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Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin, Dcn.

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Words of Spirit and Life

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 23 January 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Responsorial: Psalm 19; II: I Corinthians 12: 12-30; Gospel: Luke 1: 1-4, 4:14-21

Did you make any resolutions for the new year? What are your hopes for the year ahead? What are the worries, fears, or disappointments you find weighing upon your soul? These are good, valid questions we can consider as another year begins. But do our answers indicate our personal desires and feelings or do they seek and pursue those answers we would find with God?

Each of the Scriptures we can listen to today proclaim a very distinct, exciting, and encouraging message. But they also share truths that many unbelievers and, sadly many Christians find hard to believe. But in spite of these difficulties, God seeks for us to experience the promise, power, and realities of God’s Words of Spirit and Life.

For many people, if we were to ask, they would consider the invitation to read and study the Bible as rather underwhelming. The attraction of the television, internet activities, or using and exploring the latest techno tool as being far more enticing. And, being honest the study, of Scripture can be hard work, even tedious at times. Yet our responsorial psalm is clear: “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”! So where is the problem?

The frequent difficult response of people to God’s Word is encountered in our first reading from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. The story shared is that while working to restore Jerusalem copies of the Hebrew Scriptures had been found. This occurred while the efforts were struggling and discouragement was growing, similar to the restoring work of God’s Spirit in the Church today. Nehemiah and the High Priest Ezra set aside a day to read and preach, explain the found Scriptures. The entire day was spent while the men, women, and children, old enough to understand, listened. The initial reaction was a sense of failure and realization at their neglect and sins before God. But Nehemiah shared a fuller truth from God’s Spirit. He called the people to celebrate God’s Word with thanksgiving, feasting, and joy. And he stated, “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).

And our Psalm affirms this truth. True holiness and obedience bring the joy of God in our lives. Even when or if our circumstances are not happy. God’s Word is described in Psalm 19 as refreshing, perfect, as rejoicing the heart, and enduring forever.

But why is there so much sourness, judgment, strife, and disharmony among people professing to be believers of God and members of God’s Church? The answer is found in the second reading and the Gospel. When our study of God’s Word, when our worship and liturgies are not allowed to be infused with the Holy Spirit we soon find the dust and detritus of the world shrouding our treasures and joys.

Source: Lucas Mackin, Cater News

It is important to understand and recognize the peril illustrated above. And it is essential to allow the Holy Spirit, with the Light of God’s Word, to bring us to God and what God would bring in our lives. The cleansing mercies and forgiveness of God will cleanse and remove the clutter and mess that may bury the living treasure of God’s Word. This work of the Holy Spirit did just that for the people of Nehemiah’s day. But God doesn’t just leave us cleansed and sitting, empty by the side of the road. God brings His joy, purpose, and power into our lives as we plunge into the Words of Spirit and Life we will find in Scripture and prayer.

The great Sacrament of the Eucharist is shared in the prayerful sharing and exploration of God’s Word united with the Spirit-drenched celebration of the Eucharist. This holy joy must be shared in the fullness of God’s Spirit united in and uniting the faithful in holy communion. Our failure to experience this fullness is a warning of our allowing the clutter and debris of worldly worries and divisions to crowd in our souls and our communities. Great are the joys and holy surprises God will bring for those who seek His kingdom in Word and Spirit. Our seeking and our Yes! to God are thresholds to blessings untold.

Discovering God’s Word of Spirit and Life.

An Epiphany People, The Miracle at Cana of Galilee

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 16 January 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 62: 1-5; Responsorial: Psalm 96; II: I Corinthians 12: 4-11; Gospel: John 2: 1-11

The Miracle at the Wedding at Cana of Galilee

The miracle at the wedding at Cana of Galilee is the first recorded miracle at the hands and words of Jesus. This exciting intervention by God to affect and change natural events is often used as a lesson establishing the sacrament of marriage as Jesus blesses the event and thus establishes it as a sacred act. But this miracle, only recorded in the gospel of John, is about far more than a wedding or the vocation of marriage. This miracle culminates the holy glories of the celebration of the Epiphany.

Epiphany, began with the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus. This was followed by the Lord’s Baptism. The first two events focus upon the revelation of God in, through, and with the Son of God, Jesus. This miracle at the wedding is a manifestation of God’s grace and power through Jesus Himself as His earthly ministry begins. And it is distinct as it embraces more than the Holy Family or Jesus alone. It reveals, through Jesus the Christ, the embrace of humanity into God’s mercy and glory. This miracle in Cana of Galilee reveals the intent and power of God that calls us to be an Epiphany people.

