Friday, January 31, 2014

Staying on Campaign

At the turn of the year, when kings go out on campaign,
David sent out Joab along with his officers
and the army of Israel, 
and they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.
David, however, remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David rose from his siesta 
and strolled about on the roof of the palace.
From the roof he saw a woman bathing, who was very beautiful.
David had inquiries made about the woman and was told, 
“She is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, 
and wife of Joab’s armor bearer Uriah the Hittite.”
Then David sent messengers and took her.
When she came to him, he had relations with her.
She then returned to her house.
But the woman had conceived, 
and sent the information to David, “I am with child.” (2 Samuel 11: 1-5)

One of the saddest and most detrimental of events in David’s life is David’s committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband Uriah the Hittite killed when David discovered Bathsheba’s pregnancy. David married Bathsheba to cover up his adultery, but the sin became known. The long-term result of this was not only the death of an innocent man, Uriah, but also the death of the innocent baby, the later rebellion of David’s sons, and the splitting of Israel into two kingdoms. All of this happened because David took a walk on the roof when he should’ve been out on campaign.

Nevertheless, in all of these terrible circumstances, we learn about the mercy of God. God shows mercy to David when David repents. God does not remove the kingship from David nor will He abolish the covenant that he made with David when he told David that one of his sons would sit upon the throne of Jacob forever. David will still share paternity with God in Jesus, and this through Bathsheba, the very woman with whom he sinned. Bathsheba became the mother of David’s son Solomon and, through Solomon, the great great great great great great grandmother of Jesus.

The origin of David’s sin was sloth. It was a lack of attentiveness to his duty. Scripture tells us that this incident happened at the turn of the year when kings go out on campaign. David was a king, so why wasn’t he on campaign? He should’ve been campaigning, that is rallying his troops and fighting his enemies. Instead David was home where he got into trouble. In his idleness, he is walking on the rooftop when he spies Bathsheba. And thus his great sin begins.

In the spiritual life, sloth and idleness become the doorway to sin. The saying goes that an idle mind is the devil’s playground. Think of a motorboat that is not anchored but is not moving through the waves. The tide will take that boat wherever the tide flows. The evil one waits for us to be idle, that is not seeking a virtuous life, because when we are idle we become prey to the tide. We then fall into sin either through the evil one or through our own fallen nature. We are prone to influence by both of these. One or the other will sweep us away.

In the spiritual life we need to be always on campaign. The campaign to holiness requires virtue, fortitude, attention to the matter at hand. We need to give God our attention, be mindful of Him, be attentive to our state in life and our vocation. David’s state in life was that of a married man who was also a king. But he got lost in wandering on a rooftop, and he probably made excuses about why he did what he did.

Once we recognize our vocation, we must give ourselves completely to it. Our duty is to our vocation. We are to be on campaign, to engage in the battle to become who God intended us to be. If we grow lax and slothful, this will have an effect on our own soul and the souls of others who we were to lead to God by our example. St. Francis said that whenever we turn back to our own wills, we become murderers. Yes murderers, because we fail to participate in the salvation of souls. We are not there to lead others to God. We must give our whole selves and our attention to our vocation. We can’t be slothful. David took a walk on his rooftop that devastated his life, caused his kingdom to be divided, and brought destruction to Israel. St. Paul said, “Let us fight the good fight and not grow gloomy or lax,” because “rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.”

We need to keep on campaign for the holiness of life. This will cause us to drink the cup of suffering, but self-denial will lead us to glory in heaven. Keep the end result in mind. “Great things we have promised,” St. Francis said. “But greater things have been promised to us.” We must yearn for the eternal and the heavenly homeland, and not grow lax or weary because rejoicing in the Lord must be our strength. Give us the grace of fortitude, Lord, to fight the good fight and to remain on campaign.

-- Transcribed as best as possible from a homily by Father David Engo, FBM

Thursday, January 30, 2014

God Cannot Be Outdone in Generosity

God’s Covenant with David

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’
 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever. In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

David’s Prayer

 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God; you have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come. May this be instruction for the people, O Lord God! And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have wrought all this greatness, so that your servant may know it. Therefore you are great, O Lord God; for there is no one like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. Who is like your people, like Israel? Is there another nation on earth whose God went to redeem it as a people, and to make a name for himself, doing great and awesome things for them, by driving out before his people nations and their gods? And you established your people Israel for yourself to be your people for ever; and you, O Lord, became their God. And now, O Lord God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it for ever; do as you have promised. Thus your name will be magnified for ever in the saying, “The Lord of hosts is God over Israel”; and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, “I will build you a house”; therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant; now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue for ever before you; for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed for ever.’

David wanted to build God a house. He tells the prophet Nathan about this, and Nathan basically says, “Go ahead and do what you want.” But then God speaks to Nathan and says, “Tell David not to do this.”

