The Mother of my Lord

Gospel of Luke 1:39-45

This past week I stumbled upon an internet meme that held some truth for me this Advent Season. For those of you who are fortunate enough to spend less time on the internet than I do, a meme is a humorous image, video, or text that is passed around the internet. It typically depicts a cultural truism or commonly held belief in such a way that the viewer is inspired to laugh and say, “boy, aint that the truth.”

For me, this week, the particular meme that caused me to respond with a chuckle was a picture of a comparison list. One side of the list was titled, “Presents Mom Needs to Buy”. Underneath that list there was a long list of names which included; parents, in-laws, cousin Betty, uncle Tim, the nephews, the nieces, and so on, and so on, and so on. The other side of the column was titled, “Presents Dad Needs to Buy” and under that heading the only name listed was, “mom.”

Notwithstanding the truth of this meme, I want to share with you the experience I had while fulfilling my present buying obligation.

I had purchased an item and the nice and competent salesclerk asked if I would like her to wrap the present. Without even asking if it cost extra, I responded, “Yes! I do.” She selected a very nice wrapping paper which contained the brand name of the item with I had just purchased. I thought that was a bit ostentatious, but I said nothing. Then, after professionally wrapping the present she then wrapped the gift in a very bright red ribbon, which also displayed the name brand of the item in bright gold letters. Finally, she placed this handsomely wrapped present, with its expertly tied ribbon, into an appropriately sized gift bag… with the logo prominently displayed on both sides of the bag. As she handed me the gift bag I looked at her and said, “sort of the takes the surprise out of what’s inside…doesn’t it.”

She wished me a merry Christmas, and I took the gift and left the store.

Today’s Gospel sort of lends itself to the same type of scenario.

The Scripture is quite clear that immediately following Mary’s profession of faith, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” that she went with “haste” to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Where, immediately upon entering the door, Elizabeth greets her with these words, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me.”

Imagine, if you will, the nervousness, the apprehension, and the worry that Mary must have felt about having to share the reality and circumstance of her pregnancy. It might have been very possible that as Mary was traveling to the home of Elizabeth, she would have been very troubled as to what she was going to say. Yet, whatever Mary may have or may not have prepared along the way was unnecessary because of the mysterious and mighty hand of God.

Elizabeth’s words to Mary were both a greeting and a prophecy. Her words wondrously and purposefully associated Mary with two of the great women of the Old Testament, Jael and Judith. Women who were blessed for their heroic faith and courage. Elizabeth’s words revealed the love of God and his desire for the salvation for his people when she proclaimed, “the mother of my Lord.” Elizabeth’s words, though they “ruined” the surprise of Mary’s miraculous pregnancy, only served to immortalize the beauty and mystery of God’s plan for salvation for all of mankind.

Today, this 4th Sunday of Advent, as we eagerly await the celebration, tradition, and joy of Christmas let us take time to day to reflect upon the mystery…the beautiful mystery of God’s love for us.

Science, nor apologetics, no magic can explain God’s mysterious plan for salvation. We, as followers of Christ, can only accept by faith that God does indeed so love us that he gave us his only son; born of a virgin that he might live, suffer, die, and rise so that we may be called Children of God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we prepare ourselves to receive the wondrous mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ, may we reflect upon the wondrous mystery of his first coming. May our joyous anticipation of the celebration of his first coming inspire us to receive him today in joyous anticipation of his second coming. May we celebrate today, as Elizabeth celebrated that glorious day in that hill town in Judah; and may we continue to celebrate each day, knowing that our Lord is here with us, and will soon come again in glory and in power.

2018 Advent Retreat

Retreat Information

  • Retreat starts @ 7:00pm Friday December 7.
  • Meals are provided by the Monastery and all meals will be served in the dining area.
  • The bringing of snacks to share is highly encouraged.
  • Participation in Morning, Midday, and Evening Prayers, and Mass is not required.  However, it is highly encouraged and will benefit your overall retreat experience.
  • Self-care– includes anything necessary to enhance your retreat experience, i.e.; walks on the grounds, naps, reading/study, dialogue with other participants, etc.
  • Gathering– all retreat participants will come together to prepare for the Retreat Talks.
  • Retreat Talk– presented by Clergy on the topic of Advent and preparing ourselves for Christ’s coming.
  • Individual Reflection– allows participants time for reading, study, personal prayer, confession, or spiritual direction.  Please observe Rule of Silence when indicated
  • Group Activity– is designed for all participants.  They are designed to create, strengthen, and encourage relationships within the group and too assist in group dynamics and enhancing the overall retreat experience.