The holy beauty and joy of marriage as a sacred act is truly evident in this event. It is seen that the desires of God to bless this young couple, and hence other marriages are displayed in the union of a man and a woman in the sacrament in holy matrimony. This vocation is very much an holy estate. Sacramental marriage as shared by the Church is about a distinct relationship and the graces associated with that vocation. But this miracle is about far more than marriage. It is about all who would seek God and the shared vocation to be an Epiphany people in our hearts and in our relationships.

Our Gospel account of this miracle concludes with the words: “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.” This experience occurred at a wedding. But it involved far more people than a bride and groom. This brings us to wonder, Who are the people of this epiphany? The story tells us that at this wedding party, with the celebration well underway they were running out of wine. What would be an humiliation for the groom and bride is about to quench all joy. It is in this setting we first meet the Epiphany people.

Mary the mother of Jesus has become aware of the problem. As a good Jewish woman she cannot allow this travesty of hospitality to occur and as a good Jewish mother she takes charge. She tells Jesus of the problem with an unquestioned expectation that he will do something. We then are shown a glimpse of the humanity of Jesus. He tells her: “My time has not yet come.” Jesus knows that with this public manifestation of his power the course of his life is revealed and set. Mary simply tells the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” With this simple, holy dialogue we are brought into the realm of an Epiphany people.

The actual miracle at Cana, while at a wedding does not directly involve the married couple. They might well have been unaware of the celestial drama that was unfolding in their midst. This first miracle of Christ does not involve the well-placed or mighty. It involves the servants. As our first reading proclaims the Presence and glory of God will be revealed to the poor, the outcasts, those on the fringes. It is an important lesson for us that to be a people of God’s glory revealed we need to be a people of humility. The Magi, seeking a newborn King found him in an humble house in a little Judean village. The revelation at Christ’s baptism came, not in some holy pristine fountain or spring but in the humble waters of the Jordan river. And the lesson continues. This miracle is shared with humble servants who would not have dared to assume to experience such a manifestation of God’s grace.

Perhaps we should listen to God’s Holy Spirit and realize we have neither the faculties nor the power to decide how or where God will bless and manifest the graces of mercy He alone can bring to a soul or to relationships. It is important to note no mention is made in this miracle of the bridal couple asking, or praying to God for help. They, often like us, were probably unaware of the needs they faced. But God, in His kindness allowed the saintly Mother of Jesus to be aware of their dilemma. May we learn to thank God, His angels, and saints for their unseen or unheard help for us in our lives. May we also grow in that same role of praying for the needs that others may not realize or that simply cannot bear alone. It is a very real grace of an Epiphany soul to seek God’s blessing for the needs of others.

To grow in our relationship in God’s Kingdom as a people sharing His witness of the power and holy glory, to be an Epiphany people we must allow ourselves the humble, holy gift of growing in our relationship with God. We must, like Mary and Jesus, dialogue, talk, we must pray, and listen to God. It is not a luxury but a necessity that we be a people who know and listen to His Word. We must, as Mary instructed, ” Do whatever He tells you.”

But there is another part of this miracle we must experience. The water and the wine of this very first miracle of the earthly ministry of Jesus foretell of the water and wine that will be shared at the end of our Lord’s earthly ministry. During the Mass at the preparation of the cup, there is a private prayer said by the priest (or deacon). The words are said: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” In this holy and joyful miracle, we are given the hope and promise of the Body and Blood which will be given for all who believe. In the Eucharistic prayer, we see the Holy Spirit change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus at the words of Jesus. In this first miracle, we see the Words of Jesus change the water to wine for the feast to be celebrated. And in both holy events, it is in the humble place of faithful obedience we witness the very best of God provided.

May we be and better become an epiphany people as we anticipate and participate in God’s grace and glory!

An Epiphany People ~ For the greater glory of God.

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

The Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, 9 January 2022 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 42: 1-5, 9 – 11; Responsorial: Psalm 9; II: Acts 10: 34-38; Gospel: Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

Artist: Giotto di Bondone, Scroregni Chapel, Padua Italy

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Christmas season has concluded and this Monday we begin the first week of Ordinary Time. This celebration today is actually a second facet of the beautiful gem of the Epiphany of the Lord. What begins with the visit of the Magi to the Christ child is followed by His baptism and with ancient tradition concludes with the Wedding at Cana of Galilee. Each facet of this manifestation, this revelation of God provides the faithful an invitation and many graces in which to grow in our relationship with Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

