Holy Spirt is equal, because He is always being sent.”

The Deacon smiles at you, so happy that you are seeking truth. He encourages you to open your Bible to 2 Corinthians, where Paul writes, “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (2 Cor 2:11).”  God’s thoughts are infinite, so for the Spirit to comprehend God’s thoughts, the Spirit must also have infinite knowledge or omniscience. Next, the Deacon shows you 1 Corinthians, where Paul calls our body a “temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).” The Deacon says, “Only God can have a temple, so the Holy Spirit must be God (Tim Staples).” Finally, the Deacon turns to Acts 5 and reads, “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? . . . You have not lied to men but to God.”  Like St. Paul, St. Peter, also a Jew, saw God and the Holy Spirit as the one true God of Israel. (A shoutout to Catholic Answers for this paragraph.)

Now we know some of the scriptural basis for the Most Holy Trinity, but how do we live this deep theological mystery? First, and foremost, we never, ever miss Mass. If we are healthy enough to go to the grocery store or out to eat, we are healthy enough to go to Mass. Dads and Moms, do not let any of your children miss Mass due to camping or beach trips, band, or dance, or soccer, or volleyball, or AP class projects. Why?

First, we have a desperate need to receive our Lord’s body and blood. But also, we should do so because it is the most powerful way in which we live within the communion of the Trinity. We worship God the Father, offering the one sacrifice of Christ the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity makes our Catholic worship perfect. And remember that God is a communion of Persons in the Most Holy Trinity, so to worship in the Trinity, we need to do so in communion with others, the Trinity making us into a holy, mystical communion.

Let’s put some blue jeans on this. When we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God makes us part of His family. Teenagers, since we started this homily with a teenager, I am coming back to you. Know that our family is where we discover who we are. There is a memory helper or pneumonic for this, RIM which stands for Relationship, Identity, Mission. This applies to your natural family, but also to your supernatural family, the Trinity.

Teens and twenty somethings too, I know you are in a very challenging time in life between becoming an adult and knowing the path God wants your life to take. This time brings to your mind heartfelt questions. Who am I? Where is my place in this world? What strengths, talents, and capabilities do I have? Should I go to college? If so, what should I study? Should I get a job instead, so I can receive training from my employer? If so, what type of job should I pursue? Am I to get married? If so, how will I find the right person? If not marriage, should I check out consecrated religious life? Holy Orders?

You will find the answers within your supernatural family of the Trinity. Back to RIM. Relationship: pursue your relationship with the Trinity in prayer (daily), the Mass (at least weekly), and Confession (often). Identity: Being close to the Trinity will help you to learn who you are and what gifts you have. Mission: Now that you know who you are, you can go on mission with the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and your communion with them through the Holy Spirit. They will work with you and show you the way.

It is not as easy as it sounds, though. You will need patience and trust. God tends to show us one step at a time. Our job is to stay in Relationship with Him (prayer, Mass, Confession) so we can see that next step and trust Him by taking that step. Joseph is a helpful model here. He was given one step at a time, and he took them.

Remember how God came to Joseph and told him to take Mary as his wife, and oh by the way she is already pregnant, and the child is God. Wow. What does Joseph say, “Yes Lord.”  Then, in the middle of the night, God wakes up Joseph and tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. No one wants to be woken up in the middle of the night, much less to drop your life and move to a new one in a strange place. Joseph, said, “Yes Lord.”  And when God told him, a short while later, to move back to Israel, Joseph took that step too.

One could say this about Joseph. “By being united to Jesus and animated by the Spirit of love and obedience, [Joseph knew the] joy that is perfect and complete, a joy that comes only from participating in the divine communion (Jeff Cavins, Hallow).” Jeff Cavins spoke of this joy using the words of the prophet Nehemiah, “The joy of the Lord (Trinity) is your strength (Neh 8:10).” He went on to say, [our joy] is not just a fleeting emotion but a deep and abiding reality that comes from communion with the Trinity.

Final words. Whether we are born into an amazing family or a broken one, or in a place that is fantastic or one that is dark, or have built a successful life or made a hot mess of it, none of those things define us! What defines us is our baptism, for from that day onward, we call the most-high God Father, and Jesus who is the King of the Universe, brother, and the Holy Spirit, the love that flows between them, counselor, helper, and guide. The Psalm today, unbeknownst to the author, was written about us, the baptized. “Blessed the people the Lord (Trinity) has chosen to be His own. Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you.”  Lord, grant us the grace we need to order our lives to be in communion with You who are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Citations

Jeff Cavins Daily Reflections on Hallow, May 11, 2024. He references the Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture which I used to describe Joseph’s living in the Trinity.

Tim Staples – Catholic Answers. Simply Google Catholic Answers on the Trinity. You will see “Explaining the Trinity” by Tim Staples dated June 20, 2014, at catholic.com.

Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri. “Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, The Gospel of Matthew.”  Baker Academic 2010.

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Family Love

December 31, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Christmas, Family, Father Nixon, Love, Mary, St. Joseph

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
December 31, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 / Ps 128 / Col 3:12-21 / Lk 2:22-40
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Our readings today from Sirach, Colossians, and Luke present a harmonious theme that revolves around the dynamics of family, relationships, and the virtues that foster a harmonious and godly life.

In Sirach, we are reminded of the honor and respect due to parents. The call to honor your father and mother is not just a cultural or societal norm but is deeply embedded in the divine order. It reflects a recognition of the role parents play in our lives and the wisdom they can impart. The passage also emphasizes the importance of kindness, which extends beyond familial relationships to the broader community.

The letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians provides a practical guide for Christian living within the context of family and community. The virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness are highlighted as essential for maintaining the unity and peace of the Christian community. Above all, the apostle Paul underscores the central role of love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. The passage challenges us to live out our faith not only in public worship, but also in the intimate spaces of our homes and relationships.

The gospel reading from Luke introduces the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the devout figures of Simeon and Anna. Simeon, filled with the Holy Spirit, recognizes Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise and a light for all nations. Anna the prophetess adds her voice to the praise and thanksgiving. This encounter in the temple symbolizes the dedication of the Holy Family to God’s plan and the broader significance of Jesus’ mission for all people.

As we continue our journey through Christmas season, this feast of the Holy Family is an important celebration straight after the feast of the Nativity of the Lord and within the octave of Christmas.

There is a story of a man who tried to follow in the footsteps of Santa Claus by giving out gifts to strangers every Christmas. When asked why he wanted to be like Santa, he said, “I grew up in an orphanage. Every Christmas I visit homes and hand out gifts to children and adults alike with the hope that I would eventually find my parents, meet my family, or at least touch the hearts of other families.”

