Monday, January 16, 2023

SECOND SUNDAY of Ordinary Time Cycle A Jan 15, 2022

 SECOND SUNDAY of Ordinary Time  Cycle A        Jan 15, 2022

I would like for you to picture Jesus in your mind.  Maybe some picture you have seen.  We’ve all seen picture of Jesus. 

Some time ago, that paradigm of Biblical and theological scholarship,  the magazine, Popular Mechanics, tried, as best they could, to have forensic artists reconstruct what Jesus would have looked like.   They wanted an accurate picture of Jesus as possible.   //

Now perhaps you have a picture of Jesus in your head.  Maybe it is based on pictures you have seen of Jesus dressed in beautiful robes of sumptuous blue and red cloth, immaculately coifed with long flowing golden hair, beard and mustache, and radiant white skin.  

Well, that is NOT what the forensic artists came up with.  First of all, in Palestine women wore long hair but men wore their hair short.  St Paul, in 1 Cor. 11:14 says that long hair on a man is a disgrace.  So, Jesus did not have long hair.  Sorry.   {That’s why I keep my hair short.}

Secondly, Jesus did not dress in luxurious clothing.  He wore what the common people wore, a simple tunic, similar to an alb, the white robe that a priest or deacon or our servers wear.  Since Jesus did not have an extensive wardrobe, and did not use deodorant, and He lived in a hot, sweaty climate, Jesus probably smelled like everyone else around Him.  If he came in and sat down in church today, you would move to the other end of the pew. 

And most assuredly Jesus was not white.  He was like everyone else in Palestine in those days, brown or olive colored. 

When the forensic artists finished their probable portrait of Jesus, the caption in the Popular Mechanics magazine was “you wouldn’t want to sit next to him on an airplane.”   He looked kind of shady or scary by today’s standards.

I mention all this because getting Jesus right is difficult.  It was even difficult for John the Baptist as we hear in today’s Gospel.  Twice in our short passage John exclaims, “I did not know him.”  

Now if John the Baptist, who was sent specifically to prepare the way for Jesus, had a hard time recognizing and knowing Jesus, perhaps we might have some difficulty too. 

We might know a lot ABOUT Jesus.  That knowledge is fairly simple to acquire.  There are plenty of books and bible study resources to tell you ABOUT Jesus.  But that is not the same as knowing Jesus.  We don’t want information primarily.  What we want is a relationship with Jesus, knowing Him in Himself.

You come to know Jesus pretty much the same way you come to know anyone else:  you spend time together.  You talk with each other.  You laugh and cry together.  You do things together.  You share life together.       //

Jesus is with us now.  Jesus is with us in our gathering together as His Body.  Jesus is with us in His Word in the Scriptures, especially in the Gospel.  Jesus is with us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  Jesus is with us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

John the Baptist gives us some help in today’s Gospel.  Twice John exclaims: “I did not know Him.”   I think it is important to recognize that we DON’T know Jesus in order to start clearing away the accumulated clutter of what our culture and society have told us about Jesus.  We need to let Jesus be Himself and not impose pre-conceived notions on Him.  We need to open ourselves to let Jesus lead us in revealing Himself to us:      through prayer, through the Scriptures, through worship, through interactions with other people, especially other believers. 

Just as a relationship with a long-time friend, or a beloved spouse, matures and develops over time, so the relationship of each one of us with Jesus should develop, grow, deepen, mature over time.   Jesus doesn’t change very much, but we do, as we enter deeper and deeper into relationship with Him. 

We continue to grow, just as John the Baptist did in our Gospel today.  And hopefully, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, we will come to proclaim along with John the Baptist, “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

God bless! 

Friday, January 13, 2023

Homily for the EPIPHANY

 

HOMILY                                                                         EPIPHANY   January 8,  2023

 "We three kings of Orient are .. NOT Kings!"  In fact the whole "king" thing is all PR. These guys are passing themselves off as kings in the song, but in reality, the Gospel tells us they were MAGI.  Magi are not kings.  Magi studied the occult and magic.  We get our word "magicians" from Magi.  They really were magicians.  These guys pulled rabbits out of the hat, did card tricks, sawed ladies in half and that stuff.

These guys are rather shadowy figures.  They have several aliases:  Other translations (old NAB) call them Astrologers: you know, psychics, horoscopes, auras, crystals, New Age weird stuff.   After all, they are wandering around the country-side trying to follow a star!  

We know almost nothing about them - we don’t know their names, nor their country, (only that they come from "the East", I mean, it could be New Jersey!) nor what happened to them - not even sure there were 3 of them.  The idea of THREE Kings is based on the number of gifts. 

