Redwood Journal is a collection of writings authored by Harry Martin, including book and article publications and blog postings collected from earlier websites. It is, in a very real sense, a journal of the author reflecting his life and work, much among the Coast Redwood country of Northern California. But it is, even more, a journal of his tasks as a servant of the Cross, a douloscross. It is a journal of one who follows He who died upon the Cross, made red by His blood and arose from the tomb through His holy love.
Over the years these tasks have included firefighting, restaurant and camp cook, disaster medical planner, Protestant pastor, Permanent Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, fire services chaplain, mental health advocate, Beeswax candle maker, writer and husband and father. All of these tasks, privileged assignments, for this simple servant of Christ have been sought to be done gloria Dei, for the glory of God.
2nd Sunday of Lent – 28 February 2021- Bible Readings for Mass: I: Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Responsorial: Psalm 116; II: Romans 8: 31b-34; Gospel: Mark 9:2-10
The Second Sunday of Lent brings us the account of Jesus with Peter, James and John of the Mount of Transfiguration. It is an experience of infinite graces and lessons that the Holy Spirit would bring us to know in our hearts and lives. The Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac both prepare and challenge our hearts for this journey up the mountain. It powerfully illustrates the need of courage, faith and love as we follow God. And it most poignantly shows how God will provide in those moments of testing and trust. This holy Truth is affirmed by St. Paul in our second reading from the letter to the Romans, that, with God we will be provided all we have need of in this holy quest. These experiences, shared in God’s living Word would bring us to grow, this season of Lent to grow in the essence of God.
As I studied for this reflection I was drawn to this word…”essence”. Popular culture aside I would ask we consider the true meaning of this word. Essence: Real, reality, lasting, essential, utmost importance, essence as in fragrance…”. As we journey up the Mount of Transfiguration, or stand challenged with Abraham and Isaac on their mountain we can discover, for ourselves, the ways to grow in the essence of God.
To grow in the reality of God is to grow in the Glory of God. Just as God is, so is our Lord’s glory. It is infinite, eternal, beyond human ability to quantify or contain try as we might. The essence and glory of the Holy Trinity is illustrated in the image above. There is a a beautiful ruins of an old abbey. It contained and celebrated for hundreds of years the faith, the liturgies the sacrifice of the faithful as they grew in Christ. Yet the omnipotence of God allowed this holy place to change. Some would see such ruins as a place of haunted faith and past glories. Some might even see the modern church as facing the same destiny. I see the ruins as an holy seed bed of grace and the timeless glory, the essence of God. They are inspiring mile stones of faith of those who have gone before us to grow and build for God our own dwellings of His mercy and hope. But as is illustrated finite stones and places, practices and understandings change, however holy they may be. These often difficult graces of change and growth show us the ever present need to practice the Lenten gifts of the essence of God.
White roses, albeit very simple, bring us a beautiful glimpse into the beauty, the purity of holiness. Their essence is often overlooked for the more colorful, flamboyant and fragrant flowers in. the garden. So it is in our worship and liturgy our faith. We are often drawn to the intricate and colorful holy beauty of our liturgy, our worship, shrouded in sacred music, clothed in vestments of ornate fabrics rich in traditional beauty. The safe, familiar paths of our favored prayers indeed can bring us to those holy places to encounter our Lord. So it was with the three apostles that day Jesus led them up the mountain. All was beautiful, safe, familiar. Until Jesus chose to reveal His essence and glory. As they beheld Elijah and Moses they understood, in a new way the place, the power of the Law and Prophets. But they feared…they knew in their hearts this was much greater than they had ever understood. Then when the Old Testaments left they were alone with Jesus. They were alone in this extraordinary garden with their White Rose. They were alone in the Presence, the glory, the essence of God. It was then they were able to hear their Heavenly Father: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him”. It is when we allow ourselves to come close to the white rose we discover the essence, the beauty often overlooked. Other flowers may have a fragrance more powerful, seemingly more beautiful. It is a the way of white roses to have little or very subtle scent. To experience the hidden sweetness of their fragrance we need to draw very close, maybe even be pierced by the thorns. So it is with Jesus. We must allow the angels to cleanse, simplify our path. The weeds, clutter of the world often may crowd and hide our Lord beckoning to us. The sweet smell of other flowers may cover the scent of Holy One.
Many years ago I served on a board of two old rural cemeteries. One of the tasks was the spring time mowing and cleanup. It was especially in the spring that the old roses planted generations ago on the grave of a loved one would be in bloom. It was in the clearing, cleansing of the weeds and clutter those old treasure would be encountered. Our Lenten path is a journey of renewal and cleansing to discover and draw close to the hidden glories of God.
The Transfiguration Glory of God revealed on that mountain was an experience of intense and powerful revelation for the apostles. It brought them to encounter Jesus as they never had before, His Reality, the Infinite Awesome Power and Glory that is God. They grew in the Essence of the Christ. Their faith, their relationship with Jesus was changed by God’s glory. It was, as St. Paul would later write a time where they learned: “from glory to glory He changes us”. This transforming glory is found, perhaps in a place of sacrifice as with Abraham and Issac. This transforming essence is found, perhaps on a mountain top experience with God. Or, as with our Blessed Mother, it is found when the angel calls us to simply say our yes to the will of God in our life. It is when Jesus would bring us to cross a threshold of faith to encounter the eternal holy power and beauty of His love, the essence, the fragrance of His holy grace. It is where we learn as God our Father said: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.