At this time of the year, we give sincere thanks for the love, nurturing, and support that our family can give us, and the love, example, and intersection that the Holy Family gives us on our journey through life. We think of our parents’ and family’s countless acts of kindness, love, and sacrifices. When we were young, we probably didn’t appreciate the scale of it all. When we get older and have our own families or watch with admiration our brothers and sisters and friends raising their own families, we start to appreciate what our parents must have given and sacrificed out of love, and we are truly grateful for this.

We are also very mindful of people whose family life has been extremely difficult, and who did not have that support that others take for granted. That is, not everyone in this world has been blessed with an unconditionally loving and accepting family who support one another.

We give thanks to mentors and all people who have been good role models and sources of care and protection for the young. These people have been family to others, beyond the ties of blood. We keep in mind currently families worldwide who’ve had it really tough this year, perhaps due to illness, distance, separation, financial hardship, and worries.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the patron saints supporting each other and sticking together when everything is going wrong around them. For example, when we look closely at the very first Christmas, we quickly see that life for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was anything but smooth sailing.

The joy and hope of this celebration comes from the fact that God came into our world and made a home with us when everything was going badly for the world. The first Christmas came at a time of incredible unrest for the people of Israel who were suffering under the foreign domination of a pagan empire. They had values quite opposed to and different from many of the sacred religious values of the Jewish people.

Mary and Joseph are forced to take a terribly difficult trip to Bethlehem when Mary is imminently due to give birth. This would have been a difficult trip at the best of times, but it must have been extremely difficult for an expectant mother at the end of her term. They arrive at their ancestral hometown, and there is nowhere to stay. They are forced to sleep in a barn, and Mary gives birth to a baby surrounded by animals. The baby is placed in a food trough where the animals normally eat. The shepherds, some of the poorest and lowest outcasts in society, are the first to hear about the birth and come to pay their respects.

Mary and Joseph also had countless incidents when they had just to trust in what God was doing and all the while were plunged into confusion about what it all meant. They trusted in God and supported each other especially when things were unclear and did not make any sense to them, and this made all the difference.

The celebration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph offers a poignant moment to reflect on the significance of family life and the virtues exemplified by the Holy Family. In contemplating the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we find a model for love, unity, and faithfulness that resonates across the ages. At the heart of the Holy Family is a profound sense of love and sacrificial service.

Joseph’s unwavering commitment to Mary and Jesus, even in the face of uncertainty and challenges, speaks to the strength that comes from selfless love. In Mary, we see a mother who treasured and pondered the mysteries of her son’s life, embodying the qualities of contemplation and deep faith. Jesus, the son of God, chose to enter the human experience, growing up within the embrace of a human family.

This feast invites us to consider the sacredness of our own families and the responsibilities that come with it. In a world that sometimes seems to devalue the institution of the family, the Holy Family stands as a beacon of hope, and a reminder of the importance of cultivating love, respect, and unity within our own home.

As we reflect on the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph we are called to strengthen the bonds of love within our families, to prioritize faith in the face of challenges, and to embrace the sacredness of the family unit. Whether our families are nuclear or extended, biological or spiritual, the virtues embodied by the Holy Family of love, trust, and faithfulness, serve as a timeless guide for building strong and resilient families that reflect the love of God in our world.

May the Holy Family inspire us to cultivate holiness within our homes and to be a source of light and love for others. In a world often marked by division and discord, these readings offer a counter narrative of unity, love, and mutual support within the family and the Christian community. They challenge us to embody the virtues of Christ in our daily interactions, extending compassion and forgiveness to those closest to us and to the wider circle of humanity. As we celebrate the Holy Family, we strive to emulate their virtues, creating homes and communities that reflect the love and harmony of God’s Kingdom. The Holy Family is our inspiration and prayerful support.

At this fifth day within the Christmas season, we give sincere and heartfelt thanks for family, and the support and strength we can give each other along life’s long journey with all these joys and sorrows, graces, and temptations. Holy Family of Jesus and Mary and Joseph, pray for us. May Jesus Christ be praised.

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The Word Became Flesh

December 25, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Christmas, Guest Celebrants, Mary, St. John, Trinity, Trust

The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
December 25, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Is 52:7-10 / Ps 98 / Heb 1:1-6 / Jn 1:1-18
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant

I love John’s gospel this morning. Of course, I love Luke’s gospel at the night Masses. Luke’s gospel, which goes into all the detail about the manger, then the trip of Mary and Joseph, and no room at the inn. All of those specifics of going for enrollment in the Roman census. All the details, very specific details.

John’s gospel was the product of what would seem to be a later reflection, a later gospel. John, of course, was the one apostle who did not pour out his blood for the faith. The other eleven all gave themselves as martyrs, except John. John was the youngest apostle at the time of Christ and would live to be the oldest. The writings attributed to John in the New Testament come from a period of more mature reflection, just like we can look back on our lives. When you look back, you understand it with a different eye. You can look at it differently, because enough life has happened to you.

John talks about the Incarnation in these famous words of “Et verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis.” The Word, the second Person of the Trinity, co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When God speaks, it’s that Word that goes out and takes on flesh, caro. Et habitavit in nobis – and lived among us. It’s that first great mystery that God has chosen, and it’s so great a mystery. God has chosen to take on flesh while still being God at the same time.

And not only that, but He has depended on the “yes” of Mary to do it. She wasn’t forced. She wasn’t a robot. She chose to take Him within her womb. We see human dignity in God’s taking on flesh. That must mean something really enormous about our flesh, about the human dignity of it. It’s from the beginning, willed by God.

And then, dwelt among us. But the way He does it: in all humility, coming through the womb, so the womb itself becomes a place of great mystery, the touch of the divine in it, capable of bearing divinity. Mary bore divinity, because Christ was who He was: He was the Word. He was the second Person. He is the Word.

Why? Because our flesh had lost its brilliance through the original sin of self-sufficiency: “We can do it on our own. We’re not meant to need anybody.” Oh yes, it’s disobedience, but I suspect it was that spirit of self-sufficiency that preceded the actual disobedience. “I don’t have to have a God; I can be one. Oh that sounds good: I can be one.”

One of the customs of the Church, to emphasize the Incarnation, is to bow during the Creed, when we say “and He became Man.” We’re meant to physically bring the body into worship. But today we genuflect at those words.

In the fifth century the Church began making a proclamation at Christmas, maybe because they said, this is so great, this is so unimaginable, when you really think of it. It was sung last night. It announces the Incarnation. “When God in the beginning created heaven and earth,” it goes back. “Century upon century had passed.” “In the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith,” so we’re beginning with the Old Testament. “The thirteenth century since the people of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus.” “Around the thousandth year since David was anointed king,” so we’re squarely in the tradition of Israel here. “In the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel.”

