Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin, Permanent Deacon.

LENT, Following the Footprints of Jesus

1st Sunday of Lent ~ 26 February 2023 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Genesis 2: 7-9; 3:1-7; Responsorial: Psalm 51; II: Romans 5: 12, 17-19; Gospel: Matthew 4: 1 -11

LENT has begun. Ash Wednesday gave us the opportunity to receive the sacramental of ashes upon our foreheads with the words “Repent and believe the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Both of these statements affirm our humble reality, that we are sinners in need of ongrowing repentance and that we are very mortal creatures with the gift of life from God.

Our ashes have been washed away in the simple need of washing up. Yet their message and sacramental power should only grow through these forty days.

These days of Lent, these six weeks will bring us to hear, see and follow our Lord and Savior from the time of temptation in the wilderness, up to the Mount of Transfiguration with the apostles, on then to heal the man born blind. Our pilgrimage then intensifies as we see the raising of Lazarus from the dead and realize our call to life in the Holy Spirit. Then we triumphantly follow Jesus into Jerusalem strewn with palm and olive branches. But this sacred triumph quickly changes into the Holy Week of our Lord’s Passion.

Our Lenten journey concludes with the Feast of Our Lord’s Supper, Good Friday, and then the gathering at the tomb for the triumph of Easter Vigil.

Our Lenten observances may, hopefully, bring us to share in the Way of the Cross. This devotion is an ancient and powerful way that brings us to better walk in the path or the steps of Jesus. But in all these graces we are being called to follow, walk ever closer with, and to Jesus our Lord. It is holy and very good to seek the pathway of Christ. But it can be even more holy and blessed to seek to follow in the footprints of Jesus now, and always.

Again to seek and follow the path of Christ is profoundly blessed. And certainly, there is no way to literally see or follow the actual footprints of Christ. But as we remember that our Lenten, our Christian journey is to walk in the Spirit we can then see beyond the limitations of the literal, physical limitations of this world. Allowing God to heal our blindness (Lent, 4th Sunday) we will start to see the ways of Christ and the spiritual realities of His holy footprints. It is no accident that the Lenten pilgrimage concludes at the Feast of our Lord’s Supper with an extraordinary act… the washing of the disciple’s feet. As we draw ever closer to Christ, and His sacred Passion, Jesus brings our path to the times and places of cleansing. The hands that would soon be pierced by the nails must cleanse our feet, our ways of wandering from His holy Presence.

The painting that concludes this message, “Compassion” by W.A. Bouvereau in many ways illustrates this quest to see and follow in the footprints of Jesus. For to do so is a quest of true and holy “compassion”. It is this quest to share in the real passion of our Lord that brings us to walk in His steps and be brought into the cross and the embrace of the Crucified. These steps involve many challenges, needs, blessings, and trials. But it is in this season of Lent we focus especially on the footprints of faith, Penance, and love to which Jesus will bring us.

Footprints of Faith: The footprints of Jesus in his incarnation left clear footprints of faith. From his youth in the temple, his journey to Galilee and the healing, preaching, and obedience to the plan of the Father were all infused with unwavering faith. Even the final steps before his betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane were steps of a deep trust in the plans of his heavenly Father. Often the footprints of Jesus, walking upon the stormy sea or among the needy multitudes were steps that defied all-natural abilities and provisions. Jesus walked the steps of faith. And these holy footprints of Him without sin also always will lead us to the healing mercy of penance.

Footprints of Penance: Jesus, of course, being without sin had no need to repent or to be penitent as we may commonly think of this grace. Yet it is especially in looking closely at his penitential footprints we learn something very important. Jesus was indeed always free from sin. Yet, created in our image he always knew fully the challenges of human free will. It is in the Gospel for this first Sunday of Lent we see our Savior being confronted by Satan and tempted to follow in ways, not of Heaven. Jesus in the wilderness, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, in the Garden of Gethsemane always had the opportunity to say no to the will of his heavenly Father. Jesus always had the freedom to do his own thing. But looking carefully and honestly at His holy footprints, we see our Lord knew well the freedom and peace of saying Yes! to the will of the Father. Jesus knew what it meant to turn away from lesser things and false ways to the fullness, however difficult the way of His Father would be. Jesus shows us how and where our penance, our seeking to turn away from the lies of satan to the Truths of God will always lead us, ever closer to Him and his love.

Footprints of Love: Our sharing the passion, the compassion, and the footprints of Jesus will faithfully and penitently always lead us to grow in love. This love of God we see especially in the journey to Golgotha. The actual footprints of Jesus must have been, by this time, stained with the blood from the scourgings and beatings he had endured. The healing, the forgiveness found in the Blood of Christ we consume from the chalice was first shared in the stumbling steps Jesus took in the dust and gravel of the path to Calvary. His last steps, before being nailed to the cross lead us to the pinnacle of love, to the wood of the cross. And it would be from his cross Jesus would show us the simple fullness of God’s love. God’s love proclaimed in His Word “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” and his deeds as in his dying he leads us to the tomb and soon to the amazing power of the footprints of love seen in the resurrected Christ.

As we begin our Lenten journey, as we renew our Christian journey let us each and together seek the footprints of Jesus and follow Him in faith, penance, and love.

Compassion by William-Adolphe Bouvereau 1897

Lessons from Two Mountains, Renewal and Rebuilding

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 12 February 2023 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Sirach 15: 15-20; Responsorial: Psalm119; II: I Corinthians 2: 6-10; Gospel: Matthew 5: 17-37

Mount Sinai & Beatitude Mount.

