Lacking Drama & Pageantry

1st Sunday of Lent, Gospel of Mark 1:12-15

Mark’s account of Jesus’s desert journey is in stark contrast to Matthew’s and Luke’s account.  In typical Markan fashion he refrains from including the details which he considered non-essential.  Readers of his Gospel are not privileged to Jesus’s dialogue with Satan or the specific nature of the temptations.  Instead, Mark only states that Jesus was “drove” out into the desert, he was “tempted” by Satan, and surrounded by “wild beasts”.  This account lacks the drama and pageantry of his Synoptic Gospel counterparts.

Yet, strangely, Mark’s concise account of Jesus’ 40-day desert trial has a certain attraction.  The idea of going off into a deserted and desolate place, with the opportunity to overcome personal weakness, and draw closer to God is, too me, quite appealing.  I do know that I am not alone in thinking this way, because throughout the history of the Church men and women have left off the trappings, possessions, and distractions of “normal” daily life seeking a deeper more dependent relationship with God.  It started with St. Paul of Thebes, followed by St. Anthony of Egypt, who was then followed by thousands of men and women seeking God in the deserted places.

However, I must confess that the idea of leaving the complications attached with possessions is, for me, an extremely attractive idea.  In fact, I once asked a monk if there was any precedence or protocol that would allow for a Deacon to join their order.  He just looked at me and walked away mumbling something about “being disordered” and the “dismal state” of the Church.

Now, that was not the worst of it, because, for some reason, I chose to ask my monk friend this question in the presence of my wife.  It did not take too long after those ridiculous words left my mouth before I felt the cold icy stare of my wife’s enchanting blue eyes piercing the back of my skull.  Oh, she waited… and once we were together in our “isolated place”, absent witnesses, she had a few things to say about how I might find living in a monastery with a bunch of old men more appealing then living with her.

In today’s Gospel we find clear instructions to those who seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Jesus ventured into the deserted places out of obedience and necessity, and in so doing clearly established the model.  Without the encumbrance of detail, Mark clearly communicates that those who seek Jesus must too also venture out into the desert.

Using today’s Gospel as a guide I am proposing 3 reasons why, as followers of Christ, we too must venture out into the deserted places.

The 1st reason is obedience.  Mark clearly states that Jesus was “drove out by the Spirit.”  The literal Greek wording for this phrase is translated, “impelled to step out”.  The Spirit of God “impelled” Jesus to step out… away from… the normal routine of life and go into a place where necessity was the priority.

Recognizing that we are all called to live in the state and in the place at which we exist we must not allow to be an excuse to abandon our responsibilities.  Rather it is an opportunity to identify specific things, habits, practices, and behaviors that are unnecessary, and then set them aside.  Out of obedience we are obligated, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to honestly examine ourselves.  To identify that which encumbers us, and then, in faith, step away from them.

The second reason we are called out into the desert is for ministry.  But, not in the way in which you might think.  Rather, we are called to enter the desert so that God can minister to us.  Mark’s Gospel is clear when it states, “and the angels ministered to him.”

Let not my words be confusing.  The desert is difficult.  When one ventures out into the deserted places one will encounter temptation.  One will encounter hardship.  One will encounter struggle, difficulties, and discouragement for, after all, it is a desert.  However, by God’s mysterious design, and in his infinite mercy, when we enter the desert we are allowing God to minister to us in a way which was not been previously available.

In the original Greek, which is translated in English, “the angels ministered”, portrays the image of a servant serving at a table.

I recall a time when Kristina and I spent one Valentine’s evening in Chicago, Illinois.  We were in Chicago visiting a friend who happened to be a Sommelier at this ultra-fine eating establishment.  He had made arrangements for us to enjoy our Valentine’s dinner at his restaurant as his guests.  First, I will tell you the food was magnificent and second, the service was amazing.  Our glasses never went empty.  We did not even have to pour our own wine.  The magnificently prepared and presented plates of food were brought and then removed as if by magic, and not once did we have to ask for anything.  Although the restaurant was entirely full of paying patrons we felt as if our table was the only one that mattered.  It was an absolutely wonderful experience… and that is the image that comes to mind when I read the phrase, “the angels ministered to him.”

