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Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin, Permanent Deacon.

Pray for the Ukraine, Pray with the Ukrainians

The prayers of all people of faith and goodwill are urgently needed. Praying the Our Father is a prayer known and prayed by many. Here is the Our Father prayed in Ukrainian:

Amen.

To Judge… or… To Love

7th Sunday of Ordinary time ~ 20 February 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: I Samuel 26: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Responsorial: Psalm 103; II: I Corinthians 15: 27-38; Gospel: Luke 6: 27- 38

The Body of Christ, commanded to judge or love? (Source, location unknown)

It might be said by some that our Scripture readings this Sunday are incredible. While faith and trust in God’s Word may be professed the acceptance and obedience or the following of the examples shared would be deemed by many as… incredible, that is lacking credibility.

Our first reading from the book of I Samuel describes an event in the life of young David as he is being pursued by King Saul who has clear intent to kill David as a threat to his throne. Providence has intervened and David with one of his faithful advisors and soldiers, Abishai are standing next to a sleeping King Saul with Saul’s spear at hand. The opportunity is strong to end the ruthless pursuit by the insanely jealous Saul. David, although anointed king refuses to commit regicide as he recognizes the anointing upon Saul as sacred.

The responsorial psalm, Psalm 103, is perhaps the most beautiful and powerful proclamations of the mercy, forgiveness, and love God has for His children, a love that separates our sins from us, as far as the east is from the west. This holy glimpse into the spiritual geography of the Kingdom of God would conquer our fallen humanity, our guilt, and our propensity to judge.

The second Bible reading, from the epistle of I Corinthians, teaches us that the cosmic collapse of Adam and Eve into the cruel realities of sin and guilt is a timeless reality. The letter then proceeds to teach us of an even greater reality that in Christ we are able to bear the heavenly image of Christ our Savior.

And in our Gospel reading from Luke, we continue to receive, from Jesus, and his the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus shares some of the most seemingly incredible statements, principles, holy standards that are given to His disciples, then and now. Jesus commands: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” And as if these words were not clear or plain enough our Lord commands us: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Christ continues to teach, and speak with eternal clarity of this command to love. But then he intensifies the message even more. After stating we must show the same mercy as God the Father shows us we are then to: “Stop judging…stop condemning, forgive…“. Many in the time of Jesus were incredulous of Christ and these words that were deemed absurd.

Time has not changed for many souls. In a world infused and drenched with greed, violence, and hate, in a world where Jesus said that His disciples are to be known by the love they have for God, one another, and by their love for their neighbors we see something else. The world sees Christians squabbling over their faith, their worship, their liturgy. The world sees and hears regular judgment of those outside of the faith and among those within the church. But if we were to see our Lord we would see Jesus weep.

The Bible indeed has much to say about judging others. There are clear circumstances, taught in the New Testament, and by our Lord where judgment, or discernment is a necessity. But those circumstances and the principles in which they are to be shared are specific and limited in scope and authority. But the command to not judge is far broader and embracing. Yet many would say that IF we really love someone then we must “judge their sin” and not the person. Indeed we may well need to share that certain pathways, or actions are destructive and contrary to the designs and will of God. But to condemn or judge another as unworthy of Christ or unworthy of His mercy and love is to take actions and exercise faculties for which we do not have. For if we are honest before God and each other we do not understand or know what is in the heart of another (or even ourselves). I think of the example of St. Teresa of Calcutta. She shared the compassion and mercy, the love of God with anyone in need in places and times and with souls who were not apparently faithful Christians (as judged by some. During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, St. Teresa’s order opened some of the very first residences in San Francisco and elsewhere to provide care for those dying of AIDs. Those needing care, needing love in their last days and hours had often been judged and rejected by family and churches. Solace, care, comfort were given and souls found the timeless message of God’s mercy.

Jesus would not be instructing us to ignore the cruel realities of sin and evil. He simply calls us to the holy love that looks past the wounds and dirt of this world to see each other as He sees us. He calls us to love with the healing hope and mercy of God and care for the soul left by the side of life’s road.