God’s response contains an element of surprise. God is saying I never asked for a house. I’ve been moving about in a tent all this time, and never needed a house.” But God recognized that David wanted to do him good and to give God glory. So God is more generous than David. He says to David, “You are not going to build a house for me; I will build a house for you. Your son shall be my son.” God and David are going to share fatherhood in one of David’s sons. This prophecy would take 1000 years before it was fulfilled in Jesus.

David’s son Solomon built God a temple, as God had predicted. But God built his own temple in David’s son Jesus.

What incredible love existed between David and his household and God! God introduced a new way to approach God, to search for God, to become a closer friend of God. God taught us a great lesson, to lean on God’s mercy. God built his own temple on Jesus, and that new temple is the Church. The temple of Solomon was destroyed and rebuilt until it was finally destroyed and never rebuilt. But the temple of the Catholic Church built on Jesus will last forever. It has endured sufferings, blows, and beatings, but it has endured. We see in the Church God’s love for us. To those who give, Scripture tells us, more will be given. We give to God, and he gives far more generously back to us. God cannot be outdone in generosity. The more we realize that God is building something beautiful in our lives, the more we will trust God, the more we will understand the beauty of the relationship with God and how awesome we are to him.

Jesus told his disciples that he would not ask the Father for them, because they could ask the Father themselves. The Father loves you, Jesus said. Take courage and approach the heavenly Father. Our Lord and God is so good, so near, so merciful. He cannot be outdone in generosity. Give something, and God will give you more back. Trust in God who so loves us and who gave Jesus to us. What more can we ask for than that?

--Transcribed in general from a homily by Father David Engo, FBM

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Examining Our Motives

Examining Our Motives

Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrongto his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.” (1 Samuel 19: 4-6)

Saul and Jonathan

Where do we take counsel? Do we take counsel singly or as a group? Do we give a thought to what is the right or wrong thing to do?

Saul wanted to do away with David. That was not a good idea. Jonathan went and told him, “Don’t do that.” Do we have a Jonathan our lives? Do we listen to our Jonathan? Or do we follow our own will without seeing if it’s God’s will?

Am I doing the right thing, do I ask what you want me to do Lord? Do we ever do what is the right thing and wonder why Jesus doesn’t seem to be in it?

People came to Jesus to see miracles, to be healed, to be close to the one they love. These are good things. They are good motives. But are these good motives? We need to examine our motives and see why we do what we do. We should not act without recollection.

Why do we do the things we do? Do we spend time in prayer and reflection? When I want to make a decision, do I consult only my will but not God’s will? Do we think about if our actions and our decisions are in conformity with what God wants?

We need to be recollected people and discern where we get our marching orders. We can seek people who think like we do and who will tell us what we want to hear. But we should be seeking people who are God centered who will tess us what God wants us to hear. We need to rely more on God than on ourselves.

--Transcribed as best as possible from a homily by Father Jacob Meyer

Repentance and Prayer: The Way to Holiness

12 When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea and returned to Galilee. 13 But instead of going to Nazareth, he went to Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy: 15 "In the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali, beside the sea, beyond the Jordan River -- in Galilee where so many Gentiles live -- 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined." 17 From then on, Jesus began to preach, "Turn from your sins and turn to God, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near. " 18 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers -- Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew -- fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen. 19 Jesus called out to them,"Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!" 20 And they left their nets at once and went with him. 21 A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their nets. And he called them to come, too. 22 They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind. 23 Jesus traveled throughout Galilee teaching in the synagogues, preaching everywhere the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed people who had every kind of sickness and disease.(Matthew 4: 12-23)

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he went to live in Capernaum. John had been sent to preach the baptism of repentance and to prepare the way for Jesus to come. John told the people, “I have only come to prepare the way for the Messiah, but you do not recognize him. I am not fit to untie his sandal strap. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Look for him. Wait for him.”  

Wait for the LORD, take courage;
be stouthearted, wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:14)

The Light has come. He is in our midst. Baptism gives us the grace of adoption as the sons and daughters of God. The grace of baptism never leaves us once it comes upon us. We never stop being a beloved son or daughter of the Father. We may make poor choices. We may place our self-will in opposition to God’s Holy Will. Our vision may be clouded and our will weakened due to sin. Sometimes we choose for the good, sometimes for evil. Even if we choose to sin, we will never cease to be the son or daughter of our Father. We will never cease to be his child. He will never stop loving us.

The Father embraces the Prodigal Son

John and Jesus preached the baptism of repentance. In order for the Holy Spirit to be vibrant in our lives, in order for Jesus to shine forth, we need to repent. Everyone needs to repent. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. Pope John Paul II used to go to confession every day. Mother Teresa of Calcutta went every week. The constitutions of her Order say that the sisters must confess weekly. It is embarrassing to go to confession. We have to humble ourselves and confess our sins. But the fruit of this is a tremendous joy. The prophets tell us that there is great joy, abundant joy, when we do God’s will.

