First Sunday of Lent
February 18, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Gn 9:8-15 / Ps 25 / 1 Pt 3:18-22 / Mk 1:12-15
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
On the first Sunday of Lent, the Liturgy invites us into a period of reflection, repentance, and spiritual renewal. As we embark on the journey through the desert of Lent, the readings and themes for this day serve as guiding lights, illuminating the path toward deeper communion with God. Lent comes from a Latin word meaning to soften. Lent is a forty-day period which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends before the celebration of the Pascal Triduum.
Forty is the number often associated with intense spiritual exercises. God caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the earth. The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years. Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mt. Sinai, and Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights to Mt. Horeb.
The gospel reading for this Sunday centers around Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, highlighting the struggle between the forces of good and evil. It prompts us to contemplate our own vulnerabilities and the temptations we face in our daily lives. Through Jesus’ example, we find encouragement to resist these temptations with the strength of faith and reliance on God’s word.
In the Old Testament we encounter the story of Noah and the flood, symbolizing purification and renewal. This narrative reminds us of God’s covenant with humanity and His promise of redemption even in the midst of trial and adversity. It serves as a reminder of faithfulness and obedience in our relationship with God.
St. Jerome, the brilliant doctor of the church, lived for twenty-five years in the cave where the child Jesus was born. One time he prayed to Jesus thus, “Dear Child, you have suffered so much to save me. How can I make amends?” “What can you give me, Jerome?” a voice was heard. “I will spend my entire life in prayer, and I will offer all my talents into your hands,” Jerome replied. “You do that to glorify me, but what more can you give to me?” the voice asked again. “I will give all my money to the poor,” Jerome explained. The voice said, “Give your money to the poor. It would be just as if you were giving it to me. But what else can you give to me?” St Jerome became distraught and said, “Lord, I have given you everything. What is there left to give?” “Jerome, you have not still given to me your sins,” the Lord replied. “Give them to me, so I can erase them.” With these words, Jerome burst into tears and spoke, “Dear Jesus, take all that is mine and give me all that is yours.”
Brothers and sisters, the liturgical season of Lent calls us to introspection and self-examination, urging us to identify areas for growth and transformation through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We are invited to draw closer to God and to our neighbors, embodying the love and compassion of Christ in our actions.
The gospel reading today tells us that Jesus went into the desert and spent forty days there. It tells us about the first time that our Lord was tempted. It was the first time that the devil openly confronted Christ and put Him to the test. But as we know, Jesus did not sin. He was like us in everything but sin. The devil tempted Him overtly, but Jesus did not give in to the temptations that the evil one placed before Him.
This is a very important event in Jesus’ life. This event in Jesus’ life shows us that we should not believe that Satan would never tempt us openly. We cannot say as some do, that I do not ever commit a sin. Satan puts everyone to temptation, and many times we give in to him, something that our Lord Jesus did not do.
Lent is a time for us to show our repentance through fasting and abstinence for the sins we have committed. Mortification, penance, strengthens our souls so that we can resist the devil, who as tradition tells us during the entire year, but especially during these forty days of Lent and during the days that we commemorate the Passion of Christ, will try to tempt us with greater determination and venom. We should not forget that even though Satan will tempt us, Christ, especially during these forty days, will help us to free ourselves from sin. He will give us the graces that we need to conquer those temptations. Of course, He will do this if we prepare ourselves, if we wipe clean our souls of sin, if we ask Him for those graces. When we are sincerely repentant and we say, “Lord, protect me from all sin,” He will do just that.
The season of Lent, the season of mercy is the best time for us to purify ourselves and strengthen ourselves to change our lives, to repent and follow Christ. We begin to feel this process of conversion when we firmly resolve to better our spiritual lives and to change our lives if they need to be changed. If we truly believe in the Good News, the Gospel of Christ, we must feel the radical need to abandon our lives of sin.
In those forty days spent in the desert, fasting and praying, our Lord gave us an example of what we need to do to prepare spiritually for Easter. During these forty days of Lent, Jesus asks us to let go of all those worldly things that tie us to sin. He asks us to let go of our selfishness, our sinful pride, our belief that we are better than everybody else. The conversion that the Lord asks us to go through really means maintaining a close relationship with God. It would be a lamentable error if we did not take advantage of these Lenten days, leaving for later what we know we need to do now in order to change our lives, with an ardent desire to change our lives, remembering that there is still time today, but it may be too late tomorrow.
