Deacon Bob’s Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C, 2016

Here is my homily for last weekend. God bless all!

5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C
April 23/24, 2016
Acts 14: 21-27; Rev 21: 1-5a; Jn 13: 31-33a, 34-35

Do you remember last Sunday’s Gospel? Jesus told us that his gift to us is eternal life, and this gift he does not take back. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. (John 10:28) He also said, “I am the good shepherd; I lead them to eternal life, and all who believe in me shall not perish!” In today’s Gospel, Jesus commands us, “If you are to be my disciple, love one another!”

So the question is, “Do you really believe that Jesus has given you eternal life, not just an earthly life? Do you really believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and only he can lead you into eternity? Do you really follow him by sincerely loving one another as he has commanded? Do we really believe and do we really love?”

It is awfully easy to say, “Yes! I believe!” but then live in ways that say just the opposite, i.e., live in unloving ways! Yes, do we really believe in God’s gift of eternal life? If we say we believe, then we have to back it up with our lives. We may even have to die believing.

If someone were to challenge you and say, “Prove to me that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and he gives you eternal life and leads you into eternity!” Could you meet the challenge by showing that person a life of love for others? Could you demonstrate your belief and your gratitude for the gift of eternal life by a loving life?

Let’s admit it.. we profess our belief in eternal life, but then go about living our daily lives in ways that bear no witness to this belief, i.e., in ways that put the emphasis on our earthly lives and not our eternal lives. If you accept the gift, then you must obey the Shepherd by loving each other!

The Apostles believed in eternal life, and lived the law of love. The early Christians believed in God’s gift of eternal life and thousands died witnessing to that belief and that gift, by loving God and others. Christians today in the Mideast believe in the gift and follow the Good Shepherd even to death.

Remember, eternal life is the gift of God himself, and God is love. God, who is love, is eternal life. God gives himself, both life and love, and he does so without any reservation. He gave us his Son, Jesus! Nothing is greater than this gift; no command more important than the commadment to love as Jesus loved! If we say we believe in eternal life, the gift of Jesus Christ, then how can we live in ways that deny him by refusing to love one another? How can we raise families with little conversation about God and faith and the Church, or live with the injustices rendered to the poor and the unborn, or turn a cold heart to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the poor?

If we really accept God’s gift of eternal life, and acknowledge Jesus as the Good Shepherd of our lives, then we must respond with love and courage. His gift to us demands a courageous response from us. It requires great courage, great love today, because there is a battle out there in the world, a battle for souls, a battle for the integrity of our families and our parishes.

I challenge all parents with young children. God has given the gift of eternal life to you and your children in baptism. Are you diligently working to preserve that gift in your children, like you promised you would at their baptisms? Are you nourishing the faith, teaching them the faith, protecting your children from the influences of the world that will offer only false love? Many will offer them false gods to follow; we must present to them the truth and demonstrate it by love.
I challenge all men to step up to the task at hand, all men but especially fathers. Be men of courage, love, and strength! Our children need strong, loving and courageous fathers who are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to show their families and the world what real love is. We need men of love and courage to “step into the breach,” plug the holes in the lines, and be willing to fight to protect God’s gift in their children and their wives; men willing to protect their families from harm.
We need men who, as our second reading said, “persevere in the faith… and undergo many hardships.” (Acts 14: 22) We men must be willing to step forward and lead with love and courage, like Barnabas and Paul. We already have countless women who are doing so.

It all ends up back at that essential question for every human being, i.e., “Do we really believe that God loves us, has given us eternal life in his Son, Jesus who alone leads us to eternal happiness? Are we willing to accept this gift of eternal life, i.e., the gift of God himself, and God’s commandment to love one another?

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

If only we would all be so blessed and willing to bless!

twim-2-20-facebook-image-3

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“A Dignified Shame, and a Shamed Dignity” and the call for Gratitude before God

The Holy Father’s homily in today’s Chrism Mass at the Vatican once again offers us much upon which to reflect. It is addressed, of course, to priests, especially to those priests that were in attendance, and can be taken for reflection by all priests throughout the world. Additionally, all of us would do well to heed his words and attempt to put them into fruitful practice.

I was struck by the phrase he used, i.e., “a dignified shame, and a shamed dignity” when approaching our sins, God’s infinite mercy, and the depth which should mark our gratitude to God. I always like placing words that seem in contradiction in apposition, like the Pope has done here. It speaks volumes about our relationship before God, how God dignifies our lowliness as his creatures, and our awareness of our lowliness in his calling us his sons and daughters by adoption, coheirs to the Kingdom, taken up into Trinitarian life with his Son Jesus.