I have an older brother who called me up with great joy because he had been to a retreat with  his wife who had forced him to go. And his life had been changed. This was the first retreat he’d ever made in his whole life and he is 70 years old. God entered his life on this retreat, probably through his going to confession. He had so much joy and hope that he had to share them with the family.

What happens when I go to the Lord and admit that I am a sinner? How do I begin a confession? I should say, “Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is a good thing to say when we can’t sleep. Say it over and over and you will soon sleep in peace. This is called the Pilgrim’s prayer. It helps us know who we are and who God is.

Sin can wreak havoc in a soul and can also affect our bodies. Our bodies show the effects of sin by making us tense and guilty. We take our sin and go to Jesus who took all our sins upon himself and therefore conquered sin. He is the one who smashed the yoke that burdens us. He took the heavy rod of the taskmaster from our shoulders.

John the Baptist preached baptism for the repentance of sins, and he told us to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. But Jesus told us that the kingdom of God is already here. If I don’t experience the peace, love, joy, patience, fortitude, and so forth of the Holy Spirit, that means that I need to repent of my sin. I need to give my sins to Jesus, to surrender to God. The Lord told King St. Louis of France that he, Louis, wanted to pray as a saint, but God wanted him to come to the Lord as a poor, humble soul.

Jesus told us that blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. A soul that acknowledges that she needs God is poor in spirit. Go to God poor in spirit. Be humble and repent. That is the first step to holiness.

The second is this. Pray perseveringly. Pray when prayer is beautiful and uplifting, and pray on the days when prayer is not so beautiful. Many people get discouraged when prayer becomes boring and they drop it. God did not ask us to pray well but to pray always, to persevere in prayer. Jesus told us the parable about praying always and not losing heart.

Prayer and repentance are the way holiness.

--Transcribed as best as possible from a homily by Father James Kumbakkeel, O.S.B.,

Francis and Clare Guild Greeting Card Apostolate

Francis and Clare Guild Greeting Card Apostolate. Write greeting cards to people in need of some loving concern.
Rhea, one of the Confraternity of Penitents' Life Pledged CFP Members has begun the Francis and Clare Guild Greeting Card Apostolate whose members pledge to send a greeting card at least monthly to persons whom they choose or to whom they are assigned. They also pray for their correspondents and offer them their love and support.

The Guild is open to anyone who wants to perform this spiritual work of charity by encouraging the depressed, visiting the sick (via mail), and instructing the ignorant with the word of Christ and showing all people His love.

Rhea has created a Facebook page for Guild members. May God inspire you to join and bring some joy and love to someone who needs a friendly greeting. Children are also encouraged to join as most people enjoy receiving their pictures and notes.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Here Are My Mother and My Brothers - Whoever Does the Will of God Is My Brother and Sister and Mother

January 28, 2014
Tuesday of 3rd Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas
2 Samuel 6: 12b-15, 17-19
Mark 3: 31-35

The Family of the Virgin by Martin de Vos (1593) Painting on Wood

“Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother (Mk. 3: 34-35)”.

This passage never ceases to challenge preachers. On the surface, Jesus appears to be repudiating His family. But, if we were to pause and ponder the passage for a moment, we would see that Jesus is attempting to move His hearers beyond the level of mere blood relationship to a spiritual one. He is expanding upon the concept of being created in the “image and likeness of God” our heavenly Father. In this context, we come to see the fraternal relationship within the Kingdom of the Father as a gift from God.

The Father was made known by the Son Whom Saint John the Evangelist describes as being “close to the Father’s heart” (Cf. Jn. 1:18). Because we are members of the Family of God, we find ourselves close to the heart of Christ.

We access the heart of Christ by “hearing the word of God and observing it” (Cf. Lk 11: 28). In this hearing and observing, we come to surrender our lives and will to the love and care of God. Taken in this light, Jesus is actually honoring His mother when you consider how she pondered the actions of God in her heart and surrendered herself totally to the divine will as it was revealed to her by the message of the angel Gabriel.

Jesus is challenging us to surrender to God's love for us and to place ourselves at the service of all whom He loves. The Church offers us a wonderful example of this act of abandonment in today’s first reading, where David danced before the Lord (Cf. 2 Sam. 6:14). David was filled joy at the nearness of the God of Israel. He could not control his exaltation. The king did in the midst of the people of Israel what John the Baptist did in the seclusion of Elizabeth’s womb. Rediscovering the joy of his youth, David danced, leaped and sang the praises of God.