Let us repent and confess our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation. As we reflect on the readings and themes on this first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded of the significance of this season as a time of spiritual renewal and preparation for the celebration of Easter. It is a time to reorient our hearts and minds towards God, to seek forgiveness for our shortcomings, and to deepen our commitment to living lives of holiness and discipleship.KEEP READING
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 11, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Lv 13:1-2, 44-46 / Ps 32 / 1 Cor 10:31-11:1 / Mk 1:40-45
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
The readings for today invite us to reflect on the call to holiness and the transformative power of God’s love in our lives.
In the first reading, from the Book of Leviticus, we encounter the intricate laws given to Moses by God for the purification and healing of those afflicted with leprosy. Leprosy, a symbol of sin and impurity, isolates individuals from their communities, casting them into the margins of society. Yet through the compassion of God and the actions of the priest, those suffering from leprosy are offered a path of restoration and reconciliation. This narrative reminds us that God’s love knows no bounds and extends even to the most marginalized and excluded members of society. It challenges us to examine our own attitudes toward those who are different from us, and to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every human being.
In the hustle and bustle of our modern lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of perfection. We strive for flawless appearances, impeccable achievements and seamless performances. Yet, amidst this relentless pursuit of perfection, we often overlook the inherent beauty found in imperfection.
Once in a distant village nestled among rolling hills, there lived a potter, renowned for his exquisite craftsmanship. His creations were flawless, each vessel bearing the mark of his skill and dedication. People from far and wide sought his pottery, believing it to be the epitome of perfection.
One day a traveler passing through the village stopped by the potter’s humble workshop. Intrigued by the tales of the potter’s mastery, the traveler watched intently as the potter skillfully molded clay into elegant shapes. However, amidst the display of precision, the traveler noticed something peculiar: a small crack on the surface of a seemingly flawless vase.
Curious, the traveler inquired about the imperfection. With a serene smile, the potter replied, “Ah, my friend, perfection is an illusion. It is in the imperfections that true beauty resides.” He then proceeded to explain that the crack in the vase was not a flaw to be concealed, but a unique feature that added character and depth to the piece.
The potter’s wisdom speaks volumes about our own lives. We often strive for flawlessness, believing it to be the ultimate measure of success and happiness. Yet, in our relentless pursuit of perfection, we overlook the beauty found in our imperfections, the cracks and blemishes that make us uniquely human. Just as the cracked vase held a beauty beyond its flawless counterparts, so, too, do our imperfections enrich our lives. It is through our struggles, failures, and vulnerabilities that we learn, grow, and connect with others on a deeper level. Our imperfections are not signs of weakness, but signs of our resilience and capacity for growth. We just need to offer them to God and allow Him to heal and cleanse us from our blemishes.
In our gospel today, we encounter a powerful demonstration of Jesus’ compassion and healing ministry. This passage tells the story of a leper who approaches Jesus with humility and faith, seeking to be cleansed of his affliction. The encounter between Jesus and the leper reveals profound truths about the nature of God’s love and the transformative power of compassion.
The leper, marginalized and shunned by society due to his condition, takes a bold step in approaching Jesus. Despite the social stigma surrounding leprosy, he approaches Jesus with unwavering faith, believing in His power to heal. His plea, “If you wish you can make me clean,” reflects both humility and trust in Jesus’ authority.
Moved by compassion, Jesus responds with a gesture that speaks volumes. He reaches out and touches the leper. In this simple yet profound act, Jesus not only demonstrates His willingness to heal, but also breaks down the barriers of social and religious exclusion. By touching the leper, Jesus communicates a message of solidarity and acceptance, affirming the leper’s dignity and worth as a beloved child of God.
The healing of the leper is not merely physical, but also spiritual and emotional. Through Jesus’ compassionate touch, the leper experiences not only physical restoration, but also reconciliation with God and the community. He is no longer an outcast, but a restored member of society, free to fully participate in the life of the community once again.
As we reflect on this passage, we are reminded of the profound truth that lies at the heart of Jesus’ ministry: the transformative power of compassion. No matter how imperfect we are, no matter how simple we are, Jesus still reaches out to us with compassion and empathy. He’s ready to make us clean if we reach out to Him. As He said, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
Jesus’ compassionate response to the leper also challenges us to examine our own attitudes and actions toward those who are marginalized or excluded in our community. Do we, like Jesus, reach out to those in need with compassion and empathy? Do we challenge the social and religious barriers that exclude others and perpetuate injustice? Are we willing to extend a healing touch, both literal and metaphorical, to those who are hurting and in need of restoration?