We may see someone whom we know is struggling with sin, with life and we may see them at church. Great may be the temptation to judge them as failed, lesser Christians, unworthy of true reverence for God and especially holy communion. Their sin, their struggles may be grossly real. But before we judge we would do well to pray for them, to ask God to heal them of whatever lack of love would lead them to seek something else to fill their void, to deaden the pain of their wounds. This could lead the Body of Christ to truly be a place of redeeming holiness and love that sets souls free. These graces would apply no matter the depth of sin, scandal, or despair. But we must be ready to be that friend that will show them that love God would share with them and for which we should be praying. The Scriptures for this Sunday challenge us in our faith communities, our families, and in our hearts. The light of the Word who is Jesus might well be asking us, as we encounter these decisions, how qualified, how wise am I, are any of us, to judge… love? Perhaps if we chose to love as Christ loves us, instead of judging, then the world would start to truly know we are Christians by the love we have one for another. Our faith, our love then would be much more credible.

“In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” ~ St. John of the Cross
(Image source unknown)

Blessings and Woes

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ Sunday 13 February 2022 ~ Bible readings for Mass: I: Jeremiah 17: 5 – 8; Responsorial: Psalm 1; II: I Corinthians 15: 12, 16 – 20; Gospel: Luke 6: 17, 20 – 26

Photo source unknown

Blessing or Woe? The readings we share from the Bible this Sunday clearly proclaim that God places before us and, before all humanity a question of very basic yet eternal magnitude. Will we bother to discern and decide whether a course of action we make will bring God’s blessing or the woes that befall those who choose to turn away from following God? The image above is from an ancient castle and shows a classic opening from which defending archers would shoot their arrows at attacking enemies. It brutally shows a place of blessing or a place of woe, depending on the perspective of the individual. It also shows another paradox. The cross was a place for the accursed, a place of ultimate woe and despair. But it also illustrates that the cross is for the follower of Christ the place of life, light, and hope. It helps us realize our call, daily, to choose the blessings of God or the woes of unbelief.

Sermon on the Plain by Karely Ferenczy

In our Gospel for today, we read Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Plain. It has many points of similarity with the more prominent Sermon of the Mount found in Matthew’s gospel (Chapters 5-7). But it also proclaims some clear differences. Those realities point to how Jesus sought and taught to share the Gospel in places and ways relevant and fresh for the times and hearts of the listeners. The illustration above also bears this out rather well. We see Jesus teaching on a gentle plain to a crowd of listeners dressed in the fashions of the day of the artist, Karaly Ferenczy. It reminds us that God’s Word, whether heard for the first time millennia ago or read and shared today is meant, by the Holy Spirit to be fresh, relevant, empowered for now. Or, said more directly, God’s intends and desires that His blessings be fresh and alive in our lives now. And it affirms that unbelief and choices made against God will result in unavoidable sorrows and woes unless repentance and conversion are graces presently alive in our life. The grammatical present tense of the Gospel today is clear. God would speak to our hearts… today if we will listen.

There is for some folks a tendency or even a temptation to make God into their image, their understanding of who God should be and what God should be like. This is indicated by the tendency to focus only on the blessings believed God wants us to have, or those blessings according to whom and how we may think God should distribute them. We also may be inclined to avoid or dismiss any real realization of the woes that God would pronounce. Or, again certain woes would be recognized and affirmed mainly against those who may differ from our understanding and place in our faith.

But God’s Word is quite clear. The blessings of God are predicated by our faith and seeking to live in the ways of God proclaimed in Scripture. They are not dependent on our circumstances, or our feelings. They are from God and exceed, infinitely the lesser matters of worldy attitudes and status. Likewise, the sorrows and woes coming from choices against God will come, unless repentance is embraced, and human wisdom, power and ability will not enable us to escape from the results of rebellion. The options God would share are clear. But as the refrain from the Psalm proclaims, “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.”

It is worthwhile to note the crowd to whom Jesus spoke that day on the plain. There were people from: “Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.” (Lu. 6:17). Jesus was addressing Jews and Gentiles, devout Hebrews, and undoubtedly souls of weaker or even other faiths if the demographics are understood. He was making it clear our social or spiritual status, no matter how important or prominent was not important. What was important was the heart for God and each other.

Every day we are called by the Holy Spirit to choose between blessing and woe. This is often most understood regarding ourselves and that is valid. We are called to discern between actions and words, places and even people that influence our lives. Are our choices empowering and bringing God’s blessings of His peace, hope, mercy, forgiveness and love. Are we growing richer in the blessings of heaven even if our worldly struggles exist or grow? In the most basic and clear way, are we choosing Christ, to grow in His will and closer in His Presence?