Here is the Pontiff’s homily:

HOLY CHRISM MASS
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
Vatican Basilica
Holy Thursday, 24 March 2016

After hearing Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah and say: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21), the congregation in the synagogue of Nazareth might well have burst into applause.  They might have then wept for joy, as did the people when Nehemiah and Ezra the priest read from the book of the Law found while they were rebuilding the walls.  But the Gospels tell us that Jesus’ townspeople did the opposite; they closed their hearts to him and sent him off.  At first, “all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (4:22).  But then an insidious question began to make the rounds: “Is this not the son of Joseph, the carpenter?” (4:22).  And then, “they were filled with rage” (4:28).  They wanted to throw him off the cliff.  This was in fulfilment of the elderly Simeon’s prophecy to the Virgin Mary that he would
be “a sign of contradiction” (2:34).  By his words and actions, Jesus lays bare the secrets of the heart of every man and woman.

Where the Lord proclaims the Gospel of the Father’s unconditional mercy to the poor, the outcast and the oppressed, is the very place we are called to take a stand, to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12).  His battle is not against men and women, but against the devil (cf. Eph 6:12), the enemy of humanity.  But the Lord “passes through the midst” of all those who would stop him and “continues on his way” (Lk 4:30).  Jesus does not fight to build power.  If he breaks down walls and challenges our sense of security, he does this to open the flood gates of that mercy which, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he wants to pour out upon our world.  A mercy which expands; it proclaims and brings newness; it heals, liberates and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour. The mercy of our God is infinite and indescribable.  We express the power of this mystery as an“ever greater” mercy, a mercy in motion, a mercy that each day seeks to make progress, taking small steps forward and advancing in that wasteland where indifference and violence have predominated.

This was the way of the Good Samaritan, who “showed mercy” (cf. Lk 10:37): he was moved, he drew near to the wounded man, he bandaged his wounds, took him to the inn, stayed there that evening and promised to return and cover any further cost.  This is the way of mercy, which gathers together small gestures.  Without demeaning, it grows with each helpful sign and act of love.  Every one of us, looking at our own lives as God does, can try to remember the ways in which the Lord has been merciful towards us, how he has been much more merciful than we imagined.  In this we can find the courage to ask him to take a step further and to reveal yet more of his mercy in the future: “Show us, Lord, your mercy” (Ps 85:8).  This paradoxical way of praying to an ever more merciful God, helps us to tear down those walls with which we try to contain the abundant greatness of his heart.  It is good for us to break out of our set ways, because it is proper
to the Heart of God to overflow with tenderness, with ever more to give.  For the Lord prefers something to be wasted rather than one drop of mercy be held back.  He would rather have many seeds be carried off by the birds of the air than have one seed be missing, since each of those seeds has the capacity to bear abundant fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundredfold.

As priests, we are witnesses to and ministers of the ever-increasing abundance of the Father’s mercy; we have the rewarding and consoling task of incarnating mercy, as Jesus did, who “went about doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38) in a thousand ways so that it could touch everyone.  We can help to inculturate mercy, so that each person can embrace it and experience it personally.  This will help all people truly understand and practise mercy with creativity, in ways that respect their local cultures and families.

Today, during this Holy Thursday of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I would like to speak of two areas in which the Lord shows excess in mercy.  Based on his example, we also should not hesitate in showing excess.  The first area I am referring to is encounter; the second is God’s forgiveness, which shames us while also giving us dignity. The first area where we see God showing excess in his ever-increasing mercy is that of encounter.  He gives himself completely and in such a way that every encounter leads to rejoicing.

In the parable of the Merciful Father we are astounded by the man who runs, deeply moved, to his son, and throws his arms around him; we see how he embraces his son, kisses him, puts a ring on his finger, and then gives him his sandals, thus showing that he is a son and not a servant.  Finally, he gives orders to everyone and organizes a party.  In contemplating with awe this superabundance of the Father’s joy that is freely and boundlessly expressed when his son returns, we should not be fearful of exaggerating our gratitude.  Our attitude should be that of the poor leper who, seeing himself healed, leaves his nine friends who go off to do what Jesus ordered, and goes back to kneel at the feet of the Lord, glorifying and thanking God aloud.

Mercy restores everything; it restores dignity to each person.  This is why effusive gratitude is the proper response: we have to go the party, to put on our best clothes, to cast off the rancour of the elder brother, to rejoice and give thanks…  Only in this way, participating fully in such rejoicing, is it possible to think straight, to ask for forgiveness, and see more clearly how to make up for the evil we have committed.  It would be good for us to ask ourselves: after going to confession, do I rejoice?  Or do I move on immediately to the next thing, as we would after going to the doctor, when we hear that the test results are not so bad and put them back in their envelope?  And when I give alms, do I give time to the person who receives them to express their gratitude, do I
celebrate the smile and the blessings that the poor offer, or do I continue on in haste with my own affairs after tossing in a coin?