It’s locating this moment, and of course that’s how we measure time. That’s our calendar. Christ enters – God enters – history. Not some sort of crystal, new age thing, but tangible, physical, material.

But then it leaves the Old Testament. “In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad.” Obviously that has nothing to do with Israel. It’s got to do with Athens, the great capital of the Greek empire, before Rome. And so now it’s situated in the secular world. This gives meaning to the secular world as well as the specifically religious. It touches everything. This is when the Incarnation happened: in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad.

And then, let’s take it to the next empire: to Rome. “In the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the city of Rome.” And then more; you see the portal narrows. “In the forty-second year of the reign of that particular Roman emperor, Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace.”  The stage is set now.

“Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by His most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” That’s what we call the Annunciation, on March 25, really our first celebration of the Incarnation, because Christ was who He was in Mary’s womb, just like you were, from the first moment of your conception. You were who you were. “And was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah and was made man.”

We often look to redemption as the passion of Christ, but this is the first of the two great pillars of our redemption: the Incarnation, because He takes flesh, because God’s plan has always been that we would be spirit and matter, spirit and flesh. That’s how we’re saved. Not in spite of that, but in that structure.

Why did God do it this way? He could have made it so nice and clean, so nice and tidy. He could have made it so we couldn’t sin, and so our sin wouldn’t affect others. But He didn’t make it that way. I prefer to think that that’s because of our greatness, because of that potential greatness that’s there, if we turn everything over to Him. If we make that real surrender, then life begins to pop.

Think of the details of Mary’s life. First of all, the Annunciation. You’re going to have a baby, from the Holy Spirit. And there’s Mary’s first yes, followed by a series of yesses all the way through, at each moment. A series of yesses, none of which she would have scripted, none of which situations she would have scripted herself, I don’t think. But she keeps saying yes, she keeps saying I trust, let it be done to me according to your word.

Part of me says I wish I could really celebrate Christmas, but there are so many distractions, so many things that get into my head and mess with my head, whether it’s stuff in the Church right now, stuff in the world, in our culture, and on and on and on.  If only I weren’t so distracted by these things, if I weren’t giving them rent-free space in my head, then I could really focus on the beauty of God.

Well, think of Mary.  Talk about distractions! Everything. Are they talking a little bit and whispering in town? And then the census is announced, and Joseph, the father of the family, would historically go and sign up like he’s supposed to within the Roman empire. But Mary goes with him. She didn’t have to go. You wouldn’t expect the mother and the children to go for those things. She went.

And then, it comes time to give birth, no room at the inn. She still says yes, and she gives birth in the manger. If anybody’s ever had an Italian grandmother, trying to make you eat, she’ll say “Mangia, mangia.” That’s our word manger. Manger is the French, same spelling, meaning to eat.

So He who will provide – think of the mystery — in His body, that Body and Blood of Christ that many of us will receive later this morning, He who will feed the world and strengthen the world until it comes time for God’s project to finally wind up in the final judgment. He who feeds the world is born in the place where the animals feed, the trough. And Mary continues to say yes.

So don’t ever expect your Christmas day or your Christmas season to be without distractions. For some reason God has chosen the Incarnation as His way, and that’s messy. Birth, children, that’s messy. But somehow, for those eyes of faith that can look into that reality, there is a divine beauty as well. And so, through the grace of God, I’ll expect distractions every Christmas.

There’ll always be something wrong, easy to find, but if I can keep my eyes on Mary and her Son who lived among us, then those distractions can be very, very significantly reduced. Then we can, in all situations, come to this great feast thankful and hopeful.

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Mary in the Annunciation

December 24, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Advent, Christmas, Deacon Mark, Discipleship, Faith, Mary, Trust

Fourth Sunday of Advent 
December 24, 2023 — Year B
Readings: 2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16 / Ps 89 / Rom 16:25-27 / Lk 1:26-38
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

It is still Advent, but in case I don’t see you at Christmas Eve Mass today, Merry Christmas, Maligayang Pasko, Feliz Navidad, Joyeaux Noёl, Buon Natale, and Wesołych świąt.

Holy Name of Mary parish is dedicated to Jesus’ mother, Mary, and on this Fourth Sunday of Advent we enter into the first joyful mystery of her most holy rosary, the Annunciation. As a deacon in a Marian parish, how can I not center the homily on Mary, when Luke centered the beginning of his gospel on her “who was with child (Lk 2:5)?” Interestingly, Matthew starts his gospel centered on Mary as well and, though John waited until chapter two to introduce Mary, chapter one prepared for her grand entrance at Cana, with Mary as the Queen Mother, asking her son, Jesus the King, to help the young married couple.

In a predominantly Protestant area, we can feel uncomfortable speaking of Mary, even to the point of fearing mentioning the name of our parish. Peter Kreeft said that “[non-Catholic Christians] object to our Catholic devotion to Mary because they think it detracts from our adoration of Jesus.” He added, “In fact, it is exactly the opposite: the more we love Mary, the more we love Jesus, and the more we love Jesus, the more we love Mary (Kreeft 82).”  Along those same lines, to try to put non-Catholics at ease with honoring Mary, someone once said, “You cannot love Mary more than Jesus does.”

But Peter Kreeft upped the ante and tied having a relationship with Mary to discipleship, to following Jesus. He wrote, “Jesus gave us Mary, when He said to St. John, the only disciple who stayed with Him at the cross, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27). So if we, like John, want to be Jesus’ disciples, if we want to be as close to Jesus as John was at the cross, then we must be close to Mary, because Jesus gave us Mary (82).”

Dr. Kreeft’s words are worth reflecting on. To be a disciple who will stand and face death and a seeming loss of all hope like John looking upon Jesus dying on the cross, it is most helpful to have Mary, the only perfect disciple, at your side like he did. For John must have realized that no matter how much sorrow he felt at that moment, it was not as deep as Mary’s, looking upon her only child dying in agony. Yet despite the awfulness of it all, neither Jesus’ suffering, a mocking crowd, nor the threat of mighty Roman soldiers could tear her from her Son’s side. When she told the angel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” she meant it for better or for worse (Lk 1: 38).

From the moment of her freewill consent, she became the Christ Bearer, the Mother of God. How did she prepare to bring Jesus into the world? First, she set out to care for someone in need, her cousin Elizabeth who Gabriel told her had conceived a child in her old age (Lk 1:39-56). Second, she and Joseph patiently suffered in faith and hope, traveling eighty miles or so from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary suffering in discomfort, probably riding a donkey, being so near to giving birth. Joseph, hurting from a longing to take her suffering upon himself, but only able to give her his tender care. Joseph suffering from not being able to find her a comfortable room in which to give birth, and Mary suffering from having to give birth away from the comfort of her home and friends (Lk 2: 1-7).