It was Mt. Sinai from which the great prophet Moses received the 10 Commandments and the full Mosaic Law as God led the Hebrew people from the bondage of Egypt to the Promised Land. It established the dispensation of God’s Law and the obedience to which God called the Israelites to live. The location is generally recognized as being in the southern Sinai peninsula towering above the harsh dry desert as a harsh flinty monolith overseeing the wilderness.

Beatitude Mount is the location believed to be where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount as he began his earthly ministry. The actual location has been open for debate since early times. A traditional spot is atop Beatitude Mount overlooking the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum. It is in some ways significant that the true location from where Jesus proclaimed the Sermon on the Mount is not known. As it signifies the leading of God from temporal perspectives to life in the Spirit.

The two mounts, Sinai and Beatitude are essential for our relationship with God and our faith. Sinai with the hard, clear certainty of the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament Covenant of the Law is in many ways the bedrock of faith and morals. While Beatitude Mount proclaims the heart of the New Testament Covenant of grace and Spirit brought through Jesus Christ.

And the Holy Spirit would bring us to explore and grow in God’s grace and Spirit as we prepare for the blessed season of Lent. Ash Wednesday is just a week and a half away. Let us follow our Lord to these two mountains and prepare for a Lent of Renewal and Rebuilding, a Renewal of the Eucharistic Presence in our faith and church, and the Rebuilding of our church.

Recent years have brought many trials and challenges for everyone, especially for the church. The wounds of scandal, the pandemic pierced both attendance and participation of the faithful and the ongoing strife of worldly politics entangled with religious strife all have brought the church to need rebuilding repair and maintenance. Numerous moral issues bring the faithful to struggle through difficult moral discernments in the quest for true discipleship. And the massive changes in our culture, communications, and society have brought immense impact upon what we have known as…the church. All this applies to every level of the church, the people of God. From the highest levels of clergy, our parishes, families, and our individual places in the living Body of Christ share this need for Renewal and Rebuilding. So whether it be major repairs and rebuilding, ongoing maintenance, or the rebuilding and remodeling of our faith to grow with God we need to allow our Lord to bring us to these two mountains so that His holy work may grow.

Our Bible readings for this Sunday are powerfully focused on the spiritual reality of these two mountains. The first reading from the book of Sirach with the power and promise shared in the Responsorial of Psalm 119 makes clear that God calls us to keep the Commandments of God’s kingdom. This very basic purpose and design of God, our obedience, is essential if we are to grow as God’s dwelling and experience the indescribable blessings God prepares for the faithful.

All this comes into sharp focus in our Gospel reading from the heart of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Jesus reviews and affirms that unshakeable place of the Law and the Prophets in the lives of those who seek to know and follow God. But Jesus makes an extraordinary statement in this segment. He states without any uncertainty that he did not come to abolish the Law. Then He states he has come to fulfill all the Law and teachings of the prophets. That fulfillment, that realization of the Old Testament Law of Mt. Sinai brings us to the New Testament Mount of the Beatitudes, of the Sermon on the Mount.

The Gospel reading shares many distinctive points that Jesus makes about the old and the new. Jesus addresses the unchanging expectation of God of our faithful obedience. He then proceeds to speak of very specific issues and seems to expand the law into ever more impossible realms. We are told killing is wrong. Then Jesus expands that into basic anger. The common reality of calling someone “A fool” is shown to be perilous. And the passionate expectation of forgiveness and reconciliation are stated with no real room for argument. And matters of adultery, divorce and marriage are addressed, again with deep clarity. It is clear the standards of Christ’s Kingdom shared on Beaittude Mount are more intense than all of the teachings of Moses.

This could well lead us to despair. If we are honest we recognize that our weaknesses and sins are seemingly insurmountable. But it as as we allow the Holy Spirit to calm our fears and lead us to the true heights of this Mount of Blessing we see our hope and our calling.

Mt Sinai was indeed focused upon what would be known as the Law of Moses. But that revelation given to Moses was about much more. It was about God’s Presence and the Rebuilding of the worship of the Hebrew people. It would be the Shekinah glory that would accompany and lead them through the wilderness. And God would lead them to build both the place and the designs of their worship that would culminate in the great Temple in Jeruslaem.

Beatitude Mount fulfills that same design for this new covenant. From the 10 Commandments Jesus brings us to the Ten Beatitudes. He provides the map of soul and spirit that will lead Him and His followers to Passion Week. In the culmination of the Passover on Holy Thursday we see Jesus give His Eucharistic Presence in the Body and Blood of Christ, His Real Presence to whom we are being called to Renewal. And in this same message Christ also affirms our calling to Rebuild His Church, the people of God. It is sadly, no mistake that the message of the Gospel today focuses on the brokeness of relationships, with each other, with God, in hearts and in homes. Great is the need, the call to rebuild. Even greater are the designs and the resources and provisions of God for this holy task. One of the great blessings this two-fold quest is the discovery and realiztion of God’s surprises of promise and provision.

Today, these days prior, and especially during Lent let us each, and together, seek Jesus, in the Eucharist, His Word and each other and begin our renewal in Christ. May we then grow in our commitment to share in the Rebuilding of the Church, our hearts, our homes and our parish as a dwelling vibrant for God.

This would remind us of another time and place where the people of God had been led by the Holy Spirit. It was after the great dispersion faithful Jes had been brought back to Jerusalem. God city that lay in ruiins. With immense needs and assaults by the enemies of God that struggled with what seemed and impossible calling. But it was in that time of seeming defeat they were given a time of thanksgiving and praise. And they were given a cricial promise that applies to this very day. “The joy of the Lord will be our strength, ” (Neh 8:10). It would our Lord who would later teach us all that this is His commandment, that we love one another, that our joy would be full’ ( John 15:12).