In the presence of a loving God, David was set free from any slavish fear that had possessed him. The knowledge that he was under the watchful eye of the Almighty caused  him to be filled with a new hope that comes from being the object of divine blessing. Like David, we find ourselves in the presence of the Heavenly King Who tells us that by hearing His Word and pondering it in our hearts; we are united to Him by a bond closer than family lineage. It is in Him that we truly find ourselves. We are called to live authentically and consistently, loving and serving others as we have been loved and served. It is important that we show mercy and compassion to all those whom God loves, especially the poor, the sick and the marginalized.

Faith is a gift of grace. God Who is love, makes His dwelling within us and empowers those who accept Him to live in love--love of Him and love of others. This abiding in Christ and Christ in us is manifested to the world when we show love for one another. Love is the fruit of faith at the service of the Kingdom.

Love is the means whereby faith manifests its energy and power to transform not only the individual, but also the whole world. Loving compassion is the means whereby faith is activated and energized.

As believers we place ourselves at the service of those who suffer from despair at the lack of meaning of life, drug addiction, fear of abandonment in old age or sickness, marginalization or social discrimination. As believers we strive to build a world that respects human life and fosters personal growth and development.

Blessed John Paul II wrote: “God created man in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26, 27): calling him to existence through love, he called him at the same time for love. God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8) and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Familiaris Consortio, 11).

Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Friday, January 17, 2014

Saint Anthony of the Desert: Steps in Discerning a Vocation

St. Anthony of the Desert

The Church has St. Anthony of the Desert to thank for the gift of religious life to the Church. At the end of his life at the age of 105, St. Anthony had 30,000 followers in several monasteries and hermitages in various parts of Egypt.

Saint Anthony Visiting St. Paul in the Desert by Matthias Grünewald, 1510

Anthony’s parents died when he was 18 to 20 years old, leaving him with a younger sister to care for. Prior to this time he had been experiencing a great desire to follow God, and this increased upon the death of his parents. He began to think about the apostles who gave all to follow Jesus. About six months after his parents died, Anthony, while going to daily Mass, heard the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus to ask him what he had to do to gain eternal life. Jesus told him to go and sell what he had, give it to the poor, and come and follow Jesus for then the young man would have treasure in heaven.

Anthony heard this Gospel and understood what it meant. He understood that Jesus was telling the rich young man how he could become perfect. There was a great hope in heaven for those who gave all for Christ. The apostles left all to follow Jesus because they trusted that all who followed him would have greater rewards in eternity. The idea was to abandon the world to go to heaven.

Anthony consider that these words had been addressed to himself so he went home and gave to his neighbors his best land, sold the rest of his estate and gave the price of the poor and kept only what he needed to take care of himself and his sister. Soon after this, he heard, at daily Mass, the Gospel reading in which Jesus tells his followers to not worry about tomorrow but rather to trust in God. Thereupon, Anthony distributed the rest of his wealth to the poor, brought his little sister to a house of nuns to live, and retired into solitude in imitation of certain old man who led the life of a hermit in his neighborhood.

This shows that Anthony had a desire to be generous with all that he had, and he wanted to contemplate the One who led him to freedom to be able to give all for Christ. For Anthony, the Gospel was real and was speaking to him, the rich young man.

Here we have the first steps in conversion.

1. Attendance at daily mass
2. Readiness to respond
3. Desire to be like the apostles
4. Listening to God in Scripture
5. Learning from Scripture how to respond in trust

The second Gospel passage, about not worrying about tomorrow but trusting in God to take care of you, enabled Anthony to grow in trust, to be free of anxiety, nervousness, and the what if’s that keep us from doing the will of God. God says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” and Anthony replies, “OK, I won’t.” Anxiety is a lack of trust in us. We fail to contemplate the hope that we have in God. God has us in his grasp, so we trust him.

Anthony gave up his anxiety and kept moving forward. He was a good man. He took care of his sister by making sure that she would be raised well. Note that the attachment to his sister does not stop him from moving forward. He finds a way to take care of her and still follow his vocation. Once she is housed with the good nuns, he runs into the spiritual battle, into the desert, to battle within himself his self-centeredness and his sins.

This shows the next step in spiritual growth. The willingness to be changed. One needs to be open to change that will come because about one’s vocation. Marriage is a vocation. When people are married, they will change. Religious life is a vocation. Those who enter religious life will be changed according to the vocation. Is Anthony going to be perfect right away? No. He had to struggle. He suffered r spiritual attack by demons. He came back to town for a while but then went back into the desert.

Inspired by his example, other people began to live lives of solitude and prayer. At the age of 54, Anthony came down from his mountain and founded his first monastery at the request of people who wanted to live a monastic life. Others followed. Anthony would write them letters and pay them occasional visits. Nevertheless, he worked hard to retain his solitude, his sparse diet, and his penitential life of prayer and work.

Anthony set the pattern of religious life. St. Athanasius visited St. Anthony of the desert and wrote his brief biography. We can sum it up in these steps to embracing conversion as a vocation.