The second area in which we see how God exceeds in his ever greater mercy is forgiveness
itself.   God does not only forgive incalculable debts, as he does to that servant who begs for mercy but is then miserly to his own debtor; he also enables us to move directly from the most shameful disgrace to the highest dignity without any intermediary stages.  The Lords allows the forgiven woman to wash his feet with her tears.  As soon as Simon confesses his sin and begs Jesus to send him away, the Lord raises him to be a fisher of men.  We, however, tend to separate these two attitudes: when we are ashamed of our sins, we hide ourselves and walk around with our heads down, like Adam and Eve; and when we are raised up to some dignity, we try to cover up our sins and take pleasure in being seen, almost showing off.

Our response to God’s superabundant forgiveness should be always to preserve that healthy tension between a dignified shame and a shamed dignity.  It is the attitude of one who seeks a humble and lowly place, but who can also allow the Lord to raise him up for the good of the mission, without complacency.  The model that the Gospel consecrates, and which can help us when we confess our sins, is Peter, who allowed himself to be questioned about his love for the Lord, but who also renewed his acceptance of the ministry of shepherding the flock which the Lord had entrusted to him.

To grow in this “dignity which is capable of humbling itself”, and which delivers us from thinking that we are more or are less than what we are by grace, can help us understand the words of the prophet Isaiah that immediately follow the passage our Lord read in the synagogue at Nazareth: “You will be called priests of the Lord, ministers of our God” (Is 61:6).  It is people who are poor, hungry, prisoners of war, without a future, cast to one side and rejected, that the Lord transforms into a priestly people. As priests, we identify with people who are excluded, people the Lord saves.  We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them.  But we too remember that each of us knows the extent to which we too are often blind, lacking the radiant light of faith, not because we do not have the Gospel close at hand, but because of an excess of complicated theology.  We feel that our soul thirsts for spirituality, not for a lack of Living Water which we only sip from, but because of an excessive “bubbly” spirituality, a “light” spirituality. We feel ourselves also trapped, not so much by insurmountable stone walls or steel enclosures that affect many peoples, but rather by a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click.

We are oppressed, not by threats and pressures, like so many poor people, but by the allure of a thousand commercial advertisements which we cannot shrug off to walk ahead, freely, along paths that lead us to love of our brothers and sisters, to the Lord’s flock, to the sheep who wait for the voice of their shepherds.  Jesus comes to redeem us, to send us out, to transform us from being poor and blind, imprisoned and oppressed, to become ministers of mercy and consolation.  He says to us, using the words the prophet Ezekiel spoke to the people who sold themselves and betrayed the Lord:  “I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth…  Then you will remember your ways,
and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you.  I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God” (Ezek 16:60-63).

In this Jubilee Year we celebrate our Father with hearts full of gratitude, and we pray to him that “he remember his mercy forever”; let us receive, with a dignity that is able to humble itself, the mercy revealed in the wounded flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let us ask him to cleanse us of all sin and free us from every evil.  And with the grace of the Holy Spirit let us commit ourselves anew to  bringing God’s mercy to all men and women, and performing those works which the Spirit inspires in each of us for the common good of the entire People of God.

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Congratulations, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis!

Photo courtesy of The Catholic Spirit

Photo source: The Catholic Spirit, Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis

At six o’clock this morning, local time, Pope Francis named Bishop Bernard A. Hebda the archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Archbishop Hebda has been serving St. Paul and Minneapolis for several months as administrator following the resignation of Archbishop John Neinstedt last summer.

This appointment surprises some for two reasons: 1. The day of its announcement. To announce such an appointment on a day of  the Triduum is very rare; 2. Archbishop Hebda had been the coadjutor bishop Newark for a few years and was widely expected to return there to assume responsibility for that diocese this summer.

It has been told to me by several people in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that Hebda has been well received and doing much to heal the wounds that exist there following the bankruptcy of the archdiocese largely due to law suits arising from clergy sexual abuse claims.

We all hope for true and lasting healing for everyone in the archdiocese, and we offer our congratulations on their new archbishop!

Here is a brief biography of  the new archbishop, courtesy of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis website.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda

The son of Bernard and the late Helen Clark Hebda, the Most Reverend Bernard A. Hebda was born on September 3, 1959 in Pittsburgh, PA.
Bernard Hebda attended Resurrection Elementary School in Brookline, PA, and then graduated from South Hills Catholic High School in Pittsburgh in 1977. He continued his education at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1980 followed by a juris doctor degree from the Columbia University School of Law in 1983. He was admitted to the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1983 and worked as an associate in the law firm of Reed, Smith, Shaw and McClay.

