Sunday, December 2, 2018
Two Sundays ago, I preached on a gospel from Mark which was almost exactly the same as today’s gospel from Luke. Both of these gospels are about the end time and the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus; and both gospels talk about how he will return “in a cloud with great power and glory” (Lk, 21:27). Today’s gospel invites us, in the face of the Second Coming, to be vigilant at all times and to pray for the strength to endure whatever tribulations may come. People often ask me: “How can I apply this gospel to my daily life?” It seems to me, the best way to respond is by simply living our faith. We can do this primarily by having a personal relationship with Jesus, staying connected to the sacraments, praying and following the Ten Commandments. If we are doing these things, we have nothing to worry about in terms of the Second Coming because we will always be ready.
As we enter into the First Sunday of Advent, the church invites us to be vigilant at all times through reflecting upon the Second Coming as we prepare for the first coming, the birth of Jesus on Christmas. St. Paul, in today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians, talks about living our faith in anticipation of the coming of Jesus, he says: “Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you may do so more and more.” In other words, Paul is calling us to continue to live our faith more and more each day.
A great way to prepare for Advent, in terms of living our faith, is to allow ourselves to dwell in the most humble places. If we reflect upon who recognized Jesus almost immediately when he came to the earth, it was always those who dwelled in the most humble places. It was not the high and mighty, the proud and the learned, but rather, the simple and humble peasant people. The people who recognized Jesus as a baby did so with open hearts and without miracles or sermons; these people were Joseph, a humble carpenter, Mary a young handmaid (servant) of the Lord and some humble shepherds.
Some of us during Advent will be in those humble places helping at soup kitchens, food pantries, visiting people in hospitals and helping the needy through our Giving Tree, etc. We are also called to find those humble places within ourselves by a healthy recognition of our own sinfulness before God. This helps us to approach people with respect as fellow pilgrims who are able to accompany them through the journey of life. Only then can we be a place of grace and rest in a world where there is often “no room at the inn” to receive Jesus. How can we be a place of rest for our brothers and sisters like the humble manger in a cave was for Jesus?
May today’s Eucharist help us to be ready for the coming of Jesus this Advent by living our faith and by dwelling in the most humble places. Hence, if the Second Coming should happen in the mean time, we will always be ready.
Sunday, November 25, 2018
Today we hear Pontius Pilate ask Jesus: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus responds: “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Jesus continues: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate is perplexed, as the more he hears Jesus speak the further from the truth he becomes.
Why is this? Maybe it is because he is only hearing Jesus instead of deeply listening. Pilate heard the Jewish authorities who are accusing Jesus. As governor of Judea, Pilate must have heard from a myriad of trusted advisors. He even heard his wife who says to him: “Have nothing to do with this innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him” (Mt, 27:19). It seems to me, that Jesus’ question to Pilate reveals what is missing in his approach: “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” In other words, do you know for yourself? Or, are you only hearing and not listening?
Perhaps Pilate’s wife was the only one in his entourage who listened deeply beneath the level of political agendas, ulterior motives and expediency. She discovered the truth about Jesus in a dream, in the quiet place of the subconscious mind, and she listened to her conscience instead of getting lost in a sea of false opinions.
Today’s gospel teaches us two very important things: to know that we belong to the truth and to listen to the truth. We belong to the truth through our baptism; and the truth for us is not just people’s opinions, ideologies or agendas; but rather, the truth for us is a person and that person is Jesus Christ. Thus, like any other person, Jesus can only be known through a personal encounter and personal relationship with him.
Hence, the truth for us lies much deeper than the din of noise that we constantly hear in our age of the media and internet. Ironically, the excess of information and the speed by which it is transmitted through mouse clicks, screen swipes, voice commands and sound bites makes it difficult to listen deeply. Not only is it harder to listen when we are bombarded by information from all directions, but also personal encounters become less profound and more remote.
It seems to me, the best place to encounter Jesus for ourselves is in the Eucharist. Nothing can be deeper, more personal or more direct. This is the encounter that leads to a relationship that grows through prayer; it is also the encounter that deepens our relationship with our brothers and sisters and helps us to recognize Jesus’ presence in them. It is utterly important that this be our center core; otherwise, it becomes extremely difficult to have a sensitive enough conscience to listen to Christ’s voice beneath the avalanche of noise that we regularly contend with. The implications of realizing this are practical and real, in terms of personal and social justice; it is the difference between the voice of condemnation and injustice that Pilate succumbs to and the voice of innocence and truth that his wife is able to grasp.