As we grow in blessing, as we grow in Christ we will learn that these blessings and woes will be shared with others. Do my words, actions and focus bring God and God’s blessings more intimately into the lives of others? Or do they result in wounds, doubts, fear, and cause others to distance themselves from God’s people and God? Again, as always the context of Scripture is essential to see. Jesus was facing the doubt-filled ignorance and hate of the Pharisees and scribes growing in their challenges against Christ. Yes, they were very religious. They knew the Scriptures, rules, and traditions of their religion but they knew not God when He stood before them. Instead of using their faith to grow closer and bring others closer to God, they focused instead on using their spiritual knowledge as hammers and wedges dividing, wounding, and assaulting the faith of others. The premise of might makes right fueled the abuses of persecution, spiritual hunger, hate, and sorrow. While their ultimate woes may not be recognized their inevitability was made clear by Jesus.

Blessing or Woe? These are choices we must make in our daily and ongoing journey for God and His Kingdom. We realize we each have made woe-filled choices. What is our Hope? We see it in the first image, the cross of Christ where we leave our failings, woes, and sinful decisions to God’s mercy and forgiveness. What of our sorrows, wounds, and hopes for God’s blessings? We find the, again, at His cross, in His Presence. And we especially grow in God’s Real Presence in the Holy Spirit, The Word of God, and the Eucharist. May the place of greatest blessing, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ help us to grow as a people sharing those blessings and freeing this world from the many woes which we may face.

We adore you O Christ and we bless you for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

Jesus on the cross by Simon Bisley

God is…

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 30 January 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Responsorial: Psalm 71; II: I Corinthians 12: 31- 13:13; Gospel: Luke 4:21-30

The Attempt to hurl Jesus off the cliff in Nazareth [Source unknown]

Our reading from the Gospel of Luke today shares the account of Jesus reading in the synagogue in Nazareth and after explaining the reading from Isaiah prophecy is pushed out of the place he worshipped as a boy and the townspeople seek to cast him off the cliff of the town. It is an early and sad account of the rejection Jesus would face as he sought to proclaim and bring God’s Kingdom to the world. This early, violent rejection was but a bitter taste of what was to come. But why? What did Christ say that so infuriated the people of his hometown?

Jesus in the synagogue that Sabbath said but a few words. But what he did say powerfully confronted the little faith and equally little scope of the listener’s relationship with God. As their smallness was confronted they responded as many of us may do with protest and bitter anger. It would have been much better received if the Christ would have confronted the sins and failures of others outside the synagogue, the Romans, the lapsed Jews, anyone but those in attendance. This dramatic break in the relationship of those of Nazareth and their hometown boy is a sad lesson in how our relationship with and awareness of God, if weak or restricted, can cause us to reject and wound God who we would worship. It brings us to prayerfully consider a vital question. In my heart, my mind, and my soul, my life, who, what is God, to me?

Over the ages, many souls, great and perhaps self-presumed as great, have sought to answer that question. In our own age, there is an incredible array of expertise ready to answer that question, “God is??? for us. And as we apply ourselves to many of these sources we may find our minds and hearts with confusion and doubt. But it is helpful and important to remember that God is beyond our human understanding. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is so infinite in awe and beauty that to attempt to explain or reduce God to the paradigms we construct would be futile at best. But if we remember God is one in three persons and that while we cannot understand that truth we can relate, and that we are called to love to our Creator, Savior, God.

Our relationship with, our growing in our realization of who God is, can be brought into a clarity that can grow for us for all eternity as we faithfully look to and embrace our second reading from I Corinthians. The “Love Chapter” is often relegated to the marriage ceremony where it is read, or maybe sung and then often forgotten. But it is Holy Spirit infused Truth for our walk with God, daily.

To help better immerse our lives, our relationship with Jesus into this power let us take some literary license that is very solid in Biblical Truth. In I John 4:16 we read:

“So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

As we take this holy grace and apply it to I Corinthians 13 we can realize something profound. We may faithfully read:

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have God, I am a resounding gong or clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have God, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have God, I gain nothing.

God is patient, God is kind. God is not jealous, is not pompous, is not inflated. God is not rude, does not seek selfish interests, God is not quick-tempered, does not brood over injury, God does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

God never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child; think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is…God.

The people in the synagogue of Nazareth that day were faced with Jesus, they were faced with Love beyond their imaginations and understanding. And they were offended and scared so that they sought to cast him away from the cliff. So Jesus calls us to Himself, and to turn away from our failed understandings. He calls us to follow Him to another hill. He call us to follow Love. May we each, together, grow in our realization and relationships of this holy truth. God is Love.

Source of this place: God, Source of this picture, unknown.

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!

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