In 1984, he enrolled at St. Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh and pursued the required studies in philosophy at Duquesne University before being sent to North American College in Rome in 1985 where he completed his theological studies and earned his S.T.B. from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1989.

He was ordained a deacon on April 6, 1989 at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome by Archbishop John Quinn, and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Donald W. Wuerl on July 1, 1989 in St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh. After his ordination, he served briefly as Parochial Vicar Pro Tem at Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Elwood City, PA, before returning to Rome to complete his licentiate in canon law, which he received in 1990 from the Pontifical Gregorian University.
Upon returning from Pittsburgh, Fr. Hebda served in the bishop’s office as Master of Ceremonies from 1990-1992, in team ministry at Prince of Peace Parish on Pittsburgh’s South Side from 1992-1995, and as director of campus ministry at the Slippery Rock University Newman Center from 1995-1996. He also served on the Canonical Advisory Council, the Priest Council and the Priest Personnel Board of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

In 1996, he was appointed to work in the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts in Rome, which is responsible for the interpretation of the Church’s laws, especially the Code of Canon Law. In 2003, St. John Paul II named him Undersecretary of the Council.
While in Rome, he also served as an adjunct spiritual director at the North American College and as a confessor for the postulants of the Missionaries of Charity (founded by Blessed Mother Teresa) and for the Sisters of that community working at a home for unwed mothers.
He was named Fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord on October 7, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. His Episcopal ordination took place on December 1, 2009. Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron was the Principal Consecrator, with Archbishop Francesco Coccopalmerio and Bishop Patrick R. Cooney as co-consecrators.

On September 24, 2013, Pope Francis named Bishop Hebda Coadjutor Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark.

On June 15, 2015, Pope Francis named him Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for Palm Sunday – Cycle C, 2016

Palm Sunday – Cycle C
March 19/20, 2016

Isaiah 50: 4-7; Philippians 2: 6-11; Luke 22: 14- 23: 56

We must take a moment to pause here, after hearing the Passion of our Lord proclaimed. We cannot do much else but pause and reflect on the magnitude of what Jesus did for us that day, in obedience to God the Father. God the Father asked Jesus his divine Son to suffer and die for our sins, and Jesus did.

I mentioned in my homily several weeks ago that if you follow Jesus closely enough, and not just at a safe distance, you will experience the Cross in your life. If you follow Jesus closely, you will suffer in your life, suffer as Jesus suffered. So, how closely have you followed Jesus this Lent? How much did you risk? Where does he want you to be on Easter morning? How has God grasped you and led you? Will you accept or reject the Cross?

The theme of my Lent this year has been on the reality of the Cross in our world, the reality of suffering. Why do people suffer? Why would God let suffering be a part of the life of all Christians?

I have thought, “For nearly 34 years, I sat in an office and hour after hour people would come to me and talk about their suffering.” I have been and continue to be surrounded by suffering. No doubt, all of you have witnessed suffering also. We have seen it in the lives of those we love most. We have seen it in those with chronic and painful physical or emotional diseases, and we ask “Why? Why suffering? Is if really necessary, Lord?” Yes, it seems so, doesn’t it?

Perhaps suffering is necessary so that we will let go of all that, ultimately, doesn’t really matter. Perhaps suffering is necessary so we will allow ourselves to be grasped by God, grasped by Jesus, and allow him to lead us where he wants us to go. Perhaps it is necessary so we grasp on to that which is vitally important in life, our faith in Jesus Christ, and let go of all else in the end. Isn’t this what the saints have called “purification” and “conversion”?

Jesus showed us that there is meaning in our suffering. Jesus showed us that our suffering can lead to the Resurrection and new life. Jesus has shown us that our suffering transforms us into his image. This we take on faith, don’t we, when we suffer. It isn’t easy to believe.

In my 34 years as a therapist, I have seen how suffering for some people leads to a deeper faith. I have seen how for these people, their suffering inspires others. The suffering of the Good Thief brought him to faith and inspires us even today. We can also think of Mother Teresa who was surrounded by suffering every day and every day her faith grew stronger and was an inspiration to all of us. I can well imagine you could tell me of some family member who suffered well, and inspired you.

I have also seen how suffering leads others to a loss of faith and despair. They say, “There cannot be a God if there is this suffering.” Remember the other thief crucified with Jesus? His suffering only led him to ridicule Jesus’ faith in his Father, and the faith of the Good Thief. Remember Judas, who suffered terribly after he betrayed the Lord, but despaired and lost his faith.