The Baptism of Jesus beckons us to wonder and grow in the workings of God with humanity. The act of baptism was an evolving sacred rite with the Hebrew people. Spiritual, religious ablutions were common in many diverse ways to many religions at this time. The Jews had used spiritual washing for their sacrifices and as an act of cleansing and penance for matters of uncleanness or sin. It is believed that John the Baptist had involvement with the Hebrew monastics, the Essenes who practiced frequent cleansing rites by immersing themselves in water. The Hebrew people at this time are understood to have a rite, like baptism for converts to Judaism that included circumcision for men and baptism(naked for men) in running water. It is very possible that God caused the prophet John to develop and share the baptism of repentance from sin for those who heard God’s call to seek His Kingdom. John’s baptism is understood to have also been an immersion in running water, usually the Jordan river. It is a consistent message that whatever the practice of baptism was it embraced the conviction of repentance from sin and conversion. This gives a very clear and powerful understanding for those seeking to be baptized as Christians, especially as the teaching of cleansing from Original Sin and conversion grew in the hearts of the faithful. But it also brings us to wonder, Why was Jesus baptized?

Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary certainly did not have sin, original or otherwise of which to repent. He had come to do and bring the Kingdom of His Father so was any conversion necessary? It has been said that in His baptism Jesus gave us His example. And indeed this is true. But was that all?

It is in the Spirit of Epiphany we are called to realize that while baptism is indeed a sacred act of cleansing and conversion it is also desired by God to be an act of Epiphany, of manifesting God’s Kingdom and graces. In His humble surrender to the hands of His cousin John, to be immersed in the River Jordan Jesus was sharing a dynamic invitation to each believer to follow Him and to be immersed in the fullness of God.

The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus is an invitation, by way of example in which Jesus seeks for each of us to join Him in the flowing, abundant waters of grace. It is a call to grow in the witness for and of God in our lives. It matters not whether we were baptized as infants or as adults. The longing and graces of God still seek to flow abundantly. The baptism of Jesus was a full manifestation of God and God’s happiness at this act of Jesus. The witness of God the Father, through His Word of affirmation, the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the holy dove, and the drenched obedience of Jesus the Son all testify to God’s holy joy at this event.

Our own baptism is an eternal opportunity to share in the witness of God as we too seek to be immersed in the Presence and will of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is in the life-giving waters of God’s grace to which we are called to grow ever deeper.

The love of God the Father would immerse us in the hope and blessing for which God knew and created us. While our baptism is an act of repentance and conversion from sin it is particularly our acts of becoming and growing in the will and designs of our Heavenly Father.

In baptism, we follow Jesus in our much-needed drenching in His mercy and cleansing. As the holy Anima Christi prays,” water from the side of Christ, cleanse me, blood of Christ, drench me”. In the Baptism of Jesus, we witness the Epiphany joy of God at the humble obedience of His Son. In our baptism we can share the realization of the joy of Heaven at our salvation, immersed in Jesus.

And in this holy immersion, we are brought with Jesus to know the manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to live for God. In another holy paradox, we see the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus at His baptism as a dove. So it is with us. We may be unaware of the holy presence and infinite power of the promised Holy Spirit in our lives. We may feel our weakness and inabilities more than we think we should feel God’s power. Yet, with and in the fullness of God the ever-flowing power of God would flow in and through us.

But there is one more vital epiphany reality we are called, with Christ in which to be immersed. The Oneness, the Unity of the Holy Trinity, of God. The church in the world today, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant is infected with a pandemic of viral divisiveness. Christians through the Body of Christ are so often obsessed with whom they identify. Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, progressive, traditional. conservative, liberal, male, female, youthful, or old. This deadly infection is now being seen with ugly symptoms of the politics of the world, nationalism, ethnicity, or political allegiance has become, for some a litmus test of a malformed faith. In the Catholic world, many are so obsessed with divisions and interpretations of liturgy so that what should be our source and place of manifesting the Oneness of our faith has become a place of great spiritual battle and wounding. But, I repeat…. there is one more vital epiphany reality we are called, with Christ in which to be immersed.

St. Paul would write that we share: ONE Faith, ONE Baptism. In our second reading, the Apostle Peter speaks that “In truth… God shows no partiality.” It was a profound epiphany for Peter to see that in God, the lowly gentiles were actually loved by and blessed by God. We begin a new year. What if we were to seek to live as called and redeemed by God as a people of faith. What if as much energy were to be devoted to God for healing of His wounded Body as has been poured out on all the silly causes and agendas that have oppressed the Church, the people of God. What if, instead of emulating the divisive “them vs. us” creed of the past we emulate the immersion of Jesus into the fullness of His Father’s love and His Spirit’s power? What if we, by the witness of our words and lives show the world..why Jesus was baptized?