But as He always does, God brought them great joy and consolation when they thought they could endure no more pain and anxiety. Mary shows us the way to live our lives in faith and trust in God’s plan for us. This side of heaven, our journey will entail suffering and pain at times, but with Mary, we can bear it patiently, with great hope, and even joy. The hope and joy she brings to us is her Son.

In The Lord of the Rings movies based on the books of devout Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien, the battle between despair and hope, darkness and light is vividly displayed in rich symbolism for the cause for Mary’s hope. One depiction takes place at a great battle called Helm’s Deep (The Two Towers). The battle begins in darkness and rain, and the enemy vastly outnumbers the free people. They fight with valiant hope, but eventually wear down and accept that death is their fate, that evil will triumph over good and darkness over light. But then, they look to the east, to the rising sun, and grace descends upon them in the form of friends and an angelic figure, dressed in white, charging down a high hill to their aid.

In a second depiction, an even greater battle is taking place, and the situation is even more hopeless. A great white, stone city (think of it as your soul) is under siege and burning (The Return of the King). The city’s caretaker has fallen into despair from listening to the enemy’s voice more than to the voices of wise friends.  As he walks in a somber procession to “die as he chooses,” the camera blurs out that hopeless scene and focuses on a single white flower that was barely noticeable in the foreground. The white flower was a sign, long awaited, that the city’s true king had returned and would restore the city to its former grandeur.

And so, here we are on the last Sunday of Advent, some of our suffering being voluntary from extra prayer, fasting, and charity, and some from the burdens and sorrows of life that weigh upon the young and old, rich and poor, strong and weak alike. If we bear our suffering and burdens with Mary, we will see what she saw in Bethlehem: hope in the newborn Savior, and hear what she heard from the shepherds about angels’ appearing in light with a message of peace. At every Mass, we, like those in Tolkien’s story at Helm’s Deep, look to the east.  Catholic Churches, whenever possible, are oriented such that the altar is set in that direction.

In our suffering and worries, we look to the altar. We hear Father call to us, not to despair in the cares of this world, but to “lift up our hearts (Roman Missal Preface).” And then a little while later, he encourages us to, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and we look up, to the east and see Father, clothed in white like that angelic figure at Helm’s Deep, holding the rising Son, Jesus come to save us (Roman Missal The Order of Mass). Notice that to look upon the Eucharist is like looking upon the white flower in Tolkien’s white city. It is both reminder and reality that our long-awaited King has returned and will restore our soul to the grandeur God made it for from the beginning. Jesus did this for His mother from the moment of her conception, which is why the angel Gabriel called Mary by the title, “full of grace (Lk 1:28).”

I am going to close this homily with a poem that Peter Kreeft shared, entitled “Jesus and Mary.” It illustrates how knowing Mary helps us know her Son, especially in graces God sends to us and most especially in the Eucharist.  Don’t get lost in all the words but hang on to the ones that touch your heart the most.

Body of Christ from Mary’s body;

Blood of Christ, from Mary’s blood.

Jesus the bread, Mary the yeast;

Mary the kitchen, Jesus the feast.

Mary the mother by whom we are fed;

Mary the oven, Jesus the bread.

Mary the soil, Jesus the vine;

Mary the wine maker, Jesus the wine.

Jesus the Tree of Life, Mary the sod;

Mary our God-bearer, Jesus our God.

Mary the silkworm, Jesus the silk;

Mary the nurse, Jesus the milk.

Mary the stem, Jesus the flower;

Mary the stairway, Jesus the tower.

Mary and Jesus, our castle entire;

Mary the fireplace, Jesus the fire.

Mary God’s ink, Jesus God’s name;

Mary the burning bush, Jesus the flame.

Mary the paper, Jesus the Word;

Mary the nest, Jesus the bird.

Mary the artery, Jesus the blood;

Mary the floodgate, Jesus the flood.

Mary and Jesus, our riches untold;

Mary the gold mine, Jesus the gold.

(Kreeft 82)

Mary, our mother, ask your Son to enable us always and in all circumstances, to remember to look east so that the Star of Joy and Hope may rise in our hearts and minds, every week being an Advent and every Sunday Mass a Christmas for us. Amen.

 

CITATIONS

J.R.R. Tolkien. “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King.” New Line Productions, Inc. 2002-2003.

Kreeft, Peter. “Food for the Soul; Reflections on the Mass Readings, Cycle B.” Word on Fire 2023.

The Catholic Church. “The Roman Missal.” Catholic Book Publishing Corp., N.J. 2011.

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Perfect Surrender

December 8, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Father Nixon, Humility, Mary, Obedience, Reconciliation, Repentance

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
December 8, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Gn 3:9-15, 20 / Ps 98 / Eph 1:3-6, 11-12 / Lk 1:26-38
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

A preacher once said, “Saying yes to God does not mean perfect performance.  Rather, it means perfect surrender to the Lord, day by day.”  Today, as we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, perhaps it is a good time to reflect on whom we are going to follow:  Adam, who in our first reading said no to God, or Mary, who in our gospel reading said yes to God.

Today, in our first reading, we hear the Lord call to Adam, saying, “Where are you?”  Adam replies, “I hid myself.”  In our gospel, we also hear Mary, whose response to the angel’s prophecy of her Son was, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

In a homily many years ago, Pope Francis said, “’Here I am’ is the opposite of ‘I hid myself.’  ‘Here I am’ opens one to God, while sin closes, isolates, and causes one to be alone with oneself.”

The words of Mary today are full of wisdom.  We should use these words every time we pray to the Lord each morning.  If we say to the Lord, “Here am I, your servant,” like Mary with all sincerity, that shows humility within us. These words would show that we are willing to do what God asks us to do for the rest of our day.  This is an act of humility because a person who is open to the will of God is a person who recognizes that God will continue to work in his life no matter what happens along the way.   Mary is our example in this.  Mary experienced many difficulties, especially witnessing the suffering of her son.  She was able to endure everything because she knew very well that God was with Him, blessing Him, giving Him the grace that He needed in order to survive any challenges in life.

Some people, however, do not love or respect the Lord and are not willing to admit that they are God’s servants.  They think that they can live without God.  These are the people who are proud, because they do not want to be told what rules to follow, such as the commandments.   For them, the ten commandments are a hindrance to their happiness.  They think they want to be independent.  If they are independent without any moral guide to follow, then their only guide is their own personal desires and cravings in life.  That’s what they follow.  People without a moral guide, or no God, are guided only by their desires.  If they like to eat, they do that, if they get angry, they hurt people. They are not much better than animals.