The third reason why we must go out to the desert is found in the 14th verse of Mark’s gospel; “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God.”

When we go out into the desert we do so for a period of time.  A time of refinement.  A time of preparation.  A time with purpose.  God does not call us out to the deserted places on a whim.  He calls us out to the deserted places because he wants us to return to a purpose.

Following John the Baptists arrest, Jesus returned from the desert and began to preach and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Jesus’s time in the desert; the trial, the temptation, the ministry of the angels, prepared him to engage in the mission for which he was called.

Today, this 1st Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of our desert journey.  When we respond in obedience to God’s calling, we do so in the knowledge that we too shall encounter trial and temptation.  We too, do so in the knowledge that God will not abandon us.  He will not turn his back from us.  And when, at the completion of our 40 days Lenten journey, we return from the desert we will be prepared to engage in the mission for which we are called.

Our challenge this day, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is to approach this Lenten desert journey in the full knowledge that upon its conclusion God will have prepared us for his service.  There is a unique and vital ministry awaiting each one of us this coming Easter morning, and I for one eagerly await the great work for his Kingdom to which we all will be called.

We Believe

Homily 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of Mark 1:22-28
I thought I would begin this morning with a short catechetical teaching. This short lesson is fitting as today, our Parish, has accepted 3 individuals into the order of the Catechumen, therefore, what better time to give a short refresher on the traditions and doctrines of the Church. So here we go.
The Liturgy of the Church is governed by its own calendar which is identified as the Liturgical Year. A fact that is most obvious when Catholics greet one another with the phrase, “Happy New Year!”, though it is not on January 1st. On what Sunday does the Liturgical Year begin?
The liturgy of the Church has two cycles, a weekday cycle and a Sunday Cycle. The Sunday cycle is divided into three years, labeled A, B, and C. 2020 was Year A. 2021 is Year B, and 2022 will be Year C. In Year A, we read mostly from the Gospel of Matthew. In Year B, we read the Gospel of Mark and chapter 6 of the Gospel of John and in Year C, we read the Gospel of Luke.
Now for the 2nd question of the morning; Does anyone know why Year B is my favorite cycle? (Because the Gospel of Mark is my favorite Gospel!)
Mark’s Gospel is a Gospel of action… what Jesus does.
In today’s Gospel account Mark tells us that Jesus went into the synagogues of Capernaum to teach, and that he did so with authority. An authority that was not typical nor had been previously experienced. Mark emphasizes that reality when he relates an incident when, while Jesus was teaching, he was confronted by a man possessed with an unclean spirit. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to be quiet and to come out of the man, and those who witnessed this event, Mark reports, were amazed.
To help put this into context, today’s account in the Gospel of Mark is beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Following his baptism, and sojourn to the desert for 40 days, and after his recruitment of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus travels to Capernaum, and sets up “home base”. He starts teaching in the synagogues and does so with a supernatural authority. And it is here, in the 25th verse of first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus demonstrates that he came to humanity for our salvation and overcame evil.
Evil’s power is in its disguise. It hides itself in the world and in ourselves. In today’s Gospel account we hear how evil disguised itself and hid among those who were seeking Jesus. We hear its challenge to the authority of God in a human voice and we see its futility and powerlessness when confronted with the entirety of God’s revelation of his goodness in Jesus Christ.
Do not be mistaken there is a worldly evil. St. John Paul II introduced the terms “structural evil”, “institutionalized sin”, and “corporate evil” to describe groups, organizations, and institutions whose policies and actions are intended, either by design or by default, to destroy life, exploit creation, and dehumanize the poor and vulnerable. Groups, organizations, and institutions possess no soul and so cannot be held responsible for the evil that is propagated by its members, yet the effects of the evil that is instituted are no less mitigated.
Abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty are evil… They are disguised in political parties, institutions, and governments and are falsely professed as necessary for the good of society.
Poverty is evil… It is disguised in platitudes, empty acts of charity, and practices that, in the end, benefit the rich and exploit the poor.
Greed and lust are evil… Both are disguised through the culturally accepted attitude that the possession and the manipulation of both things and people are symbols of influence and power.
There is personal evil. This evil is evident in our personal sin and is often disguised in self-created false personas of personal piety and righteousness.
We disguise our sin behind words of empathy and concern. Which are but thinly veiled evils of gossip and rumor.
We disguise our sin behind words of correction towards others. When in reality, we are just calling out our own sins which we only can see in those around us.
We disguise our sin with words of exclusion. Demanding that others adhere to our self-created and self-imposed standards of perfection and holiness.
We disguise our sin behind isolation and withdrawal. Instead of reaching out in love and compassion we push away, reject, and ignore the woundedness of others. We build walls of division and deny the grace and mercy of God to those who are in most need.
And, finally, there is Evil. The Catechism identifies evil not just as an abstract concept, but as a person; Satan, the Evil One, the Fallen Angel. This Evil disguises itself with light. The very name, Lucifer, means the Bearer of Light, and he will often appear as light when in fact he is the very darkness which the light of Christ came to expel.
Yet, in spite of these evils we need not, dare I say must not, fear evil. Evil has no power over those who confess Christ as their savior. The power and authority over evil, which Jesus displayed in that Capernaum synagogue some 2000 years ago, is given to us, those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.
So, I ask, what is our response to this evil? Do we continue to allow evil, in all its various forms, to wound, divide, and overpower? Do we shield our eyes and stop up our ears to a world which is crying out for healing and salvation?
The Church provides us the answer when it states, “there is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.” (CCC 309)
Therefore, our response to evil is entirely contained in our response to Christ. When we say “we believe” we are in fact professing our faith in Christ who overcome the evil in this world. “We believe” that evil has no power over us! “We believe” that goodness will prevail, and we accept our responsibility of being the good in this dark and lost world.
Today, we are challenged to overcome evil. To do good, to be the good, in this dark and divided world. Will we respond in the confidence of the supernatural authority of Christ? Will we believe?

