Sunday, January 14, 2018

Behold, the Lamb of God...Come and See!

2 Sun OT Yr B (2018)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

Recognize Jesus, and respond to His invitation.

Behold, the Lamb of God…Come and see…”

Recognize Jesus, and respond to His invitation – isn’t that the essence of being a Christian? If someone did all the other “Christian things” but somehow failed to recognize Jesus and respond to His invitation, would they really be a Christian?  If someone went to Mass every Sunday – or even every day; if they were kind and loving to those around them and helped those in need around them – if someone was really a “good person,” but didn’t recognize Jesus and respond to His invitations in their lives, would they really be a Christian? 

Well…no.  No, they wouldn’t.  I’ve known just as many atheists, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus who do all of those things – and very often do it much better than we do.  But Father, you included going to Mass in that list.  Atheists and Hindus and Buddhists don’t go to Mass.  Well…OK.  But, if we don’t recognize Jesus when we go to Mass and respond to His invitation, going to Mass is really no different than going to a Rotary Club meeting, or a movie or a concert. Recognizing Jesus, and responding to His invitation - “Behold, the Lamb of God…Come and see…” – that’s the essence of what it means to be a Christian. 

Are you a Christian?

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When they met Jesus, they immediately recognized who He was; well, at least Andrew did.  “We have found the Messiah,” he told Peter.  How could Andrew know that so quickly?  He was living life looking for Jesus.  Time after time in the Scriptures, people who seem to be on the fringes of the faith community seem to recognize Jesus as the Messiah instantly and respond to Him – they often literally stopped what they were doing, left everything about their lives behind and followed Him right after meeting Him.  People on the fringes of the faith recognized who Jesus was as soon as they met Him, while those inside the Church, supposed faith leaders and Church officials, seemed to completely miss the boat.  The Pharisees and Sadducees and the Sanhedrin plotted and schemed and eventually executed Him.  Why?  Seems like some of the real down to earth people were busy living life and looking for the Messiah while some of the most important people in the Church were too busy looking at themselves and their petty squabbles and opinion and debating their pet issues to notice God Himself when He arrived on the scene.

What about you?  When was the last time you bumped into Jesus Christ?  When was the last time you stood on Holy Ground in the presence of the Messiah alive and active in your life and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  At Mass even, when was the last time you saw with the eyes of faith the preparations at the sacred altar that lead to the re-presentation, the achieving again in time the once and for all eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself.  When was the last time you actually recognized, felt, encountered Jesus Christ lifted high above the altar just as He was lifted high on the cross, and noticed Jesus Christ when the priest shows Him to you and says, Behold the Lamb of God! 

When was the last time you felt Jesus bump into you in the grocery store or in the halls of your school in the random act of kindness of a stranger, or the gentle tug on your heart to go be Jesus to someone else.  When was the last time you felt Jesus ask you to give Him your life, your hopes and dreams and plans and follow Him on a crazy path to the seminary or the convent, the mission field or the Parish Council, to the homeless shelter or the small room of the crowded nursing home?  When the Knights ask for help making the Fish Fry possible, or the Holy Spirit nudges your heart to make a commitment to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – isn’t that Jesus?  When was the last time you saw Jesus in your life and said, Behold the Lamb of God! 

A Christian knows that Jesus is all around us, calling us, healing us, encouraging us, pulling and tugging us out of our comfort zones for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls… And so a Christian is living their life looking for Jesus to appear around every corner, and recognizes and acknowledges His divine presence when He appears: “Behold the Lamb of God!”

You can go through all the right motions…but if you don’t recognize Jesus when He appears in your life…and He is appearing in your life, you’ll see it if you look for Him…if you don’t recognize Jesus, you might be a good person, but you’re not a Christian.   

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Recognizing Jesus, and responding to His invitation - “Behold, the Lamb of God…Come and see…” – that’s the essence of what it means to be a Christian. 

Are you a Christian?