Christians have a moral guide, a guide that does not curtail our freedom, but rather gives us freedom.   The more we follow this moral guide, the more it makes us realize the true meaning of what we are doing.  It will make us realize the meaning of our existence in life.

Sin puts us away from the grace of God.  It isolates us, as Pope Francis says.  It causes us to be alone with oneself.  Every time we fall into sin, we feel like Adam who hid himself.  Every time we fall into sin, we have no face to show in front of the Lord.  That’s the normal feeling brought about by sin.  That is why we should always remember that the Lord is willing to search for us when we lose our way by sinning.  Every time we fall into sin, God always searches for us.  He will always claim us as His own.  God will tell us, “You are mine.  I created you.  I made you.  I made you to be good.  When you go astray, I have to look for you.”  We sinners should not continue hiding ourselves as Adam did.  We should get out and show ourselves with all humility before the Lord.  We must say to the Lord, “I’m sorry.  I want to start over.”  There is no sin that God cannot forgive.

Nothing is impossible with God, as the angel said to Mary.  God can take the most evil thing in the world and make it holy.  One example of something evil that God made holy is the cross.  Before they hung Jesus on that cross, a cross was a symbol of shame, a symbol of death, a symbol of defeat, embarrassment, and everything negative.  But after they hung Jesus on the cross, the cross became holy, a source of life, a symbol of salvation, a symbol of power.  That’s how powerful God is.  God can take the most impossible thing and make it possible.  There are many examples of this in scripture.  Today’s gospel provides the example of what happened to Mary.  How could she conceive?  Mary asked the angel, and the angel told her nothing is impossible with God.

We should not be afraid.  We should strive our best to offer our whole life to the Lord. Every time we fall into sin, we should remember what Saint Paul says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”  Ask the Lord’s forgiveness.  Go to confession and start all over again.  Never give up in following the Lord.  One day, the Lord will show us how He has prepared us for the place He has made ready for all His faithful followers.  Let us not forget that saying yes to God does not mean perfect performance, rather it means perfect surrender to the Lord day by day.

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The Saint of Doubts

April 16, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Courage, Discipleship, Evangelization, Faith, Guest Celebrants, Mary, Mission, Saints

Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday of Divine Mercy
April 16, 2023 – Year A

Readings: Acts 2:42-47 / Ps 118 / 1 Pt 1:3-9 / Jn 20:19-31
by Rev. Dan Kelly, Guest Celebrant

Last Sunday’s gospel describes the first hint of the apostles’ understanding of the Resurrection. The women went to the tomb to anoint the Body and thought that somebody had taken the Body away.  Then when Mary Magdalene went there, she asked a person who she thought was the gardener (but was in fact Jesus), who had taken away the Body of Jesus away.

But the other apostles were skeptical. Remember the story of the two disciples who were walking a couple miles distant from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus, and they were discussing all the things that had happened.  Jesus walks along and begins to explain all the scriptures, why this had happened.  Those two disciples invite Jesus to have supper with them, because it was the end of the day. But those disciples didn’t know it was Him. It was not until Jesus took the bread and blessed it.

What became of the apostles? All except John, the youngest apostle, were martyred. After the crucifixion, John the apostle took the Blessed Virgin Mary into his home as his mother, as Jesus commended him from the cross.  Everywhere around the Mediterranean that John went to preach, she accompanied him, and we believe she died in Ephesus, Turkey.

Two apostles were both named James: James the Less and James the Greater, based on their respective ages. One James missioned himself after the Resurrection to the Roman province of Santiago, Spain, and he preached there and did wonderful work, calling people to the Faith, explaining all about Jesus, and then preaching and celebrating the Eucharist. Eventually, he was martyred by the Romans in Spain. His remains are believed to be there in Santiago today.

The other James became bishop of Jerusalem. He also was martyred.

Thomas figures in our scripture today. He kind of gets a bum rap: Doubting Thomas, as if he did something wrong.  Thanks be to God that he had that doubt, because he expresses what we have in our own lives today: the doubts about things in our own life.  Are my prayers being heard? Why doesn’t God answer me? Why is my son or daughter not following the example I give? These doubts as to whether we have the attention of God and His coming into our lives.

So thanks be to God that we have Thomas saying, I’m going to want to see this in action. When he realizes and touches the Body of Jesus, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”  After which, Jesus asks for something to eat, to further confirm that He is not a ghost by eating baked fish or other food.  When we have the elevation of the sacred Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, you can also say, “My Lord and my God!”

After the Resurrection of the Lord and His Ascension into heaven, after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles spread out among the Middle Eastern countries.  Thomas gathered some others and went to present-day Jordan and into Syria, and began to teach about Jesus Christ, and to bring the Faith to the people in the northwestern part of Syria, where they developed an Eastern form of the Mass.

Thomas then learns about India and people there who yearned for the Faith. So Thomas made the very long trek to the south of India, to the modern state of Kerala.  He preached the Gospel there and formed a liturgy for them, too, based on the Syriac liturgy and vestments. These Christians were the Malabar people.  To this day, we have Syro-Malabar Catholics, even in the United States, using the liturgy that St. Thomas developed for them.

Thomas apparently went to other areas in the south of India and met people who were not in favor of what he was teaching to the people of Kerala, and he was eventually martyred.

So thanks be to St. Thomas, who helps us in our faith, even in our doubts.

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Our Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joseph’s Annunciation

December 18, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Advent, Christmas, Deacon Mark, Eucharist, Mary, Sin, St. Joseph

Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 18, 2022 — Year A
Readings: Is 7:10-14 / Ps 24 / Rom 1:1-7 / Mt 1:18-24
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

Mary and Joseph have finally arrived on the Advent stage. Before we talk about them, though, let us take a moment to appreciate the history regarding the selection of the scriptures we have heard from the First Sunday of Advent on November 27 to now. I want us all to be more aware of the thought and prayer that went into selecting the readings, so that we can be more thankful for the gift of the Catholic Church, which selected them.

In compiling the lectionary readings for Advent, researchers prayerfully studied lectionaries covering a period of 1,500 years! They selected only the best and most traditional readings from ancient Rome, Old Spanish, Gallican or French, and other western churches. How blessed we are to be family members of such a Spirit-led Christian tradition.  Within this tradition, every Advent Sunday to Advent Sunday there is a progression of theme to prepare us for Christmas. “Christ will come again (1st Sunday), Christ does come today (2nd and 3rd Sundays), and Christ has come (4th Sunday) (Wallace, 47).”