It then comes down to us. It is up to us. How will we respond to suffering? What will we believe? Will suffering bring us closer to Jesus and each other, to the Resurrection and new life, or will it lead us to condemnation and death? Do we really believe in the Cross of Jesus and what he did for us, because if we do, we embrace the core of the Christian faith, and will come to understand suffering in our own lives. If we really don’t believe, we are lost.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C, 2016

Here is my homily for this weekend. God bless you!

2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C
Gen 15:5-12, 17-18; Phil 3: 17-4:1; Lk 9: 28b-36
February 20/21, 2016

In the Transfiguration, Jesus reveals his divinity and his glory as the Son of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Immediately preceding today’s passage, Jesus had revealed to his Apostles that he would suffer and die. He wanted the Apostles to know that his life would consist of suffering and glory, of the Cross and the Resurrection.

I would ask you now to recall those times of your life, those pivotal times which seemed to have really changed you. I would like you to think of those high points, those crucial times, those times that defined who you are today.

Were these times of pain and suffering, or times of joy and glory? Were they setbacks and defeats, or times when you succeeded and shined?

You see, if we follow Jesus, suffering will change us and joy will change us. If we follow Jesus closely, we will experience both suffering and glory. We will experience both the Cross and the Resurrection.

The key question is: “Are we following Jesus closely, or at a safe distance? Are we following him closely enough to find ourselves at the foot of his Cross and at the empty tomb on Easter morning? Will we be with him in his suffering and will we be with him in his glory? Are we willing to follow Jesus where he has gone?”

We cannot be in the presence of Jesus, that is, we cannot follow him closely, without in some way being changed, purified of our faults and imperfections, indeed even from the effects of our sins. If we closely follow Jesus, we will be transformed and transfigured. If we follow Jesus closely enough, we will experience both suffering and joy. If you want to know how to follow Jesus that closely, just read the Scriptures and look to the Church to guide you.

Lent is a time for us to walk with Jesus, to live with Jesus, to experience with Jesus what he experienced. Lent is a time for us to be like Jesus so much that we come to share in his glory, to radiate his love to others like Jesus did in the Transfiguration. Lent is a time for change, for conversion, for transformation, for a real rending of our hearts as Fr, Havel reminded us in his Ash Wednesday homily. Walking close to Jesus and being converted, transfigured into his image- this is Lent.

The real purpose of our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is not to inflict pain or distress or suffering on ourselves; rather, it is to bring others and ourselves to glory. The purpose of our fasts, prayers and works of charity is to prepare us to reach out to the glory promised us by God. In Lent, we always have our sights fixed on Easter Sunday; we always have the Resurrection in mind. We eagerly run to the glory of Easter when we experience Good Friday. The Cross is foolishness to those who do not believe in Easter. Suffering in life is worthless to those who reject the Resurrection, but to those who follow Jesus closely, who believe in the Gospel, who are members of his Church, the sufferings of life, the penances of Lent, are embraced as forerunners to the glory of Easter and the glory of God.

So, do you fast so as to magnify God’s glory? Do you pray, do you come to Mass and go to Confession so as to walk ever closer to Jesus and to be purified of your sins? Do you give alms, do acts of charity to demonstrate what will happen in eternity when we will give back to God all we have and receive glory?

Join me in fasting this Lent in order to shine with the glory of God. Join me in prayer here at the Stations of the Cross on Tuesdays, at Eucharistic adoration on Thursdays, Confession on Saturdays, and the Mass offered every day, in order to walk more closely with Jesus through the Cross to the Resurrection. Join me in giving alms and acts of charity in order to taste here on earth what will be eternally ours in the glory of heaven.

Yes, even in Lent, we reach out to the glory of the Resurrection.

I began by asking you to mentally review your lives, to recall those pivotal periods when your lives seemed to have changed, when you seemed to have been defined in some way. I asked whether those times were times of suffering or times of joy, whether they were times of setback and defeat or times of glory and success. What did you remember about your life? If you did not remember both the Cross and the Resurrection, if you could not recall both times of suffering and times of joy that had transfigured you, then you need to embrace this Lent even more enthusiastically and chang! Rend your hearts before Easter comes!

Walk with Jesus this Lent! Walk closely with him! With him, you will die and you will rise. With him, you will suffer and that suffering will bring you glory. You will be converted, purified, and God will say to you Easter morning, “Come, share in my joy!”

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The Holy Father’s Homily at the Mexican-U.S. Border

I have to admit that I have not been paying close attention to the Holy Father’s pastoral visit to Mexico this week. There have been multiple responsibilities that have kept me from such an attendance. He has, I am finding, given several rather powerful speeches and homilies during his time there, preceded by a face-to-face encounter (the first time ever for a pope) with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church when they met in Cuba.