An altar server lifts up a broken crucifix as he and others clear debris from the altar area of the partially destroyed Metropolitan Cathedral in Palo, Phillippines, Nov. 15 in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan. The cathedral is one of many Catholic churches, schools and convents damaged or destroyed in the powerful storm. (CNS photo/Wolfgang Rattay, Reuters)

God is Calling

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 22 January 2023 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 8: 23-9:3; Responsorial: Psalm 27; II: I Corinthians 1: 10-13, 17; Gospel: Matthew 4: 12-23

We have returned to Ordinary Time. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany celebrations are passed for another year. We are back to…the ordinary. Whatever that may be or might bring. And the Word of God, Jesus Christ the Living Word, calls us to follow him. Jesus calls us individually and together to God’s Kingdom.

PLEASE. Let’s STOP whatever we are doing or are concerned about and let the Truth penetrate our lives deeply, eternally. Jesus is calling you. Jesus calls us, together to follow him. Our gospel shares how Jesus, as his earthly ministry begins walks along the Sea of Galilee and calls Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to stop what they were doing and follow him.

He proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and God calls us to repentance. It is liberating to observe that while we tend to think of repentance as the turning away from sin, (which is very correct) it is also much more. Peter and the others were not apparently sinning. They were only trying to work at their fishing and sustain their lives and the lives of their families. But then, Christ calls them to leave behind their tasks, and their livelihoods and follow him in simple faith. Jesus called them as he calls all of us, from where we are in their lives to follow him into the service and riches of God’s Kingdom. There is a passionate simplicity in this call we share. We must remove the meaningless and return to the meaningful. In the weeks ahead the Gospel of Matthew will be sharing how Jesus would go on to lead his followers in the dynamic quest of holy love.

God is calling. Scripture and the lives of the faithful clearly affirm that God calls us each, by name. The plans and designs of our Creator are known by God while we are just forming in our mother’s womb. There is no lack of the vocation or call to follow God. Again God is calling. The very evident lack is not from God. Is it not, instead the lack on our part to listen? Is it not also often like the sheep in the photo above? We hear, and we believe Jesus may be calling us to follow him. But we come to the gates, the barriers that would block our path. We then focus upon many good things that nevertheless take our eyes away from Jesus. We are told we must learn so many things and teachings. Doctrine, theology, philosophy, natural law, liturgical practices, family practices, ethics, and more. Each of these is an important and needed tool in the work of God. But they should never replace the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As St. Paul warned in our second reading from first Corinthians the disciples then, and now were becoming distracted by their penchant for certain apostles, teachings, and agendas. Division and strife follow whenever that occurs, again then and now.

God IS calling. Now in this twenty-first century, the Holy Spirit is seeking men and women willing to leave the darkness and violence of the world and to seek and serve Christ and his kingdom. We are called to follow Jesus in Penance, in God’s purpose and plans, and to proclaim God’s Kingdom of healing and holy love.

God is calling us to Penance. We hear of penance, we hear of repentance, and immediately think of sin, the evil of which we must repent. And indeed this is one part of this beautiful living mosaic of faith. But true penance is a lifelong part of our Christian discipleship. The Holy Spirit, brightening the living Word of God will always show us our next steps. And often those steps may bring us to adjust or even radically change our path. We should always be learning, from God of what in our lives that hinders us from knowing, listening to, and following Christ. Jesus is the Shepherd of our souls. We are his sheep. We may see what is a closed gate when God is simply calling us to shift our eyes from the gate back to him.

Jesus is calling us to grow in the purposes and plans of his kingdom. St. Anthony of Padua was a man who knew the power of penance that would lead him more powerfully in the plans of God. Early on in his life, Anthony heard a call to follow Jesus into holy orders. He entered the Canons Regular of the Augustinian order. But God called elsewhere through some visiting itinerant Franciscan monks. Anthony became a Franciscan and purposed to go to Africa and preach to the Muslims. He had a longing to die a martyr for his Lord. He set out on his quest and was shipwrecked. There then followed a serious illness that would weaken him for the rest of his short life. He returned to Italy and grew in a deeper realization of the simplicity of the Gospel call, purpose, and plans of God for his life. St. Anthony would journey on to become a powerful preacher and sharer of many miracles as he worked to proclaim Christ and his healing power.

The Holy Spirit strives to proclaim through our actions and words the healing graces of the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father. Countless are the many plans and purposes of God working through God’s people and creation. God has for each one of us plans and purposes that mold together lives using our talents, experiences, learning, or simply our lives. God knows us each, our needs desires, attributes, and wounds or weaknesses. And God will use the entire person we are for his kingdom and our good. We can only learn these plans as we daily follow Jesus. However every day we are each called to proclaim the healing, holy love of His Kingdom. We must heed, carefully, prayerfully our words. Are we telling of Jesus? Is His mercy, hope, healing, and grace our message? Or are we prophets of anger, doubt, fear, or hate? Are we focusing on a gate that is closed or the way of Christ leading us to his green pastures and the table he has set for us? It is very easy to lock into our agendas, our preferences in liturgy, theology, politics, or even family matters. Are well willing to allow the growing graces of penance, of seeking, together the will of God, and then to share the joy-filled sound of proclaiming the hope of Christ?