So, as we journey through life, may the parable of the potter encourage us to embrace our imperfections with grace and gratitude. Let us recognize that it is our flaws that make us beautiful, that our scars tell stories of trial over adversity, and that our brokenness is a testament to our strength and resilience. And may we find solace in the knowledge that, in the eyes of God, we are perfectly imperfect, cherished just as we are.
May the story of Jesus’ encounter with the leper inspire us to embody His compassion in our own lives. May we reach out to those who are marginalized or excluded, affirming their dignity and worth as beloved children of God. And may we be agents of healing and reconciliation, in a world that is longing for the transformative power of compassion.KEEP READING
Second Sunday of Advent
December 10, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Is 40:1-5, 9-11 / Ps 85 / 2 Pt 3:8-14 / Mk 1:1-8
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
In the gentle glow of the second Advent candle, we find ourselves journeying through the scriptures of the Second Sunday of Advent. The readings, like a compass, guide us through the wilderness of anticipation, urging us to prepare the way for the Lord. The image of John the Baptist emerges prominently – a voice crying out in the wilderness, urging us to make straight the path for the arrival of the Messiah. It is a powerful metaphor, reminding us that the preparation for Christ’s coming often occurs in the rugged terrains of our lives, the places we may overlook or avoid.
A story is told about a school principal who called the house of one of his teachers to find out why he was not at school. He was greeted by a small child who whispered, “Hello?”
“Is your daddy home?” asked the principal.
“Yes,” answered the whispering child.
“May I talk with him?” the man asked.
“No,” replied the small voice.
“Is your mommy there?” he asked.
“Yes,” came the answer.
“May I talk with her?”
Again, the small voice whispered, “No.”
“All right,” said the man. “Is there anyone there besides you?”
“Yes,” whispered the child, “a policeman.”
“A policeman? Well, may I speak with the policeman?”
“No, he’s busy,” whispered the child.
“Busy doing what?” asked the principal.
“Talking to daddy and mommy and the fireman,” came the child’s answer.
“The fireman? Has there been a fire in the house or something?” asked the worried man.
“No,” whispered the child.
“Then what are the police and the fireman doing there?”
Still whispering, the young voice replied with a soft giggle, “They are looking for me.”
Poor fireman and policeman.
It would be pretty hard for rescuers to find this child as long as the child keeps hiding from them. In today’s gospel we see John the Baptist in the desert, calling the people of Judea to come out into the open desert and let God find them. You can liken it to the fireman calling out to the lost child. The child has to leave his hiding place and come out into the open for the fireman to find him.
To go into the desert is to leave behind the normal props of life on which we tend to depend. Such life props we often find in our jobs, in our relationships, and in our routine religious practices. God can’t do much with us as long as we hope and trust in these things as the first things that give meaning to our lives. When the heart is full, no one can come into it, not even God. You have first to let go of what your heart is holding onto before you can embrace God.
In today’s reading from Peter, we hear that Jesus’ second coming is still being delayed because He does not want to lose any of us. He is giving us more time to repent and prepare. He’s calling us to metanoia, to a complete change in our lives.
All of us have experienced someone telling us how to change our lives. Most likely it was our parents. This call to change our lives may be the only one that some of us have ever heard. Someone may announce, discuss, and invite people to think about a new way of life saying, “I want you to do what I told you to do.”
But then there was Jesus’ approach. Jesus comes along and doesn’t simply discuss it. He is it. Jesus is the experience of the transformation that we all need.
In today’s readings, we also notice that Mark is the only evangelist who introduces the word gospel in his opening statement, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word gospel means people – God’s people as they manifest the glad tidings of the Lord’s presence in their midst, or as they become the instruments of God’s redemptive presence toward others.
Advent is given to us in order that Jesus may be manifest in our midst. We are to become the heralds of glad tidings, which is the gospel.
The gospel is Jesus Christ. John the Baptist in the message today is preparing the way for Jesus’ presence in our midst. Jesus is the gospel. Perhaps a more correct translation would be: The Beginning of the Gospel which is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Gospel is people, manifesting God as Savior, intervening as God’s instrument in the work of salvation toward others.
