Jesus Visits His Hometown

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 4:21-30

As many of you know, I grew up in a small town, a town of less than 5,000 people.  Now, there are some advantages to growing up in a small town: 1) it can be very safe and predictable.  People tend to leave their doors unlocked… which is most dangerous when Zucchini is in season.  2)  You are never very far from help.  If you accidentally left your purse at home, only to discover that fact while standing in the checkout line, chances are you will still get home with your groceries.  3)  In a small town, people know you.  They know your family, they know your people and, believe it or not, there is a great comfort in being known.

However, those same reasons can also be considered disadvantages to growing up in a small town.  Sometimes safety and predictability can be taken advantage of resulting in pain and loss.  In times of need, judgements about character are often rendered and reputations are tarnished when it is considered that one is “taking advantage” of Christian charity.  Finally, and this can be the most frustrating thing about growing up in a small town… everybody knows everyone.  Errors of judgement or mistakes result in labels that can last a lifetime.  Like; “that’s the guy that holds the record for the most burps in French class”, or “Isn’t he the kid who couldn’t stop laughing in 4th grade and had to sit in the hall”, or “isn’t he the teenager who took the coroner’s car for a joy ride and drove all around town with the emergency lights on”.

If you can appreciate these examples, both the advantages and disadvantages of what it means to grow up in a small town, then you will be able to appreciate today’s Gospel reading.

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s Gospel as Jesus visited his hometown.  His custom of entering the synagogue and teaching on the Sabbath resulted in people speaking “highly of him” and being “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”.  Yet, in a very short amount of time this admiration and amazement quickly dissipated, resulting in anger, and rage, and attempted murder.  The very people who knew Jesus as “the son Joseph”, turned on him and, in their fury, they tried to throw him off a cliff.

This sudden turn of events, this immediate and severe shift from admiration and amazement to fury and homicide started with a simple question, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

In their minds they knew who Jesus was.  They knew his family.  They knew his history, and to them that was all of who he was.  (Please allow me a bit of license here.) They remembered that time when Mary was coming home with the groceries from the market and her donkey came up lame, and the neighbors had helped her get home.  They remembered that time when Jesus, as a little boy, made clay birds and they mysteriously came alive and flew away, though everybody was impressed, it was still a bit weird.  They remembered Jesus, the 12-year-old, who got lost in Jerusalem and his parents had to spend 3 days looking for him only find out that he was in the temple talking to the teachers… “as if he knew everything.”

The people who crowded into that synagogue that sabbath day, believed that they knew Jesus, and because they knew him, they knew what they could expect from him.  Even more tragically, because they knew what they could expect from him, they felt they were entitled.

They were not seeking Jesus the Messiah; they were expecting Jesus to grant favors and pay off debts.  They had created a distorted Jesus.  A Jesus based on their limited experience and complete lack of understanding.  A Jesus who would remember their kindness and neighborly acts and would respond in turn.  To them Jesus was obliged to do them a service.  He wasn’t there to save them; he was there to repay them.

His response to this sense of entitlement; He reminded them of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha and how in times of great trouble and distress they brought healing and salvation to Gentiles, and not those who considered themselves to be worthy and deserving.  In essence, they were furious because they wanted a prophet they could control, and not the Jesus calling them to repentance.

So… with this perspective in mind… let’s ask ourselves a few questions.

Who here is angry?  Who here immediately had a name, or a face, or an event come to mind when I asked who was angry?   Who here is now in an argument with themselves trying to convince themselves that they are not angry… they just misunderstood the question?

My brothers and sisters in Christ we are angry.  Sure, we may not be throwing things, breaking things, getting kicked off planes, or having screaming fits in the grocery store… but we are angry.  This pandemic has caused us to change the way we live, work, and play.  We have lost loved ones, incomes, and freedoms.  We have lost respect for each other and the things that made us different are now dividing us.  Anger is the emotional by-product of loss, and we are angry.