May today’s Eucharist help us to know that we belong to the truth and to listen to Christ’s voice in our lives; for we are the decision makers in our world even in terms of life and death; we are the leaders and the ones who choose leaders. The future of our society and world depends on our ability, united with God’s grace, to listen deeply.
Sunday, November 18, 2018
In today’s gospel from Mark we hear Jesus talking about his Second Coming, he says, "In those days after the tribulation the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky…. but of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
Today’s gospel is quite challenging because usually when we prepare for something, we want to know the day and the hour of what is in store - especially for something as monumental as the Second Coming. For me (as well as for many people), it often seems like my entire life is on my calendar. I have a paper hardcopy calendar, as well as a more elaborate one on my iPhone. And when, for example, someone from my staff invites me to participate in an event, the first thing that I always say is: “What is the date and time that you want me to be there?” Of course, nailing down a date and time helps me on many levels; it helps me to prepare for the event and to organize my life with the event in mind. These two actions have the effect of putting me at ease with regard to the future event; because when I am thoroughly prepared for something I become free from anxiety, and thus able to focus on other things in the mean time. Unfortunately, we cannot prepare for the Second Coming in the same way. I highly doubt that any of us have a date and time marked on our calendar that says: “Second Coming.”
How then are we to prepare for such a momentous event, without anxiety, while we continue to live our normal lives? It seems to me, the best way is to humbly live our faith day by day, and by simply doing what we are supposed to do. This means staying connected to Jesus and the sacraments and trying to be in a state of grace as much as possible. It also means being people who are habitually kind, compassionate and forgiving. If we are doing these things, we are always prepared and ready. As a priest I see this all the time in the confessional, as well as when I anoint people who are preparing for the Second Coming in terms of their own death. When I anoint someone, I often assure them that they are in a state of grace and that Jesus is with them; if they are unconscious I assure their family and friends of this same thing. This is my way of saying: “You can’t possibly be more thoroughly prepared.”
How is the Lord calling us to be prepared for his Second Coming even though we do not know the date, time or hour? Where do we need to go? What do we need to do? Who do we need to forgive? May today’s sacrament of the Eucharist help us to always be prepared so that when Jesus does come descending on the clouds from heaven, he will not catch us by surprise but instead say: “Well done my good and faithful servant, welcome to my Fathers’ house.”
Sunday, December 9, 2018
Today on this fourth week of Advent, our gospel tells the story of Mary, who, when she was pregnant with Jesus “traveled to the hill country to a town of Judah” to see her cousin Elizabeth. Immediately upon arriving, “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Today’s gospel reveals to us many important things about Advent and about the Christian life. We see this in Mary - who was still a teenager - in how she was willing to leave her comfort zone to encounter Elizabeth. Sharing the good news about her own pregnancy, as well as her cousin being pregnant for the first time was enough for Mary to take great risks. The trip that she took to get to Elizabeth’s house would have been long and perilous. The journey from Mary’s home town of Nazareth in the north all the way down to the hill country of Judea would have been about 80 to 100 miles. Mary would probably have gone in a roundabout way going around Samaria and traveling along the flat ground near the Jordan River. She was exposed to the elements and at risk of being robbed or even assaulted along the way. Mary’s boldness was not in vain, as her encounter with Elizabeth became an incredible moment of conversion and blessings for her, Elizabeth and even for the child in Elizabeth’s womb!
Today’s gospel is a reminder to us that we should get out of our comfort zones and take risks to share Jesus with others. It also reminds us that there is nothing more powerful than personally giving witness to our faith the way Mary does with Elizabeth. Advent is one of the greatest times for personal faith sharing. There are so many opportunities for powerful, personal encounters in Christ with friends, relatives, family members and even strangers. How far are we willing to go to be catalysts for Christ? How is the Lord calling us, like Mary, to leave our comfort zones in order to share Jesus with others? Perhaps some of us are being called to actually talk about our faith. Some of us may be called to serve others or visit the sick. What small risks can we take this Advent and Christmas? May today’s Eucharist fill us with the Holy Spirit so that we may become what we believe for others through the power of personal encounter and faith sharing.