In the gospel message today, John the Baptist tells us that Jesus is coming, and when He comes, He will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. Each of us is called to be the beginning of the gospel for others, to tell the good news in a way that makes us a messenger for the One who is coming. As Christians, we have the role of preparing the way of the Lord, and John the Baptist is our model. Mark’s gospel is but the beginning of a story that continues down to our time. It started with John the Baptist. Today it continues with us. He prepared others for the coming of the Lord. We must do the same.
Before we help to prepare others, we must acknowledge our own sins and seek forgiveness. We must be renewed so that nothing impedes our walk with Jesus. We must examine our inner sins, those that go beyond the ten commandments.
We must prepare as a people, because we tend to overly individualize our relationship with God. Advent is something we do together. We dream, repent, turn our faces toward God together. In the season of Advent, the church extends to us the call of John the Baptist to repent and confess our sins in preparation for the One who is to come. It is an opportunity to re-discover our total dependence on God. God has made us for himself, as Saint Augustine confessed, and our hearts are restless until they rest in God. When we realize this and make room for God in our lives, then we are on our way to true repentance, after the example of John the Baptist.
As we continue our Advent journey, may the light of the candles guide us through the darkness, reminding us that our preparation and anticipation are not in vain. The lessons of Advent are not confined to a season. They are a timeless call to keep the flame of hope alive in our hearts, ready to shine brightly, even in the unexpected moments that await us.KEEP READING
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.KEEP READING
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 17, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Sir 27:30-28:7 / Ps 103 / Rom 14:7-9 / Mt 18:21-35
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
A 99-year-old woman, pushing on in years, boasted to her pastor that she didn’t have an enemy in the world. He was very impressed. What a wonderful thing to be able to say after all those years! And then she added, “I have outlived them all!” If we live long enough, we’ll also be able to make the same statement.
“What goes around comes around” is a common expression. Its familiarity springs from the truth. When we offer words of kindness and love to others, that invites words of kindness and love in return. On the other hand, isn’t it true that words of anger only produce more anger on each side? The harsh judgement we pass on others easily could apply to us as well. In the final analysis, we will be judged by how we treat others, not how they may have treated us.
So what is it that we want to go around and come around? The reply that we offer should not be merely words, but also deeds. The wise man Sirach in our first reading says, “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” These words in many ways echo the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We have indicated that we want the same treatment as we give others.
The problem is, if we treat others in an unkind manner, we are asking that God treat us the same way. For example; if the young people here do not cooperate with their elders by loving them and obeying them, it means that they are saying to God: My parents shouldn’t love me and shouldn’t respond to my wishes. Jesus is saying that if we treat others poorly, then it’s only natural that they will treat us the same way. You are in command. Treat others well, including parents, and they will treat you well.
There is a story of a six-year-old, John. During night prayer he paused before his brother’s name and said to his mother, “I will not ask God to bless Paul. He gave me a big blow on the nose today.” The mother said to John, “But Jesus asked you to forgive your enemies.” Little John responded, “That’s the main problem. Paul is not my enemy, and that’s the reason I cannot forgive him.”
The reaction of little John tells us that forgiveness is hard, and that forgiving family and friends is even tougher. Forgiveness and reconciliation are twin virtues that hold a relationship whether it is an interpersonal or interethnic or interreligious relationship.
One of the hardest things to do is to forgive those who are mean to us. To forgive those who have done or said terrible things against us, or even to forgive those who contribute, or those who continue to put us down and those who hate us with disdain.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where it was difficult to forgive someone who offended you? Yes, forgiveness can be very hard in certain situations, and for this reason it takes such a long time before we train ourselves to forgive our offenders, especially when they are people we trusted so much.
The first step towards forgiveness is the ability to say, Yes, I forgive. It really takes a lot of courage to forgive. The second step is to ask for the help of God by admitting, God, I really want to forgive, but I do not know how to forgive. Help me to forgive totally and completely from the depth of my heart.
Too often we wait for others to make the first move. We hesitate because we might face rejection, or we don’t want to seem too weak or eager for reconciliation. That’s not how Jesus treated us. He made the first move. He loves us so much that He died for us. We can show the same love by having His courage to treat our family and our friends in the same loving manner, not waiting for them to display their love but to offer our love first. Each of us must be Christ-like: We must take the initiative.