Anger manifests itself in many ways.  We hold grudges.  We pull away from friends.  We stop attending church, or, when we do attend church, we do so joylessly and with an attitude of obligation.  We become bitter and spiteful and eventually, we just stop caring.  Anger has seeped into our lives.  It has affected our health, it has affected our relationships, and it has affected our church.

The next question we need to ask ourselves today… are we ready to stop being angry?

If we are then there are things we must do.

First, be here… in this church, in front of this altar, with your anger, sadness, brokenness, and need.  Acknowledge it, don’t deny it, and bring it to Jesus and place it all at the foot of his cross.

Second, be forgiven… and be forgiving.  Go to the confessional, then go to that individual whose face and name you just now recalled, reconcile with that person… immediately.

Thirdly, go serve.  St. Benedict instructed his monks who were struggling with anger to serve others.  Serving others will overcome anger, causing it to lose its grip upon our hearts, enabling us to live free from bitterness and resentment.

Finally, pray.  Just like the people of Jesus’ hometown whose knowledge of Jesus was entirely historical, so it is oftentimes the same for us.  We have memories of Jesus.  We remember when we last encountered him, when we last felt his embrace, when we last heard his voice… but too often those moments exist in our past and not in our presence.  Pray.  Pray in your homes, pray at your work, pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, pray always and in all ways pray.

Our challenge today… is to make today the day when encounter Jesus anew.  Make today the day to re-introduce ourselves to our Savior, allowing ourselves to be reconverted in Christ.  Make today the day we say, “Jesus I am angry, and I wish to be no longer.”

The Baptism of the Lord

Gospel of Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the day that I must address one of the more pressing controversies of this present day.  I recognize that what I am about to say is divisive and may cause hurt feelings and strain relationships… but it needs to be said.  So, I have decided, to summon the courage, and prepare for the chastisement and rebuke, which will undoubtedly follow, and announce:  Today, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, is the official end of the Christmas Season… not the Epiphany!

There!  I said it.  If there was any doubt as to when one can officially remove the tree, take down the decorations, stow away the lights and extension cords, and box up the creche I have now officially removed it.  The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the official end of the Christmas season.  Feel free to confidently and in accordance with the tradition of the Church, remove the Christmas décor from you homes.

On the Nativity, December 25th, we celebrate the coming of God into this world.  With the birth of Jesus, God came to humankind.  On January 6th, the Epiphany, we reflect upon the visit of the Magi and celebrate God’s revelation to both Jew and Gentile.  Today, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we celebrate and acknowledge God’s free and complete gift to humankind, his salvation through the forgiveness of our sins.

In the spirit of total disclosure, all three of these events, the Nativity, the Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord, constitute an epiphany, which comes from the Greek word epiphanein, meaning a “showing, appearance, or revelation”.  All three of these events in the life of Jesus, as they are celebrated in the liturgy of the Church, constitute an epiphany, and today the Church is asking us to reflect on Jesus’s baptism.

Though today’s Gospel reading is from Luke, the account of the Baptism of our Lord is present in all four Gospels.  Therefore, we can assume that this specific event in the life of Jesus is especially significant in the life of the Church.

One of the unique aspects of today’s Gospel account is that the Baptism of the Lord provides and answer to the question, “why”.

Why did God enter humanity?  Why did Jesus, being both fully man and fully God, come into this world?  Why did God reveal himself to both Jew and Gentile alike?  Why did these events, which occurred in a seemingly insignificant place and time, impact all human history? 

The answer is revealed in the words of the prophet John, when he states, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”, and in Jesus’s example, who was without sin, as he modeled for us the necessity of receiving the gift of Baptism for salvation.  Why did God come to earth?  The answer, that we all might be saved.

In response to this Truth let us all reflect upon our own baptism and what it means for us.

Most importantly, through baptism, God has given us new life by the forgiveness of our sins.  Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are born again.  (Evangelicals don’t have sole proprietorship of that phrase.) So, I will say it again, when we receive the gift of baptism, we are born again.