They were dreamers: they change their itinerary and route and go back another way on the basis of a dream!  They were not practical, sober, industrious types like us.  I mean who gives myrrh as a birthday present?  How weird is that? 

In any case they were NOT Kings - not responsible pragmatists, administrators, realists.  They didn’t know anything about budgets and personnel policies.  They were also terribly niave.  They come to King Herod announcing, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?”   Now Herod was the King.  And Herod was well known for killing anyone that got in his way, especially other family members who might pose a threat to his Kingship.  To come asking Herod about a newborn King was just begging for trouble.

The Magi were, well, oblivious!

IN CONTRAST to these magi, take Herod – Now There was a KING!  He was a RULER!  In fact, he is known to history as Herod the GREAT. 

Unlike those shadowy, mysterious, flaky Magi/astrologers -HEROD made his mark on history.

King Herod the GREAT ruled for 34 years.  He was a wily, unscrupulous schemer and clever politician.  He ruthlessly and cold-bloodily eliminated anyone who stood in his way, or might possibly stand in his way. 

Including most of his own family. 

King Herod went through ten wives.  He built theaters, roads, temples, amphitheaters, monuments, gardens, palaces and fortresses all over the place, and taxed the people severely to pay for his projects.   He even ordered the killing of many prominent people on the event of his own death so that people would not rejoice when he died.  Of course, once he was dead no one paid attention to his commands.

If you go to Palestine today you can still see the ruins of his works.   Herod knew about POWER.  He was a ruthless, cruel, no-nonsense, realistic pragmatist.  

Notice in the Gospel how Herod interrogated the magi to find out from them the exact time of the star's appearance.  This man doesn't deal in dreams and visions and “feelings” - he wants the facts.  He wants what's real.  Because he was a doer.  He made things happen.  He was a POWER.  He was HEROD THE GREAT!

Still, .....   we don't sing any songs about Herod at Christmas time - or any other time of the year.

We don't put plastic statues of him under the tree in the Manger scene.      And Herod, for all his power and hard-bitten realism, never did find the Christ child.


SO WHAT ABOUT US?

This Gospel story instructs us to look beyond the facts, to see beneath the surface, to open ourselves to a deeper dimension of reality, in order to really see.  To dream that nations can resolve conflicts without war:   That in spite of scandals of sexual abuse by clergy, and then cover-ups by bishops, the Spirit is at work in the Catholic Christian community.   To see that the way to the fullness of life is not the result of trying to get all you can, but comes from fidelity, selflessness, and care of others.  That what we see is only the surface, and reality is much, much deeper.

 Specifically, we are called to look beyond the surface reality of a new-born baby, to see the Glory of God's LOVE shining resplendent in the Christ Child.

Our friends the magi have yet another title, one that fits them better, the WISE MEN.  Because for all their mystic flakiness - they were wise enough to look beyond the mere facts - to peer into what was really happening - to follow their faith and hope - and so they came to the Christ Child.

King Herod, for all his accomplishments - was not great.  He was a FOOL, because he missed the whole purpose and meaning of life.

We are now called to be wise - to follow the Star of Faith - to bring along the gift of ourselves - to seek, to find, and to adore, The radiant splendor of the Father's Glory,  The Word made Flesh, Jesus the Christ!

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Fourth Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 18, 2022

 Fourth Sunday of Advent   Cycle A                  December 18, 2022

Today’s readings on this Fourth Sunday of Advent present us with a contrast between two men, each of whom is asked to do something risky and difficult, with very different results.

          First we have our first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah.  It involves a King of Judah known as Ahaz.  The events depicted in this reading took place around 735 BC.  It was not a good year.  The situation was one of international politics and conflict.  The superpower in the Middle East back then was the Kingdom of Assyria.  The Assyrians were a mighty military force, and utterly ruthless.  Historians call them the Nazi’s of the ancient Middle East.  And they were conquering all the countries around them. 

          One of the countries in their path of conquest is the little Kingdom of Judah, where Ahaz is King.  His idea is to play ball with the Assyrians and make an alliance with them. 

          Now the Prophet Isaiah goes to the King to urge the King NOT to make an alliance with Assyria.  Because when they allied with Assyria they would have to accept and worship Assyria’s gods.   Isaiah’s message to King Ahaz was rather than ally with Assyria, to trust in God for help.  Follow God, trust in God, and God will deliver you from this powerful and aggressive kingdom of Assyria. 