Our Lord gives this gospel as a warning that we must be constantly on our guard. God has forgiven us for things we could not possibly hope to repay. And we are duty bound in gratitude and compassion to share the graciousness, forgiveness, and charity that God gives to us and others around us.
In the gospel, Peter is asking about the limits of forgiveness. Isn’t it true that if we just grant forgiveness to someone who’s treated us in an unloving manner that they will continue to take advantage of us? Jesus says, “No, don’t forgive friends or members of your family seven times, but seven times seventy times.” Unlimited.
Jesus willingly gave His life for us because He loves us. We show our love in the same manner and, if we do, that love will be returned, whether it be from our child, our parents, our friend, or even from someone we don’t like. We do it not because we are weak, but because Jesus has asked us to do it, and He has promised we will be blessed for our actions.
Also, we must learn to forgive ourselves. Imagine you’re responsible for something very serious; you are driving a car while under the influence of alcohol, there is an accident and a young person is killed. That life cannot be brought back. For more and more people, there is something in their background, some skeleton in the closet, as we say. A broken marriage, an abortion, a pregnancy outside marriage, a broken relationship, or a serious mistake. And for many of us we do not believe that there is another chance, much less seven times seventy chances.
This is not the teaching of Jesus. God doesn’t just give us another chance, but every time we close a door, He opens another one for us. The Lord challenges us not to make serious, damaging mistakes. But He also tells us that our mistakes are not forever. They are not even for a lifetime, and time and grace wash us clean. Nothing is irrevocable.
The words of Sirach in the first reading say it all. “Think of the commandments. Hate not your families and friends, remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.” And so, as each of us takes a few minutes coming to Communion, think of what we can do for our families, our children, our siblings, and all of our friends so that we will love one another as Jesus has loved us. Let us continue to promote that awareness that we are all in communion with one another and with the one God. What we do to others we are taken as doing to God himself. May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING
Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a / Ps 23 / Eph 5:8-14 / Jn 9:1-41
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Our gospel today is about a man who was born blind. What a privilege for the blind man to have met Jesus and be healed by Him! What a privilege for him to have Jesus touch his eyes and bring him sight! Yet who would think that a paste of clay put on one’s eyes and then washing in the Pool of Siloam would restore the blind man’s sight? But Jesus worked through clay and water. Jesus used ordinary elements around us in nature to convey his healing power. Jesus gave the gift of sight by using matter. The blind man could feel the paste of clay on his eyes; he could feel Jesus touching his eyes; he could hear Jesus. He could feel the water washing off the clay. He could not see Jesus, but Jesus came to him through touch and hearing.
In the first reading God works in a similar way. Samuel, under instructions from God, anointed David with oil, and when he did so, the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. In the first reading and gospel, God’s power and healing were conveyed through elements of nature applied to the body and were conveyed through matter.
So, when Jesus comes to us, how does He come? Every time we receive the sacraments, Jesus comes to us, and there is a visible sign of Jesus coming to us invisibly through His sacrament. Just as the Holy Spirit came mightily upon David when he was anointed with oil by Samuel, and just as Jesus used matter of clay and water for the healing of the blind man, Jesus comes to us in each sacrament with matter used together with prayer, and we call the prayer “the form.” So the matter and form of every sacrament is the visible sign of Jesus coming to us invisibly, but powerfully, in the sacrament.
In the Sacrament of Baptism, the matter is water, which is poured over the head to baptize and symbolizes washing. And the form is that the priest will say the name of the person or the baby, and then continue by saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” which is prayed at the same time as the water is poured.
In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the matter is the bishop using his thumb to anoint the forehead with Oil of Chrism. And the form is that he says the name of the person and says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the matter is bread made from wheat and wine fermented from grapes. The form is the words of the Consecration at Mass over the bread and wine. “Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you. Take this, all of you, and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the matter is not something that we can see as in the other Sacraments, or something that touches our senses. Instead, it is our sorrow and repentance and the penance we perform after receiving the absolution. The form is the words of absolution prayed over us by the priest, which conclude, “And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father (the priest makes the sign of the cross), and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, the matter is the anointing with the Oil of the Sick on the forehead and on the palms of the hands. The form is a prayer prayed by the priest at the same time, when he says, “Through this Holy Anointing, may the Lord, in His love and mercy, help you through the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then he anoints the forehead, and he continues by saying, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” Then he anoints the palms.