This week of Lent let’s seek God, draw close to the hidden holy beauty that is Jesus and allow His glory to transform our faith. May the Mount of Transfiguration, the Mount of Sacrifice, found as we daily walk the path of our cross bring us closer to God and the faithful who served and followed Him before us.
Added food for thought & prayer: How did Peter, James and John know it was Elijah and Moses talking with Jesus?
1st Sunday of Lent; 21 February 2021; Bible Readings for Mass: I: Genesis 9: 8 -15; Responsorial: Psalm 25; II: I Peter 3: 18 -22; Gospel: Mark 1:12 -15
The Gospels share frequently how Jesus would withdraw from the multitudes, and even His followers, to go off alone, into the wild lands to pray and wait upon His Father. It is clear that our Lord had numerous gardens of prayer to find strength, guidance renewal and especially the holy. As our Gospel today shares this was evident very early on when Jesus was led, by the Holy Spirit, into the wilderness where He encountered forty days and nights of intense temptation and testing from Satan. As we begin this holy season of Lent it is important to recognize the Holy Spirit will lead us into our own wilderness times and places. Yes to be tempted (tested) but only when the wisdom of God knows we are ready to grow, to face the tests of life that we may grow in our realization, our discoveries of the holy. If we are truly to follow Jesus, as His disciples, we must understand we are not exempt from this sacred responsibility and privilege. It is in these wilderness places we will learn how to listen, the need for simplicity of faith, the awakening that follows what may be a dark night of the soul and that these holy places are places of the promises of God.
LISTENING in the WILDERNESS: One of the clear practices of Jesus in His prayer gardens, in His wilderness experiences, was that they were always times and places of listening for His Father. They were always times and places to hear and grow in the Word of God. It is very significant to note that dialogue occurring between Satan and Jesus during those forty days. Satan would come to Christ with a portion of Scripture and would challenge…“did God say???” Jesus would respond, with a fullness of Scripture: “IT IS WRITTEN…”. As it was with Jesus so it is with us. Satan will come and challenge our knowledge, our faith of God and of God’s Word. While we are ignorant of much of Scripture these challenges must not deter us from listening for the voice of God. If anything our tests, our temptations should be clear invitations from the Holy Spirit to study, draw close, LISTEN for God’s Word that brings peace, hope, mercy and freedom….that bring us Christ.
HOLY SIMPLICITY: It is as we listen for and heed the voice of Christ we discover that we are called to grow in holy simplicity. If we were to have the opportunity to take a winter wilderness trip into the Mojave desert we would have chances to see and discover great beauty and life. But if we were to make this trek on foot we would be careful to take only what was needed. When all we will need can only be carried on our back we quickly discover the need for and gift of…simplicity. All the other stuff of life may be nice but it quickly comes to be a burden to carry and maintain. Burdens that hinder us from experiencing the beauty, the joy of the holy. The Gospel teaches us that Christ has only one thing to be upon our backs…our cross shared with Him.
I remember one day while working in Armstrong State Reserve I was at the park entrance. A large, very luxurious motor home (yes they did have them then) had come and driven through the park. Upon stopping at the kiosk, before leaving, the driver asked: “Isn’t there anything to see or do in this place?” I knew they had just driven through without getting out. But I was still rather amazed they could not sense the immensity of beauty and life they had just driven past. Our faith in God, our relationship with Jesus is often challenged in the same way. We “follow” Jesus from the comfort of our spiritual vehicles maybe in air conditioned comfort and listening only to the sounds we enjoys. We allow so much stuff to get in our way between Jesus and our souls. Even this Lent there is a proliferation of APPS and programs to “help” us in our faith. Our minds, our eyes can become so focused on a screen instead of…on God…on each other..on God’s holy creation. Then we complain the faith is so boring.
Jesus, the prophets, the great saints all learned, early on the less we carried in our journey of life the more freedom we have to follow..to go..to be with God. Lent is a blessed time to seek the Holy Spirit to help us to take inventory of what is really important in our life. It is a holy time to clear our the clutter of body, soul and spirit that can come between us and God.
AWAKENING in the WILDERNESS. One of the great hidden joys of Lent is that it is meant to be a time of awakening. As we allow God to cleanse away the dust and detritus of our lives we discover, we awaken to perspectives, truths, hopes we never knew are outside our door. We awaken to the awesome beauty of holiness that is God. As the Presence, power and mercy of God dawns anew we see life in a whole new light. What may have seemed a wasteland of despair in someones life we now see as a place of hope for God and His mercy. What we feel as hopeless wounds in our world we see as holy ground where the Truth, not of politics or agendas, but of Christ can be shared. And we see our own self, not as defined by fear, doubts or ignorance of our own (or others) but our self as created by and for God. We awaken to the freedom of a daughter or son of God redeemed at the place of holiest ground, on an hill with a cross. And as we awaken in the wilderness of the holy we learn that these are times and places of promise.
