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THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD – February 02, 2014

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi 3:1-4

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 2:14-18

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke 2:22-40

 

Would you believe that it has been forty days since we celebrated Christmas?  Notice the forty.  That’s how long Lent lasts before we come to Easter.   Well, in a sense we have completed a season and come to a mini Easter, if you will.  Or, another Epiphany, if you prefer.  The word, Epiphany, means manifestation, or showing forth.  On this day the Liturgy of the Word proclaims who Jesus is, the one who fulfilled the hopes and longings of generations of seekers, the Lord whom they sought.  Do we recognize him?  Do we understand that the darkness has been conquered?  The light has triumphed.  For us, winter is waning and spring is on the way.  We are children of the Light.

The first Reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi sounds confident.  It was written in a dark period when the faith of the Israelites was at a low point.  Some thought the faith was dying.  The Prophet, the one who proclaims to the people what God wants them to hear, stirs their hope and reminds them of their longing for the Lord.  As is always the case with God, God’s ways are surprising, happening when people least expect them.  Suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek.

Notice what the Lord will do when he comes.  He will refine and purify.  In other words, when the Lord comes he will revive faith and empower the people so that they can open themselves and yield to Lord’s entrance.  And the people will be pleasing to the Lord.

We believe that Jesus is the Lord, the one God sent, God’s son.  For many the problem is Jesus is not the kind of Lord they were hoping for.  That was true in Jesus’ time.  It’s true today.  That sounds harsh, I know.  But forgive me, I think it is so.  The expected Messiah was supposed to be powerful, warrior like, a deliverer who would set the people free by driving out foreign rule and setting up a kingdom that would endure.  Even the Apostles and many of the disciples struggled with what Jesus said and did.  He associated with all the wrong sort.  He welcomed sinners and broke bread with them.  He touched lepers.  He received tax collectors and other untouchables from society.  The leaders of the faith rejected him on that count.  This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!  And, perhaps worst of all, he reached out to Gentiles.  How could Jesus be the Messiah?

In our times, when pressed, many will say still that Jesus is Lord, that he is the Messiah.  But inside, they wonder.  The church doesn’t seem to be proclaiming the message.  Then there is the proclamation of the gospel of success.  If people give themselves to Jesus, wealth and prominence will follow which are signs of their eventual getting into heaven.  The poor are poor because they are sinners and, well, you know the rest.  The faithful become elitist, builders, for all intents and purposes, of an earthly kingdom of splendor.  Just look at their trappings.

The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews puts the issue squarely before us.  Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death….  The core truth of our faith is that in the Incarnation, the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, became flesh and dwelt among us.  The divine One took on and became part of human nature.  The chasm that separated the two orders is forever bridged.

Hebrews tells us that our Messiah is not an avenging warrior with a mighty sword to drive out foreign rule.  Here’s the issue, the stumbling block for many: our Messiah is a suffering Messiah who carried a cross and died on it.  Our Messiah bore the sins of the people and expiated them.  That means Jesus atoned for our sins.  Jesus drives out the power of evil and death.  His disciples walk in freedom and light.  And, because of the divine indwelling, the disciples continue his presence and his ministry.

Remember that the feast we celebrate is another Epiphany, a manifestation of Jesus as Lord.  In the Gospel, that Epiphany happens in the Temple where the eight-day-old Jesus is brought by his parents to be presented to the Lord God.  Immediately notice that Mary and Joseph are poor.  They can afford to offer only the least expensive elements for the required sacrifice – a pair of turtledoves or pigeons.  In the Law these offerings are made as a sin offering, an atonement.  That obviously does not apply to Jesus, the sinless one, but manifests his taking on the human condition we call sin.

What a beautiful character is Simeon!  He is a good man, a devout man, and a faith-filled man who has lived his life believing that he would see the Christ, the Messiah, before he died.  The Spirit empowers him to recognize the Christ in the little baby.  Seeing, he believes.  Believing, he is ready to die in peace.  The One he holds in his arms will be a light for all peoples, a revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for (God’s) people Israel.  It’s not a bad idea to imagine how the parents felt at Simeon’s proclamation.  Imagine the hope it stirred in them.

Ah, but there are two sides to this coin as there always is with discipleship.  This child is destined for the fall and rise of many… a sign that will be contradicted.  Not every one who sees will believe.  And some who profess belief will not live the Gospel.  And Mary, his Mother, the figure for the Church, will suffer.  Out of suffering comes truth and hope’s realization – if the suffering is accepted.

What do you think?  What should be our response?