1. The willingness to do God’s will
2. The generosity to give all to the Lord
3. The hope that free is one from attacks of anxiety and what if’s
4. Attendance at daily Mass
5. Attention to God speaking to us through the Scriptures
6. A readiness to act, to respond to God’s initiative and call
7. To trust in God’s love
8. The freedom to be formed according to the vocation that God has called us to

May St. Anthony intercede for us.

Transcribed in main part from a homily by Father David Engo, FFM

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Children of God

January 19, 2014
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 1: 1-3
John 1: 29-34

Now that all the partying is over, but while the aroma of the pine trees lingers in the air, let us leisurely ponder the awesome mystery we have been celebrating. Perhaps as we were cleaning up after the holiday, we decided to keep a particular greeting card because it touched us in a special way. We might even start humming a Christmas carol as we go through our daily routine. There is something totally mind boggling and captivating about the birth of the Eternal Word in mortal flesh. Through the eyes of the Babe of Bethlehem we have been allowed to peer into the eyes of God, eyes that have looked upon us in love since the beginning of time. The image of the infant in the manger reminds us that God desires to be sought and loved by us. The image of the Christmas star reminds us that He not only puts a spiritual longing into our hearts but also guides us along the path that leads to the Word of Truth Who gives eternal life.

In a world deafened by chatter and blinded by glitter and glitz, the Beloved Son speaks to the depths of the human heart and enlightens the eyes of faith so that all people might come to know their true identity as the Children of God, who were made in His image and likeness. Through Christ, God the Creator of the Universe shows His compassion and love for all the members of the human race. We just heard these words from the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord formed me as His servant from the womb” (Is. 49:5). God cares for the child in the womb and calls him or her by name. By His design, we have become the Children of God. Moved by compassion and unbounded love, He wants to free us from slavery to sin, heal our sickness and bring us to our heavenly homeland.

The first reading of today’s Mass was taken from the second “Servant Song” attributed to the prophet Isaiah. We are all familiar with it. We quickly nod our heads when we hear the words, “light of the nations” and then immediately apply them to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today, I would like to suggest that we fight the urge to christen the text. For a moment, let us consider the passage in its literary setting. The unnamed servant knows himself to be called from the moment of his conception. Even before anyone even knew he existed, he was commissioned to bring exiled Israel home. Through the restoration of Jerusalem, all the people in the world would come to know the wondrous power of God. Now, let us apply this reading to ourselves. God has known us from all eternity and called each of us by name. He wants to remake us in the image of His only-begotten Son, cleansing us from sin and freeing us from guilt. Abiding in the light of divine grace, we are to live in the freedom of the Children of God. Our vocation is to lead people, who are trapped in physical, spiritual or psychological prisons, to freedom.

Any time we talk about redemption, it is important that we emphasize the fact that God is the One Who takes the initiative. We have the ability to respond in love to God because God has first loved us. Our response to this love manifests the presence of Christ in the world. The Christmas celebration reminds us that God offers us His love; that He calls us by name and because He respects our dignity and personal freedom, He awaits our response. Moved by the promptings of love, we are drawn into the communion of Love which is the Blessed Trinity. In order for us to enter into this loving relationship, it is important that we embrace and make our own the sacred Word that God addresses to us. It is in that embrace that we are reconciled to the Father and conformed to the Person of the Son. Being conformed to Christ, we are able to live in the image and likeness of God. This newness of life enables us to live in communion with God and with all the members of the human family. Perhaps this is why we enjoy the Christmas season so much – for 12 days out of the year we experience people acting out of their best selves. In Christ, we are called to be ambassadors of liberating joy and ministers of joyful liberation.

Redemption was not a whim on God’s part. It was not a game change brought about by some forbidden fruit. God preordained the incarnation before the world began. Christ came into the world full of grace, wisdom and the Holy Spirit, anointed with the oil of gladness to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and the nearness of God to His people.  If we listen to the comments of our Holy Father, we would realize that he is calling, encouraging and challenging us to show this love and respect every day of our loves and in every situation we find ourselves. Borrowing from Pope Francis’ Epiphany reflection: “We are to become bearers of new hope, that nothing and nobody may extinguish; the hope of taking the road to salvation, that we are able to forgive and love even those who offend us or harm us.” Through baptism, we have been grafted to Christ and made members of the community of faith. We have been called to proclaim loudly and clearly that Jesus is the Lamb of God Whose death and resurrection is the source of new life for all peoples. Jesus, the Lamb Who was slain and rose from the dead is the cause of our childlike joy.

To round out the notion of childlike joy, I will quote a paragraph written by G. K. Chesterton in his book All Things Considered. “It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can treat everything as a joke — that may be, perhaps, the real end and final holiday of human souls.”

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Have You Come to Destroy Us?

Have You Come to Destroy Us?