WILDERNESS PROMISES…The people of Israel knew very well the dry emptiness of the desert wilderness. But they also had the promises of God, shared by the prophets, that even the wilderness will bloom. For all the faithful of God Lent brings us to listen, grow in simplicity, awaken and discover the holy sacred promises of God. Even for our Lord, it was in those forty days facing the enemy of our souls, He realized the power of the promises of His Father. The promises of God shared in Scripture might be researched in an intellectual exercise. They could be organized into an endless variety of categories. But they would only be so much words until the human soul decides to unlock them with the keys of faith offered by the Holy Spirit. And it will be learned that very often the greater the promise and the power it would share will also be found the greater the journey through the wilderness. Jesus grew intensely during His forty days in the awakening of the Truth He is the Messiah. The people of Israel both learned the promises of God AND His power as they trekked the wilderness for forty years. And Noah would never have seen and discovered the power and scope of the rainbow promise if he had not faithfully endured the stormy days in the ark.
As we make our lenten pilgrimage we will journey through the wilderness. and it is there we will discover times and places of holy power and grace. It is there we learn to “Repent and believe the Gospel for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
6th Sunday of Ordinary Time [Sunday before Ash Wednesday], 14 February 2021; Bible Readings for Mass: I: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Responsorial: Psalm 32; II; I Corinthians 10: 31-11:1; Gospel: Mark 1: 40-45
It is the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time. And this year it is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. As we anticipate this time of holy discipline and joy many will be thinking of that which they may “give up for Lent”. Many will be wondering how our Lenten journey will work as we also continue our journey with the Covid 19 pandemic and other challenges of this world.
Might the Holy Spirit be calling us to a time, a pilgrimage of renewal in our following of Jesus? These past months have been truly difficult for most all of us. And our faith is not as comfortable and routine as it was a year ago. And that is ok. The storms, often intense, of life do occur. And the journey brings us to a courageous call of renewal of faith, purpose and love for Christ and His Kingdom.To help us on this pilgrimage of renewal we will be sharing and exploring, over the season of Lent, places of faith and places of the heart that, with our Lord, we may realize the Liberty of Lent.
But as we anticipate this Lenten journey we must prayerfully allow the words of Ash Wednesday to prepare our hearts. “Repent and believe the Gospel” are the words that will accompany the sharing of ashes (in whatever way is deemed safe and best).
That call we will hear with the faithful is of course, a call to turn away from our sins and to believe in, turn to God. But as we reflect upon those words in the light of the Scriptures for this Sunday we may well recognize there is one temptation, or sin especially that would hinder us from an ever fuller conversion and faith in God. For in our pilgrimage with Jesus we will be faced with…fear. And it is our choice whether we will place our faith in those fears or…in God. Fear, in itself is NOT sin. But when we allow our doubts and fears to take the rightful place of Jesus they become evil idols that can cripple and bind. And it is why Jesus in leading His disciples continually brought them to fearful places and events. Christ calls us all to these places to face our fears, to exercise courage and grow on with Him, in His Kingdom.
It is no coincidence, in this time of challenges and fear, that our readings share one of the most fear-filled issues the people of Scripture would encounter. The first reading and the Gospel each frame the broader message of the reality of leprosy and the terrifying impact it had in the world and in human life. Leprosy (Hansens Disease) does still exist. It is most common in India and Brazil. But medicine and modern living standards have progressed in mitigating the horrendous impact it once wrought in the world. Yet the stigma still exists among many and the distance most now have from the sorrows of this disease is helpful in distancing the once intense dread it brought. But if most were to encounter a leper on the street the temptation to recoil could be strong. It is a fearful affliction.
But then, as now, Jesus calls us, with Him, to confront our leprous fears. For it is fear that hinders us in drawing ever closer to Him who knows our every wound and experience His healing touch. This season of Lent we are about to begin can take us on a pilgrimage unlike any other. Unique life restrictions may hinder. Yet the power of God is unhindered in bringing us to a greater freedom promised in Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
So as we prepare for Ash Wednesday let us seek the mercy and grace of Christ to show us those fears that would quench our Yes to God. Whether one has experienced many Lents or is early on in their journey with God we all share this holy challenge and privilege. We can recognize that Lent is a time to renew our walk with God, our eternal quest in holiness.
Jesus used the encounter with the leper for a miracle of healing and hope. But He also used it to teach His followers to say no to fear and yes to His love that liberates the joys of holiness, peace and mercy. Although our world has seen a merciful reduction of leprosy there are still many issues that present souls that some see as modern day lepers. People on the fringes, that may live in ways some see as disfigured or hideous. We may find fear or disgust to be very safe reactions that keep us from seeing…the soul made in the beautiful image of God. This season of Lent affords us an opportunity to journey to places of unsurpassed vistas of need and hope, sorrow and hope when we walk and share Christ…. the healing hope of us all. This season of Lent affords us opportunities to grow in the freedom of Lent as we repent and believe the Gospel.
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 7 February 2021; Bible Readings for Mass: I: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Responsorial: Psalm 147; II: I Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
“The Church should be like a field hospital” stated Pope Francis sometime ago. God has always called the People of God, the Body of Christ, to recognize it is about so much more than sacred buildings or spiritual practices. The Body of Christ has always been called to be and continue His healing Presence in a world with lives soul-sick, world-wounded and struggling for hope, for mercy, to be sharing …with lives struggling for God. The Scripture readings for this Sunday affirm that this reality of suffering is present not just among those apparently bound in sin but in souls of faith and holy service. The Church is clearly called to be a place and people of sacred, holy beauty and liturgy expressed in worship rooted in tradition and alive in the life of the Holy Spirit. But it also is a people and place where the wounded, suffering and dying can find care and mercy. This calling to be a people and place of healing with God can be dirty, messy and exhausting. For it is then we are sharing Christ’s hands, words, mercy and hope.