A sad fact is that many have left the church for any number of reasons.  Some have felt rejected because of who or what they are.  Some have been scandalized by the actions and proclamations of some of the faithful and the leaders.  Some know that they had been denied access to the Table.  And they can’t find Jesus in all of that.

Pope Francis is calling for an Epiphany today.  Not only his words, but also his actions speak loudly, confronting, as Jesus did, the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees, the leaders in the church today.  Following in the footsteps of the one whose name he adopted, the pope us urging a poorer church that serves the needs of the poor.  He is urging the leaders to move among the people and to get to know them and how they smell.  He wants them to get their shoes muddy and to put off the splendid trappings of pomp and circumstance.  Make no mistake about it.  Millions are thrilling to Francis’s message; but there are not a few who decry him and are scandalized by him.  They don’t see the point of embracing the weak and lowly ones, the deformed, and kissing them.  Why would you want to have breakfast with a group of homeless people?

Some still long for the revelation of the mighty Messiah with sword in hand who will establish an elitist empire.  They are not that excited about One who urges poverty and the carrying of a cross.

So we move from the Table of the Word to the Table of the Eucharist.  We must be transformed by the proclamation of the Word so that we, along with the bread and the wine, can be transformed by the celebration of the Eucharist.  It is then that we will be able to recognize Christ present in the elements and he is in the Word.  It is then that we will recognize Christ present in the Assembly.  And it is then that we will be sent to be that presence in the market place, a poor church serving the needs of the poor, giving them hope, and reminding them that they are the beloved of God.

Imagine the Epiphany that happens then!

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – January 26, 2014

 

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 8:23-9:3

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 4:12-23

 

When we hear the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah this Sunday, we could easily conclude that Isaiah is proclaiming to the people as they are being restored to Jerusalem after the exile, the suffering and oppression over.  That was not the case.  The people who first heard the prophecy were still enslaved, still suffering.  But the prophet served to rekindle hope.

Given the difficulties people face, despair becomes understandable.  The wonder is that the darkest nights can produce the greatest transformation.  It is as though we have to trust the Lord and imitate him.  We just might have to leap into the void in order to find the God who lifts us up.  There are paths that none of us would chose to walk.  Circumstances compel us.  As we trod along, we may be tempted to cry out to God, “Why?’  Silence may be the only response.  Yet we trudge on, sinking deeper and deeper into the mire until we hit bottom.  Then something nearly miraculous happens if we embrace and accept the void.  Peace enters and we come to know a new presence of God and a new conviction that God loves us.

Ask the martyrs.  They will tell you.  Ask anyone who has suffered persecution or who has been unjustly condemned.  They will tell you that by the grace of God they were able to shrug off the oppression and emerge to walk in a new light that they could never have imagined or concocted on their own.  Ask anyone who has made that journey and they will tell you it is about grace.

Isaiah tells us that the worst of times, in God’s plan, can give rise to the best of times.  Places once destroyed can be rebuilt and reborn.  An enslaved people can break the chains of oppression and smash the yokes and know intense joy beyond their wildest imaginings.

Isaiah’s prophesy of the great light coming out of the darkness is fulfilled in Jesus whose ministry begins in Matthew’s Gospel today and it is a ministry to the Gentiles – as well as to the Jews.  In other words, through Jesus the world will come to know that God’s love is for all people, Jews and Gentiles; all are called to walk in the freedom of the children of God.

In the second reading, we witness Paul’s anxiety over his beloved converts in the Corinth.  Having been out of their presence for a time, he has heard that the community is divided.  Certain gifts of the Spirit are exalted.  Others are looked down upon and considered inferior.  Instead of one community in Jesus, there are factions of those taking pride in and depending upon from whom they heard the Gospel proclaimed.  “I belong to Paul”  “I belong to Apollos.”  “I belong to Cephas (Peter).“  By design, Paul finishes the litany with, “I belong to Christ.”  Is Christ divided, he asks?

Hearing this proclamation we can wonder how such divisions could possibly have happened.  Certainly not in our time would such things happen.  Alas, don’t be took quick to conclude that.  Recently Pope Francis upset some in the church when he declared that there are many paths that lead to God.  He proclaimed that Jews and Moslems could go to God if they strive to live good lives.  So, too, could atheists.  God even loves gays who try to live good lives and search for God.

We must continue to struggle and so learn the meaning of the cross of Christ.  That is why many pray for a return of the former translation in the Institutional Narrative in the Eucharistic Prayer.  Rather than “for many,” they long to hear again that Christ’s blood is shed for all.  God’s love in Christ is unconditional and universal.  That’s what the Eucharist is meant to proclaim.  Or so many among us believe.