COST OF RETREAT

Item Cost Cost for Individual Cost for Couple
Rooms (Double Occupancy) $50 /night $50 (sharing a room) $100
Meals (breakfast, lunch dinner) $7/breakfast x2, $8/Lunch, $10/Dinner $32 $64
Facility Fee $8/day/person $16 $32
       
Total   $98 $196

Please contact Deacon Jason to make your reservation or with questions.

Email- jayakybats88@gmail.com  Phone- 208-221-5730

Check out the Monastery’s website for directions and facilities: www.idahomonks.org

INTRODUCTION TO CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING

RSVP

Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching

Hosted by Catholic Charities of Idaho

Saturday, November 17, 2018, 10:00-11:30am

Deacon Jason and Kristina Batalden will be presenting an introduction course to this central and essential element of our faith.  We will be meeting at the Idaho Falls Humanitarian Center located at 1415 Northgate Mile (next to Fred Meyer).  PLEASE RSVP.  Contact Deacon Jason to reserve your place at the table by emailing him; jaykaybats88@gmail.com or call the CCI Idaho Falls office; 208-881-0740

We can no longer afford to vacate, ignore, or diminish our responsibility to be holy men and women of God

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7: 31-37

As some of you may have already heard me say, almost every Sunday since the beginning of this liturgical year, the Gospel of St. Mark is my favorite Gospel. St. Mark’s use of direct language, the attention given to minute detail, and the intentional and deliberate revelation of Jesus as the Son of God resonate and connect with me in a unique and personal way. Today’s Gospel is the perfect example of these three characteristics, and once again, you, my brothers and sisters, get to listen to me blather on about my affection for this particular Gospel.

We heard in today’s Gospel the clear and concise description of Jesus’ journey from one location to another. We also learn that Jesus’ fame precedes him from region to region as he is immediately greeted by people who bringing him a deaf man to be healed. Mark describes the method by which Jesus healed the afflicted man and then Jesus cautioned those who witnessed this healing to share with no one what they have observed. All of this could be used as a summary and example of the writing style and intent and purpose of St. Mark’s Gospel.

However, as much as I do enjoy a good literary analysis of the Gospel, it does me little good if I ignore the truth, and the relevance, and the message. It is easy for me, and even perhaps all of you, my fellow pilgrims on this journey of salvation, to consume ourselves with the process only to lose ourselves by forgetting the purpose. The Gospel message for us today is exactly that reminder; we, as the Mystical Body of Christ, must never get so caught up in the methods of our faith and forget the purpose and reason for our faith.

Today’s Gospel of Mark describes what happens as soon as Jesus enters a new place, “And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.” I draw your attention to the fact that Mark describes them as “people” and not followers of Jesus. Those who brought the deaf man, a man with need, were not part of the inner circle. Throughout the Gospel, Mark is deliberate in identifying the “followers of Jesus”, meaning those who traveled with him, and those who were not part of the inner circle.

When Jesus entered the district of Decapolis his name and his reputation were already known. The people had heard of Jesus but had not yet seen Jesus. They possessed a hope. A hope that came from hearing, a hope that came through the witness and testimony of others, a hope that was the result of someone telling them about Jesus.

At risk of offending, I dare say that we, modern-day followers of Jesus, have, at times, been at best lackadaisical and at worst derelict, in our responsibility of telling others about the Jesus. It is not uncommon to hear, when gathered together in and amongst our circles of influence, such things as, “If only the priest would go visit so and so”, or “If Deacon would just stop by”, or “If only the church offered this program or that event then they would come to know Jesus.”

If we, as the Mystical Body of Christ, have learned nothing but one thing from the revelations of abuse and the subsequent cover-ups, let it be this; we can no longer afford to vacate, ignore, or diminish our responsibility to be holy men and women of God who proclaim by our words and our deeds that Jesus Christ is the cure to a hurting, lost, and needy world. May we no longer find excuse or reason to abandon our calling to bring others to Jesus. From the onset the mission of the Church is to be a witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Savior of Humankind. That mission has not been revoked nor has it been removed.