In so many ways and places, now more than ever great is the need for our lives to proclaim, in holy mercy, the simple Gospel of Jesus. To offer the real promises of learning and growing in the plans of God for our lives. and to show, in our deeds and words honest vibrant lives of faith living the path of peace as we seek, always to draw closer to God.

Immersed in God

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 15 January 2023 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6; Responsorial: Psalm 40; II: I Corinthians 1:1-3; Gospel: John 1: 29-34

Jesus Christ by Raul Berzosa Fernandez

What are your plans for the year ahead? What are your hopes, worries, dreams, or fears? Some of us perhaps have made (and maybe already broken) resolutions by this second Sunday of Ordinary Time. It has been wisely said that to fail to plan is to plan to fail. We are rational, thinking creatures and it is part of the gift of who we are to plan, purpose, prepare and seek that which is good. Our post-modern culture is particularly obsessed with the assumed freedom to choose. The access to information (however accurate or inaccurate it may be) has so infected our mindsets that hearts, minds, and eyes are focused on devices and screens many believe will show them the way, the truth, and the life they seek.

But is there anyone among us fully in charge of their life? Whether a child, a young adult, or a collector of many years can any of us honestly say that “I am in control!”? The liberating truth is that while we may have degrees of choice and control in our life we never know what may lie ahead. Nor can we choose the influences of people and events in years past. We can plan, prepare, and hope for what we deem best. But we simply cannot dictate all life may bring. But our creator does give us complete freedom to choose how we will respond to whatever or whomever life may bring us to experience. With circumstances, or people we cannot always choose or control how we may live or in which we may see our lives immersed. Yet, our God gives freedom in Whom our lives may abide, or be immersed.

This Monday past we celebrated the Baptism of our Lord. This holy feast helps us to enter the second of the great Epiphanies in which the earthly ministry of Jesus began. And it is as Jesus was baptized, immersed, in the waters of the Jordan river that the three-fold witness of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was made manifest. This great Epiphany truth gives us an exciting, realistic, and holy perspective in which to live this year of our Lord, 2023. This perspective is gracefully given to us in the ancient prayer from the twelfth century, the Anima Christi. [This prayer is also attributed to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola].

This Holy Spirit-infused prayer can powerfully bring us to grow to abide in and to be immersed in God. We may live in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Regardless of what the days, weeks, and months ahead may bring in circumstances we can freely choose to be immersed in God.

We can choose to allow the Soul of Christ to sanctify us, to set us apart for God and the Kingdom of Christ.

We can grow in the graces of knowing the Body of Christ saving us. As we seek and share in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, growing in that Holy Communion with God and God’s people we can grow in our salvation.

It will be at the pierced side of Christ that we can be immersed in His holy Blood that will inebriate, or as St. John Cardinal Newman translated, will fill all my veins.

And at God’s Son’s same pierced side we will be washed by the holy waters that flowed from his pierced heart. The cleansing water from His side will wash us of the sin, sorrows, and wounds that the world brings.

There at the side of God, we discover the passion of Christ which can infuse our being with holy strength to match whatever challenge our days may bring. It will be with this holy passion the Holy Spirit will guide and lead us in the same fearless love that is God. And as we walk with God that Jesus will hear us as we pray, as we listen to the Living Word, the Logos of the Father.

And when the inevitable wounds of this world occur, as we wonder and ask where we are to go or where we may belong that the kind hands of the Holy Spirit will bring us to hide in the sacred wounds of our Savior. It is within His holy wounds of love we are taught and brought to allow Him to enter within and heal our wounds.

It is there we grow free from the fear of being separated from God. It is within the wounds of God we find protection from the cruel evil one. For it is by the Blood of the Lamb and the word of our witness that the evil one is vanquished.

Then, at the threshold of eternity, at the time of our death, we hear God calling our name to come, to Him and to fully dwell with Him and His saints forever.

As we enter into eternity we discover welling from our souls the praises and worship of God forever and ever. Amen.

The words for this reflection are not many. But please take the time to quietly listen, reflect and respond to this call to be immersed in God.

Epiphany Quest 2023

The 3 Wise Men by Joseph Christian Leyendecker

The Epiphany of the Lord ~ Sunday 8 January 2023 ~ Bible Readings for Mass (Mass during the day): I: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Responsorial: Psalm 72; II: Ephesians 3: 2a, 5-6; Gospel: Matthew 2: 1-12

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. This feast is actually the more ancient of the celebrations around the incarnation of our Lord. And while it is always most thought of in the context of the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem it has long also included the baptism of our Lord and the first recorded miracle of Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Epiphany is the sacred and awesome celebration that brings us to focus upon the manifestation of God, in Jesus Christ. It is centered upon these three great revelations of Jesus as recorded in our sacred and spiritual history. We recognize that epiphanies in the magnitude and context of the Gospels were very distinctive and meant for the physical incarnation of Jesus. Yet, as a people of faith, we also can trust the desire of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, to manifest or reveal Himself in and through our lives in these times and places in which we live.

So, should we not ask, What of Epiphany in this time, this year of 2023? To explore that question let us first explore this first gospel epiphany.

The Gospel of Matthew shares the familiar account of the Magi from the east following the star to Jerusalem and on to Bethlehem. It is likely that “the east” refers to what is now known as Iran and Iraq. The journey would have likely followed the fertile crescent for at least 1200 miles. It would have probably taken 4 to 5 months to travel by camel as tradition and historical context would have indicated. To follow a star indicates that these Magi, wise men or kings were well-educated and followers of astronomy and astrology. Their going to Jerusalem shows us they had some awareness of the faith of the Hebrew people. Their meeting with King Herod shows their own status was significant. But their following of the Scriptures and the star to an humble home in Bethlehem reveals an humility and commitment to seek the truth. It is from the first manifestation of the Christ to the nations that we are better able to follow our own quest to grow in the holy love who is Jesus.