Our Bible readings this winter Sunday illustrate the full scope of affliction found in humanity. In the Book and life of Job we share the story of a good and faithful man who nevertheless encountered heartbreaking loss and sickness. The despondency and pain we hear in the few short verses of our first reading eloquently share the heart-rending pain of souls throughout humanity. They share the soul-sickness that people, good and bad, faithful and doubt-filled have encountered in the journeys of life. This may lead us to question how much affliction we bring into our own lives by choices and behaviors conflicted with God. Scripture and life, in loving truth, show us that a life contrary to God’s design can face greater sorrow and struggle. But they both also show great sorrows can assault holy lives (such as Job) as well. And Scripture is vibrantly clear that His healing mercies would avail for all. “Praise the Lord, who heals the broken-hearted” proclaims our refrain from the Psalm of the day. “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. He tell the numbers of the stars; He calls each by name.” The healing graces of God would be for all brought into His mercy and Presence. The infinite designs and dimensions of this grace far exceed our understanding or paradigms as is shown by the analogy of the stars each known by name, only to God.
This holy work of Life we are called to share in Christ is illustrated in the Gospel as Jesus heals the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. Scripture indicates she was very seriously ill yet as Jesus takes her hand she is raised up and immediately goes on to serve our Lord and those with Him. This teaches us two crucial aspects of our care for the wounded and ill. The work of our hands and the words we speak…do they share the healing touch and words of Jesus? Do our words, spoken to others and to God; do our actions lived among others and before our Lord place lives into His healing Presence?
This is fairly easy of which to write or speak. But it is rarely so clean and easy to do. We must remember this healing work is essentially in a field hospital, places not known for beauty and appeal. It is usually among souls not at their best, souls, like each of us, truth be told, that come for healing with all kinds of baggage.
Having been blessed to work pre-hospital care many years in the field as a firefighter I cannot think of the sick or injured who were usually pleasant to encounter. Wounds, sickness simply and tragically disfigure even the most beautiful (or ugly) of souls. But it was never our task to judge. While we would respond to a traffic accident caused by a substance impaired driver or a crime scene involving cruel mayhem full care would be given and the people involved would be handed up to the next level of care.
So it is (or should be) in the Church. The afflicted in our world are NOT in need of our judgement. They are in need of the mercy and care we would want IF we truly follow the words of Christ to “to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” There are clear and deadly sins and practices in our world at this time. Abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, illicit and promiscuous sexual cultures, crippling greed and materialism, abuse of the planet, our common home are just a few these sins. It is easy to simply condemn these deadly practices and those who do them. But instead of simple condemnation (a faculty for God alone) what if we see those bound or wounded by these sorrows as souls that Christ loves and longs to heal? What if we became the Body of Jesus who would be willing to HEAR..to see WHY such sin occurs so that the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit could then extricate that person into the healing hands of Christ? In the care of the sick and wounded, in the care we need of our own wounds and ills, the Holy Spirit will work to free us of the baggage, the burdens we may carry in heart and soul that can cripple in soul and body. Such is the healing work proclaimed in the readings for today. Such would be the work of the Body of Christ to be a people, a place of healing in Christ. None of us is exempt from this holy call and privilege. Whatever our place and station in life our words, our hands are sought by Christ to be His Words and Hands for healing.
4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 31 January 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Responsorial: Psalm 95; II: I Corinthians 7:32-35; Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
The story is told of naturalist John Muir and his awe and wonder of the power and grandeur of creation and how this led him, one day, to experience that power in an extraordinary way. He was hiking in the Sierras and a summer storm rolled over the ridge. He could see that the coming rain, wind and lightening was intense. So in his excitement and wonder he climbed to the top of a tall pine as the storm approached. Muir was soon hanging on as the tree blew and snapped with with the wind and elements. After the storm passed he climbed down totally drenched with rain and awe at the grandeur of the storm he had experienced. Now obviously this is not a practice to be recommended for many reasons of health and safety. But the spirit of the adventure does give a lesson of importance today and does offer recommendation for souls seeking to hear and follow the call of Christ.
I recently read a series of articles offering suggestions for SURVIVAL, as Catholics, in the course of this year. The premise shared was with our faith so beset by storms and battles we need to hunker down, grasp our rosaries tight and endure in the tenets of our faith. I found the messages very thought provoking, especially in light of the Scriptures for this early week of the new year. I found myself seeking our Lord,asking are we called to Survival or Serenity?
Let’s be honest. As 2021 follows the perils and struggles of the past year we are beset by many storms and challenges. It would be profoundly foolish and dangerous to take the attitude that as Christians all is well, that no harm, sorrow, peril of body, soul or spirit can afflict us. The image above of a church in the mideast devastated by the attacks of hate testifies that these battles are very real and dangerous. Likewise many people of deep and holy faith have succumbed to the Covid virus, despite medical care and prayers of the faithful. These struggles also afflict our faith. Again, and especially we need to seek our Lord as to whether we are called to mere survival or serenity. Is our faith in the storms and forces of darkness? Or is our faith in He calls us to follow Him.
Our Bible readings and especially the Gospel for today present the dynamic realities of our call and our focus. In the Gospel we read that as the new disciples have begun to follow Jesus He leads them to the synagogue where He proclaims the Word. Well…..This is good! We are following Jesus and He blesses us as we gather for worship. This is as it should be!
