Inconveniences Are Good

Dear Parishioners,

This is a beautiful Gospel scene.  There is a lot to unpack, a lot upon which to reflect.  One thing immediately comes to my mind is inconvenience.  Jesus does not mind inconveniencing people. 

First, the crowd.  The crowd is "pressing in on Jesus." They obviously want to be close to Jesus—to hear him more clearly and perhaps even touch him.  Jesus leaves the throng and continues his lessons from a boat in the lake.  'Where are you going, Lord? Don't leave us!'

Second, the fishermen.  They had just finished their long day of labor.  They had secured their boats, were washing their nets, and ready to go home for the day.  They must have thought, when Jesus chose their two boats, "Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" The day's not over yet, fisherman.  They drag back the clean nets, unhinge the boat, and set off into the lake, as if it was morning already for the next day of work.

Third, the fishermen, part 2.  Not only are the workers back out on the lake when they thought they were finished for the day, they are now instructed to throw the nets back in to resume their fishing.  Not only was this laborious, it was emotionally draining.  They were already demoralized, having caught nothing for the day.  Being told to try fishing again must have been hard to swallow.  It's like a father insisting to his boy to continue hitting the golf ball when he just can't get it right.  'Can't we just try again another day?' No!

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God Has a Plan For Each One Of Us...

Dear Parishioners,

Jeremiah's opening, in our first reading, is perhaps one of the most heart-warming lines in all of Scripture:  "The word of the LORD came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you" (Jer 1:4-5).

I don't know about you, but I find this very consoling.  Pray on that line.  God knows exactly who we are.  He formed us in our mother's womb.  He designed us and is with us always.

It's easy when we're discouraged about our failures to think we're alone.  If we do see God (and the temptation is just not to think about him at all--he's ignored us when we're in darkness, we think), we feel God sees us as a failure, a disappointment.

But it's not true. God is with us, knows what's going on, and has a plan for us. 

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Ezra, Man of Law

Dear Parishioners,

I have to mention Ezra from our first reading, being the canon lawyer that I am.  Because, you see, Ezra is connected to the law and quite significant when it comes to establishing the foundation for church law.

Ezra lives about 450 BC during the Diaspora, or when the Jews were dispersed throughout the Middle East.  Jerusalem had been destroyed and many of the Jews taken into captivity in Babylon.  He is a scribe and priest (remember how Jesus confronts the scribes?).  He is sent by Artaxerxes, the King of Persia, who has conquered the area, back to Jerusalem to reestablish the Torah or the law to the Jews who were now living back in Israel. 

Ezra was commissioned for this project because he was a man of the law.  He had introduced to Jewish communities living outside of Israel to the customs of the faith.  These weren't just haphazard practices created by Ezra, but practices outlined in the law.  Following the law, therefore, connected these scattered Jewish peoples to the true faith.  They couldn't physically worship in Jerusalem.  But this didn't mean they still couldn't be Hebrews.  If they followed the law, their identity was established.  So, it wasn't political nationality, ethnic background, or even regular participation in the Jerusalem temple cult, but following the law that made them God's chosen people. 

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A Thousand Bottles of Wine

Dear Parishioners,

There is so much to reflect upon with the Wedding Feast of Cana.  This is our Gospel reading this Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.  Yes, we are officially back in Ordinary Time.  We will climb all the way up to the 8th week in Ordinary Time before switching to Lent at the beginning of March.

The water is symbolic of the Old Covenant.  Notice the water is specifically mentioned to be in "six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings." The relationship of the Jews to God in the Old Testament was not as vibrant as it could be.  Jesus transforms the water into wine; he transforms the faith.  Our relationship with God in the New Covenant is now something totally exhilarating and fulfilling.  This is the power of the Holy Spirit.  Notice our second reading is a description of all the gifts or charisms of the Holy Spirit. 

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Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 6, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany.  We celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as a divine person, the second Person of the Holy Trinity.  There are three scenes from the life of Christ that are traditionally used for the Epiphany: the adoration of the three Magi, Jesus' baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, and the Wedding Feast of Cana.  This week we read about the Magi.  Next Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and will read about that event. In two weeks, on January 20th (the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time) we will read about the Wedding Feast at Cana. 

Every moment in Christ's life was significant.  There is not just a lesson to be had, but also some change in the natural order.  If Christ did something, then that 'thing' is holy.  For example, the fact that Jesus labored as a carpenter sanctifies work.  When we work honestly to make a living, we are doing something holy, for Jesus did it. 

Let's take that lesson and apply it to the three manifestations.  We'll go in reverse order, starting with the Wedding Feast of Cana. 

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With God, All Things Are Possible Even Time Travel

In discussing the Eucharist, Saint Thomas Aquinas writes, "This sacrament has a threefold significance: with regard to the past...with regard to the present...with regard to the future..." (ST III, 73.4). The movie Back to the Future comes to mind.

If you have never seen the 1980s cult classic movie trilogy, time travel is the subject.  A high school student travels to the 1950s and interferes with the events, thus altering the future.  When he returns back to the present, it is no longer the present as he left it.  Some terrible events have also happened in the future, and so the main character and his sidekick must travel back to the past and then back to the future to correct the situation.  It is easier to watch than describe.