They recognized who Jesus was, and when He invited them to Come and see…they went and saw.  Jesus is all over the place in our lives, family; He’s all over the place in our lives and He’s inviting us to Come and see all kinds of things.  That neighbor who needs a friend…Jesus says, “Come and see how I wish to bless you both by stepping out of your comfort zone and busy schedule to be kindness and community for them.”  That spark of excitement you before you chase away that little spark of the divine call in your heart that says, “You – yes you – you can be my priest, come and see what it’s like to live life on that Great Adventure.”  That’s Jesus…how do you respond to Him?  It’s Jesus saying, “come and see” when the Parish Life Committee hosts gatherings after Mass and you’re invited to spend a few minutes getting to know your sisters and brothers in this parish – because He’s inviting you to “come and see” that He is in and among them – and He’s in and among you and they need to encounter Him in you, too. 

That’s Jesus saying “come and see” when we ask over and over again for members of the parish to get involved in the many ministries and efforts to serve God and neighbor; it’s Jesus when I tap you on your shoulder and share that my prayer suggests God may be calling you to step forward and be a leader in our family of faith, inviting you to “come and see” how your own faith will grow when you accept responsibility for something important in the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls in our little corner of the world; it’s Jesus saying “come and see” how you can be a part of saving a soul when the Spirit prompts you to invite your friend to Church (or back to Church)…

Jesus is all over the place inviting you to “come and see…,” but…do you recognize Him? Do you go where He invites?

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Recognizing Jesus, and responding to His invitation - “Behold, the Lamb of God…Come and see…” – that’s the essence of what it means to be a Christian. 


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What about you, friend – what about you? Are you a Christian?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Zelda and the Wise Men...

Christmas - Epiphany Yr B (2018)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

I had an epiphany this week.  That shouldn't be surprising - some sort of awakening or new understanding should accompany our celebration of the Epiphany.  That is, after all, the meaning of the word “epiphany” – a moment of sudden insight or understanding.  The Greek root of this word carries the sense of a manifestation.  The sudden understanding of an epiphany doesn’t start with us:  we don’t “discover” something, something is revealed to us.  At Epiphany, God shows Himself to be Emmanuel – God-with-Us.  God is faithful and patient, He preserves and strengthens us for His coming.  He didn’t just come to us, He came as one of us.  His love – the lengths He will go to so we’ll encounter and embrace His love and friendship know no bounds…if we can open our eyes and hearts to see Him for who He is we’ll have an Epiphany too – and we’ll forever be changed.

You see:  we haven't really experienced Christmas until we, too, have followed the path of the wise men and had our own Epiphany. They came without knowing where they were going; they saw with the eyes of faith; and they were changed as a result.

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They came without knowing where they were going.

We don't know much about these men from the East except that they were searching, looking for a sign; and when they saw the sign, they followed it where it led them, even though they had no idea where it was leading.  What an adventure!  Like playing Zelda or Skyrim, they set out on an adventure without knowing where it leads.  That’s what God asks from us, too, isn’t it?  To set out, trusting Him, in the adventure of this life…having some idea of what we’re seeking, but often without any idea where we’re going.  That’s what it means to discern a vocation.  That’s what it means to live a life of ministry.  That’s what it means to set out in the vocation of marriage.  Like the Wise Men, we have to set out in faith, even when we don’t know where we’re going.

A while ago, I set out to meet some friends at ‘the best little coffee shop around.’  I'd never been there before, and was in a town I'm not at all familiar with.  All I had was my GPS.  In the maze of one-way streets and strange parking arrangements, even after I heard the GPS announce 'Arriving at Destination,' I drove around for another 10 minutes almost completely lost.  But my desire to visit with my friends urged me on - and eventually I found it.

We are all coming from different places in our lives - but in one way or another, God is calling us toward Himself.  He calls us into this community of faith, He calls us to step out in faith and help meet the needs of our ministries for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.  He calls us to hear and respond to His word, especially when it stretches us beyond our comfort zones and leads us in directions we never planned to go.  Sometimes all we have is some vague notion of which direction to go - some vague understanding of what it means to live the Christian life in this crazy, crazy world.  That’s the Great Adventure of it all!  We are called to live like the Magi, who came without knowing where they were going...