You would do well to log on to the Vatican to read the Holy Father’s statements. Indeed, they are challenging to us.

I do want to represent here Pope Francis’ homily yesterday at the Mexican-U.S. border Mass. His presence there caused a bit of an uproar in the political world, especially among some contenders for the presidency, but one could expect nothing less, I suppose.

Let us try to take to heart the words and example of our Holy Father. Here they are.

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS

Ciudad Juárez Fair Grounds
Wednesday, 17 February 2016

In the second century Saint Irenaeus wrote that the glory of God is the life of man. It is an expression which continues to echo in the heart of the Church. The glory of the Father is the life of his sons and daughters. There is no greater glory for a father than to see his children blossom, no greater satisfaction than to see his children grow up, developing and flourishing. The first reading that we have just heard points to this. The great city of Nineveh, was self-destructing as a result of oppression and dishonour, violence and injustice. The grand capital’s days were numbered because the violence within it could not continue. Then the Lord appeared and stirred Jonah’s heart: the Father called and sent forth his messenger. Jonah was summoned to receive a mission. “Go”, he is told, because in “forty days Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jon 3:4). Go and help them to understand that by the way they treat each other, ordering and organizing themselves, they are only creating death and destruction, suffering and oppression. Make them see this is no way to live, neither for the king nor his subjects, nor for farm fields nor for the cattle. Go and tell them that they have become used to this degrading way of life and have lost their sensitivity to pain. Go and tell them that injustice has infected their way of seeing the world. “Therefore, go Jonah!”. God sent him to testify to what was happening, he sent him to wake up a people intoxicated with themselves.

In this text we find ourselves before the mystery of divine mercy. Mercy, which always rejects wickedness, takes the human person in great earnest. Mercy always appeals to the goodness of each person, even though it be dormant and numbed. Far from bringing destruction, as we so often desire or want to bring about ourselves, mercy seeks to transform each situation from within. Herein lies the mystery of divine mercy. It seeks and invites us to conversion, it invites us to repentance; it invites us to see the damage being done at every level. Mercy always pierces evil in order to transform it. It is the mystery of God our Father: he sends his Son who pierced into what was evil, he made himself sin in order to transform evil. This is his mercy.

The king listened to Jonah, the inhabitants of the city responded and penance was decreed. God’s mercy has entered the heart, revealing and showing wherein our certainty and hope lie: there is always the possibility of change, we still have time to transform what is destroying us as a people, what is demeaning our humanity. Mercy encourages us to look to the present, and to trust what is healthy and good beating in every heart. God’s mercy is our shield and our strength.

Jonah helped them to see, helped them to become aware. Following this, his call found men and women capable of repenting, and capable of weeping. To weep over injustice, to cry over corruption, to cry over oppression. These are tears that lead to transformation, that soften the heart; they are the tears that purify our gaze and enable us to see the cycle of sin into which very often we have sunk. They are tears that can sensitize our gaze and our attitude hardened and especially dormant in the face of another’s suffering. They are the tears that can break us, capable of opening us to conversion. This is what happened to Peter after having denied Jesus; he cried and those tears opened his heart.

This word echoes forcefully today among us; this word is the voice crying out in the wilderness, inviting us to conversion. In this Year of Mercy, with you here, I beg for God’s mercy; with you I wish to plead for the gift of tears, the gift of conversion.

Here in Ciudad Juárez, as in other border areas, there are thousands of immigrants from Central America and other countries, not forgetting the many Mexicans who also seek to pass over “to the other side”. Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices: the enslaved, the imprisoned and extorted; so many of these brothers and sisters of ours are the consequence of a trade in human trafficking, the trafficking of persons.

We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant migration for thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometres through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones. The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families. They are the brothers and sisters of those expelled by poverty and violence, by drug trafficking and criminal organizations. Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest. Not only do they suffer poverty but they must also endure all these forms of violence. Injustice is radicalized in the young; they are “cannon fodder”, persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and the hell of drugs. And what can we say about the many women whose lives have been unjustly robbed?

Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts like the Ninevites, open to his call heard in the suffering faces of countless men and women. No more death! No more exploitation! There is always time to change, always a way out and always an opportunity, there is always the time to implore the mercy of God.

Just as in Jonas’ time, so too today may we commit ourselves to conversion; may we be signs lighting the way and announcing salvation. I know of the work of countless civil organizations working to support the rights of migrants. I know too of the committed work of so many men and women religious, priests and lay people in accompanying migrants and in defending life. They are on the front lines, often risking their own lives. By their very lives they are prophets of mercy; they are the beating heart and the accompanying feet of the Church that opens its arms and sustains.