"With God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26) and God makes 'time travel', in a sense, possible with the Eucharist (not the flux capacitor).  When we celebrate Mass on Sunday, three time periods are being invoked and affected.  With regard to the past, Mass is the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary 2,000 years ago.  His sacrifice that led to our redemption is placed anew upon the altar at Catholic parishes around the world.  With regard to the present, Mass is communion.  We are united to Jesus right now and to the church, both members here on earth and those in Heaven. With regard to the future, the Mass is the participation in a banquet occurring in Heaven.  It will draw us to Heaven, which is why we sometimes refer to the Eucharist as viaticum

When we go to Mass we are, as theologian Peter Kreeft puts it, "bilocating, not just in space but in time."  I hope you enjoy the presentation.

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Theotokos of Vladimir

The Theotokos of Vladimir is an icon written (icons are technically 'written' not 'painted') in the year 1130 in Constantinople and is currently in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.  Theotokos means 'bearer of God,' and there are series of Theotokos icons, of which our present study is a part, called the Eleusa icons.  Eleusa means tenderness.  And so this image is sometimes referred to as 'The Virgin of Tenderness.'

Mary is holding Jesus delicately, while staring, if you notice, directly at us.  Mary wants a relationship with us.  We will be fulfilled if we do.  It is also as if Mary wants us to have the same desire for her as her Son does.  There is a lot of significance in those eyes.  Mary's tender and penetrating eyes are always upon us.  This is a beautiful thing.  We never want a mother and a lady's gaze to drift elsewhere.  We are possessive of the feminine attention.  Mary satisfies our need.      

The infant appears as if he is trying to climb Mary, to get as close to her as possible. A sandal of Jesus has even fallen off (see the right foot) in his haste to fly unto his Mother.  Mary is cooperative with this effort.  Her left hand seems to be pushing Jesus upwards. You will also notice Jesus' right hand on the face of Mary.  He has wrapped his arm around her neck--another sign of affection.  Our Lord embraces Mary.  The faces of mother and son are touching as well.  Great intimacy is present in that physical connection.  And Jesus, of course, is looking directly into the eyes of his mother. 

If there are times in our life we do not believe Jesus is looking at us, chances are he is looking at us through the eyes of his tender Mother. 

 

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Pop Quiz - Who Was The First Saint?

Dear Parishioners,

Pop quiz! Who was the first saint?

  1. a) St. Joseph
  2. b) St. John the Baptist
  3. c) St. Michael the Archangel
  4. d) St. Stephen the Martyr
  5. e) The Holy Innocents

Okay, I know it's Christmas Break and you weren't prepared, so I'll be merciful. No need to call the Cardinal to complain and ask for a redo.  I'll accept any of your answers.  For one could make a theological and historical argument for each of the above. 

But, if we had to choose, (and the answer I usually tell the students in school), I would say: e) The Holy Innocents.

We celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents this past week on December 28.  If you are not familiar with the Holy Innocents, these are the children in Bethlehem who were murdered by King Herod as a result of Jesus' birth.  "When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi (Matt 2:16)."

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Behold! I Make All Things New

On October 21st, 1892, the United States celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the new world.  The year-long celebration, declared by President Benjamin Harrison, was highlighted by the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, which ran from May 1 until October 30, 1893.  The monumental fair, which drew more than 27 million visitors, was a symbol of America's industry, innovation, and exceptionalism.  And so it was fitting that Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, considered one of the world's greatest musicians, performed at the fair.  Conducting the Chicago Symphony in front of a crowd of 8,000, Dvorak received a two-minute ovation.

Dvorak had recently composed his Symphony No.9 in E Minor. 'The New World Symphony' is a uniquely American symphony.  Dvorak made it for the United States and based it off of American melodies, also having been inspired by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The United States at the time was still considered 'the new world.' It no longer is.  We might be the 'first world,' but we are not new.  Catholicism, which has been around far longer than the United States, is, paradoxically, the 'new world.'  "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1).

We are the new world, and we always will be.  "Behold, I make all things new," says our Lord (Rev 21:5).  This is because our 'old worlds' constantly end.  When an individual Catholic turns away from a particular sin, deepens his prayer life, learns about a mystery of the faith, or matures morally, his apocalypse has come and he enters a new world.  Something similar happens for the Church at large each era. 

We likely will not hear the famous final movement of the New World Symphony this Christmas.  But this feast can, indeed, be the ushering in of a new world.

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A Christmas Tree Blessing

Dear Parishioners,

I have discussed the meaning of the Christmas Tree before.  Its origins go back to St. Boniface, who chopped down a giant oak tree that pagans in Germany were worshiping.  He proved to them that the Christian God was more powerful than the fake, pagan gods confined to a tree.  If the local people needed a tree to facilitate their worship of the one, true God, then they should look to an evergreen tree.  Triangular in shape, like an image of the Trinity, the tree points upward to heaven and its evergreen leaves, which are everlasting, represent the eternity of God. 

I'm sure most of your Christmas trees are up already in your homes.  Traditionally, however, the tree was put up right before Christmas and remained in place until the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. 

Your tree may be up, but have you blessed it yet?  No, this isn't a ploy to invite myself over to your house for dinner.  You don't need a priest to bless it.  Anyone in the family can do the blessing.  Doing the blessing on Christmas Eve, perhaps before you have your dinner, could be the perfect family activity! 

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