Today is the (Vigil or) 4th Sunday of Advent, and fittingly St. Matthew writes, “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about (Mt 1: 18).” And he quotes the prophet Isaiah, writing that He shall be called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”  With Jesus’ arriving, note that John the Baptist has exited the stage of God’s great play or, as Bishop Barron calls it, “theo-drama,” having played his role of “preparing the way of the Lord (Mt 3:3).” Joseph and Mary now take the stage, but today the stage spotlight is really on Joseph. Mary will take the starring role at Christmas.

In the commentary book on the gospel of Matthew by Dr. Ed Sri and Curtis Mitch, today’s gospel passage is entitled the “Annunciation to Joseph (Sri, 42).” This makes so much sense. Like Mary’s annunciation, an “angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” and told him Mary’s baby was conceived through the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:20). For the record, though, Joseph’s annunciation differed from Mary’s in two ways. First, the archangel, Gabriel, spoke to her in person, not in a dream, and second, Joseph’s annunciation comes after the fact; Mary is already with child.

Prior to the angel’s arrival, Joseph had been discerning what he should do about the fact that his new wife was already pregnant, even though they had not consummated their marriage. Being a “righteous man,” he decided he would divorce her as required by Jewish law (Dt 22: 20-21). Jewish law required stoning as punishment, but with Israel under Roman rule in Joseph’s day, Roman law was in play. It prescribed a public trial in place of a stoning.  However, Joseph chose to keep the divorce private so as not to shame her (Mt 1:19).

Joseph was being exceptionally merciful here. Can you imagine how much he hurt inside thinking his wife had been with another man while he had been waiting to consummate the marriage according to Jewish custom? Pain causes most of us to lash out in anger, wanting to cause pain in the one who caused it in us. Surely Joseph was not just a caretaker chosen by God to care for Mary and Jesus. No, no, no, he loved Mary so much that his love triumphed over the pain of the perceived betrayal.

Nevertheless, being a follower of the law, he has chosen to divorce her quietly, but then God sends him an angel to give him new direction.  I bet the angel’s arrival was in response to Joseph praying something like this, “Lord, I will divorce her according to your law, but not my will, but yours be done.” Maybe he even taught the second part of that prayer to his future son.

Note that as God so often does when He is giving us a new direction for our life, He directed the angel to first remove Joseph’s fear: “Joseph…do not be afraid (Mt 1:20).” After reassuring him, he gave Joseph a new path, “…take Mary your wife into your home…it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived…. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus (Mt 1: 20-25).” Joseph knew this message was an answer to his prayers, not just a crazy dream. Accordingly, he surrenders to God’s will, takes Mary into his home and names the baby Jesus. And by the way, to name a child is to make it your own and thereby, since Joseph is in the line of King David, Jesus, through Joseph, becomes a part of that line as the prophets foretold.

The names Jesus and Emmanuel are important. Jesus is derived from the Old Testament name Joshua which means “Yahweh is salvation (Sri 45).” We need to be saved. To be saved is to be freed. Sin is what we need freedom from, not political powers, not our guilt, and not a lack of acceptance by others of our behaviors. Sin can destroy both the body and the soul; it is the greatest threat we face. It causes us so much confusion, pain, and suffering. And if we do not seek God’s forgiveness for it, that pain and suffering become eternal after we die. How can Jesus, a man, save us from a threat of eternal consequence?

This is how. Matthew says the baby Jesus is the “Emmanuel” prophesied in today’s first reading from Isaiah. In other words, Matthew is telling us that God Himself is present in Jesus (Sri 47). The message that Jesus is God present with us is so important that Matthew’s gospel mentions it in the first chapter that I just proclaimed and in the last when Jesus says, “Behold, I am with you always, until the close of the age (Mt 28:20).”

I am going to digress a minute to mention a heresy that still exist among Christians related to today’s gospel. The next verse after the last one in today’s gospel is, “He had no relations with her until she bore a son… (Mt 1:25).” I bring it up because this verse has been used by some as an argument that Mary did not remain a virgin as has been taught for two thousand years. They think the word “until” means Joseph and Mary had relations after Jesus was born. That is heresy and it has been around since the 300s. In the year 383, St. Jerome shot down this heresy with numerous quotations from scripture including Jesus saying, “I am with you until the close of the age (Mt 28:20).” Referring to Jesus’ words, St. Jerome sarcastically asked the heretic, Helvidius, “if he thought the Lord would then forsake His disciples after the close of the age (Hahn, 106).”

Now back to the homily…When reading and listening to reflections on the 4th Sunday of Advent, a common reflection emerges. Dr. Ed Sri, Fulton Sheen, Peter Kreeft and others point out that Christianity differs from mere religion in that it is not so much about people seeking God, but about God seeking us (Sri 47). Dr. Sri points out that after Adam and Eve sinned, “they hid themselves from the presence of God (Gn 3:8), and ever since, God has been seeking to bring us back into an intimate relationship with Him (Sri 47).  He wants to be wedded to us, and Jesus fulfilled His Father’s desire in His very personhood. Jesus IS the marriage of humanity and divinity (Barron on Hallow app). And He consummates that marriage at every Mass, giving us His body at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). God came to us to bring us into His Holy Family; that is Christmas.

Mary had THE Annunciation. Joseph had his annunciation, the shepherds outside Jerusalem had theirs. And you and me and every humble Catholic around the world has their own annunciation at every Mass. For the priest and deacon hold up the sacred bread and declare to you what it really is, not a symbol, but the Body of Christ. We just might as well say, “This is Jesus whom Mary conceived in her womb through the Holy Spirit. Do not be afraid, but take Him under your roof, for He is your savior (Mt 8:8).” This is the bread of which Jesus said at least four times, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever (Jn 6: 50, 51, 54, 58).” These are Jesus’ words to us. Jesus is God, and what He says is. And at the moment we receive this bread of angels we, like Mary, give our fiat, Amen. “May it be done to me according to your word (Lk 1:38).”

Citations:

CatholicIreland.net: Origins and development of Advent. November 30, 1999

Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri. Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew. Baker Academic 2010.

James A. Wallace. Preaching to the Hungers of the Heart; The Homily on the Feasts and within the Rites. The Liturgical Press 2002.

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The Humble Shall Be Exalted

August 28, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Deacon Mark, Humility, Mary, Sacraments, Service |

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 28, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 / Ps 68 / Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a / Lk 14:1, 7-14
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

This week, Jesus emphasizes the virtue of humility and next week, detachment. The world sees these two virtues very differently than Christians do. Humility is seen as weakness, and detachment is seen as a lack of drive. For Christians, however, these two virtues are powerful. They help us shrink our ego and fleshly desires so that we can fit through the “narrow gate” Jesus spoke of last Sunday when answering the question about how many will be saved. When our ego and fleshly desires shrink, then our souls can grow.