This time for conversion, this time for salvation, is the time for mercy. And so, let us say together in response to the suffering on so many faces: In your compassion and mercy, Lord, have pity on us … cleanse us from our sins and create in us a pure heart, a new spirit (cf. Ps 50: 3,4,12).

And now I also want to greet from here all our beloved brothers and sisters who are joining us simultaneously from the other side of the frontier, especially those who are gathered in the Stadium of the University of El Paso, known as The Sun Bowl, under the guidance of your Bishop, Monsignor Mark Seitz. Thanks to technology, we can pray, sing and celebrate together that merciful love which God gives us, and which no frontier can prevent us from sharing. Thank you, brothers and sisters of El Paso, for making us feel one single family and one same Christian community.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 2016

Here is my homily for this weekend. God bless all!

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time-Cycle C
Neh 8: 2-4a. 5-6, 8-10; 1Cor 12: 12-30; Lk 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21
January 23/24, 2016

Can you imagine what it would be like if we all knew God existed, but we had no way of knowing what to do with him, how to live with him, how to connect with him, or what he wanted of us? This was in many ways what had happened to the Israelites in our first reading today. It is, in many ways, the way it is for those in today’s world who have turned their hearts from the Church and God’s Law.

We have to understand the context of what had happened to the Israelites. They had had a lot of really difficult things happen to them, including having lost all copies of the law of Moses (or so they thought). None of them had ever seen or heard it for over a generation. They knew it had existed, because their ancestors had told them. They knew God existed because they had passed down by word of mouth all that God had done for the Hebrew people, how he had freed them from slavery, parted the water in the Red Sea, how God had fed their forefathers with manna and quail, how God had provided water from a rock, and how God had revealed himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai. They knew God existed because of all that, but they didn’t know anymore how to be in a good relationship with God because the law of Moses was lost to them. They didn’t know how to live with God and each other in the way God wanted them to live. But, one day a priest, Ezra, found a copy of the law of Moses behind a wall in the temple building that was being remodeled. This was the scroll that we hear of today in the reading. The people, all of them from the greatest to the least, were called together to hear aloud this law so they would know once more how God wanted them to live with him and with each other. And the people, we are told, rejoiced.

Then in our Gospel today, we hear how Jesus breaks open the Scriptures and reveals to the people what they had not understood about God’s law, about how they were to live with God and each other. Jesus declared that the law was fulfilled in him. He was the way we were to live with God and each other. Jesus was the guidebook, you might say, the new law revealed to us that shows us how to live.
Finally, in our second reading, we hear that beautiful reading from St. Paul describing the Body of Christ, the Church. We hear that the Church is the mystical presence of Jesus living and true through which we learn how to live and love God and each other, and how inseparable Jesus is from his Church, and how important all of us are in God’s plan.

My friends, we are not just individuals in search of meaning. We are a people on a pilgrimage as a community, as a Church, toward the Truth who is God, and our destination is heaven. We are Jesus’ mystical Body, the Church, and the Church shows us the way to live with God and each other. This is so important for us to remember as Catholics: We are the Church, and the community of the Church, the Body of Christ, shows us the way to heaven because Jesus teaches us in the Church.

Some people say that the Church has too many laws. Actually, she has very few hard and fast ones. She does have a lot of two things though: Mercy and Freedom! The Church is all about the Truth that sets us free from sin and death, and keeps us close to God who is a God of mercy. We see this throughout the Scriptures, how God frees his people from slavery to sin and Satan, from bondage and tyranny of all sorts. The Church is on the front lines in the battle for social justice and human dignity because Jesus lives in his Church, and Jesus is the Way,the Truth and the Life.

Jesus promised us he would be present in his Church until the end of time. He promised also that he would send the Holy Spirit into the Church, into our hearts, and he would write his law in our hearts. He promised that we would never be in the same situation that the Israelites were in in our first reading. He promised that everyone, from the greatest to the least, would be a member of this Church, his Body, that everyone was important, that no one was to be left out, that all could be included, if they would only be willing to listen to his law living in his Church and follow that law of love and freedom in their hearts as a member of his Body. He also promised that he would send out his followers to bring back all who wander away. Jesus showed us that in the Old Law God seemed distant, but in the New Law God is near, very near, within us, even in those who seem insignificant.