The preaching of Jesus is powerful. The blessings are palpable. But then the unthinkable occurs! A worshipper in their midst is possessed by an evil spirit that cries out against Jesus. This sort of conflict can’t occur in our community of worship! But Jesus intervenes, silences the evil spirit and commands it to come out of the afflicted soul. The unclean spirit is quenched and the people in the synagogue are amazed! They were filled with wonder! Where there had been bondage, fear and oppression there is healing, peace and deliverance at the Living Word who is Jesus.
It is no coincidence that the Gospel of Mark makes clear mention that one of the first lessons recorded of the walk of the early disciples of Jesus brought them to face the very real and intense conflicts they would share if they were to heed Jesus and follow His call. They were to experience the refrain, many times over, of our Psalm for today: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” We hear this verse often, as well we need. And usually think of the sins of doubt or rebellion that leads to hearts hardened before God. But we also must recognize that our human nature often leads us to hunker down in our faith instead of facing the storms or battles with our faces to the wind. It is really much more comfortable to burrow under the covers of familiar practices and prayers, to avoid seeing souls who challenge our thinking or faith. I confess that in my firefighting days I sometimes resented the dispatches to someone sick or injured in the middle of the night after a long day at work in the station and on calls.
The call of God is not always at our convenience, ease or pleasure. But it is as we say yes and allow Him to lead us to the places, people and His Truth that always grows we then share with the disciples and people in that synagogue so long ago. We grow amazed at His grace, the grandeur of His holiness, the power of His love. We may witness a soul we think of as far outside the realms of grace and then see them aflame in the serenity and joy that comes only from God. We may be allowed to encounter great storms of body, soul or spirit. But it will be in those places we can learn..not just survival but the serenity, the peace that comes within the heart that knows…Jesus is Lord. The winds, the waves, those souls broken by sin..Jesus is Lord. His ways of deliverance, healing..hope are found as we follow in His steps. The eternal power of His peace and mercy lead us not to mere survival but to see Jesus and each other in ways that will amaze and bless.
3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time– 24 January 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Responsorial: Psalm 25; II: I Corinthians 7:29-31; Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
In the last book of the Bible there is a message from Christ of poignant simplicity in this book of profound mystery. Jesus promises: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” [Revelation 3:20-21]. Let us truly listen to and take to heart what Jesus is saying to us. Let us open our hearts to the Word of God. to actively listen to Jesus.
Pope Francis in an Apostolic Letter, sent out last September declared that the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2021, be celebrated as Sunday of the Word of God.
In his letter he refers to this reading from Revelation to remind us that God is knocking on the doors of our hearts and longs to come in, sit with us, eat with us, dialogue with each of us, in a vibrant holy relationship. Our Pope makes very clear this is not to be a one day focus upon Scripture but an opportunity to realize God is calling us, daily, to open our hearts, to listen, dialogue and grow in our relationship with the Bible and hence with God. He reminds us of the words of St. Jerome that “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” The Word of God is a treasure of eternal and infinite worth and power.
Sadly, however this treasure of God’s Word is so often ignored, overlooked, rejected or ignored. While God would knock often at our hearts there is often a reluctance to respond. The reasons are many. Fear. Doubt. Other priorities we would consider more important (or enjoyable) to which to respond. It is often a very simple problem we experience in our lives every day. We are not good listeners. Opening up our lives to Scripture is more than reading and intellectually processing the words. God would call us to an on-growing dialogue or prayer as we open our lives to the Living Word. But this dialogue, this prayer involves honest listening and responding. In our world, in the church, in our own lives we can see many sad examples of how we miss so much by not listening. Whether we are with someone we love and respect or someone we dislike or reject we so often “listen”, not to understand and allowing sharing…but to direct and move the relationship, the understandings to where we think it should be. And this can apply to our listening to the Word of God.
We have a hard time LISTENING to Jesus. So often what should be prayerful dialogue with our Savior and Lord is, instead, our mental lectures as to what we think, what we need and or want. We do the same with others as well. How often during the Liturgy of the Word or homily, or when we read a Scripture we think..”Hmm!! so-and-so should hear this! This would set them straight!” But that is not the intent of God. We are not called to be pedantic lecturers of Scripture but servants of the Living Word that bring mercy, healing and common union in Christ. We are called to be active listeners to His Word.
Pope Francis addresses this in his call for us to be and become a people of God’s Word. This theme is not new, for Francis, the Church or for the Scriptures. Referring to earlier writings he reminds us of this need to be “given over entirely to the Word of God, so as to appreciate the inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue [emphasis mine] between the Lord and his people.” [Misercordia et Misera]. We, as God’s servants are called to be Listeners who are willing to dialogue, listen, talk, respectively discuss, to see differences AND common values and to allow the unity of God’s Spirit to make us whole.
We are called by He who knocks at the door to HEAR HIS VOICE. In our Bible readings for Mass we see this dynamic vividly illustrated. In our first reading we see the Prophet Jonah (a man who struggled to listen) proclaiming the universal call to repent and turn to God to the pagan, sinful city of Nineveh floundering in excess and sin. But they listened! They allowed the Holy Spirit to speak to their sin-bound souls. They then prayed, dialogued with God as He led them in the paths of conversion. And we see this same power at work in our Gospel.