The Gospel opens at a crisis moment.  Jesus reacts to the news that John the Baptist has been arrested.  John baptized Jesus remember and became the occasion for the Spirit’s descent and the proclamation from on high that Jesus is the beloved one.  Matthew is placing Jesus’ relocation in the midst of Isaiah’s prophecy as Jesus goes to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:  Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali… the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light… in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.

The wonder of Jesus as Messiah proclaimed in the preceding weeks of Epiphany emerges as he extols that there is need for repentance for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  People, even Gentiles, must turn around, empty themselves, and be open to God’s love; they must begin to live as signs of that love coming into the world.  And of course we know that Jesus is setting out on a path that will lead to his tortuous death.  We also know that it won’t end there, but will culminate in resurrection and new life.

Notice what is the first thing that Jesus does as he enters into ministry.  He calls others to share the burden.  Also notice the type he calls.  By today’s standards it would be expected that an elite and specially gifted group would be called and so be able to impress others with the possibilities for success that will come if they too follow.  But Jesus reaches out to ordinary folk, fishermen laboring by the Sea of Galilee.  Their response is a model for us if we wish to be successful as they eventually were.  Each one left everything familiar behind as they began to follow Jesus.  Those most ably proclaim the Gospel least mindful of themselves, by those who have become less and less that Jesus might become all in all.

Hear again what Pope Francis has to say.  It seems that Simon, Andrew, James and John are chosen once-and-for all: yes, they were chosen!  At this moment however, they had not been faithful to the last.  After being chosen, they went on to make mistakes.  They proposed un-Christian things to the Lord.  They denied the Lord – Peter most glaringly, and the others out of fear.  They were afraid and they ran away.  They abandoned the Lord.  The Lord prepares – and then, after the Resurrection – the Lord needed to continue this journey of preparation up until the day of Pentecost.  Even after Pentecost, some – Peter, for example – made mistakes, and Paul had to correct him – but the Lord prepares.

That was true in the beginning and remains true to this day.  The Lord continues to call us to take part in his ministry of proclamation and the living of the Gospel that others might come to know and believe.  We might make mistakes along the way; we are sinners, after all.  But in our weakness the Lord lifts up and strengthens and urges us to continue the work.  The fact is, the weaker we are, the more apparent it is that Jesus is the source, the way, the truth and the life.  As the bumper sticker used to state so well, Christians aren’t better, they’re just forgiven.  And in forgiveness there is life and light.

So we come to Eucharist where all, in Christ’s mind, are welcome.  We come broken.  We come in fear.  We come in sorrow and even in near despair.  And as church we pray over the elements broken and poured out before us, the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.  We take and we eat.  We take and we drink and the Spirit transforms us into what we have ingested.  But the moment is not for us to linger in, lulled into satisfaction.  The moment is for us to realize that from this gathering we are sent forth to be what we have celebrated, the dying and rising of Jesus, calling all the world to realize the Love of God that is universal and eternal.

It is not easy not to fear the darkness.  But when you feel yourself being overwhelmed, know that the Light is stronger and that you were called to live, not in darkness but in the light.  Forever.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – January 19, 2014

 

From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 49:3, 5-6

From the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 1:1-3

From the holy Gospel according to John 1:29-34

With the celebration of the Second Sunday we enter Ordinary Time.  The Christmas Season concluded last Sunday when we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

We should be warned that there is a risk involved if we make this journey through Ordinary Time and sit beneath the complete cycle of readings for the year.  The risk is that we might not be the same at the conclusion as we were at the beginning.  That might be stating the obvious because the fact of the matter is conversion is a possibility each time we gather to hear the proclamation of the Liturgy of the Word and move on to celebrate Eucharist.  It always amazes me how casually and nonchalantly people come together for Liturgy.  What if the action works this time?  What if the Spirit rushes through the Assembly this time and accomplishes the same transformation of the assembly that happens with the bread and the wine?  Strange isn’t it, that the faithful are very ready to venerate the Body and Blood of Christ present in the Eucharist?  Are they, we, ready to be the Body of Christ?  Then shouldn’t we have the same reverence for the Christ present in the Assembly?

If the Liturgy works, then Christ is present in those who have gathered, in those who have heard the Word and have eaten and drunk, and are to be sent.  Perhaps the realization takes time.  But how much time?  If it works, it will take about the same length of time that it takes to transform the Bread and the Wine.  No wonder one spiritual writer opined that the assembly should wear seat belts during the Liturgy.