In addition to the cleansing of sin, the gift of baptism allows us to share God’s divine nature.  Through this we become his adopted children and, therefore, we are members of the Body of Christ.  We are brothers and sisters as we all have the same Father.

Finally, the gift of baptism enlists us into the mission of Christ.  We are to transform the world with the light and power of the Gospel.  In today’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah clearly communicates this reality.

“I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand;

I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people,

a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind,

to bring out prisoners from confinement,

and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Now, before moving on, I would like to about gifts.  I have been describing baptism as a gift, so maybe it would be helpful to reflect on what that means.

What is a gift?  A gift is something given without and expectation of repayment.  It is freely given, otherwise it would no longer be a gift, but a bribe, or a repayment.  A gift has meaning and purpose.  A gift is intentional.

For example, this year I received the gift of a hat.  It is a warm hat, which is quite appropriate and necessary considering I am a bald man who lives in a cold climate.  To say that I very much appreciate my gift would be an understatement.  I have worn it many times and it has proven to be very effective in achieving its intended purpose… which is keeping my head warm.

To understand the importance and significance of our baptism we must first recognize that the Sacrament of Baptism is a gift from God.  We cannot earn our baptism.  We cannot live our lives in such a way as to merit baptism.  We are not children of God because of our ancestry.  We are not members of the Body of Christ because we go to church or recite prayers and creeds.  Our salvation is dependent upon the gift of God, given to us through the Sacrament of Baptism.

However, let me be clear, baptism is not a free ticket to heaven.  Yes, it is a gift of God, but it is a gift that must be received.  Baptism is an indelible mark upon our soul, which cannot be erased, but, unfortunately, it can be denied.  Plainly speaking a gift is only a gift once it has been received.

We deny the gift of our salvation when we fail, whether by our human weakness or by our willful disobedience, to love God or our neighbor.  We deny the gift of our salvation when we refuse to be reconciled to God and to those whom we offend.  We deny the gift of our salvation when we turn a blind eye or a deaf hear to the plight of the poor, the suffering, and the marginalized.  We deny the gift of our salvation when reject God’s love and seek salvation in creation rather than the Creator.

In fact, I would propose, that throughout our respective lives we have on many occasions denied the gift of our salvation through our thoughts, words, and the things we have done and the things we have failed to do.  Yet, that doesn’t mean God has “taken back” our gift.  Once we receive God’s gift, he does not ask for it back.

Instead, God has provided us with abundant Grace, assistance if you will, so that we may continue to live out our baptism.  Primarily, he has given us the source and summit of our faith, the Eucharist.  He has given us the Sacraments of Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, and the Sacrament of our Vocation in order to manifest our salvation in the world in which we live.

Today, let us commit together, as children of God and as members of the Body of Christ to endeavor to live out our baptism… to live out our faith in the promise of our salvation… to live out the mission of Christ and transform the world with the light and power of the Gospel.

To be an Evangelist

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20

Some of you may be familiar with the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.  A monument that is established to honor and remember the fallen and their families, who bear the loss of a loved one in military service to our nation.  There are 47 of these monuments located in 41 states in our country and the newest, which is located in Pocatello, Idaho, was dedicated this past Friday.  An event for which I had the honor and privilege to attend.

It was a solemn ceremony as there were several families present to witness the unveiling of the monument and hear the reading of the names of their loved ones who had paid the ultimate sacrifice for their service.  This dedication ceremony even more so significant considering it occurred on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend.  A weekend on which the country is asked to reflect and recall all of those whose lives were sacrificed for the benefit of their country and our freedom.

Today, on this the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we are asked to reflect and recall on a similar theme; that is the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which is the central mystery of the Christian faith, and our responsibility to carry the “Great Commission”, which is the message of salvation and hope, to all.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, let us not deceive ourselves for one moment.  Let us not fall into the terrible deception that our faith is without struggle, is without suffering, and is without sacrifice.  In the fulfillment of our duty to carry the message of salvation to all the world there is risk… a fact that is evident in the names of the Martyrs and Saints of the Church.