What are you Looking for?

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Gospel of John 1: 35-42

The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind.  The Advent and Christmas season typically have that effect, right?  The buildup, the preparation, the anticipation, followed by Christmas Day, the New Year, Epiphany, and finally the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord can make one feel rushed and hurried.  The season, with all its goodness and blessings, also brings a certain degree of upheaval and disruption.  Eventually, and thankfully, Christmas decorations come down, mangers get packed away, and our homes and, hopefully, our lives once again take on a sense of normalcy.  Yet… this has not necessarily been the case, so far.

The pandemic is still rampaging through our homes, neighborhoods, schools, communities, and nation.  The political anger, upheaval, and strife dominating our thoughts and our conversations have divided our households, our workspaces, our church, and our nation.  The Angel’s chorus “Joy to the World”, which we sang just 3 weeks ago, is now but a bitter reminder of our fragile and fickle human nature as we have denigrated into accusation, rebuttal, and condemnation.

This level of anxiety and concern wears on our human psyche.  We tire of the rhetoric.  We succumb to the stress and withdraw.  The reality of illness and death lurking, infiltrating, and altering daily routines restricts our movements and limits our relationships.  This period of time between the end of the Christmas Season and the beginning of Lent has traditionally been an opportunity to pause, recoup, and breathe.  So, today, let us not abandon this opportunity and instead endeavor to strengthen our hope, solidify our resolve, and commit ourselves, by the example of St. Andrew the Apostle, to the pursuit of truth and love.

In today’s Gospel we are presented with an account of the beginning of Jesus’s ministry and so… let us insert ourselves into this story and examine our own response to the call of our Lord.