What is humility? The Christian definition is knowing who you are, and who God is, and not confusing the two. A good role model of humility will help us understand it, especially someone from everyday life. Around 2009, there was an unassuming, elderly usher named Jack at Holy Name of Mary parish. He would greet everyone with a smile while opening the door to the nave for them. Come to find out, he lived alone in my neighborhood. One Christmas I learned that he, a widower, was going to be alone over the holiday, so my wife and I invited him to our home for Christmas dinner.

That night he absolutely glowed while telling us how amazing his wife was, and how successful his children and grandchildren were. He also listened intently to and took joy in hearing our family’s stories. It wasn’t until his funeral that I learned that he was a great man, a Top Gun-type fighter pilot, highly decorated across two wars. He earned a graduate degree from MIT and is recognized as one of the fathers of the GPS. May God exalt you, Jack, for teaching us about humility.

Now let’s look at humility in the scriptures. In today’s first reading from Sirach, a book of wisdom, we hear, “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” Jesus fulfilled these words perfectly. St. Paul best articulated this truth when he wrote that Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but humbled himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of man, and obediently accepting even death on the Cross (Phil 2: 6-11). Humility has power. Jesus’ humility is infinitely powerful, and it paid our infinite debt so that we can be with Him in Heaven.

Peter Kreeft had a good take on the second reading from Hebrews, where he contrasts two mountains associated with God’s old law and old covenant and the new law and the new covenant. These are Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. In the reading from Hebrews, it talks about approaching Mount Zion, where the heavenly Jerusalem is. This heavenly Jerusalem is seen by John in the book of Revelation, descending from heaven. It was a vision of the Catholic Church, the mystical body of Christ. In the Old Testament, if the Jews touched Mount Sinai, which was enveloped by thunder and lightning while God spoke with Moses, they would die. They trembled and stayed back. In contrast, when we approach Mount Zion and the new Jerusalem, the Church…we live (Kreeft 551).

God, in the greatest act of humility that can ever be, came down in Christ Jesus that we could touch Him…as we do at Holy Communion. Humility enables us to learn from the Jews at Mount Sinai and remember Jesus is God when we approach Him. This keeps us from losing our sense of humble awe in Jesus’ presence in Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, and His presence in others, especially the baptized.

You might say that the messages in Sirach and Hebrews set the table for today’s gospel. Jesus is dining at the home of a “leading Pharisee.”  To put it in perspective, imagine you are at a gala dinner hosted by a famous or powerful person. It’s not hard to imagine people trying to impress the host, jockeying for a prominent place to sit. At the Pharisee’s dinner, Jesus tells a parable that seems to be teaching these social climbers how to fake humility that they may “enjoy the esteem of their companions.” We know Jesus would not do that. So what was He doing?

What Jesus did is a powerful lesson in humility for us, especially how it helps us draw others closer to God. Peter Kreeft says that Jesus was meeting the Pharisee where he was spiritually (Kreeft 552).  St. Paul in Romans 15 describes how to do this. “We who are strong in faith should be patient with the scruples of those whose faith is weak…Each should please his neighbor so as to do him good by building up his spirit (Rom 15: 1-2).”  St. Monica, whose life is celebrated today, helped save her son, St Augustine, whose feast day is tomorrow, by being patient with his “weak faith and scruples” (an understatement), and praying for him until he discovered friendship with Jesus.

In doing so, St. Monica, like any devoted mom, emulated Jesus who “came not to condemn us, but that we might have everlasting life (Jn 3:16-17).” He came down to the Pharisee’s level to show him the path to a higher level, that he might be saved. We know this, because Jesus then shared that path with the Pharisee, saying, “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  The path to heaven that Jesus was showing the Pharisee was the path of humility lived out in service and love.

The Catechism says, “the baptized person should train himself to live in humility (CCC 2540).” Why? Because the deadliest sin is pride, and humility cures us of it. Along those lines, St. Augustine wrote, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” How do we train ourselves in the virtue of humility?

In Romans 12, St. Paul describes a way that aligns well with Jesus’ message in today’s gospel. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep….do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly (Rom 12:15-16)”.  By doing these things, we not only combat pride but also its close cousin, the deadly sin of envy.  I encourage you to read and reflect upon all of Romans 12 this week; it is filled with guidance on living life with genuine humility. Then pick one go-do from it and use it to train on living in humility.

Here are three more ways, from the Catechism, to train in humility so that our ego will fit through the narrow gate: pray, confess, and adore. Humility is the foundation of prayer.  Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” are we ready to freely accept the gift of prayer (CCC 2559). And when we confess our sins in prayer and in the Sacrament of Confession, we show “trusting humility.” The humility of confession is a “prerequisite for the Eucharistic liturgy (CCC 2631)”.  In Adoration we acknowledge that we are a creature while adoring our Creator. In Adoration, humility is blended with love (CCC 2628).

By the way, Jesus waits for you in Confession each Wednesday evening at HNM starting at 5:30 and each Thursday after the 11 AM Mass at Resurrection. For you teens and twenty-somethings who like all-nighters with a friend, sign up for an hour with your best friend, Jesus, late at night next time all-night Adoration comes around.  By doing so, you not only benefit yourself, but you help ensure others can benefit from Adoration by filling those difficult-to-fill slots so that it is not canceled.

Here are some closing thoughts. Humility is a gift that frees us from ego and pride. We must be free if we are to love God and others, for love only exist as an act of our free will. St. Mother Teresa said it this way, “It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted, and ardent.” Jesus was infinitely humble, real, devoted, and ardent on the Cross. He had a humble dad who did without question whatever God asked of him. He had a Mother who humbled herself and, just as Jesus said in the gospel, He exalted her. Thus, she wears a crown of humility as the “handmaid of the Lord” and a crown of queenship as the Mother of Christ the King (Lk 1:38; Rev 12:1).”

Mother Mary, our Queen, ask your Son to help us train ourselves in humility this week that we may ardently love Him and others and enter His Kingdom through the narrow gate. Amen.

Further Reading:

  1. Food for the Soul by Peter Kreeft. A book of reflections on the Mass readings for Cycle C, which primarily uses Luke’s gospel. Dr. Kreeft is knowledgeable, funny, and on fire for Jesus.
  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, online and in book form. It covers the Creed, the Sacraments, Life in Christ, and Prayer. Do a word search on humility or look it up in the index.
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How to Pray

July 24, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Deacon Mark, Discipleship, Humility, Mary, Prayer

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 24, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Gn 18:20-32 / Ps 138 / Col 2:12-14 / Lk 11:1-13
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

In this homily we will look to Mary and Jesus to give us examples of how to pray.