The Baptism of Christ with Dove by Daniel Bonnel
[https://pixels.com/featured/the-baptism-of-the-christ-with-dove-daniel-bonnell.html]

God Manifest – Our Epiphany Quest

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord ~ Sunday 2 January 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass (Mass during the day). I. Isaiah 60: 1-16; Responsorial: Psalm 72; II: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

Journey of the Magi ~ James Tissot

This first Sunday of the new year, 2022, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. Our liturgy brings our focus upon the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem to worship the newborn King. In the early centuries of the Church, this feast had precedence over the Nativity. It then grew to become a significant part of the broader celebration of Christmas. As time progressed this great feast also grew in the various traditions with which they are associated.

There is no clear indication as to how many magi or kings there were. The assumption of three kings was affirmed for many with the popular carol “We Three Kings” that carol and the three gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh provide some evidence for the assumption.

Another popular image, courtesy of Christmas cards and sacred art is that the three kings traveled along through the night with only the star for company. Again the reality is likely far different. They very probably traveled by caravan due to their status and the wealth of their gifts. Their journey from ‘the east” to Bethlehem covered from 400 to 700 miles as they crossed the fertile crescent to the City of David. Their pilgrimage would have taken at least three to five weeks even traveling by camel.

When they reached Bethlehem they very likely did not find the Holy Family living still in the stable. The Gospel of Matthew states they came to Mary and the infant upon “entering the house where they were staying”. With other historical contexts linked to the Slaughter of the Innocents, it is likely Jesus was several months to possibly even three years old at their visitation.

But what do all these things matter? They are important as they provide encouragement for our faith from the historical and cultural context of the time. And even more significant the message of the Epiphany teaches and reminds us of our own holy quest to seek our Lord and to allow His Presence and power to be manifest in and through our lives. We are reminded we are called to be a people of the Epiphany, of God, revealed.

The Journey of the Magi – Epiphany

Our lives as followers of Jesus are meant to be ongoing quests of Epiphany, of Jesus being revealed, manifested to, and through us. Regardless of our age, status, health, or wealth God calls us to…seek Him who came to seek us.

Our Epiphany Quest is a journey of faith, of a growing maturing…changing faith. The Magi began their journey with the faith and knowledge from where they were in their lives. The stars, astrology were an integral part of the faith and science of the people of the east. And as it was with them so it is with each of us. God comes to us, begins with us where we are in our life. Then as we follow God’s grace will bring us to grow in His Word just as the Magi heard and heeded the Word of God in Jerusalem. God would continue to guide their faith to Christ to their great epiphany. But it was essential for them, and for us to allow our faith to grow, mature even change as we encounter the lessons God brings in our lives.

The Epiphany Quest is also a path of humility. It is rather unlikely that the Magi, upon setting out on their holy regal quest expected to be led to a borrowed house of a rather poor couple. They were seeking a King. Surely their gifts, their attention, they were worthy of a palace of beauty and power. That is probably why they went to Herod in Jerusalem. How often do we proceed in our lives fully thinking we know where, how to what and whom God is leading us? It is easy in the silly palaces of our minds to seek to discover Jesus according to our expectations, understanding, and hopes. But He whom our heart seeks would smile and say, “No, faithful little seeker. I have someplace far better and more regal than you could ever imagine. It is really simple, it is these two pieces of wood”. As we allow the Holy Spirit to better lead us on our Epiphany quest we learn the freedom and joy of discovering Christ, Emmanuel, in places of holy surprise and love.

These steps of humble faith in our journey are also distinct from worldly endeavors in another essential way. The path to Epiphany brings us to keep our focus heavenward. The shepherds who came to the stable on Christmas night were called on their quest by the angels, in heaven giving glory to God. The Magi come from the deserts of Persia were led to Bethlehem of Judea by a star. We must keep learning that while we walk on this earth, with the rocks and hazards on our path to which we must pay heed we also must keep our hearts focused on the call to God. We are created not just for early or temporal matters of each day. We are created and called by Jesus to belong with Him for eternity. This empowers us to learn that we must heed His eternal, heavenly Word. We must grow to be skilled listeners of God, in Scripture, prayer, eternity, and His creation. We are called to realize that there is an heavenly feast to which we should come to receive the Body and Blood of He who conquered sin and death in His holy incarnation.

Where will our Epiphany Quest bring us this new year? Will our faith grow deeper and stronger? Will it help us change as we encounter Jesus in new and holy places? Or will we be content with the images with which we are comfortable and unbothered? Jesus of Bethlehem seeks to reveal His glory and love more in our lives. Christ calls us on our Epiphany Quest to be a people of growing faith, humble love, and whose hearts are set Heavenward as we draw closer to Him who came for us.