Jesus came to Capernaum with his followers, 
and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” 
Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1: 21-28)

In this Gospel reading, there are two nonhumans in the room, both of them clothed in human flesh. One of these is the demon in the demon possessed man. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and the demon shouts out of the man. Did the people in the synagogue know beforehand that this man was possessed? Or did they find out when they heard him yell?

The demon shouted, “What have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” The demon was attempting to frighten the people. “I know who you are-- the holy one of God.” The demon has no choice but to recognize Jesus, but he wants people to fear Jesus and to dismiss him.

The demons are always self-centered. This one asks, “Have you come to destroy us?” The demon cares little or nothing for the man whom he has possessed, just as the demons always seek to destroy the dignity of the human person and care nothing for him. In other incidents in Scripture, the demon tries to drown a person to destroy him or throw him into the fire to disfigure him. The demons care nothing for the intellect, soul, spirit, or body of a person. Wherever you find the degradation of the human person, of a person’s body or intellect, we see the influence of the daemonic. We see it everywhere in society, in strip joints, tattoo shops, and young people slashing and cutting themselves to disfigure themselves. The evil one is at work. He disfigures the beauty of the human person.

There is, in this room, another nonhuman person wrapped in human flesh and that person is eternal. He does not force entry but comes when welcomed. He remains a divine person while becoming a human person, which he did to enhance the beauty and the dignity of the human person by sanctifying it in his own body. Jesus, a divine person in a human body, does not force himself on anyone. He does not offer another person to be slashed, but rather offered his own body to be slashed and killed for the redemption of humankind. He does not destroy our beauty, but the incarnation of God clothes us with such dignity that we are truly beautiful. The demon throws the man into water to drown him, but Jesus baptizes us in water to save us and cleanse us from sin. The demon throws man into the fire to kill him, but God gives us the fire of the Holy Spirit, not to disfigure us but to beautify us, to raise our intellect to his, and to make us, as it were, divine.

As the demon approached Jesus, Jesus said to him, “You get out of the man,” and he does with a shriek. The demon does not want to leave, but he has to for he must obey the voice of God. This was a little battle in the synagogue. There will be larger ones between Jesus and Satan. In this encounter evil faces the good. Jesus came to set people free, and the people ask, “What is this that even the demons obey him?”

Demons surround us. People today ask, “What do you have to do with us?” There trying to blow Jesus off, to dismiss him as irrelevant to their lives. “Have you come to destroy us?” The demons continue to try to incite fear into the population. Our mission is to tell the evil one to get out. We are to let the people know that Jesus came to save, not destroy. God has everything to do with us and he has come to save us.

--Transcribed as best as possible from a homily by Father David Engo, FFM

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  For darkness shall cover the earth,    and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you,    and his glory will appear over you.  Nations shall come to your light,    and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60: 1-3)
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
   who is to shepherd my people Israel.” 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 

 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2: 1-12)

For centuries, the Jewish people were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. They prayed for the Messiah; they waited for his coming; everyone anticipated this great event. And when he came, the ones who should have cared the most paid no attention.

Notice in this reading, that the three wise men go to Herod and ask him where the Messiah is going to be born. Herod consults the chief priests and scribes, who were the religious men of their day. Certainly of all people, they would know where the Messiah was to be born. And sure enough, they did know. They told the wise men that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. And so the wise man set off for that place.

But did the scribes or Pharisees say to them, “Wait! Let us go with you.” No. Here, all of their lives, they had been waiting for and praying for the Messiah, and now they have some wise astrologers come, tell them that they have seen the Messiah’s star, and ask where the Messiah is to be born. The wise men set off to see the Messiah and the religious leaders of their day are indifferent. It was almost as if they could not be bothered to go to see the Messiah whom they had prayed for so diligently all of these years. They could not get out of their comfort zone and go and see if the wise men might be right.

The prophet Isaiah prophesied this when he wrote, “Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds the people.” The darkness is a spiritual darkness when licentiousness is seen as liberty, lies are seen as natural, and holiness is shunned. Isaiah is showing that a light is coming, the light of the truth, and this light brings joy, it brings light to the nations.

We are to be the light who bring Christ to the world. But we can’t do this unless we get out of our comfort zone. It is not easy to witness God’s love to others. It’s not easy to go to those who might not even want to hear about Christ. It’s much easier to stay in our own circles and talk about Jesus with people who want to hear about him. But God asks us to get out of our comfort zone. “Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds the people.” We are to be a light in that darkness.

The Magi were bringing gifts to a King, but he was not the King that they had expected. They did not say, “Well, this cannot be the King. This peasant girl and carpenter father cannot be his parents. The parents of the King? We’re going to take our gifts back.” No, they believed the star, the light, and fell down and worshiped the Christ child and gave him their gifts. The wise men were truly wise. They could see through the darkness and find the light. They knew that the Holy Spirit may come in a guise we do not recognize.