Jesus saw Andrew and the others by the Sea of Galilee. Jesus CALLED Andrew, Peter, James and John from THEIR WORKS to follow Him. They LISTENED to the Living Word of God, they followed and the rest of their lives were an ongoing dialogue of listening, learning, discussing (and yes failing at times, but growing in the freedom to be the men God was calling them to be. They faced fears, doubts, ignorance of their own and of others. But they continued to listen to the Words of Jesus. Their lives proclaimed the refrain from the Psalm of today: “Teach me your ways, O Lord”. As they listened, as they heeded God’s Word they experienced what Pope Francis shared further along in his letter. “Scriptures point out, for those who listen, the path to authentic and firm unity.” A “unity born of listening”. This unity is no wishy-washy event. This “unity born of listening” is the very path we are called to follow, together, at every Mass. We are called, together, to actively listen to the Living Word of God. We are then called, together, to share in the holy and real sacrifice of His Body and Blood, in His holy-common-union rooted in the Word of God and empowered by the Spirit of God. We will NOT all be in the same place with our understanding, our walk, our dialogue with God. But we will be growing, not in the same place but the one Person…Jesus. He will take care of all the rest.
On this Sunday of the Word of God many are the challenges we face, as Christians, as Church. Schism and strife are real threats. We must remember from where those divisive powers would come. In the church, in our lives can we not, together, hear, Christ knocking at the doors of our lives? Can we not, Listen to His Voice, welcome Him in our midstand allow the sharing at His holy table make us whole? Or will be be too busy pointing fingers, showing how right we are instead of answering the door?
2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – 17 January 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: I Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Responsorial: Psalm 40; II: I Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Gospel: John 1:35-42
The new year, 2021 is underway. It has begun as 2020 went, with intense tumult and trial. Especially as we navigate the uncertainty and challenges of the next few weeks we may well be tempted to focus upon the problems, strife and discord. Which reminds me, what we focus upon, what we aim for…we will find.
Life is never promised to be easy or without trials. We can easily recall the ongoing trials and problems of the past year. With perhaps more effort we can also remember the blessings, the realization that Jesus never abandoned us. For even as we may journey in ways we would not choose or plan we are called to learn the power of the promise of Jesus..”I am with you ALWAYS!” And the readings for this 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time speak of the holy adventure, the sacred quest God has called men, women and children upon for millenia.
In the Old Testament reading we see the story of God calling the boy Samuel to serve, to follow God. As we begin this new and holy year we would do well to share from our heart the words of Samuel: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. What if we set our priority to listen for the Holy Spirit, in His Word, in Creation, in His people to be of more importance than the endless chatter of the world?
This sacred listening would cause us to realize, perhaps in ways never seen before, that indeed and truth, we are temples of the Holy Spirit (from our second reading). As we would grow in seeing more clearly, realizing more faithfully that the Spirit of Jesus does live within us, and in each other that our livesand relationships would be transformed. As Catholics our sacred, joyful reverence for Christ in the Tabernacle would start to be expressed in perceiving that God also indwells His people, the Church of God. With this truth, this sacred hope, we would grow to experience what Pope Benedict, XVI said: “One who has hope lives differently”. As we see the conflicts and despair so prevalent among so many we would understand the urgency of our call to follow Christ in faith and courage. And to be lives where Jesus could be realized.
Our Gospel reading shares the account of Andrew and others meeting Jesus and then Andrew leading Peter, his brother, to meet and know the Christ. As fishermen on the Sea of Galilee they were intimately aware of the power and danger in the storms of life. And so it is for us in this new year.
We have experienced great storms of fear, ignorance, doubt and hate, on many fronts. It seems no facet of life is left unscathed. Health and medicine, social and racial wounds of great depth and pain, political rancor and violent strife, climate change with intense storms and fires all bring many opportunities to despair, to doubt, to hate. Even in the Church, the people of God there is strife and discord, in the very temple where God, the Holy Spirit longs to dwell in unity. But in the greatest of trials and discord is the need for and opportunity for…CHRIST. A man who experienced trials and hate of deadly intensity would speak to our hearts for God. St. Maximilian Kolbe said: “Hatred is not a creative force. Love alone creates. Suffering will not prevail over us, it will only melt us down and strengthen us.”
This early week of this new year is an excellent opportunity to resolve to realize Christ, dwelling in us..AND EACH OTHER. Great are the wounds and needs in our world, our nation, our community, our families. Greater still is the exquisite. grace that is Jesus. May our actions, our words, our hearts be and become true temples for God where for and through us the mercy and hope of Christ can bring forgiveness and healing. As we seek to both realize Christ in our lives and to help others realize Christ in theirs we will encounter many blessings, challenges and surprises of grace. St. Francis of Assisi would lead us to realize our work with Christ: “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart and bring home those who have lost their way.” These words bring us back to the refrain from our Psalm of this day: “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.”
I saw a picture of a small monument of this holy privilege, to be a people of healing and hope in Christ, to share Jesus, realized in the storms of life. Think of all those, young and old, who may be crippled in this life but that are children of God called to be free.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – Sunday – 10 January 2021
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Responsorial: Psalm 29; II: Acts 10:34-38; Gospel: Mark 1: 7-11
The holy, joyful and beautiful season of Christmas concludes this Sunday with the second Epiphany Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This gem of the liturgical calendar shows so many facets of the light of grace we are given in Emmanuel, God with us. The grace of the first of the sacraments, the revelation of Jesus’ humble love and obedience, the essential lesson of our need for repentance and cleansing are all revealed. All of these truths (and more) are framed in the singular word we know as “baptism”. And to plunge into this glorious grace it is important to understand the Greek word in Scripture is known as to be immersed. Whether the sacrament is celebrated with literal and full immersion or a sprinkling of the holy water it is the holy grace of being immersed in God to Whom we are being called.