          But Ahaz doesn’t want to do that.  He is a realist.  Ahaz can see how strong the Assyrians are, their thousands of warriors, their war horses and chariots, their latest technology in siege engines and so on. He is impressed by their might.   So the Prophet Isaiah, to bolster Ahaz, says ask for a sign.  Let God show you His power.  Our reading states: “Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!” 

TWO                    TWO                    TWO                    Dec 18, 2022

The Prophet wants Ahaz to ask for a sign so he can trust in God alone and not get entangled with the Assyrians. 

          But Ahaz plays phony piety and false humility and states “I will not ask!  I will not tempt the Lord!  Ahaz does not want to take the risk of trusting in God’s protection and care, and so he doesn’t want the sign.  He wants to follow his own plan of trusting in political and military power. 

Needless to say, it ends badly.  Ahaz brings in worship of false gods, institutes slavery, tramples justice, oppresses the poor to pay the Assyrians, and leaves the Kingdom vulnerable to attack.  Under his successor, Hezekiah, the Assyrians besiege Jerusalem, but that is another story. 

          In any case Ahaz will not put his trust in God, and things go badly wrong.

          Now let’s jump ahead 735 years, in the same part of the world, to a carpenter named Joseph who is betrothed.  Joseph is so happy.  He is to marry Mary, his sweetheart.  But a terrible thing happens.  Before they actually get married, Mary gets pregnant.  What a shock!  What a disappointment!  Poor Joseph can hardly believe it!  Mary is the last person he would have suspected of fooling around.  But the evidence is there, and so Joseph decides to call off the wedding.  However, Joseph still has feelings for Mary, and he is a good man who doesn’t want to make trouble for anyone, even if they have disappointed him like Mary has.  So he decides to divorce her quietly, with no fanfare, very simply, to not expose Mary to shame.   An awful day.

          Then he goes to sleep.  In his sleep he has a dream; a crazy dream.  An angel tells him it is alright.  That Mary has conceived by the Holy Spirit,

THREE                THREE                THREE                DEC. 18, 2022

and that she will bear a son who will save his people from their sins.  And finally, that Joseph should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife.

          The next morning Joseph awoke.  What did he think?  What did he feel?  What’s he going to do?    He could have gotten up and said to himself, “oh man, what a weird dream!  I have to go easy on the jalapeno matzohs.  They give me such crazy dreams.”  

Joseph, like Ahaz, could have ignored the call from God.  Like Ahaz, Joseph was being called to take a big risk, to do something that would look foolish from the outside.  Joseph was being called to make a great act of trust in God’s care and concern for him.  Joseph knew God would not leave him hanging, and so the Gospel succinctly says: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”  Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him in a dream.  Joseph, unlike Ahaz, was open to the crazy, if demanding, ways of God.  And it is good for us that he was. 

          So two men asked by God to trust and do something that in the judgement of the world was crazy, something wild, something foolish.  Two different responses with two very different outcomes.

          What about us?  Do we act more like the hard-bitten political realist Ahaz, or more like Joseph the crazy dreamer?  Are we so responsible that we don’t respond to God’s call?

          How willing are we to take a risk in trusting God’s call to us?  Perhaps a call to volunteer for some ministry at church?  But, it might mess up my weekend schedule.  I am too afraid to read in public, what if I drop the chalice, I’m not holy enough to do that. 

 

FOUR                  FOUR                  FOUR                  Dec 18, 2022

 

Today’s readings urge us: Take the risk!

          Or maybe the Holy Spirit wants you to take the risk to be the first side to reach out to heal a rift with a neighbor or family member.  To risk forgiving someone who hurt you.  But what if I get shot down, what if I am rejected, what if I get taken advantage of, what if I get hurt again?    

Take the risk!

          Or perhaps for our college and high-school students here maybe God calls you to investigate being a religious sister, a brother or a priest.  Maybe God calls you to serve His people in the Church.   But that is not my plan for me life?    Take the risk!  It’s not so bad, believe me.

          Or maybe God calls you to be a teacher, or to marry that particular person, or to volunteer for a mission trip, or do something wildly generous, or to speak the truth when no one wants to listen, or in some other way to trust in God and take a risk.   Jesus took a great risk for us, offering His life on the Cross.  That was the ultimate risk.  And Jesus received the ultimate affirmation in the Resurrection.

          We read these stories in the Scriptures from thousands of years ago because God is still the same, and still acting in the same way today, after all those years.  Still alluring and inviting and calling us to follow in God’s way even when it looks crazy and ridiculous.  God is still calling you and me.   Take the risk.

AMEN.