A young student whom I will call Peter was walking on the college campus one day when he saw the most depressed looking young man sitting on a bench. Peter felt sorry for this young man but did not know what he could do for him so he began to pray for the man. As he walked by, Peter heard an interior voice say to him, “Tell that young man that I love him, that Jesus loves him.” Peter knew that this was the voice of the Holy Spirit, but he began to wrestle with the Spirit. “I don’t know that man. How can I go up to him and tell him that Jesus loves him? He might even punch me! I have no idea how he will respond if I just go and talk to him.” With these and similar arguments, he tried to get out of the task at hand. But as he kept walking, the Holy Spirit again accosted Peter with these interior words, “You are my disciple to that man. Go and tell him that Jesus loves him.” The voice was so insistent that Peter gave him. At first he sat on the side of the bench farthest away from the young man and then gradually sidled closer to him. When he was within what seemed like a comfortable distance from the fellow, Peter said to him, “I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. But I do know who my Master is, and He, my God, told me to tell you that Jesus loves you.” When the young man heard this, he began to weep for joy.

If we want to pierce the darkness, we have to get out of our comfort zone. We have to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead even into the unknown and into the places where we would rather not go. But God is calling us to spread the message of light, and the places that need the light are now in the dark. Get out of your comfort zone! Someone may need you who is in the dark.

--Transcribed from a homily by Fr. James Kumbakkeel, O.S.B

He Must Increase; I Must Decrease

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said,

‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” ,
as the prophet Isaiah said.

 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
 The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’  (John 1: 19-39)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . .
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized— John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

 Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.’(John 3:22-30)

John the Baptist was about thirty years old when he began his mission, and his mission ended between six months and a year later. John’s entire thirty years of preparation were for a mission that lasted six to twelve months. Most of John’s life was spent in prayer and penance, and yet his very short ministry rocked the world. His ministry was to introduce Christ the Lord and then to step aside. And this is exactly what he did.

John calls himself a friend of the bridegroom. The bridegroom is the one who is marrying the bride, the Church. The bridegroom’s friend rejoices at the good fortune of the bridegroom, but he is not the groom. John the Baptist is an incredible example of prayer, penance, and humility. He knows who he is before the Lord. He steps aside when the Lord comes because he knows that the ministry is not about himself. The ministry was about opening the hearts of others to receive Christ when He came.

Before Jesus came to be baptized, when John was baptizing, the Pharisees asked him who he was, and John said, “I am not the Christ. Nor am I Elijah or one of the prophets. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness to make known the way of the Lord.” John was comfortable with the fact that he was not the Messiah. He knew that he was not going to fix everything. He told the Pharisees, “I am not even worthy to untie the sandals of the Messiah. My ministry is not about me. I am only doing what a slave does. I am just a voice. I have nothing without the grace of God. The one who comes after me existed before me.”

When Jesus comes to John, John says that Jesus ought to be baptizing him and not the other way around. After Jesus was baptized, God said from a cloud, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” God did not say, “And this is my good servant John who has prepared the way for my Son.” God did not say anything about John, but John did not care that he was not acknowledged and he did not get jealous. John tells his disciples to follow Jesus now. Go after Him.

John is free about holding on to his disciples, and, when he hears that Jesus is baptizing, he is excited about that. He says, “My joy is complete.” He is not worried that Jesus is stealing his congregation or that everyone might go to Jesus instead of to John. No. He tells his disciples that this is good. Jesus is baptizing. Go to Christ. It is not about me, John. It’s about Him. “I am preparing you,” said John, “for the real new thing. Go to Him. He must increase, and I must decrease.”

John is free to decrease. He is free to be nothing, and he is joyful about it. “Jesus is the groom. He is the one you must belong to. He’s the one you must become one with. I am just a voice,” said John. “He is the Word.” Let his word penetrate every fiber of your being.

At the age of thirty or thirty-one, John will go to a premature death, and he’s okay with that, too. He had looked into the eyes of God, his own cousin, and he had heard the Word. He is more than happy to give his life to the One whom he met and loved and pointed out. May we receive the grace to complete our mission while realizing that it is not about us; it is about the Lord. We are the best man, but Jesus is the groom. It all belongs to Him.

Transcribed from a homily by Father David Engo, FFM

Friday, January 10, 2014

If You Wish, You Can Make Me Clean

The leper fell prostrate, pleaded with Jesus, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,” I do will it. Be made clean.” (Luke 5:12-13)

Jesus Heals a Leper
In Jesus" time, any skin rash, discoloration, or disfigurement was considered to be leprosy. Lepers were considered unclean, and contact with the leper required the individual to bathe and launder extensively, and anything that came into contact with the leper was destroyed. Those who touched lepers were not allowed in the temple or the synagogue. Lepers were not even supposed to speak with other people, so this incident of Jesus speaking to the leper and touching him is quite extraordinary.

The Catholic Church shares this Gospel shortly before the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus. Why is this?