The Unhappy Shepherd

Christmas Eve Homily 2021

Honthorst, Adoration of Shepherds

The songs, the holiday greetings are so beautiful and good to share. Yet, if we are honest, we have to recognize the Christmas season, while truly blessed, is also, for many a time of stress and even depression. It is, for many reasons, a time when the human soul seems to sense the weaknesses and wounds that life brings. It is a difficult and yet blessed time. Let us share a story that may help us better understand these real challenges.

In the hills around Bethlehem that first Christmas there were shepherds tending their sheep as they had for centuries. And on the cold wintry Bethlehem night, there was one shepherd who was especially unhappy. He was a young man, in his early teens. He has always found it hard to feel he belonged or fit in. Although his family were all shepherds they were not particularly kind to Zadok (for that was his name). Zadok was not big or strong like his brothers and cousins. Nor was he especially smart. And he certainly wasn’t handsome like his oldest brother. But worst of all Zadok had big ears. Everyone loved to tease him, the other shepherds, the people in Bethlehem all would laugh and mock Zadok with the big ears. So, he was the unhappy shepherd.

That wintry night he had gone off to get away from the other shepherds. Zadok would often find the most peace when he could go off alone. And that night the stars were especially beautiful and the sheep who were with him were good to be with. And they never laughed at him. But as he sat there in the starlight his big ears heard something.

Zadok went back down the hill. He went to the other shepherds and said “Do you hear that?” It’s getting louder!” The other shepherds looked up and told him to quiet down and tend to the sheep (for it was his shift). “Get back to work and let us rest you fool! Go take your floppy ears and get away from us! they shouted at Zadok. So Zadok turned and started to leave. But… he heard it again…Louder! Glo….ria! Glor….ia! GLORIA !!!!!! Suddenly the night sky was filled with angels singing to God! And now all the shepherd could not help but hear! They jumped up and stared at the angelic visitors. An angel told them to go to the stable in Bethlehem for their newborn King, their Savior was born!

In great excitement, fear, and uncertainty they all, with their sheep trekked into town. They knew the stable, it was with the inn. They could not figure out how a king would be there. It wasn’t that big and there were always donkeys, a cow or two and who knew what else inside. They were shepherds so they didn’t notice but some complained of the stink. But off they went. It was best not to argue with the angels of God!

They came to the stable. Inside they saw the animals but in the back as far from the cold as could be they saw a beautiful young mother holding a newborn baby. With her was a man the older shepherds knew as Joseph for he was from their town. The shepherds crowded in. Even young Zadok crowded in as best he could. The bigger, older, better shepherds kept shoving him aside. But Zadok could see the mother, he heard her name was Mary, and her newborn son, Jesus. Zadok was amazed. Never had he seen such awesome beauty and glory. They actually glowed with a peace and joy he could not understand. Zadok felt he should turn away, he was so unworthy to be there. He tried to leave… but he couldn’t. Then he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and saw Joseph. Scarred he tried to leave but Joseph smiled and whispered…”He came for you!” Then he gently patted Zadok’s big ears and said… “And he loves your ears!”

At those words, tears came to Zadok’s eyes. But not the tears of an unhappy shepherd but tears of joy. Zadok knew. He belonged! He belonged to the King!

Is this story true? Well, probably not, specifically. Although Zadok was a common enough Hebrew name in the time of Jesus. So perhaps it is but a little Christmas story. But, on the other hand, it is true. That first Christmas there were sad, lonely wounded people. This Christmas, centuries later there are those who hurt, who feel they do not belong. They may be mocked and ridiculed, wounded. And, just as on that first Christmas night, they, if they listen, will hear the angels call them to Jesus.

And we can feel the tap from a saint or angel on our heart. And we can hear and know…HE came for us!

Christmas – A Thin Time

Friday ~ Saturday ~ 24 – 25 December 2021 ~. Bible readings for Vigil Mass: I: I. Isaiah 62: 1-5; Responsorial: Psalm 89; II: Acts 13: 16-17, 22-25; Gospel: Matthew 1: 1 – 25 or 18-25

In Celtic Catholic spirituality, there is an understanding of thin places. A thin place is seen to be a place where the space between the present and eternity is diminished, or thin. Such a place may be a pilgrimage path, a church, an holy well, or perhaps a graveyard. But this closeness of heaven and earth can also be a special time. A thin time is maybe a moment, a day, or an extended period.