John the Baptist opens the story as he directs our attention and calls out, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

We too, along with Andrew and the other disciple, leave the comfort and routine of our spiritual mentor and follow Jesus unsure of the destination or purpose.  Jesus, turning, fixing his gaze upon us, asks “What are you looking for?” 

Here we stop, take a moment, and contemplate his question.

Jesus’ question to the two disciples was a relevant question, especially in that time and place.  First Century disciples looking for rabbi to follow, did so for several reasons.  It is possible they were legalists, looking to debate subtle and nuanced differences of the law, such as the Pharisees or Scribes.  Or… they were ambitious Sadducees seeking influence and position.  Or… they were Zealots, hoping for a military leader or political demagogue capable of ridding the Romans from the Promised Land.

However, Jesus’ question, “what are you looking for?” is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.  What are you looking for?

Are you looking for an affirmation of righteousness?  Like a Pharisee, are you seeking a stamp of approval that what you say and what you do is holy and good?

Are looking for relevance or influence?  Like a Sadducee, are you desiring validation of your opinion and an acknowledgement that your voice has been heard?

Are you looking for victory over those whom you perceive as enemies?  Like a Zealot, are you needing to prove that you are stronger, smarter, and better than those whom you oppose?

We are all challenged with the same question.  We all must answer, “What are you looking for?”  so… what is your answer?

Our guide, St. Andrew the Apostle, responded to Jesus’ call honestly and sincerely.  His reply, “Where are you staying?” is absent of selfish ambition.  Andrew’s intent is not one of manipulation or exploitation.  He is not seeking Jesus for his own benefit.  He did lot leave the routine and familiarity of what he had known to further his own career, or garner fame or prestige, or obtain influence or power.  Andrew, and the other disciple, were seeking Jesus.  Desiring to stay with him, to learn from him, to know him.

In a short moment from now, those of us present at his altar will hear the very testimony of John.  The priest, holding up the body and blood of our Savior, will proclaim loudly and boldly the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world!”

Will our response this day be free from personal ambition and selfish pride?  Will our response this day, be free from false ideals or misguided pursuits of self-righteousness? Will our response this day be free from doubts, divisiveness, and delusion?

I say, let our answer be our own personal fiat.  May we, in full confidence and in perfect humility, reply, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed!”

We shall then continue in the example of St. Andrew.  We will not let our conversion end with our declaration of faith.  Just as Andrew sought out his brother Simon and proclaimed, “We have found the Messiah”, so too must we share the Good News of the Gospel with those whom we encounter.

Now… is the time that we must leave the distractions and the diversions behind.

Now… is the time that we must cast aside false loyalties, misguided ambitions, and diluted promises and steadfastly hold to the truth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the day to be encouraged.  Today is the day to find hope.  Today is the day we sing, with the Chorus of Angels, “Joy to the World.

Not a Homily… A Podcast

I apologize for using this platform for a bit of self promotion, but I wanted to let you know that Kristina and I have a podcast. It is called 3 Things Podcast, and the first episode posted today.

3 Things Podcast 3 is about 3 things; drinks, books (music, movies, art), & stories. We will be having conversations with friends about how these 3 things have inspired and encouraged them on their journey of faith. We will be posting 2 episodes per month and a bonus episode titled, 1 thing.

I will resume posting my homilies here and will not bother you about the podcast again. If you like what you hear and/or read please feel free to share with a friend.

Thank you & God bless you

Deacon Jason

Joy to the World

4th Sunday of Advent- Gospel of St. Luke 1:16-38

Driving home from church last week Kristina said to me, “I just want to go a Christmas party.  At a house full of people talking and having fun.”  She paused and then said quietly, “Stupid COVID.”