So, what of epiphanies now as we begin this new year? Should we just be content to recognize these revelations of God are just for special times, places, and people? Or may we dare to believe that God with us, Jesus, longs to reveal to us and through us His glory, His mercy and love? Looking to the Light of the Living Word, indeed we can know of the longing in the heart of Christ to reveal more and more of God. It will not follow the same path or magnitude as the Magi. For our journey is our own, with God. But our Epiphany Quest will know the same sort of challenges and blessings.

As it was with the Magi so it is for us. To begin they had to follow the star, the light they had and knew. They did not know the Holy Scriptures as the Hebrews did. They followed a way that some saw as wrong. But God uses the light we have and know to bring us ever closer to Him. It is also necessary to see that it is often in the darkness of our life that we will discover that holy star of hope and grace leading us to know God as we never would have imagined. The Prophet in our first reading calls to Jerusalem (the church) to rise and shine as her light has come. The holy pilgrimage to an epiphany must allow that there will be dark nights of the soul.

The Epiphany Quest of our lives also must have faith. It is well and good to see, maybe recognize some light that would guide us closer to God. But it is wasted if that light is not acted upon with faith. The Magi might have been content to write some texts o their observations from Persia. They could have hypothesized what the star meant, to what did it lead? All from the comfort and safety of their homes. But as is always the case God is not going to lead us snuggled down in our comfort zones. However harmful or dysfunctional they might be. God calls us to TRUST, actively in steps of courage into places and worlds we may not know. We will likely not know where God is leading. But our holy Shepherd does. So we follow, we seek, Christ our Light in faith, and love.

It is not always seen but the story of the Magi coming to Jesus, and bringing their gifts is also a powerful lesson in love. It is easy to acknowledge the wise men followed the light they knew to The Light of Christ. It is also evident that great must have been their faith to travel those 1200 miles to honor, and adore The One they did not know. But it must also be seen that within their hearts, hungering for Him, was a love they could not yet understand. To bring such gifts and freely give them to this young child’s parents revealed a longing to give themselves to Him who called them each, to His side. So it is in our own Epiphany Quests. We must allow the call of Love, the call of God, to grow in our own encounters and realizations of He whose love would set us free.

The Magi would be warned in a dream, in a way perhaps unexpected, to return to their homes by another route. The dangers of hate and doubt shown by Herod were very real. We also have no record of how their epiphanies would change their lives. And perhaps that is a lesson for us as well. To see more, the manifestations of the mercy and glory of Jesus is the way of Epiphany. But how, to whom that is shared we only learn as we continue following that Bright and Morning Star who is the Christ.

What epiphanies will we encounter in this coming year? What dark nights of the soul will show to us His holy star of hope and peace? What priceless and powerful revelations of God’s love and design will we experience? It is only as we seek Him, born in Bethlehem, Emmanuel, in our lives and each other that we will learn the answer to Him who calls. It is a glorious quest of Light, Faith, and Love.

“Teach us to recognize the many forms of your Presence in the Church and in one another.” [From the Intercessions from Morning Prayer, Saturday before Epiphany]

The Presence, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh Scotland by A.E. Borthwick

Christmas, What Happened?

Christmas ~ 25 December 2022 ~ Sunday ~ Bible Readings for Mass During the Night, Christmas Eve: I: Isaiah 9: 1-6; Responsorial: Psalm 96; II: Titus 2: 11-14; Gospel: Luke 2: 1-14

May the blessings of Jesus our Savior be yours as we celebrate his birth. May we each realize deep within our souls the holy truth and joy of Emmanuel, God with us. Let us set aside the distractions, stresses, and worries that would chill and oppress us during this sacred season. Let us trust Jesus who comes to save us from our failings and sins, and come to him.

Again, please, may the blessings of Jesus our Savior be yours as we celebrate his birth. May we realize deep within our souls the holy truth and joy of Emmanuel, God with us.

May the Holy Spirit help us to seek, to see, to know the glory and beauty of Jesus, born in the manger. Together let us come to the humble stable and ask, What happened at Christmas?

Immense would be theological and doctrinal truths we could explore as we begin this season of Christmas. Our Gospel reading begins with the words: “In those days…”. We truly do not know when precisely Jesus was born. Of course, tradition and ancient consensus agreed upon December 25 as the day of the nativity. Scholars and skeptics challenge and ponder the accuracy of that ancient agreement. Many delight in pointing out that Christians “stole” or co-opted the time of celebration from the diverse pagan celebrations centered around the winter solstice. The pagan roots of this celebration are clear and should be accepted not with shame or pride but with the humble realization that this history reflects the holy journey of souls seeking and growing in the truth. That humanity can grow, change and see their faith mature into fuller realizations of God is, in simple terms, the graces of conversion. The winter celebrations of light in the cold darkness of winter are a profound foretelling of the coming of Christ to free us from the darkness of sin. But these ponderings only return us to the more basic question: What happened at Christmas?

“In those days…” So Luke shared in the Gospel for this day. When Jesus was born of the virgin in the manger in Bethlehem countless were the glories that God brought to creation. Let us explore only three on this sacred night.