The Baptism of the Lord is also the first full manifestation of the mysterious and majestic reality of the Holy Trinity. It is in this early event in the adult life of Jesus, Son of Mary and of God, that the inscrutable glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is made manifest.
And, once again, the timeless relevance of God’s Word and Truth in our times is also revealed. This past week, on Wednesday, the actual Feast Day of the Epiphany, our country experienced the tragic attempted insurrection in our nation’s capital. The events, as they unfolded, defied comprehension. Like most people I found myself, praying for country, all those involved, for our President elect and for he whose presidency is ending. And I continue to try to pray and to try to comprehend these events. And, as always the Word of God brings light in the darkness.
In seeking to comprehend I seek to listen and dialogue with those invested in these events. A particular message deeply touched and saddened me. It came from an individual in response to a thought I shared of the need for mercy and healing throughout our country, especially between the conservative and liberal elements and the need to realize common values. His reply was terse and clear. He stated there is only thing shared and there will only be one thing… and that is HATE.
I have been praying about all these events and also seeking to prepare a reflection for this Sunday. I was tempted to simply ignore the events of the week and just share a simple reflection. But that would be to deny the relevance of God in our times and lives. And to ignore these events would be a futile attempt to ignore the deadly sorrows that are unfolding.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a call to honestly, prayerfully, humbly seek God to show in what, in whom, we are immersed. We cannot deny that there is an intense and deadly pandemic of hate and strife in our country and the world. And just as we are called to heed the dangers and deadly realities of Covid 19 so we must discern the deadly threats of this other pandemic. We must ask God to show us where we are immersed and to seek, daily, His grace to plunge deep into His healing Presence. This holy immersion, this baptism of light and life is found in the fullness of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We are called to be Immersed in God. The infinite, eternal, holy majesty of God is beyond our understanding. We must humbly rejoice in this great handicap of love. We will never have God, religion, our faith figured out. We are called to know, to relate in real life, to God. Father…Son….Holy Spirit. As a child we are created to trust and love our Heavenly Father. As a prodigal we are called to the forgiveness and mercy of God the Son, the Truth, the Living Word of God. As a redeemed child of God we are called to be filled with the God the Holy Spirit. Immersed in God’s love that forgives and shares the mercy of the Crucified. For all of us who would seek a glimpse of God and to be immersed in the Holy One we would do well to follow the steps of many great saints and of Jesus Himself and look to and listen to God in creation.
To share, daily in the Baptism, the Immersion of our Lord we would also do well to listen not particularly to the chaos in the world but especially to those given by God to help us grow deeper in God. I was moved by words I read in the latest encyclical from Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti [All Brothers]. He wrote: “Some people attempt to flee from reality, taking refuge in their own little world; others react to it with destructive violence. Yet between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue.” [Paragraph 199.]. In this practical daily immersion in God and holy dialogue Pope Francis goes on the discuss in the urgently needed works of kindness. He writes: ” Saint Paul describes kindness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit [Galations 5:22]. He uses the Greek word chresto’tes which describes an attitude that is gentle, pleasant and supportive, not rude or coarse. Individuals who possess this quality help make other people’s lives more bearable, especially by sharing the weight of their problems, needs and fears. This way of treating others can take different forms: an act of kindness, a concern not to offend by word or deed, a readiness to alleviate their burdens. It involves ‘speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement’ and not ‘words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn'” [Paragraph 223].
Let us all prayerfully reflect, discern whether our lives are immersed in the dark spirts revealed in the world this week or in the fullness of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and in relationships not of deadly , destructive hate and division but in the Spirit of dialogue and kindness.
This week, this holy day, let us each seek the Holy Spirit to show us where, in Whom, we are immersed. May the infinite depths of God’s holy Love and Presence drench and fill us in our Creator, Redeemer and in His kindness shown to each of us from the Cross.
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 60:1-6; Responsorial: Psalm 72; II: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
“May the splendor of your majesty, O Lord, we pray, shed its light upon our hearts.” So begins the collect for the Mass of the Epiphany of the Lord. Many are the rich and worthy traditions of the Solemnity of the Epiphany. We sing and reflect upon the three kings following the star and the gifts they brought for the baby Jesus. And in the fullness of this liturgical season we remember the Baptism of Jesus and the wedding at Cana of Galilee. Each and all of these events share with the seeking heart a lesson of the path of those seeking to grow in their realization of God, of Jesus, in their life. But more accurately the splendor of Epiphany is, first and foremost, about the manifestation of God in creation and in our lives. The splendor of hope that is God seeking us in our darkness.
To explore the Epiphany manifestations of God, in Christ Jesus is a pilgrimage of all eternity. For it is to explore and realize, learn and experience, the infinite splendor of God’s majesty. Epiphany is to come to and know…Jesus, God come in the flesh. This journey to Jesus will bring us to grow in the beauty and power of His holiness, God’s resolute justice, the Creator glory, the blood stained splendor of His passion and the infinite glory of His resurrection. It is a journey where we face the darkness of this world and trust in the hope of the Light who is the Christ. Like the Magi we will never know the power and pull of the star unless we accept the place and purpose of the dark nights of our souls. God allows the dark to teach us to rest in Him and trust and rejoice in the dawn.