The Church is trying to tell us that we are all disfigured with the leprosy of sin. A sinful person has the stench of hell about himself or herself, and sin leads to certain death. Therefore, since only Jesus and the Blessed Mother Mary were freed of sin, we all stand before God with a certain disfigurement due to the leprosy of sin.

The leper said,, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” We say these words to God. “If you wish, you can make me clean.” God cannot be defiled by touching a leper or by touching our sinfulness. Instead we are made clean when God touches us. The healer heals the disease. The sanctifier sanctifies the sinful. God has touched our broken, injured humanity and repaired it. He redeemed creation by becoming one of us, soul, body, and will. He has redeemed our sinful nature so that it can become a divine nature.

At the Jordan River, Jesus entered the water to be baptized. John’s baptism was symbolic, but the baptism which Jesus initiates is real. John’s baptism encourages us to give up sin, but Jesus’ baptism cleanses us, heals us, and removes the sin. John’s baptism washes bodies, but the baptism of the Holy Spirit washes souls. “If you wish, Lord, you can make me clean.” “I do wish it. Be made clean.”

Before his Ascension into heaven, Jesus sends the disciples out to baptize all nations and to ready all humanity for the return of Christ. Baptism does more than take away sin. It makes us the spouse of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the child of God.

In Confirmation we received the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit. Confirmation continues and confirms the graces received at Baptism. The gifts received at Confirmation touch our will and our soul.

We receive the fullness of these in the Eucharist, the miracle of immortality, the Divine Caress in which God touches our souls and our bodies physically. Christ touches us in his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The two become one flesh.

“If you wish you can make me clean.” “I do wish it. Be made clean.” God wills to touch us, to be flesh with us. God wills it so let it be so.

Transcribed from notes taken during a homily by Father David Engo, FFM

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Jesus Is in the Boat with Us

The Gospel of St. Mark talks about two storms at sea which affected Jesus and his apostles. One of the storms is in Chapter Four and the other is in Chapter Six of St. Mark’s Gospel. In Chapter Four, Jesus climbs into a boat at the water’s edge and teaches the people from there. When evening comes, and everyone goes home, Jesus tells the apostles to cross over to the other side. Jesus is in the boat, fast asleep when a storm comes up and the apostles are afraid that they are perishing. Jesus calms the storm after they fearfully awaken him, and the apostles  are amazed at this miracle. They wonder who is this who calms the storm and commands the wind and makes the sea die down?

When they reach the other side of the lake, they are in the country of the Gerasenes. Immediately upon disembarking, a man possessed with an unclean spirit rushes out of the tombs at them. Jesus cures this man and sends the Legion of devils within him into the swine. The herd of 2000 swine rush down the hill toward the sea and drown. The swineherds are so frightened that they run into the town to tell the people what happened, and the people come out and tell Jesus to leave. Jesus, however, tells the healed man to go to his relatives and friends and tell them how God had mercy on him.

In Chapter Six of St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus teaches a crowd of 5000 men plus women and children and works a miracle for them by multiplying the loaves and the fishes. Then he sends them home while also sending his disciples on a boat to cross the sea to go to Bethsaida. After Jesus dismisses the crowd, he crosses the water and would have walked right past his disciples who were rowing mightily against the strong wind. When they saw Jesus walking on the water, the disciples cried out, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Take courage; it is my, do not be afraid.” Then he just got into the boat with them, the storm died down, and they came to the land of Genesereth , and people brought the sick to Jesus to heal. These are the same people who earlier told Jesus to go away from their lands because he had sent the demon from the possessed man into the swine. The people are now bringing their sick to Jesus to heal, because the possessed man who had been healed evangelized his fellow townspeople and told them all that Jesus had done for him. So now they were ready for Jesus’ arrival and brought the sick to him to be healed.

These two Gospels are telling us that Jesus is in the boat with us. Amid the storms of life, when we are confused and tossed about, when we do not know where to turn and when think we are perishing, Jesus is in the boat. He may seem to be asleep, but he is there. He may seem to be walking past us, but he comes and joins us. Jesus is in the boat. He tells us, “Have no fear. It is I.”

Who is this Jesus? Who is this one who calms the wind and the storm? This is God made man. This is God who loves us. This is the God of mercy. This is the God who is Love. We are not to fear him. We are to trust him. If we fear God, then we are afraid of his punishment. When we love him, we trust him. We know that he is in the boat with us. We know that he is Love in bodily form. We know that he is Love who came to drive out demons, to heal us, to find us, to pity us, to love us. He who is Love entered the boat of the world. Because he is in the boat, the storms of this world are different because will face them differently. Jesus can drive out are demons. He can make us whole. He understands us. We need to tell others about what he has done for us.

“Have no fear. It is I.” Love is in the boat with me.

A transcription of thoughts from a homily by Father David Engo, FBM