Christmas, the celebration of the nativity of the Lord can well be a thin time. If we allow God to be with us. The indications of this are many especially as we look to the actual event. The angels were very much evident and at work before and after Jesus was born. Dreams also were very much a way in which God brought the hope and wisdom of heaven to those who sought to worship and care for the infant King of Heaven. Creation also was woven into this thinner veil of time when “heaven to earth came down”. The starry heavens that opened to the angels as they heralded the shepherd about the Savior born in Bethlehem all shared in the journey of God eternal into the stable of human time for this holy time.

And now, in the present and presence of a world with many conflicts and afflictions, in a world that for many has brought new religions of science, technology, and knowledge, can there be thin places? Or is this story we share on Christmas just a memory of things long past? Are the new, real thin places the journeys to outer space or the latest powerful thin smartphone or tablet that would connect us to worlds beyond our reach? For some their thin places may well be the things the world would offer. But that has always been the case.

This Christmas, in the Year of our Lord 2021, God would show us and lead us to those thin places where we can discover and know God, Christ as we never have before. As people of faith we are called to trust and know that the worlds, eternity are about so much more than what we may see or think. The Christmas season testifies to this even in the secular stories we share. Santa Claus, flying through the night sky on a sled bringing gifts to those whose hearts are good is a lesson that calls for the human soul to believe and know there is more to life than what we think we know beyond physical truth. The little elves that have helped St. Nick prepare those gifts speak of worlds and places that time and logic may not realize. The great authors and intellects, J.R.R. Tolkien, a Catholic of deep devotion, and his friend, C.S. Lewis, another man of powerful intellect and faith wrote volumes cherished by many that speak of thin places where good and evil are recognized. All these examples help us to realize that Christmas is just such a thin time.

The incarnation, the nativity of Jesus pierced and conquered eternity to enter our human condition and times. Jesus, born in a stable became man. It brings us to His thin place of humility. It is as we humble ourselves before our Creator, and kneel with the shepherds we can see God, Jesus, as we never have before.

Again, with the shepherds as we heed the call of the angels, we ascend through the thin veil of heaven as we glorify our God with our praise, with our worship. We allow our worship to grow, not just during this Christmas Mass but we realize that we are created to glorify God in the moments and days of our life, whatever they may bring.

This holy day, this holy time we enter the thin time when faith can grow strong. Without fear or doubt, we join Mary and Joseph as they too journeyed through their thin times and places…in faith. They did not always understand. They did not always know the way or full purposes of God. And they were not afraid to ask God, for guidance, wisdom, strength. But with those holy questions, they also were not afraid to allow God to answer.

And most importantly, this Christmas season is a thin time where love who is God can reach our souls. Even in a family or heart struggling with problems and wounds Christ is there. It is a difficult thin place of the holidays that often family, friends with resentments and grudges gather. Those conflicts can grow during those gatherings. But God brings us together into these thin, maybe tense times, to listen, to look past the wounds and failings, and to forgive.

For that is precisely why He came for us, for each of us, by name, so long ago. It is why Jesus shared the thin space and time of the wood of the manger that he could one day carry the heavy wood of His cross to know that time when there is no space between us and His holy embrace.

Gaudate Sunday

3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudate Sunday, 12 December 2021; Bible Readings for Mass: I: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Responsorial: Isaiah 12: 2-6; II: Philippians 4: 4-7; Gospel: Luke 3: 10-18

The holy pilgrimage of Advent continues on. Much like the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem we encounter times and places of weariness and wondering… Will our Lord ever come? Will the long hours and daily weary steps ever bring rest and peace? It is in this long final stretch of the journey to the joy of Jesus’ birth in a manger we are blessed with this Sunday of rejoicing. The pink Advent candle is lit and the Spirit of God calls us to rejoice!

This week brought us again to witness the challenges and struggles of life in heart, home, and our church. As we tread the delicate balance of living in this world but not of it, and especially at this time of Advent we are made aware of the tests and challenges of those who seek to draw ever closer to God.

Rare tornado seen in Rome the week of Dec. 5th, 2021, Photo from BBC

Yet even in the storms of life God call us to remember: “…The Lord is in your midst… fear not, be not discouraged…He (God) will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.” (Ist Reading from Zephaniah). The epistle of St. Paul to the Philippian church brings this encouragement even more strongly as we are commanded to “Rejoice in the Lord always…have no anxiety at all…”. Gaudate! Rejoice…always! The words, the command is so clear yet so hard.

Are we to rejoice when the real-life devastations of storms, conflicts, illness, need, or death press upon us? Are we to pretend that such realities are to be ignored? Is it wrong to mourn? Or to feel the drought of anxieties causing us to thirst for relief or hope? Our psalm from the prophet Isaiah speaks of drawing water from the fountain of salvation. It is to be understood that our thirst, our need for relief may be experienced in the journey to the holy fountain of joy and hope… found in God.