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... and saw with the eyes of faith.

No one in their right mind would present these particular gifts to a poor child living in the middle of nowhere.  They saw more than there was to see!  The gifts they offered prove the Magi encountered something beyond what eyes and reason could not explain.  Gold is fit for a king!  It’s a sign of wealth and dominion, a symbol of the power to accomplish whatever he wills.  And frankincense, a scent set apart for use in the sanctuary of the temple to worship of the Most High God.  Nothing they saw with their eyes could justify such a gift.  But they saw lying there in the manger the One Who Is To Come!  And what about myrrh?  Its bitterness was normally an embalming additive for dressing the bodies of the dead.  These wise men saw the shadow of the Cross in the new life of the manger. These wise men didn't see a baby stricken with poverty and unsavory family circumstance; no, they saw the King of Kings destined for a profoundly sacrificial life!

When I finally found that little coffee shop, I almost turned around and left.  It wasn't anything like I'd imagined.  Sparse and silent, instead of the warm glow and soft music expected.  Only four drinks on the menu.  No large, comfy leather chairs to relax in, just cold, hard, hand-me-down dining room chairs from decades past.  There was NOTHING about this place that said 'best coffee shop around' - nothing... except the company, the friendship, and - once I got past my initial impressions - the coffee itself.

How many times in our lives are we traveling as best as we can along the direction we think God is pointing us, only to arrive and look around in disbelief.  Do we give up, turn around, head back in the safe and comfortable direction?  Not if we want to complete the quest!  The Great Adventure of the Christian life requires us to keep going until we can see with the eyes of faith what God is bringing us to. Like the wise men, we are called to walk the path without knowing the destination, and to see ourselves and the world around us with the eyes of faith.

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They came without knowing where they were going, they saw with the eyes of faith – and they allowed that to change them.  It changed them!  They departed by a different way! Because they followed God’s leading - even when it was difficult to understand - they followed the path laid out for them and arrived in the presence of the Savior.  Because they saw with the eyes of faith, they truly encountered God’s love and mercy – they experienced the salvation of God in the flesh.  The same is true for us.  Without the journey and the eyes of faith, December 25th is nothing more than the birthday of a poor obscure Jewish boy.  There is no experience of Christmas without the Epiphany.

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Several years ago, I started seeing a beautiful phrase on Christmas cards and decorations.  ‘Wise Men Still Seek Him.'  Yes, friends, wise women and men still seek Him!  They journey without knowing where they're going, they see with the eyes of faith, and they are changed when they encounter Jesus Christ. 

What about you?  How have you been changed by the coming of Christ this year?  There’s still time to encounter your Epiphany this year.  They allowed themselves to be changed, and departed by a different way.  How will you be changed by Christmas this year, and depart by a different way…? 

What about you?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Real Life, Joy of Love - THAT Makes Families Holy

Christmas - Holy Family Yr B (2018)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

“Just you wait until your father gets home…”  I wonder if Jesus ever needed to be scolded or corrected.  We know Jesus didn’t sin…but…does that mean He never got into trouble?  That He never needed to be put in “time out”?  I’m not sure…  “Listen to your mother and take out the trash before you go play with your friends.”  If Jesus had to grow and become strong and filled with wisdom, surely some of the same things that we go through in our families had to be commonplace in the Holy Family for those first years.  They were a poor family, and for several years they were refugee immigrants living in a foreign land.  Did the other children make fun of Jesus?  Did He get His feelings hurt?  How did Mary and Joseph love and nurture Him through the challenging and amazing moments?