The human experience is one of gradually unfolding and growing awareness.  The potential plant is contained in the seed.  Watch as that seed sprouts and the plant grows and the blossom bursts forth.  You know that your understanding and appreciation has grown through each stage of the plant’s development.  That is what happens as we journey in faith and yield to the Spirit.  Our understanding of who and what we are called to be and to do grows with each step we take, with each celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, with each celebration of Eucharist.  Better put, it will happen if we respond.

Hear the First Reading.  It will be one experience if you hear the Lord speaking solely to Isaiah.  Of course the prophet is sharing with us the wonder of his faith awakening.  What a glorious moment that was.  Now hear those words addressed to you.  If you hear them in that light you will come to be aware that from the first moments of your existence God loves you.  Secure in that knowledge, is there any adversity that could defeat you?  If the world turns against you, if your health fails, God’s love remains.  Jesus rejoiced in that in the final moments of his crucifixion.  So will you when the day comes that you prepare to breathe forth your spirit.

God’s love for Isaiah involved a vocation, a call to do something for others, secure in that love.  Isaiah, by his life, was to bring the news of God’s love to bolster Israel’s sagging faith, and beyond that, to bring good news to the nations.  That is Jesus’ vocation.  Jesus reaches out to the poor and the outcasts, the sinners, and the lepers, and ministers to them in their poverty, telling them that they are God’s beloveds.  Jesus lifts them up.  That is the vocation of the Baptized, of those who have put on Christ and identified with him, live as the beloved of God.  Now do you see what Pope Francis is urging us to recognize as he calls us to be a poorer church serving the needs of the poor?  I have sent you to bring glad tidings to the lowly.

The Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) process is meant to provide the atmosphere and means for those awakening to faith to understand the call to Baptism.  The catechumens are invited to make their journey in the midst of a believing Assembly and through the Assembly’s witness and ministry to come to understand what believers do and how they worship.  It is a process that entails journeying with Jesus through the full cycle of readings in a Liturgical Year.  Sometimes it takes even longer; but that is how they come to understand who it is that is calling, what it means to follow, and find the courage and the faith to believe that God knew them from the womb, and through them God will show God’s glory.

They will understand something as they stand at the Font’s edge and take their first step into the waters.  As they emerge on the other side, reborn in Christ, the will continue to grow, to be transformed until, in the fullness of time, Christ comes to full stature in them.

Understanding our relationship to Christ is a growing process.  No one knows and understands it all at once.  Even Paul, after his blazing encounter on the road to Damascus, had to be led by the hand back into the city where he would learn how much he would have to suffer for the name.  In the packed greeting to the Corinthians that is today’s Second Reading, Paul wants his converts to understand what has happened to them through his preaching.  They (and we) have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

If you know the history of the Corinthians, you know that they had a reputation for licentiousness.  They struggled with the temptations of the flesh and sometimes succumbed.  Theirs was a divided community and they were prone to pride, even from spiritual gifts.  Those with the gift of tongues thought they were superior to those without the gift.  It is not a stretch to recognize those same faults, scandals, as present in the church today.  Paul wants them (and us) to remember that they and we were bonded in Christ, our gifts are from the Spirit, and we should do all in the name of the Lord Jesus for the glory of God.  See how our conversion is on going?

In the Gospel we hear John the Baptist’s proclamation about Jesus, whom he baptized and over whom he witnessed the Spirit’s descent, there to abide.  John’s vocation, his calling by God, was to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming.  The more successful he was, the more he had to keep that vocation in mind.  In that moment that Jesus submitted to John’s Baptism, John’s transforming enlightenment came.  He knew that his real vocation was to testify that Jesus is the Son of God.  Do you see the connection for us?  His insight will grow in us, if, under the Word, we yield to the same Spirit who will dwell in us.

So the journey of this year of faith begins.  If the Lord were to ask you at the outset, what are you yearning for as you begin this journey again, how would you respond?  There may be many things you think you seek.  Ultimately, though, it is Christ you seek and your ongoing transformation in Christ.  So on this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Lord invites us to be disciples, to walk with him, observe him, be transformed by him and then to go and do what he does.

Listen as you stand at the Table of the Word.  Observe as you fully, actively and consciously participate at the Table of the Eucharist.  Be transformed as you take and eat.  And if it works, you will be transformed and newly convinced that your are the beloved of God, sent to be the continuation of Christ’s presence in the world until all have eaten and have been fed and have come to know.

Sincerely,

Didymus