The words in Philippians would seem to almost mock the very real struggles of life. “Rejoice in the Lord Always!!! Rejoice…Always!?!?!?!? Are we to rejoice when serious illness besets a loved one, or ourselves? Are we to rejoice when someone is struggling with addictions that would destroy a life?

The Holy Spirit is very clear. It is not in our sorrows we are to rejoice. Our Blessed Mother did not rejoice to see her Son crucified. We are not called to rejoice either in the sorrows or even the blessings of life. Truly blessed family gatherings, a trip to a longed-for destination, unexpected wealth are things for which we should be grateful and joyful. But they are only things, the stuff of life. The Spirit of God calls us to rejoice, ALWAYS, in Christ our Lord. Our joy, our peace our happiness should not, cannot be built upon the sandy shoals of circumstance. Our joy is found…in God.

Our Gospel for this Sunday seems almost out of character for the theme and the rest of our Bible readings. It shares how those coming to St. John the Baptist were seeking to learn “what should we do?” In John’s call to conversion, he replied to simply live for God in the place and work in which we find ourselves and to do so with justice, mercy, and repentance. John then proceeds to tell them that they are to be baptized, immersed in the promised Holy Spirit.

The solution, the power to rejoice ALWAYS is found in the often ignored two words of the command. Rejoice…IN THE LORD, always. It is as we are immersed in God’s Presence the Holy Spirit will, in healing comfort and joy bring us to know that In Christ is our peace, our joy. We will know the joy of God’s embrace as the Comforter shares our sorrows, The Provider ministers to our needs, the Shepherd guides to His Kingdom, His Presence.

Today, this 3rd Sunday of Advent is also the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was in December of 1531 that a series of apparitions appeared to St. Juan Diego in what is now a part of Mexico City. A man of real poverty but also hard work and deep faith he struggled with fulfilling the guidance of the Blessed Virgin. But he did with humble, joyful obedience. His faith, his obedience his joy was never determined by his ability or circumstance but by the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary and his humble life. It was that humble gaudate that enabled St. Juan Diego to bring the tilma filled with roses to the archbishop and this opened the gates of God’s mercy for the conversion of countless souls.

St. Juan Diego with Our Lady of Guadalupe

Gaudate Sunday brings us ever closer to the joyful celebration of the incarnation, the birth of our Savior and God, Jesus. And this joyful, holy day would bring us closer to Mary our Blessed Mother, and thus to better know her son, our joy, Jesus the Christ.

God is Leading

2nd Sunday of Advent ~ 5 December 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Baruch 5:1-9; Responsorial: Psalm 126; II: Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6

The Wilderness of Judea in Winter. (photo credit unknown)

“The Word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went…proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’ “ Luke 3:2-4. These words from Luke’s Gospel with their holy roots from Isaiah the prophet bring us the Advent call to prepare for the coming King, Jesus the Messiah. The bright light of God’s Word beckons us to know we are called to be ready for the return of the King of Kings. But we also are seeing our path beckon us to celebrate, anew the coming of our King, God with us, born in a stable. We are called, with joy, to know and prepare for our coming King of glory, we are called to realize God is leading!

God, in speaking to our hearts today would help us know that the sufferings, sorrows, and challenges of this world are very real. God feels and realizes in ways we cannot fathom, the pain and tears we experience in life. The responsorial psalm for this day promises that those who sow in tears will reap in joy as we but trust and seek our God and savior. The prophet John, in the gospel affirms that we are called to immerse our life in repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The baptism of John was a precursor of the Christian baptism as a sacrament of rebirth, and immersion into the grace, family, and kingdom of God. In what may be simpler terms it is an immersion into the forgiveness of God, into the will, the Presence of God found in Christ our redeemer. But this immersion into God is only the beginning.

Our reading from the Old Testament book of Baruch contains exquisite insight and promise into an essential part of our Advent preparations. “Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights…at the word of Holy One… for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory with his mercy and justice for company.”

Basilica of St Francis, Assisi Italy (photo credit unknown)

We may think of contrition and repentance for sin as a sorrowful and remorse-filled way of life. And indeed our sins are a very real source of sorrow and pain that cannot be denied or ignored. But shall we choose to live in the darkness of guilt and fear when, if, we have sought the mercy and forgiveness of God? Is it right to place more faith in our failings than in God’s mercy?