First, we can recognize that with the birth of Jesus time and eternity meet. When Jesus was born there was brought to all creation the truth that God, eternal was born as a finite person. Jesus, the infant in the manger, opened the veil of eternity with his humanity. What happened in the stable at Bethlehem would open and bridge all of time and eternity. Tonight in this church, and with Christians all over the world what happened at Christmas is shared now, well over 2000 years later. We are not here by accident. We may think we are here because of family, friends, customs, or a holy day of obligation. We would be blessed to realize we celebrate this day because a baby in a manger caused eternity and time, as we know it, to meet. And many are the blessings this Jesus will bring into our lives as we celebrate Him, not for just this day but for all the days of our lives. What presents God has for us as we present ourselves to him every day he brings us?

Secondly, during this sacred season of Christmas, we would realize that with the nativity creation is unlocked. In the garden all creation was free. Our humanity, plants, animals, and God’s heavenly creatures all shared in the good God had made. Sin, of course, broke this celebration of life. The ability of humanity to see beyond their own selves would be hindered and bound. Except for brief moments with the interventions of God and the angels, humanity was locked from realizing the greater fullness of creation. Until Christmas. The power and grace of God would bring the virgin to carry a son. And in the holy birth, all the hard pain of motherhood would bring to all the gift of our Creator. Soon, that night, in the hills above the city creation would further open for the shepherds as the angels heralded the coming of the Messiah. That the heavenly host would share with the humble of humanity had never occurred. Until Jesus was born. Creation opened for the heavens and earth to rejoice. With poignant power and beauty, the psalm proclaims: “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoices; let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them! Then shall the trees of the forest exult….”

What happened at Christmas? Time and eternity have met! All creation is unlocked to worship the Savior!

And of most importance, God and man are become one. The great graces of Christmas are countless but they are all made possible by the boundless embrace of love found in Jesus. God of timeless eternity had created the beauty of the heavens, earth, and people. And in that same holy love, God knew that people must have free will. We needed the ability to… choose. It is that distinctive gift and peril of our human condition that we may choose the good, life, we may choose God. Or not. So sin, rebellion, death, and sorrow were brought into creation. So God did for us what God asks of us, to trust, and to love. In love for us, Jesus was born. Tonight the Christchild would seek us, beckon us, to Him. Jesus dared to mix the holy Divinity that God, is with the broken humanity that we are. And Jesus was born of Mary. God and man became One so that we could be made one with God.

What really happened at Christmas? Are these thoughts shared today just so many words? Is what we read in Scripture, what we have heard in the Gospel just religious fantasy? We must be courageous in asking what really did happen at Christmas over 2000 years ago? And we must also be faithful to honestly ask these questions. But we must also have the courage and faith to allow God to answer.

The answers to what happened at Christmas will only be truly answered when we come to the manger, to Christ today, and ask, Jesus, what really happens when you come to the manger of my heart?

Let the Angels Lead in Trust and Love

4th Sunday of Advent ~ 18 December 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 7: 10-14; Responsorial: Psalm 24; I:: Romans 1: 1-7; Gospel: Matthew 1: 18-24

The Angel with Joseph by Raul Berzosa,

The final days of another season of Advent are here. As we prepare for the holy celebration of Christmas and the joyful season it brings we are challenged to keep our hearts and focus on Christ Jesus, God with us. The many worldly accents of this season can hide, with all the glow and go, the Presence and simple glory of God. As we listen to each segment of God’s Word for this Sunday we are reminded of the plans and the purposes of God for his people and for the world. We are also reminded that our Savior Jesus comes as a light in the midst of great darkness.

We watch the news and see the many people suffering from the war in Ukraine or fleeing from violence and poverty in their homeland here in the Americas. We are reminded that the uncertain journey of Mary and Joseph is expressed in thousands of refugees and victims of war and oppression today. We the faithful today struggle with seemingly endless news of alleged dark wrongs that strive to quench the Holy Spirit of Christ in the Church. And we wonder where is Christ our Light in this darkness?

As we quietly reflect on our Scriptures we can hear the Holy Spirit assuring, challenging, and making clear the promises of God. The darkness and powers of this world were very real and powerful in the times of Mary and Joseph. Those same powers would think they are powerful now. But the plans of God will not be thwarted. The promises of God will not be denied. Unless we choose not to trust and seek Jesus who is promised.

Yet these days before Christmas we are reminded of a distinctly different time in the seeking of Emmanuel, God with us. It is after the Epiphany we are brought to an understanding that we are each, and together, called to follow Christ. Yet in this season prior to celebrating the incarnation of God we are shown that God brings us his angels to prepare the way for our King who is to come. This is a message very relevant for Advent. But it is also a message very relevant as we are always called to prepare for his coming into our lives and particularly for others. This delightful message of participating in God’s grace is shared in our Gospel today.

Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus was carrying in her womb, her son. Joseph, her betrothed has learned of this apparently impossible development. Being a just and righteous man he had decided to divorce Mary privately. As should be, much of our focus should be on Mary, her faith, and her obedient love for God. But we must recognize the extraordinary challenge this brought to Joseph. He loves Mary. They are to wed. But the seeming scandal of her pregnancy is learned and he must figure out what to do. It is likely in the very human exhaustion of stress and worries Joseph fell asleep. God has brought Joseph beyond his abilities. It is there that the angel comes and tells him not to fear but to love, that is, to take Mary for his wife.

As the angel, Gabriel annunciated to Mary the desire and plans of God she was led to prepare for her son, Jesus. Fears were quenched, and faith was made strong. Mary said yes. So it was with Joseph. The angel of God did not deny the fears with which he struggled. He only said not to give and invest in them. And the angel showed Joseph the path he was to take: Trust and Love. It was and is the path, the way we are to prepare, to make way for the coming of Christ.