In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in which deacons, priests, and bishops are ordained, the matter is the laying on of hands by the bishop on the head of the man being ordained. The form, the prayer of consecration immediately following the laying on of hands, differs on whether it is a deacon, priest, or bishop who is being ordained.
In the Sacrament of Matrimony, the matter and form of the Sacrament is the mutual self-giving and self-acceptance by the couple as they hold each other’s right hand.
When David was chosen by God as King, the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him when he was anointed by Samuel with oil. When the blind man was healed by Jesus, the healing of Jesus came to him through being anointed with a paste of clay and washed in the Pool of Siloam. He could feel the paste of clay on his eyes, he could feel Jesus touching his eyes, he could hear Jesus, he could feel the water washing off the clay. He could not see Jesus, but Jesus came to him through touch and hearing.
Every time we receive the sacraments, Jesus comes to us by touching our senses, and there is a visible sign of Jesus coming to us invisibly in these sacraments. Who would think that anointing with oil would be the signal for the spirit of the Lord to fall mightily on David? Who would think that anointing with a paste of clay and washing would restore sight?
But God uses ordinary elements of nature to convey His power and healing to us in the sacraments, and in every sacrament, Jesus comes to us invisibly, but powerfully. So, as you receive the sacraments, you hear Jesus and Jesus touches you. Jesus touched the blind man and Jesus touches you when you receive the sacraments.KEEP READING
Third Sunday of Lent
March 12, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 17:3-7 / Ps 95 / Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 / Jn 4:5-42
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
For a few moments I’d like for you to put yourself in the place of the woman at the well in today’s story. Imagine you’re her and you’re there. It’s dusty and it’s hot, even in the shade. The dust and the wind are hot, and they’re sticking to you because you’re sweaty. You’re a long walk from the village. You’re alone. The jars are heavy even when empty.
I am the woman at the well, and I swim in dirty waters. I exist and I swim in the waters of this world, this culture. It can be a cesspool really. The world doesn’t love me; it doesn’t care about me. Society, the culture, they wish for my power as their own. I’m worth what I produce for it. My dignity is ambiguous, my morality is ambiguous, dependent on what others might see in me or gain from me, so I behave the same. This culture that corrupts me by bombarding me with its messages: consume, it’s your truth, love whomever you’d like, if it feels good do it, the baby is not a person, the old man is a burden. This culture that has shaped me is the same that will condemn me, shun me, ignore me, separate me whenever it seems helpful to it. Governments, business, academics, art, media, these can’t save me. I am the woman at the well, and I swim in dirty waters.
I am the woman at the well, and I am a cast away, rejected, shunned, alone with my sin and my pain. There’s a reason I’m at the well far outside of town, alone with the sun at its peak and the heat. I am a cast away. That’s because no one will be there, no one carries heavy containers of water in the heat of the day; they go in the early morning or the late evening when it’s cool. But me, I go when no one will be there, no one to deride me, no one to judge me, no one to make me feel worse about myself than I already do. No one can help me, no one cares, no one loves me. Do I even deserve love anyway? I just need to exist. I just need to get by. I am the woman at the well and I am a cast away.
I am the woman at the well and I doubt Him. Why talk to me? Why care about me? I am a woman, I am from Samaria, I’m a pagan. You don’t know me; You can’t know me. Everything about me is the antithesis of what someone like You would value. I float in sin. I doubt You can help me. You don’t even have a vessel, a container for the water, and my darkness is deep, too deep for You to reach. How could You sustain me for even a few moments, let alone eternally? No, this doesn’t make sense, this must be some trick. You must want something from me or wish to gain something by this encounter. I am the woman at the well and I doubt Him.
I am the woman at the well and I accept Him. Wait, He does know me. He really, truly, knows me. He knows my heart, hardened and despairing as it is. I’ve never met Him, and yet He softly identifies everything about my darkness. He dips deeply into my well of shame and loathing and somehow accepts it, accepts me. He accepts who I am. His grace is bigger than my past, much bigger. He’s met me in the dark and barren places of my heart where I am and offered me His love without requiring anything. And yet, I feel I want to return to Him somehow. I want to acknowledge this immense gift. I welcome His gift. It’s what I’ve unknowingly been seeking. He has risen me to pure living water. I’m unsinkable. I live. I am the woman at the well and I accept Him.