The final point today is found in Jesus himself. Notice that Mark is very specific and very deliberate in his description of the healing Jesus performed on the deaf man. Jesus first brought the man apart from the crowd. He then placed his fingers in his ears, spit, and touched the deaf man’s tongue. His groan was audible, and he spoke words of healing. I ask you, did Jesus perform these actions because they were necessary for him to heal? No. Jesus performed these actions because it was what was necessary for the man to believe.

Let us never forget that Jesus Christ wants to have a real and tangible relationship with each and every one of us. He wants us to know him personally, vividly, and intimately. Our faith is not a faith rooted in ritual, rite, or recitation. It is a faith rooted in the very person of Jesus Christ. Jesus knows us intimately and he desires us to know him intimately.

As we come before this altar today, I ask you to examine yourself in the light of today’s Gospel and recall the faces and the names of the individuals who the Holy Spirit has brought to your attention. Individuals who need you to be a witness of the healing power of Jesus. Individuals who need you, not priests, deacons, nor programs, but need you to show them Jesus.

In addition, I ask you to examine your own relationship with Jesus. Is he as real and as tangible as he was when you first met him? Or, has time, pressure, discouragement, and sin caused you to confuse him with your own expectations and conditions.

Finally, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I say this to you as a fellow pilgrim needing your encouragement as desperately as I desire to encourage you. We shall, together, one with another, reach the prize which awaits us all as we endeavor to be live out our mission and our calling.

Today, as men and women of God, we must strive to live out our faith in ways that encourage and unite…

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In today’s 1st reading in Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the people of God to not only hear the statues and decrees of God but to also live by them. He issues a challenge to live as God commands and affirms that the God of their fathers is far superior to all the others. He states, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Moses is pointing out two unique aspects of the Law of God. The first, that God desires to be near to us. He is not uncaring, distant, or disinterested observer of human activity; rather, God is loving and near, near enough to hear the voice of his people. Secondly, God’s law is just. It’s precepts and guidelines not only prescribe how one should interact with him, but also how one should interact with others.

In today’s 2nd reading, St. James continues Moses’s exhortation to the people of God as directs, “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” He then provides a very specific caveat, stating “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” His instructions to the early church reiterate the message of Moses that the true measure of faith in God is manifested in actions, and most especially actions directed towards those who lack status and a voice.

Finally, in today’s Gospel, Jesus chastises the Pharisees by pointing out their hypocrisy. Using the words of the prophet Isaiah he confronts their make-believe faith, stating, “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. He then calls his followers to him and clearly professes the following truth, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Jesus emphatically makes clear that faith in God is not a procedure or methodology. One cannot achieve righteousness by their own accord; rather, righteousness is given through transformation, a transformation of the very inner-self.

The 1st century Palestinian Jew, at least those who were obsessed with righteousness before God, were consumed with ritual and appearances. They had confused the decrees and statues handed down to them through Moses with oral traditions and practices. Their assumptions about what it meant to be righteous before God were impregnated with self-conceived illusions of piety. They wore their faith like they wore their clothing; as a means to cover and communicate status.

When Jesus stated that “nothing that enters one from the outside can defile”, he was revealing to his disciples the essential truth of the Gospel: that no one is without need of salvation. That no person is righteous by their own actions. Righteousness before God is not achieved through ritual and custom, rather righteousness is only achieved through the gift of God’s grace given to those who believe and are baptized in faith.

In the darkness of this present age and in the division it has created, a division present even within our own church, the message of Jesus Christ, our need for salvation, comes to us today as both a beacon of hope and as a call to repentance. As Moses exhorted the Hebrew people, and as James reminded the early church, and as Jesus instructed his disciples, faith, true faith in God, transforms the person from the inside out.

Today, as men and women of God, we must strive to live out our faith in ways that encourage and unite the mystical Body of Christ. We can no longer afford to let division and difference separate us from the reality that we, and those around us, are in desperate need of the transforming power of God’s grace poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit. It is time that we remove from our language the words of division such as “liberal” and “conservative” recognizing that now more than ever we are called to be first disciples of Jesus Christ, and second, servants of one another. Whether we prioritize the exercise of our faith in the service of the poor or on bended knee in front of the blessed sacrament, we are all called to be transformed by the grace given to us through Eucharist and the Sacraments of the Church.

This day I ask you all, myself included, to pause and reflect, allow the perpetual light of the Word of God to reveal our empty practices and customs of performance-based piety. As you come to the altar of God this day do so in the full awareness of your need for salvation. And, as you leave the altar of God this day, do so in the full awareness of those around you who need you to be a witness of that salvation.