Today we read in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans his reminder that all who are called Children of God, and thereby joint heirs with Christ, must also suffer, “so that we may be glorified with him.”  Our salvation, our freedom from sin, our hope for our glorification with Christ did not come without suffering and sacrifice.  With our very presence here this day, in front of this altar, on which Jesus Christ offers up his very body and blood, we attest to the reality that our hope and our salvation is founded on sacrifice.

We also read today in the Gospel of Matthew the “Great Commission” which is Christ’s call to all who are his disciples to participate in the continuation of his work, which is the salvation of the world.  And so, this day the challenge, which is presented to us all, both laity and clergy, is: are we carrying out Christ’s command to “go and make disciples?”  In essence, how are we doing in our role, dare I say obligation, as evangelists?

To be an evangelist is not a responsibility or title many of us feel comfortable assuming.  Typically, the term “evangelist” is reserved for individuals with a specific gift, or charism, or apostolate.  We use that term to describe anyone but ourselves… right?  We say, “Oh, so and so really has the gift of evangelization.”  Or “The Spirit has given that person the ability to tell others about Jesus.”  Or worse, we abdicate responsibility all together and say, “Evangelize… that is what Protestants do.  We are Catholic we don’t tell people about Jesus.”

My friends in Christ, please forgive me for what I am about to say… when Christ issued this command… when he called his disciples together and laid out their mission and responsibility… there were no Protestants.  Christ was speaking, nay dare I say, he is speaking to us.

So, I will ask again… how are we doing as Evangelists?

When is the last time we have talked to somebody about Jesus?  When is the last time we have shared… with anyone… our own relationship with Jesus?  When is the last time we have invited someone to church?  When is the last time we have taken a moment to provide comfort, counsel, or share our concern with someone who was in desperate need of hearing about the hope available to them in the promises of Christ?

The responsibility of sharing with others the love of God, the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of salvation found in Christ cannot be abdicated.  This responsibility cannot be dismissed, or passed over, or ignored by the simple statement, “I am not called to evangelize!”  Christ in his final words did not provide an escape clause, or place conditions or qualifications on his command to “go and make disciples.”  Rather, his expectation, and our responsibility is clear, concise, and without exemptions… we are all called to share the Good News, the Gospel, with each and every person we know.

So how do we do that?

We do that first by living the Gospel.  We demonstrate to those around us that we are people of faith.  We do not succumb to fear.  We value human life above all things… and I mean all human life, just not life in the womb.  We show kindness and compassion to those who are both physically and spiritually hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, sick, and estranged.

We evangelize when we are generous with our time and talents.  When we share what we have even when what we have is not in abundance.  It is easier to give money when we have it and it is just easy to give our time when we have it, but how are we in giving when we are running short of both?

We evangelize when we prioritize being in right relationship over being right.  Jesus came to this earth, fully God and fully Man, so that all might be saved. The forgiveness of sins, offered through his sacrifice, is free to all, without condition or qualification.  As evangelists that must be our message.

My friends, just about everyday I meet people who are in desperate need of knowing that Jesus Christ desperately wants to have a personal relationship with them.  When I engage them in conversation, and they share the obstacles and barriers to having that relationship, they very rarely blame the Church.  In fact, from my experience, most people do not have a problem with the church, per say, rather, their problem is with us… the people who call themselves the church.

As evangelists we must never place conditions on God’s forgiveness of sins.  Jesus Christ died on the cross, and was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven so that all of humankind may be forgiven for all of their sin.  As evangelists we must first be a people of love.

I ask now that we all, each and everyone of us, take a moment and reflect on that one person.  That one person whom God has placed on our heart.  That one person who desperately needs you to be the embodiment of Christ in their lives.  Who needs your generosity and to hear from you that God loves them and will forgive them.  Take a moment and recall that person’s name, visualize their face, consider their need… and ask God to give you opportunity this week to evangelize them.