The Road to Bethlehem by Joseph Brickey

We cannot minimize the degree of the impossible of the incarnation of Jesus, especially in the very human lives of Mary and Joseph. What they were experiencing defied reason and all they understood of their faith. In every literal sense, they were challenged to look to God beyond the very laws of nature and life as they knew and understood it. But as the angel told Mary, WITH GOD, all things are possible. They were being called to prepare for the coming of the Messiah in their own lives and their little poor family. And they could only heed their deeply rooted faith in God and the leading of his angels. The way would be difficult, costly, and dangerous. So as they journey to Bethlehem they undoubtedly talked and trekked quietly with their own souls. But it is also likely they shared and kept in their hearts the simple litany to which they were being called to live. Trust and Love. Trust and Love. Trust and Love.

This holy quest of preparing hearts and homes for Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us has never changed. While thousands of years have come and gone and endless volumes of theology and moral theology have been written the basic way to prepare for Christ is still found in that simple litany to trust and love God and those we encounter in our lives.

Many today may feel they are facing lives and relationships that are impossible or don’t make sense. In the realm of family, the beautiful and timeless standard of a family with a father, mother, and children is as needed and real as ever. But life does not always follow such perfection. Homes are broken by sin, sickness, death, and poverty. For reasons that we must humbly acknowledge we need to admit that the graces of love may differ. One reality, however, is certain, this side of our Lord’s return, Life, love, and families are not always as may be expected or planned, or desired. Sometimes it may seem, as it was for Mary and Joseph, impossible. But, with God all things are possible.

So, this holy season of Advent may we share with Joseph, and with Mary the quest to prepare for the coming of Jesus, God with us in simple, holy trust and love. May we remember that our angels are with us to show us the way for our coming King, Trust and Love.

Gaudate Sunday, Seeking Light

Gaudate, the 3rd Sunday of Advent ~ Bible reading for Mass: I: Isaiah 35: 1-6,10; Responsorial: Psalm 146; II: James 5: 7-10;

Gospel: Matthew 11: 2-11

Many years ago I lived and worked, as a seasonal park aide at Armstrong Redwoods. It was a place and time of great joy and beauty as I lived and worked deep in the Gospel of Creation. To this day I know the trails (present and past) well after spending countless hours walking and hiking in the course of my duties. But this was long before cell phones and after hours the closest phone to my tent cabin was the pay phone at the park entrance, a mile away. Sometimes, after dark, I would walk down to use the phone. One night, with immense confidence in my knowledge and sense of direction I decided to leave the flashlight off. This went well as I walked the road south but at the trailhead, I went to the path. Now a Redwood forest, much of it virgin growth, is, at night, with no moon, dark. Very, very dark. But again, with great assurance in my knowledge and talent, I was assured of making this trek. And I did really well, for about three steps, at which point I walked straight into a massive Redwood tree. Surprised I stepped back and took a couple of steps, into a thicket of undergrowth. I quickly realized my usual good sense of direction was gone and my awareness of the trail was, useless. The flashlight came out and as I made my way back to the trail I finished my walk in the woods, humbled and enlightened.

Today, Gaudate Sunday the pink candle is lit. It symbolizes the joy of the Lord as we celebrate, as we anticipate, and celebrate Christ our light. The light of God’s Word this day reminds us of the great need humanity has for this light and this joy. Jesus, in the Gospel, responding to the followers of John the Baptist, recounts his ministry to those in darkness. The imprisoned, the blind, those who were crippled, the deaf, those in poverty, and even the dead had encountered the joyous splendor of light and hope that came with Jesus.

But this Sunday, when indeed we know many depths of darkness around us we live in a world that seeks to extoll the false gods of self. We are told we are the light and all we need to do is discover ourselves and all will be light and joy. I have to say, from experience, my self without my Savior is like wandering the trail, in the dark. But, we are called to the Light, who is Christ, and we are called to be filled with his joy. This holy season of Advent we are lighting these candles as we symbolize our faith, our seeking of Christ our Light, and joy who is coming. And we are reminded that there is no darkness that can overcome the Light of Christ.

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” St. Francis of Assisi

We are called to seek, to follow:

The Light of God’s Joy. Sometimes Christians seem to forget or, to share that God calls us to be filled with His joy. This is not the giddy, empty happiness seen on television advertisements. It is not an happiness determined by what we have, what we are getting or what we think we have achieved. True joy is rooted deep in our God, who is love. It is in that assurance of holy love that joy comes to life. It is in the same love of God that we share with others that brings us the joy of Heaven. Jesus, just hours before his betrayal and passion promised his followers their joy would be full if they would but love each other, and God as he loved them.

The Light of God’s Presence. The season of Advent now brings us to focus upon the coming of Jesus, Emmanuel, of God with us. As we walk the Advent path for the next two weeks we can know the angels would be calling us to draw ever closer to Jesus. Although we may be busier, although we may be even more stressed or worried the Presence of Christ beckons to each of us and all of us. God is truly present in the Holy Eucharist we receive at Mass. His sacred Body and Blood fuel our souls with His eternal Presence no matter how dark the path we walk. We find His Presence in the Word of God. The Living Word, Christ the Lord would speak to us calling us each to draw ever closer into His Kingdom. And we discover God’s Presence in creation as we walk in all the good and beauty He makes. And, perhaps most challenging we find His Presence in each other. And as we draw near to He who is Light we realize that indeed each of us has light, but it it is not self, it is our Savior.