I am the woman at the well and I know Him. I’m not even going to haul the water back or the containers. I’m lighter than air now. I’m restored. My burdens lifted. My guilt and shame washed away. I’m floating. But what about the others? They don’t know, they can’t know. They swim in dirty waters. They are castaways. They doubt love. If they knew Him, they might be light. I must share. I must let them know, because even me, and all my darkness and brokenness and doubt, even me He loves and wants to save. You’ve got to meet Him. There’s nothing greater, nothing more important, nothing more beautiful. He is the living water, salvation, the Christ. I am the woman at the well and I want you to know Him.KEEP READING
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 15, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 49:3, 5-6 / Ps 40 / 1 Cor 1:1-3 / Jn 1:29-34
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today our gospel reading relates the beginning of the public life of Jesus. Christmas is over. The child is grown up. He has become a man and is baptized in the waters by John the Baptist. This is a sign of His oneness with all of humanity. He is indeed the Messiah; true God and true man.
Today we hear John the Baptist testifying that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus is walking by and John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He doesn’t say, “Behold the Messiah.” He doesn’t say, “Behold the Son of God.” Instead, he says, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Lambs are very important to a shepherd people. Of course, we think of the lamb most of all when Jesus says that He is the shepherd, and the lambs hear His voice and follow Him.
This, however, is not what John the Baptist has in mind. What John has in mind is something much deeper, something much more important. He’s telling his followers that this is the sacrificial lamb offered at the time when the people were under the slavery of Egypt. The lamb was offered that terrible night, with its blood placed upon the doorpost of all the children of Israel. The lamb became the sacrifice by which all of them were freed. This is the lamb who is the sacrificial lamb. This is the Messiah who does not come with great armies. This is the Messiah who comes to us as a sacrificial lamb, and as John says, who offers His entire life so that sins may be forgiven.
The word, sin, is very much used, but does not exist in any other language except Hebrew. This word is a gift of the Jewish people, who recognize something very important in its use. We think of sin as something that offends the ten commandments. It’s not that. We think of sin as something terrible that other people fall into.
Very seldom do we ourselves sin, because we think it is a series of activities against laws. It’s true that if you break a law, you break a commandment. If you break a commandment, that commandment is the law of God and therefore you have sinned. But that is not what sin means.
Sin is a very interesting word. It really means that you have failed to love. God has given you His love, and you have turned your back on Him. God has given you Jesus, and He becomes a lamb led to the slaughter to show you the depth of God’s love and to help you understand that when we say, “I have sinned,” we have not broken a commandment. Rather, we have broken a promise. We have broken a person. We have nailed Him to the cross.
Sin is a failure to care, a failure to love. It is not meaningful to simply say, I broke the sixth commandment, or the tenth commandment, etc. When you sin, you break a heart, not only the heart of Jesus, but the heart of the person that you have sinned against. This is why it is such an important word.
When Jesus enters the waters, He becomes one with us, walking with us through life, feeling the things we feel and hoping the things we hope. He is every bit a human being. When He does this, He’s coming so that He might take away all sin. For if sin is a sin against the love of God, Jesus redeems us by His great love, not only for God, His father, but also for all of us. It is in the love of Jesus that we are forgiven, for He never held it against us. He never went away and hid, waiting for an apology.
Sometimes we think a confessional is where our sins are forgiven. Forgiveness, however, begins in the heart of Jesus and there is no sin that Jesus Himself does not immediately forgive, because His love is so great. When you go to confession, you come in contact, not with the judgement of God and being forgiven. Instead, you should come to understand that when Jesus offered Himself on the cross for all mankind, the greatest love that a God-made man could offer His father, that all was forgiven to all for all.
This is the message that the gospel teaches us, and this is the message that we often forget. Remember, that when we sin against each other, it is not merely the breaking of a rule, regulation, or law. It is the breaking of another person’s heart. We must realize that Jesus came only to love. That’s why He said, “I have not come to judge, but only to teach you how to love.”
Jesus tells us today that He is the Lamb of God. This means, of course, that He is the shepherd, and we are the lambs. Through Him, we are to become the lambs of God, to become the sons and daughters of God, or as it says in the readings, the children of God. The one thing that God calls us to do each day is to love. Jesus teaches us each day that there is only love and that, if we sin, we take ourselves out of the one thing that is necessary for our heart, soul, and lives: the fullness of God’s love flowing through us into each other.