I’m not a good enough theologian to have many of the answers about life in the Holy Family – but I do have lots of questions.  How did Mary and Joseph guide Jesus as He came to a full understanding or awareness of who He was?  Mary had some important answers – “Yes, Son – you are the Messiah.  God is your Father in a way different from the rest of us.”  But…did Jesus have questions about all that in His younger years?  He was fully God, so certainly He had some awareness – but He was fully human, too – so, did Mary and Joseph have to help Him understand it ever more completely as He grew?  At the very least, they had to parent Him through those quiet years where Scripture is silent.  Dirty diapers.  Scrapped knees.  Learning to speak, learning to read.  Practicing their faith. 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph were unlike any family there ever was – there’s no doubt about that.  But there’s also absolutely no doubt that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were also in some ways exactly like every family.  The Holy Family in many important ways was exactly like your family; like our parish family here at Ss. Peter & Paul.  They didn’t have all the answers – though they did have the important answers.  God’s plan unfolded itself in their lives in the slow and steady pace of life, sunrise-midday-sunset-night-repeat, day after day, year after year.  Ordinary moments and extraordinary moments stringing together to weave a tapestry of human experience interwoven with the thread of the divine plan and person in every stitch. 

And…we’re supposed to imitate them.  All the prayers for the Mass today point us to that lesson, that moral, that priority for family life.  Imitate the Holy Family.  I see our families doing that.  I see parents not pretending to have all the answers or be the expert on absolutely everything, who are willing to learn to serve Mass with their children – learning together, serving together, growing in faith together.  I see parents faithfully serving the various ministries and efforts of our parish family together with their children, packing meals for Soups On Us, teaching CCD.  I see families gathering together at our “Family Night Catechesis” events, learning together about the Mass, parents guiding the children and sometimes children guiding parents closer to Jesus Christ, becoming stronger in the faith, opening themselves to the call of authentic discipleship and friendship with the Lord.  I see parents and teenagers struggling through the real-life of growing up, self-awareness, tough choices...

I think it’s things like that which make a family holy.  Real life, with very little pretending.  Acknowledging gaps in knowledge, a need to develop virtue, recognizing when the priorities of the world we live in have creeped in to overshadow the priorities of the world that is our home in heaven and striving to do better.  All while holding tight and fast to the bond of love above all else.  Disagreements, frustrations, mistakes, misunderstandings healed and held together in love.  Letting go of the imaginary image of perfection to experience the perfection of living this life – this Christian life – authentically, willing to work together and move forward in what is and is true, rather than what is pretend.

Oh…I’m not blind.  I know our families aren’t always doing this.  We are, after all, imperfect families even as we strive to be holy families.  But, little by little we’re continuing to “get it” – continuing to try, willing to admit we haven’t already got it figured all out.  Seems to me that’s the centerpiece of the authentic holy family.

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Pope Francis recently said something beautiful:  “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”  The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.  There’s a connection between what it means to be a holy family and what it means to be a holy parish, a holy Church.  The first connection is love – the bond, the unity, the oneness that makes the family perfect.  In this coming year, I hope we continue to be that kind of family at Ss. Peter & Paul – connected to one another above all else in love for one another and love for Jesus and the Church.  The second connection is joy.  Joy!  Think of the joy you felt – I hope you felt – at seeing our worship space completed for our Christmas celebrations.  Through all the twists and turns of the last year together, I hope we’ve grown together in both love and joy – and that we work hard to do that in the year to come.

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Friends – family – the new year is upon us.  There are so many exciting things on the horizon for us.  Change and same.  Expected and unexpected.  Growth and expansion along with pruning and refocusing. As we round out our celebration of Christmas by celebrating the Holy Family and prepare for the year ahead, will you commit with me to being in our families and in our parish family a holy family.  A family that doesn’t necessarily have all the answers, but nevertheless has the important answers fixed firmly in mind:  love, joy, Jesus Christ, the Eucharist, the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.  A family that isn’t afraid to acknowledge what we don’t know and ask the questions that lead us to the answers.  A family that is willing to name its opportunities for improvement as easily as we’re willing to name our strengths – and invest effort to work with both. 

You’ll hear much more about who we are continuing to become in 2018 – you’ve heard it before and we’ll hear even more of it in the weeks and months to come.  We are a family of missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Eucharist and strengthened by the sacraments, eager to live life for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.

Can we make this the mission of your family and our parish family.  Can we continue to become a holy family of holy families – filled with the joy of love working together to be friends and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes…we can.  And, in Christ Jesus we will.  Amen?

Holy Family…pray for us.