For the rest of the drive home, I thought about what she said.  I imagined what it would be like to in and amongst a crowd of people?  With people I knew and people I did not know very well, drinking spiked eggnog and sampling plates of sweets and deep-fried appetizers.  Rubbing elbows, stepping on toes, bumping into people, and every time you turn around somebody greets you with a hug, a kiss, a vigorous handshake, and not a single mask in sight.  Sure maybe, Uncle Joe has a lampshade on his head, and maybe Aunt Mary’s red lipstick can be found on just about every cheek in the room, but no one cares.  Criticism, harsh words, and disparaging looks are outside, left in the cold.  Warmth, sincerity, and merriment fill the room.

Wouldn’t that be fun?

Now… let me be clear!  I am not advocating for such a gathering.  I am not asking anyone to ignore the reality of the current health crisis in our community.  Christmas is not a justification to cast common sense and compassion for our fellow man out the window by organizing, let alone attending such an event.  Instead, I am asking you to take a minute and reflect upon that unique characteristic of humanity that we all share… our desire to be together.  To be a part of community.  Our human need for meaningful, authentic, well intentioned interaction.

What struck me so significantly about Kristina’s comment on our drive home was that the source or her “want” came from a place of intense longing and need.  A need essential to our humanity.  A need to be together in community.

God created us to be in community.  He created us to be in fellowship.  Our divinely designed human nature is such that we can only find true joy in fellowship with God and with one another.  Wealth, fame, possessions are a poor substitute for this relationship.

Charles Dickens exemplified this truth in the Christmas Carol when he personified the misery of human isolation in a man named Scrooge.  Dr. Suess, embodied the unhappiness of selfishness and the pain of loneliness in a green Grinch, with a heart that “was two sizes too small.”  In the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Potter, a miserly, frustrated, lonely old man whose greed and denial of human dignity, is one of the most notorious on-screen villains of all time.

These characters, though fictional, portray all the twisted and perverse aspects of our humanity.  Their self-imposed blindness to God and their fellow humankind stand in stark contrast to the beauty and divine love that we read in today’s Gospel.  From Gabriel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you”, too Mary’s fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”, we are presented with the glorious truth of our God, his unquenchable desire to be in relationship with us.

This 4th Sunday of Advent, as we dutiful prepare ourselves for the celebration of the coming of our Lord, let us take a moment and reflect upon what it is that, for which we are preparing.

We admire and are inspired by Mary’s response of faith yet let us not overlook the very meaning of the message brought forth by the angel Gabriel.  A message not only for her but for all humanity.  A message of salvation.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,

and you shall name him Jesus.

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,

and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,

and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,

and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

In this proclamation, we find the fantastic truth that God, through his infinite love, with his ultimate power, and in his unfathomable mercy, came to his creation, which he intended for salvation through his ultimate humiliation, and became fully man, so that we might be in relationship with him.

Therefore, our challenge today, as followers of Christ, in this time of loss and limitations, is to manifest this joy… this gift… this truth… with one another, and with the whole world.

As we desperately long for the “way things used to be”, we cannot abdicate our calling to be the voices shouting, “Joy to the World”.  We cannot stifle our happiness and hide the truth of the wonderous gift that God has given to all of humankind.  Yes, our celebrations must look different for sure.  For we cannot find excuse in the traditions of Christmas to model the misery of Scrooge, the selfishness of The Grinch, nor the lack of compassion for our neighbor, like that of Mr. Potter.

Though we may not gather in one place rubbing elbows, or hugging strangers, or kissing friends, we must double our efforts through cards and cookies left on doorsteps.  With phone calls, texts, and emails reminding others that though their physical presence is missed they are ever present in our thoughts.  We must not cease our acts of charity.  Rather endeavor in our service of love by shoveling our neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways, leaving generous tips at drive-thru’s, and rigorously look for opportunities to serve and help someone with their unique need.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this year’s Feast of the Nativity of our Lord will be unique in that our traditions may have to be altered.  Our usual ways of doing things may not be appropriate for the circumstances.  However, what it is not unique is our responsibility in celebrating and sharing the joy of the coming of the Savior of the world.

This Christmas we joyfully proclaim, Jesus came!  Jesus is in fact here!  Jesus is coming again!  AMEN!!!