In the year 1450, an Italian Dominican friar named Fra Angelico painted a fresco of Mary and the angel Gabriel at the top of a staircase in a convent in Florence. There is a nearby window that allows the sun to shine on the fresco in the early morning hours, enlivening its colors. Interestingly, the effect is most pronounced around March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. Well done, Fra Angelico. What does Fra Angelico’s fresco of the Annunciation have to do with prayer?

While reflecting on this fresco in a papal audience, St. Pope John Paul II said that Mary represents the model of the Church in prayer. He said she was probably praying when Gabriel came to her home in Nazareth. Being immersed in prayer enabled her to receive Gabriel’s message and to say yes to God’s plan. John Paul II went on to say that “Mary represents the model of every expression of our prayer life. In particular, she teaches Christians how to turn to God to ask for his help and support in the various circumstances of life” (General Audience, Sept. 10, 1977). How so?

In the Annunciation, Mary models for us the form of prayer known as Lectio Divina, which means divine reading. If you only hear silence when you pray and just feel like you are talking to yourself, Lectio Divina would be a great way to turn that prayer monologue into a dialogue with our Heavenly Father.

There are five steps to Lectio Divina prayer: 1) Read a passage from scripture; 2) Reflect or meditate on it; 3) Pray; ask God what that passage means for you; 4) Rest and be quiet, listening for His response; 5) Act on what God placed on your heart. Let’s look at how Mary models Lectio Divina during the Annunciation event.

In the Annunciation, step one of Lectio Divina occurs when Gabriel, God’s messenger, speaks to Mary. This is like our hearing God speak to us while we read scripture. Mary then “ponders what sort of greeting this might be.” That is step 2, reflecting on God’s word. In step 3, Pray, she speaks to Gabriel, asking “How can this be, since I have no husband?” After speaking, she listens to Gabriel, which is step 4, being quiet and contemplating. It is only while listening that Mary hears Gabriel tell her God’s plan for her life. Finally, in step 5, she acts on what God placed on her heart, going in “haste” to help her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist.                       

Mary is a model of prayer and indeed the last time we see her in scripture, she is at prayer with the newly formed Church (Acts). She and Joseph taught Jesus how to pray, and we best learn from His example (CCC 2598-2622). It starts with His frequenting the synagogue, where He focused on the word of God, and in the temple, where He focused on the Holy Sacrifice (CCC 2599). In both cases He did so in community with other believers. What He did in the synagogue and the temple is perfected and fully experienced by us at every Mass.  To pray like Jesus then, we should go to Mass frequently.

In today’s gospel, notice that, after seeing Jesus pray, His disciples ask Him to teach them how to do so (Luke 11:1). Regarding this passage, the Catechism says, “By contemplating and hearing the Son, the master of prayer, the children learn to pray to the Father” (CCC 2601).  How did Jesus pray?

The Catechism tells us that Jesus prayed before decisive moments in His life, including before His baptism, before His passion and death, and before choosing the Twelve apostles (CCC 2600). To pray, He sought solitude, often at night, and often after caring for many people, such as feeding the 5,000 and healing “many who were sick” (CCC 2602 Lk 5:16, Mk 1:35; 6:46).

Wouldn’t you have loved to be able to listen in while Jesus was praying? Fortunately, He let us do so on a few occasions. In two of them, He began by thanking God, acknowledging Him as Father and Lord (CCC 2603; Mt 11:25; Lk 10: 21-23).

I’ll share one of those. Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus says, “Father, I thank you for having heard me” (Lk11:41).  This teaches us that God hears our prayers, and we can and should thank Him in faith before we receive what we asked for (CCC 2604). King David expresses this truth well in today’s psalm, “On the day I cried out, you answered” (Ps 138:3). In that same prayer before raising Lazarus, Jesus added, “I know that you always hear me,” which implies that Jesus prayed often (Lk 11:41).

To help us remember what Jesus taught us to pray and in what order, there is an acronym, ACTS. The “A” stands for Acclamation or Adoration. The “C” stands for Confession of your sins. The “T” stands for Thanksgiving, and the “S” stands for Supplication, which is asking for what you and others need.

Like the Lord’s Prayer in the gospel, ACTS starts with Acclaiming or Adoring God, “Hallowed be thy name.” This is important for two reasons. One, we were created for praising God and are most at peace when we are doing so. And two, it grows our humility to acknowledge God is almighty, and we are not. Confessing our sins also grows our humility and opens us up for Him to heal us. Thanksgiving helps us remember the grace and gifts we have received. This in turn strengthens our faith that God has heard and answered our prayers before and will do so again. With our faith strengthened, we can confidently enter into Supplication.           

Here is an example of prayer from my life. This was fifteen or so years ago. My lung disease was flaring up, it was around midnight, and I was coughing, trying to clear my airways. Suddenly, the stuff in my airways lodged, and I could only take very short breaths. I was scared and called the emergency line for the pulmonology clinic, which I had never done before and have not done since. The doctor told me to go to the ER. I fell on my knees in the dark and started to cry in my tiredness and fear and prayed to Jesus to help me. I then got up and started to dress to go to the ER when the blockage unexpectedly broke free.

The blockage turned out to be what is called an airway cast. It was a perfect mold of the inside of my airway, about an inch long and solid. It’s a miracle that it broke loose. Coincidence? There is more. The next day I was symptom free, no fever and no congestion. Normally I need an antibiotic to recover after an infection like that. Jesus didn’t just clear my airway as I asked, He healed the infection too.

What was notable about that prayer? I completely surrendered to Christ. There was not a shred of pride between me and Him; I was helpless. I prayed with all my heart, fully aware of how dependent upon Him I was. 1 Cor 12 comes to mind, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Psalm 116 also comes to mind, “I was helpless, but He saved me.” Jesus heard me, and He cared, and He healed me. He is that way with everyone who asks, seeks, and knocks.

We can’t have an intimate and fulfilling relationship with our spouse without regular, undivided attention and conversation, so too with God. And just as regular and meaningful conversation with our spouse is an act of love and brings happiness and joy and gives us strength to meet the challenges of life, so too conversation with God in prayer builds our relationship with Him. You may think you are too busy for conversations with God like that between Mary and Gabriel, but when you make time for prayer you will start noticing that everything else works out just fine.

I’m going to let the member of the Holy Family who never spoke have the last word. The scripture says Joseph was righteous, meaning he was aligned with God’s will. And not once, and once would have been impressive, but twice, God speaks to Joseph in his dreams. Surely these things are the result of Joseph having a rich prayer life. He didn’t just pray, though. After God spoke to him in his dreams, immediately after waking up, Joseph did what God asked of him. In doing so, he saved those he loved.

Mary and Joseph, pray for us. Jesus, thank you for hearing us and perfecting our prayer before your Father. Heavenly Father, thank you for caring. Amen.

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