Found in all three of today’s readings are what I like to call “Christian Chestnuts.”

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. John 6:60-69

Found in all three of today’s readings are what I like to call “Christian Chestnuts.” Phrases or sayings from Scripture that we, as followers of Christ, share with one another typically in times of difficulty or struggle and are intended to encourage and uplift. These phrases oftentimes can be found on decorative wall art in our homes or on cards we share with one another on special occasions. They are part of our vocabulary and though the truth’s they contain are powerful and relevant, oftentimes their familiarity can diminish their meaning.

In today’s first reading we hear Joshua’s final address to the people of Israel as he challenges them and reminds them that serving God is a choice, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” In St. Paul the Apostle’s Letter to Ephesians he admonishes, “husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church.” And in today’s Gospel, in response to Jesus’s inquiry regarding his disciple’s commitment, we hear Peter say, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

In these words, the challenge of Joshua, the admonition of St. Paul, and the profession of Peter, we find the elemental truth of our faith, that faith is first and foremost a choice. A choice to believe in a Truth that is quite contrary to the world and culture in which we live. A choice to love and serve with a sacrificial love that goes beyond reason. A choice to hope in something which we cannot yet see nor entirely grasp. Our faith is a choice. A continual choice that does not come without struggle, doubt, and sacrifice.

In light of recent events (I am referring to the Pennsylvania Attorneys General report on abuse in the Roman Catholic Church) I find today’s theme of choice, especially as it is presented in the words of today’s Gospel, particularly relevant. Once again we, as members of the Body of Christ, are confronted with the fallibility, sinfulness, and intentional harm caused by men who were and are supposed to represent the very best of us.

I have read and heard about the challenges that many are now facing as they struggle with the choice to continue to support a Church that has yet to fully disclose and rectify her secret sins. I myself struggle with the disappointment, anger, and frustration associated with this recent exposure of sin and its systematic denial. Yet, I encourage you all to find hope, just as I have, in Peter’s response to Jesus Christ, “Master to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Today’s Gospel is the last in the series of the Bread of Life Discourse found in the Gospel of John. For the past five Sundays our Gospel has centered on the revelation that Jesus is the Bread of Life and today we read about the disciples’ reaction to this revelation. For some, his proposal that those who follow him must eat his flesh and drink his blood, was too difficult to understand and too difficult to follow. Consequently, as the Gospel writer so succinctly points out, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” However, Peter, speaking for those who remained, answers Jesus’s call by simply stating, “to whom shall we go?… we have come to believe.”

Our challenge today is to emulate the belief and the words of Peter. Recognizing that the struggles and difficulties that we face, as the Body of Christ, are a result of sin, of which none of us are innocent. We must endeavor to live out our faith boldly, confidently, and humbly recognizing that none of us, no not one, merits eternal life. Rather, as so pointedly became evident in the last few weeks, all of us are dependent upon the forgiveness of God, through his Son, Jesus Christ, given to us, his Body and Blood, so that we may live in fellowship with him and with one another.

I would like to share with you the words I shared with a companion earlier this week as we shared a cup of coffee. I was asked, “How? How can you still remain Catholic?” I responded, “Because all of the Gospel, it’s message in its fullness, is contained in the doctrine and the teachings of the Church and I cannot leave that.”

Now, if you would be so kind to let me expound on those words, I would like to add, It would be wrong to allow sin, no matter the sin and no matter the person, to drive us away from Eucharist, which is in fact, the very remedy for our sin. Do not let us suppose for one moment that anyone here in this place is without sin. However, let us not forget that through the forgiveness offered to us, through Jesus’s life, passion, death, and resurrection we too will find hope in the fulfillment of the promises of Christ offered to us through his Body and Blood.

I would ask each and every one of you, myself included, that we do not allow this latest revelation of scandal and sin deter us from our endeavor to live as holy men and women of God. We, now more than ever, have a responsibility to live our faith vibrantly and visibly in a corrupt world. Yet, some of you may be asking, “What can we do, the people of God, to facilitate change in our church and in our world?” I propose that we accept the challenge of Joshua and confidently proclaim in our homes, our church, and in our public spaces, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Travel with Jesus to his home town.

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Gospel of Mark 6:1-6

Today’s Gospel immediately follows the events of last week’s Gospel.  If you recall from last week Jesus healed the suffering woman and then raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead.  With these two miracles demonstrating Jesus’s power over human suffering and death fresh in our memories we now travel with Jesus and his disciples to his home town.