This is why Jesus came and why today we say with great gratitude, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He takes away everything that stands between us and the love of a loving Father, who has given us Jesus to show the way and, as mentioned in the gospel today, fills us with His Holy Spirit.KEEP READING
Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2022 — Year A
Readings: Is 11:1-10 / Ps 72 / Rom 15:4-9 / Mt 3:1-12
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
When big events are approaching, people start to worry about a lot of things and how to prepare for them, not the least of which is what they will wear. Many of us are already engrossed in the preparation for Christmas; a good number have sent out their Christmas cards; and Christmas shopping is already in full swing. Malls are filled with Christmas stuff. Others are engrossed in deciding what gifts to give, while children are busy deciding what they want to get from their parents or from Santa.
Many of us are excited as we look forward to the big day. The trouble, it seems, is that our modern society has commercialized Christmas, so that we have mistaken the icing for the cake. Somebody once made this strange proposal: Christmas should be abolished because it only makes the poor suffer more. The season only dramatizes the sharp contrast between those who can go on shopping sprees and those who have virtually nothing. We should not, however, be too strict about brushing aside the external trappings – the decorations, gifts, food and drinks – if we brush them out, the spirit surrounding Christmas would be lost.
But let us remain aware that there is always the danger of losing the right perspective. Hence, we need to constantly remind ourselves to keep Christ in Christmas.
Another truth is that Christmas is a religious event. We are celebrating the birth of our Savior who came down centuries ago. Think about it: The child whose birth we are all celebrating and rejoicing in came as the least of men. Poor and simple. He would never be able to afford our glittery and incredibly extravagant celebrations. In this case, we overlook, in the flurry of preparations, the internal preparations in our heart. Let us be ready to share some of our blessings this Christmas that would cheer somehow, or somehow alleviate the harsh condition of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
That is why in today’s gospel it instructs us to prepare in the true spirit — that is, inwardly – by which John the Baptist beautifully announces, “Reform your lives; for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The Christmas carol Joy to the World puts it beautifully: “Let every heart prepare Him room.”
This is a big event, the coming of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, it is a big event in world history. But John does not worry about his outfit, or what he will eat, or even his popularity with the leaders of the Jews. John does not worry at all. He simply gets ready for the coming of the Lord, and, as God’s messenger, he wants the rest of the people to get ready, too. He wants them to prepare for the very Son of God who will enter human history, not dressed in silken clothes nor sleeping in an air-conditioned or heated room, nor sleeping on a mattress, but dressed in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Advent is a time for preparation. It is also a season of conversion and repentance, a time to live out the message that John proclaims: “Reform your lives, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
The kingdom does not appear out of the blue. It will not come automatically. God will bring about the realization of this via people. This will come only when certain conditions are met: where people are converted to a new style of life; where they are willing to commit to banish injustice, either personal or societal; and ready to stand for one another. In this, the kingdom is at hand. But whether it will materialize depends on each one of us. Our Church reminds us that repentance and conversion will not only happen during Advent. It should be forever, but the question is: “In what way?”
It is by begging pardon for our sins, because sin is like a poison in the body, which it slowly kills. Penance is the way to detoxify our souls. Many of us collect sins and, before we know it, our souls are cluttered, like attics filled with junk. To prepare for God’s coming, we need to do some housecleaning. We must make room for Him by getting rid of sin. Sacramental confession is a great help. We are not only looking for Christ, but we are looking for His coming at the end of time. We are so very thankful for His continual presence in us. But He can only enter a heart that is contrite and pure: a changed heart.
As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Change your hearts. Unless we change our hearts, we are not converted.” The Greek word metanoia means “change of heart.” Metanoia is a biblical term for repentance or “complete change of heart.” It turns one away from sin, to serve the living God. In the Old Testament, the prophets called for a conversion that would turn the people away from idolatry, and from a merely superficial practice of religion to live in fidelity to God’s law and their social responsibilities.
In the gospel of today, John the Baptist, and then later Jesus, preach a radical change of heart, as demanded by the coming of God’s kingdom. That is why the baptism of St. John the Baptist is a baptism for repentance. During apostolic times, in the name of Jesus, the apostles invited people to be converted and baptized, and so begin a new life in the spirit. So today let us reform and repent. Let us turn away from sin and say we are sorry. And we must do it now, for tomorrow may be too late. Now is the acceptable time because the kingdom of God is at hand.KEEP READING