The Ascension of our Lord

Gospel of Mark 16: 15-20

Earlier this week Kristina and I were taking stock of the condition of our home.  As most of you know we are currently empty nesters… well, except for our youngest son who, thanks to the pandemic, is currently residing in our basement as he prepares to go back to college in the fall.  Anyway,  as empty nesters we are beginning to turn our attention to the overall condition of our home.  Taking measure of all the things that need to be updated, replaced, or repaired.  Having lived in our home for the past 20 some odd years, our home, for lack of a better description, is well used and the list of projects is quite long.

The garage roof needs replacing, the driveway needs patched, cracked and outdated windows need to be replaced and updated, scuffed floors need to be refinished, and the worn carpet needs, well just to be torn out.  And, of course, I cannot fail to mention the most glaring, the most argued over, and subsequently the most ignored repair item in our 25 years of marriage, trim.

Yes.  You heard me correctly.  Trim.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I stand here this morning and confess that the one repair project in our home, and, I might add, the simplest to complete, that has remained on the “need to fix” list the longest, is trim.  All the trim, whether it be baseboard, window, or door is either missing or in need of replacing and for some reason, though my wife could for sure give you a few, it all has gone untouched.

Now, some of you might be wondering why I should be talking about my many unfinished home projects on today, this seventh Sunday of Easter as we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord.

The Tradition of Church, celebrating the Ascension of our Lord 40 days after Easter is indeed an incredibly old one.  There is some evidence that the celebration of this day was established as early as the 2nd Century.  St. Augustine described this celebration as an “Apostolic Tradition.”  However, most church scholars confer that the tradition of celebration the Ascension of our Lord 40 days after Easter was an accepted practice in the 4th century.

Why the importance and significance of this celebration?

The Church answers this question by stating, “Christ’s ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain, whence he will come again.”  In other words, without the Ascension the work of salvation is incomplete.  Jesus Christ Ascended into heaven in order to complete the work of salvation and provide evidence of the promise that we, whom God calls his children, can live in hope that we too will be with him forever.  The Ascension of our Lord is the completion of his salvific work.

However, the work of salvation of the world is not done.  We read very clearly today Christ’s instructions, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  The work of salvation was completed in Christ’s Ascension, but our work, as followers of Christ, is not.

Earlier this week, as I pondered the list of incomplete projects around my home, I stumbled across the thought, “what other projects in my life are incomplete?”  What other things, and even more so important, what relationships in my life are in a state of disrepair?”  Are there relationships that have worn thin by disagreement?  Have I been ignoring people, putting them on the “get to when I get to it” list?  Are their relationships in my life that need updating, attention, and care?

Now, for the real risky part of my homily… What about you?  Are there relationships in your life that have been damaged, wounded, or neglected?  What names are on your “I will get to it when I get to it” list?  Can you recall the faces of individuals whom you have pushed aside or brushed away due to differing opinions, or political positions, or disagreements?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord.  The completion of the work of salvation and the joy of the promise that we too shall one day be with Christ in heaven.  However, let us not doubt, not even for one second, that our work here on this earth is complete.

There is a beautiful invitation to prayer in our Catholic liturgy that is traditionally said at the vigil of one who is deceased.  It reads, “My brothers and sisters, we believe that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.”  The intent of this invitation is to remind us that our responsibility and our compassion for our sisters and brothers in Christ, and in fact all of those whom we call friends, continues beyond the grave.

Today our challenge is to take stock of our relationships… not just the things… in our life and, through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the example of Christ Jesus, begin to mend, attend, and repair those relationships to fully engage in the work to which Christ has commanded, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.”  For the Gospel is not about rules, and rites, and tradition.  The Gospel is about relationship.  God’s desire to be in a relationship with us… his creation.

In order to be in right relationship with God, and in order to fulfill Christ’s command to share the Gospel, we must strive to be in right relationship with one another.

My prayer today… for myself and for each and everyone of you is… to tend to your home… your spiritual home and make right the relationships that are broken.