We read that Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach to an audience that was very familiar to him.  His audience consisted of friends and family who knew him, his history, and his role and function in their community.  Like small towns, communities, and neighborhoods all across the globe, and throughout all of history, once a person has an established role or function in their community it is not easily changed, and this was also true for Jesus.

Several years ago, on a visit to my home town my parents shared with me a conversation they had with my junior high school librarian long after I had graduated high school and moved away.  According to him, while outside working in his front yard, I had driven by his house, yelled his name out the window of my car, and then proceeded to give him the 1-finger salute.

I was absolutely horrified.  I could not believe what they had told me.  I thought for sure that the school librarian had made a mistake, confused me with somebody else.  You must know that; 1) I had no recollection of this incident, and 2) this incident did not reflect my true feelings towards my junior high librarian.  He was the man who introduced me to Walt Morey’s Gentle Ben, the only book I have read more than twice.

The saddest part of this story is that I have no way of setting the record straight.  It is impossible for me to set right this perceived wrong.  My junior high school librarian is no longer alive.  As I am sure it is obvious to everyone here, I am still troubled by the fact that a man, whom I esteemed, went to his grave with a false perception of how I felt about him.  In his eyes I will be always known as the teenager who gave him the 1 finger salute.

Hopefully, those of you who grew up in a small town, or just grew up for that matter, can identify with my frustration and sadness regarding his perception.  It is one thing to be thought of poorly for the things that you actually do, and another thing entirely when you are thought of poorly for things that you didn’t do.  Yet, the reality is that once a mind is “made up” or an opinion is formed they are almost impossible to change.  This reality, though I believe He never gave anybody the 1 finger salute, is exactly what Jesus encountered that day in his home town, at his home church, in front of his home town people.

What we share in common with the people of Jesus’s home town is that we too have the ability to accept or reject Jesus.  In addition, we, like them, often have misconceived constructs and beliefs regarding the reality of Jesus that oftentimes prevent us from truly seeing Jesus.  The challenge presented to us today in this Gospel rings true just as clearly as it did some 2000 odd years ago.  Jesus Christ is here in our midst.  He is present in this Church, in his people, and most specifically in the Eucharist.  My question for you today is… “Can you see him?”  I mean “really” see him!

Do you see Jesus?  Or, have you looked past him, through him, or around him?  Have you allowed false teachings, made-up traditions, personal biases, and prejudices to close off your heart and mind to Jesus?  Have you created a concept of Jesus that may not reflect his true person and purpose?  Have you put limits and barriers on God’s love because they do not conform to your own self-serving expectations and ideals?  Have you ever come away from the altar disappointed or discouraged because your felt like Jesus wasn’t there? The question you need to ask yourself is it because you are looking for Jesus NOT as he is, but rather as you want him to be?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The desire for God is written in the human heart” and, as a result, humanity will find only in God the truth and happiness we desire.  Simply stated, all of us, each and every one, are on a quest to find God.  We are created by God in love, held in existence by his love, and will only be truly fulfilled when we acknowledge and accept his love.  And yet, therein lies our problem, our willingness to acknowledge and accept God’s love.

God’s love for you, for me, and for the entire world cannot be lessened or diminished.  However, God’s love can be rejected.  St. Julian of Norwich, the 14th century theologian and anchoress, writes in her Divine Revelations, “Some of us believe that God is almighty, and can do everything; and that he is all wise, and may do everything; but that he is all love, and will do everything— there we draw back.”

On that day, when Jesus entered the synagogue in his home town, his audience was no less in need of his love and healing.  There, among his family and friends, were those who were afflicted and suffering.  Their lives were devoid of joy and peace and they were in desperate need of the divine gift of God’s love, Jesus.  Yet, they doubted and rationalized their disbelief with questions of authority and lineage and ultimately rejected the very cure for their misery.

Do not be like them.  Do not let your disbelief get in the way of God’s love.  Challenge yourself to push against the self-created expectations, opinions, and beliefs created to isolate, protect, and ensure your status quo.  Allow God’s love to collapse and crumble those walls and then experience the wonder of God’s all-encompassing love.

As you come before the altar of God today, come expecting to see Jesus.  Expect him to transform you in, with, and through his love so that you can fully live… and let your heart be made complete.