Let us listen carefully to the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts. God is calling us to stand up, on the heights at the word of the Holy One! Let us let Jesus lead us with joy, with His glory, mercy, and justice! The gospels share many accounts of Jesus leading his follower to the mountain top. The sermon on the mount, the mount of transfiguration, the feeding of the multitudes, the tearful mount of Calvary, and the mount of the ascension. Each place God would lead us He seeks to reveal to us, with joy, God’s Presence, mercy, and love.

Today, in the midst of the problems facing the world, our nation, the church, and our own families, and lives GOD is LEADING! This holy, sacred season of Advent, despite the challenge or needs that may exceed our abilities or resources, GOD is LEADING! Every step we take with God, to receive and share His mercy, to proclaim and work for His justice is a step where God’s glory will be revealed. It may not be in a great chorus of Christmas music or an angelic chant. It may be in the smile of someone to whom you have shown the same mercy that you have received from our Savior. It may be the realization of God’s Presence in the garden or wildlands where you have worked to live more just, more gently upon the land. Or it may be a simple listening to a soul with the hope and compassion God would bring through you in a true moment of Advent.

God is Leading! (image credit unknown)

Courage to Stand

1st Sunday of Advent ~ 28 November 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Jeremiah 33: 14-16; Responsorial: Psalm 25; II: I Thessalonians 3: 12-4:2; Gospel: Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36

The Triumph Of Christianity Over Paganism by Gustave Doré (1868?). Public Domain

“Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior, for you I wait all the day.” Thus would the Holy Spirit lead us to pray as we begin this season of Advent. This first verse from our responsorial psalm can bring us to understand that as we begin the new year of our faith that this is much more than a season of special candles and holiday preparations. It is a time to awaken within our lives and the church the promise of Christ’s return and our shared call to stand in courageous love and the grace of His holiness.

Scripture teaches that as Christ’s return draws near great will be the chastisements, the testings, and tribulations in the world. The heavens and the earth, all of creation will cry out in suffering anticipation for the return of the Christ, and the vanquishment of sin, death, and evil. The Word of God shrouds the time and details of our Lord’s return in mystery to better enable His faithful to grow in faith and hope. While the details may be veiled the will and the desire of Christ for all who seek Him is clear.

And we are reminded that whether we speak of Christ’s return in the fullness of time or whether we cross eternity’s threshold at our death we are called to be ready for Hime.

Jesus in our Gospel reading tells us that as we see the signs of His coming we are to “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” He makes clear that times of great testing will be at hand. He also warns that we are not to become drowsy and unaware with the cares, celebrations, and bothers of this world. He reminds us that the worries and fears of worldly life will assault. But He also gives His hope for those who are seeking Him.

It is in our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica we are given powerful help to be ready for our Lord. This church on the Greek peninsula was a growing young community of faith. They longed for their Lord’s return. And they, like Christians for millennia struggled to understand the when, and the how of the promise of our Savior’s return. The Holy Spirit in gentle, holy power admonishes them and us it isn’t about when or how. It is about simply seeking God and being ready. Speaking through the apostle He proclaims: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”.

Is our love increasing and abounding for one another… AND FOR ALL? In our hearts, our homes, our church is the Love of God in abundance? For our neighbors, regardless of their faith or lives…is our love increasing… abounding? Or do we embrace the divisive strife, politics, and judgments the powers of darkness seek to inflame? But wait, does not this call to love bring about the weakness of faith, sin, and worldly ways of sin? Again, the Spirit of God gives us clear direction.

When Christ returns it will be in the clouds with indescribable glory and majesty as His exquisite holiness is made manifest. It is to that same holiness we are called along with His infinite love to be growing strong and courageous for His coming. The holiness of God can never be confined or regulated as types of clothing, religious habits, and actions, or pious practices. Each of these finite dimensions might well express a temporal vision of some holiness. But no earthly example or practice will ever express the infinite beauty and power of Him before the angels and saints bow in joyful adoration and love. It is like saying a drop of water from some tidepool expresses the power and majesty of the ocean.

All who seek the return of Christ our Lord, our savior share this call from the Holy Spirit. It is in the power of His redeeming love we find the courage to stand, to lift our heads, and in holy, joyful anticipation to seek His coming.

Our opening collect prays…“Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet Christ”. It is in the liberty of His holiness we are freed to love, seek, and run forward to our Savior. In the power of His love we grow in the freedom to be and become the men and women Christ has created and redeemed. It is in that same love we grow in the courage to allow His true holiness to grow in the distinct graces of His mercy. We grow in the freedom to be, to become who God made us to be, for Him and His love.

To Seek Christ, the freedom of His love and the beauty of His holiness, now and for all eternity.

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