Jesus’s Motivational Speech

3rd Sunday of Easter

Gospel of Luke 24:35-48

This past week tragedy came to my family and the loss we are experiencing is significant and substantial.  However, my family is not unique in this experience of loss, for many more of us have had to endure the grief and pain of losing loved ones, most especially this past year.  The death of my father in-law, though sad and unexpected, was predicted, for death is a reality in this world.  Death takes those whom we love and very rarely are we, who are left behind, ever truly prepared to live in a reality existing in their absence.  Though death may be a reality… death is very rarely a real part of our daily consciousness.

I apologize for beginning today’s homily with such a stark and somber topic… however, in light of the recent loss experienced in my family, I feel I am able to approach today’s Gospel with a different perspective and I hope that you might be able to find some truth and inspiration as a result.

Today we read St. Luke’s account of Jesus’s appearance to the disciples in the locked room.  We read how he suddenly appeared in their midst, granted them peace, and how they responded in terror and fear, in wonderment and amazement, and in doubt and dismay.  We read how Jesus proved himself through touch, demonstrating that he is not only flesh and bone, but that he also shares a common humanity.

So, this morning I ask you, for just a moment, to reflect on the loss of a loved one that you have experienced.  Bring to mind the image of a loved one who is no longer with you.  Consider their influence and significance and recall the reality of their absence.  If you can do that this morning, you are able to identify, dare I say, empathize with those disciples present in that upper room behind that locked door.  For they too, were, at that moment, attempting to deal with loss.  They too were recalling the life they lived with Jesus and attempting to learn how to live their lives without him.  Just as we have no illusions that our deceased loved ones will mysteriously appear in our midst, so too did they have no framework for thought that Jesus would suddenly appear in their midst.  Yet, he did!  And, just as he did to them… so too does he present himself to us today!

I have a not so well-known fact about myself that I would like to share with you today.  I love motivational speeches, especially ones from movies.  Movie monologues such as those that are found in Braveheart, or Dances with Wolves, or just about any decent sports movie ever made will eat up hours of my time as I re-watch them as I travel down a YouTube worm hole.

In today’s Gospel, I propose that Jesus’s final words are in fact just that… a motivational speech.  It starts with, “These are my words!”

If this were a Hollywood movie this scene would start with the appearance of Jesus in a dimly lit room.  Initially, he would be shrouded in shadows, the figure of a man for sure, but lacking details and specific features.  As he begins to speak the shadows disappear and Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man begins to subtly play in the background.  (If you are not familiar with that piece of music, I encourage you to Google it when you get home.)

Jesus speaks to his disciples with clear and direct language.  He tells them that that he is fulfillment of the very Word of God, and that because of his suffering and death all of humankind can be forgiven.  And then, as the music crescendo’s, Jesus pauses to look directly into the eyes of each and every one of his disciples and states, “You are witnesses of these things!”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, those exact words are also directed to us.  We are the witnesses of the reality that Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, walked on this earth as the fulfillment of the Word of God and, that he died, and that he is resurrected, and our sins are forgiven.

Our witness to Christ this week begins here in front of this altar.  When we come together in communion and profess our belief that Jesus Christ is indeed risen, we will do so with our amen.  We, as one Church, in community, and in faith believe that the risen body of our Lord and Savior is present in this, our Eucharistic Feast.  And when we say our amen… we must also commit to living our amen.

We fulfill Christ’s command to be witness in how we treat one another.  We fulfill Christ’s command to be a witness when we live out our faith in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our works spaces, and with all those whom we encounter.  We fulfill Christ’s command to be witnesses when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, provide refuge to the stranger, and visit those in prison, and provide comfort to the sick and dying.  We fulfill Christ’s command to be witnesses when we treat others with dignity, respect, kindness, and mercy.  We fulfill Christ’s command to be witnesses when strive to become like Christ here on this earth.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let today, this 3rd Sunday of Easter, be our day to be encouraged, to be inspired, and to commit ourselves to strive fully and completely and be “witnesses to these things.”