Again, infinite are the epiphanies of God. But let us follow the Holy Spirit to explore but four manifestations of God so urgently needed as we begin the new year of 2021. Let us grow to better know and experience Christ our Hope, Mercy, Joy and Love.
As this new year dawns strong are the hopes we share. Of course we share our human hopes, health over the pandemic, healing for the nation, the environment and especially hope for a new dawn of the sacredness of all life. But as important as these hopes are we must learn that if they are to be they must take root deeply in the Hope who is God. Human hope, medical, financial, political, even religious is limited and confined by our humanity. Now, more than ever, we must grow in the eternal, infinite hope who is our Lord. It is in the dark wilderness of our sorrows or disappointments we must allow God’s holy angels to lift our hearts and eyes beyond our despairs to the Light of His star. Despair, anger, hates rooted in fear, have no place in the lives of those who seek the King of Bethlehem. Yes those despairs of this world are very real. But greater is the Light who has come than the darkness of this world. Let the Hope who is Jesus awaken our hearts each day of this year.
We sometimes overlook the splendorous manifestation of God’s mercy in the journey of the kings to worship Jesus. The magi were very likely from the Persian realms of present day Iran and Iraq. They were gentiles, pagans. Idol worship was their religious practice. The Incarnation of Jesus came when the Jewish people were oppressed by the Gentile Romans. They had endured centuries of warfare and conquest from the Babylonion/Persian empires. Aside from the very stringent Mosaic restrictions of involvement with those people there were very rigid religious barriers to any encounters beyond the minimal needs of business or travel. It would be profoundly interesting to glimpse the hearts of Mary and Joseph as the magi came into the house where they stayed with the baby Jesus. But they welcomed the kings into their midst. They all were called by the the infant Son of God to an holiest manifestation of God who is mercy. God well knew who He was calling to follow the star to Bethlehem. And like each of us God called them to grow far beyond where they were, to a manifestation beyond their expectations and dreams. Scripture and history say little of what happened with the kings aside from the mercy of God sending the angel to lead them home another way from the perils of Herod. This holy season we are called to continue the journey they began to encounter the new eternal mercies in Christ. To return to our homes, led by His angels to be heralds of God’s forgiveness, of His mercy. Sadly there are many that some may believe are unworthy to come and worship Christ. After all they don’t follow the teachings that are given and cherished. Their practices are not acceptable to the standards of the faith. But they would come, seeking Jesus. Will they encounter a manifestation of His holy mercy and hope that all humanity yearns for? Will they be able to encounter Jesus in us? He who calls them in mercy, born in our hearts?
This sharing of Epiphany with Jesus and each other brings us to grow in hope and the freedom of God’s mercy that will empower us to journey on in holy joy. We all, holy or seeking, strong or crippled are called to Christ. We are called to Him who comes to us where we are and brings us to where we are created to be…with Him. This holy, Epiphany joy is a manifestation of the Savior He longs for us to know. Think of the kings as they finally find Jesus in Bethlehem. The relief, the JOY as they entered into His Presence! Think of the gifts they gave, with joy, even in their surprise at His humble home. One of the greatest secrets of encountering our epiphanies is in the giving God calls us to share. Indeed God calls us to give beyond what we see as our abilities….or inabilities. God calls us beyond our own handicaps to help others. For we are all crippled by this life. Except in the Presence of Emmanuel. God wants us to heed His Epiphany call to share His joy in a world crippled in the darkness of worry, fear and hate. It is ours to share for in His Presence we will know Epiphany joy rooted in His eternal love.
The visit of the wise men is just the beginning of the Epiphany of the Lord Jesus Christ. What continues with His baptism, the wedding at Cana and the many miracles and teachings that followed was climaxed in His Passion and death on the Cross. Jesus came for each of, for all of us, to manifest His Hope, Mercy and Joy. All of which are rooted in the splendor of God’s Love. We are all familiar with the scourges of the Covid 19 pandemic. The intense, pain of so many dying separated from family and loved ones, the struggles of the many caregivers kept from family and home by countless hours of work, the sorrowful restrictions and prohibitions of gathering with extended family, social groups, communities of worship has become a powerful message about a greater sickness in our world. So many suffer from the pain of loneliness, of broken relationships, love unrealized. Many die from the medically affirmed reality of broken hearts. It is to this lonely, hungry world Jesus came to manifest His love. Jesus calls us, as we are, to know the epiphany of His love as we are. Some would say well..not so fast. Yes God loves us. But God expects us to love Him in lives free from sin and evil passions. THEN we may know those manifestations of His love. Yet this does not follow the lesson of the pagan Magi kneeling before Jesus. It does match the mercy Jesus gave to Peter as he washed the feet of him who would soon deny the Christ. It does not follow with the manifestation of Jesus on the Cross to the thief who saw the Son of God on the Crucified and was promised the Paradise of His holy love that very day. Indeed for God SO LOVED the WORLD that he gave His Son to manifest His Hope, Mercy, Joy and Love to and through each and all of us. It is as we encounter Jesus who IS LOVE that we are then changed to become the people He has redeemed and created us to become.
May this be an holy year of an ever on-growing Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the Presence of Jesus, His Hope, Mercy, Joy and Love be with you.