The Light of God’s joy shared. Sometimes we wonder, where is God? Where is our promised Lord in the darkness of life? Many are the promises God makes that His light will never be extinguished. So where does God, our light go? It is not that Jesus our light would leave us. But if the holy candle of His Presence seems dim it could be the problem is not the light but the distance. *Christ our Light, our joy cannot diminish or depart from us. But we are free to depart, to allow distance to come between us and God. Many are the forces of darkness that would seek to dissuade us away from God. But it is our choice to move away or to draw ever closer. And there is one sure way to be certain we are close to that Light of Christ. If we are to share Him His light must be close.

It is so very easy to be mindful of the darkness. It is also so very easy to have confidence in ourselves to find our way on these paths that are often quite dark. But we soon learn that the darkness is very real and deep. And we discover that our abilities, our knowledge, or understanding are limited at best. It is from the difficult places we can look up and see the candle beckoning us home. And as we draw close we realize that this light is…Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

Radical Repentance: Love

2nd Sunday of Advent ~ 4 December 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 11: 1-10; Responsorial: Palm 72; II: Romans 15: 4-9; Gospel: Matthew 3: 1-12

This second Sunday of Advent we light another violet candle. The first candle symbolizes hope. This second candle represents peace. In anticipation, in preparation for the coming of Christ our King into our lives, our Church should be faithfully working to nourish hearts and homes for Christ in hope and peace. God’s Word as always gives us light far more beautiful and brighter than any Christmas decorations. This holy light shines brightly upon the true path of Advent, repentance, and the guide and power of this glorious way. We are all called, as individual Christians and as God’s Church to be following, living in the way of radical, true repentance, or penance. The way of God’s love.

“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” proclaims the prophet, John the Baptist. The prophet was seeking to prepare the way for the coming, the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, the Christ. But the words are just as urgent and relevant today, over two thousand years later as we prepare for the return of Jesus, the King of Kings. As Catholics, we recognize and would seek the holy place of penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But we all must remember that very Biblical grace-filled act is but a starting place of renewed journeying in the way of Jesus.

In times past (and for some people now) repentance would mean great mortification of self, of the flesh, and often an embrace of self-punishments intended to mortify the flesh. The intent of these perceptions may have been good but their pursuit often resulted in the grave injury of spirit, soul, and body. Yet for many of us who seek to grow in Christ, we may want to know the way of radical repentance or penance. Should we wear an hair shirt? Should we eat only bread and water? What would God ask of us if we are truly seeking the kingdom of heaven?

Again let us follow the light of the Living Word. As our Gospel calls us to be a people of penance our other readings enrich that Gospel with the instruction that we are to be a people infused in the Holy Spirit, The Spirit of Christ so eloquently described by Isaiah the prophet. It is one of the great tasks of the Holy Spirit to lead us to sanctification in Christ. This cleansing journey, the work of faithful penance is a walk not of specific acts but a way of life. To be following in radical repentance is to be growing in the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

In our second reading from St. Paul we read: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Jesus Christ Jesus that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It was in this same letter of St. Paul to the church at Rome that the way to achieve this was by walking in the Holy Spirit, together, away from our sins, in the love of God. (Romans 8).

The same Spirit that caused St. John the Baptist to call us to repentance is proclaimed to be coming from Christ in a baptism of strength and fire. And it is this same Holy Spirit that nourishes in holiness to be fruitful, bearing genuine, real fruit of our penance. The fruits of the Holy Ghost are numerous. But always the first and foremost is love. If we were to seek to be fruitful of God in all His ways this first fruit of grace would bring them all.

This holy season of Advent we are reminded that it is God’s love that brings our King and Savior to come in glory and justice. It is in this reverent season we realize that it was for love God chose a manger in a stable in which to be born. This love of God is rooted deep in the power of the Paraclete to vanquish fear, to quench ignorance, and to be a people of mercy and holy welcome spoken of by Paul in our second reading.

In our personal faith and lives, this commitment to radical repentance will bring us to…love as God loves us. We will grow in that same self-emptying that helps us see all that would hinder us from growing in our Yes! to God. We will grow in letting go of the effort to protect or hide our seeming assets and treasures and instead simply seek to live in the way of simple Gospel faith, hope and peace.

But the path of radical repentance is not just meant for the individual believer. The Church, the Body of Christ is called to be prepared for Christ our Savior and King. Sadly, in that, we are people seeking to follow Christ our God we, as a body fail, and we may sin in efforts to make the journey we seek easier. But this truth does not dismiss our responsibility to God, each other and the world. Sadly history shows us the ways Christians have molded the message of the Gospel with sin, strife, and unforgiveness. That some who profess Christ espouse messages of hate and bigotry are but one cruel example. That some clergy in all parts of the Christian faith have abused and wronged young people is a sin that cannot be denied or that should ever be covered up. Again as for individuals so for the church, the efforts to avoid responsibility or hide assets that could be used in reparations are simply wrong. What if property is lost? What if lavish churches, musical programs, vestments, and practices cannot be maintained? What if the world, wounded souls could see a radical repentance in practice that expressed a true sorrow for sin and a deep hunger for God and healing forgiveness?

Advent is a time to renew and deepen our hearts for God in true, radical repentance. It is a time in which we can grow in the freedom and power of the Holy Spirit that would guide us to let go of our pride and earthly riches and instead invest in a simple, holy love that brings us to Jesus and brings us to better give Christ to the world.

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