That is why the Church is so pro-life, because God loves the addict, the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and so must we. We must not ignore them. Jesus lives in the person next to you today. He lives in me, and you, and you. He lives in the person in the pew ahead and behind you. He lives in the unborn, in the elderly, the terminally ill, the immigrant, the disabled, the mentally ill, the addicted. Jesus lives in his Church, in the People of God, in each one of us, and that is why we are pro-life and we preach the dignity of every human person, without exception! We must walk with God and each other; we must value all human life! Last Friday, I and many of you traveled to St. Paul for the March for Life to express our belief in the sanctity of all human life, and I thank all of you who came, especially those who organized it and funded it!

Let us this day renew our dedication to respecting each other as brothers and sisters of Jesus, sons and daughters of the Father. Let us renew our love and commitment to Jesus Christ present in his Church. Let us never forget that God lives in each of us, and in serving each other, we praise Him!

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Beware! From the Experience of an Exorcist

I read with interest over at Catholic News Agency an interview with a Spanish exorcist during which he spoke of the Satan’s favorite sin (pride) and the danger of  “New Age” practices, such as Reiki and Yoga.

I have often said the same thing to well meaning Catholics who get into Reiki and Yoga. They always tell me the same thing, i.e, it is good for their health, their ability to relax, and their overall well-being. I always respond with the same response, i.e., “Do you know there are healthy and holy practices that come from the saints (and our Lord himself) that have those same benefits? Have you studied and tried them?”

A nearby spirituality center, sponsored by a Catholic order, regularly offers classes very similar to, if not in reality, New Age philosophies and practices. I always cringe.

I agree with the priest interviewed in the article. To engage in New Age practices are invitations to the devil to enter you life in some way. He is always studying us, and looking for ways. His temptations always look good at first, for he knows we are incapable of choosing anything that doesn’t look good at first sight.

Log on to the article and read. Here is the link:  The Devil’s Favorite Sin

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Here is my homily for this year’s Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. May each of you be abundantly blessed in 2016.

Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
December 31, 2015/January 1, 2016

Humble and bold. Two words we typically do not associate in our minds. Humble and bold…. we find them both in the person of Mary, the Mother of God.

The humble virgin Mary, docile to God’s will, to God’s Word, yet the most bold of all the witnesses to the Word made flesh, to her Son and Lord, Jesus! Mary, the Mother of God, Theotokos.

No, it was not Peter. No, it was not James or John or Paul who was the boldest yet most humble of all the witnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No, it was Mary, theotokos, for it was from her heart that came these words: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord! My spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.

It was Mary who bore the most humble yet bold witness to her Son. It was Mary who bore the Word of God in her heart and then conceived that Word in her womb. To quote Pope Francis, “The flesh of Christ was knit together in the womb of Mary… The Blessed Virgin is the woman of faith who made room for God in her heart and in her plans.” (Francis, 1-1-15)

Only because of her faith in that Word that had come to her, a Word she nurtured and pondered in her immaculate heart, was she then able to conceive that Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, and bear the Son of God, her creator and savior, Jesus. Yes, she is “God-bearer”, Theotokos in Greek, as the Church Fathers proclaimed in the Council of Ephesus in 431.

We, God’s people, cannot understand Jesus without his Mother, Mary. (Ibid) Mary is so closely united to Jesus because she kept close to her heart the Word made flesh. She spent her life contemplating and pondering the World of God that was and is her son, Jesus. Mary in contemplating her son, Jesus, becomes a model for the Church who also
reflects on the Incarnation, on the mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis said, “… inseparable are Christ and the Church; the salvation accomplished by Jesus cannot be understood without appreciating the motherhood of the Church…Mary [is] the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus, the model of the pilgrim Church, is the one who opens the way to the Church’s motherhood… She, the Mother of God, is also the mother of the Church, and through the Church, the mother of all men and women…” (Ibid)

Yes, Mary kept close to her heart the Word made flesh. She said, “Yes!” She said “Fiat!” St. Augustine would write that Mary was more blessed for hearing God’s word and keeping custody of it in her heart than because of the flesh she gave to her divine Son. Since this was true, Mary was able to follow her Son every step of the way. She

was able to stand by her Son as he died on the cross, stand by him without staining her immaculate heart. She knew it was by virtue of her faith in the Word of God that she had been able to conceive that Word in her womb, and it was by faith in that Word that she was able to give bold witness to her Son when he gave up his life on the Cross.

Mary, who surpasses all of us in her sanctity and her fidelity, Mary, the Mother of God, remaims like us, a member of the Church, and a member of the Body of Christ, her Son, and a witness to her Son’s life, death, and resurrection.

You too are members of the Body of Christ, the Church. You also carry God’s Word in your hearts and you are to be witnesses to that Word, to Jesus Christ. Just as St. Augustine spoke of Mary, St. Ambrose spoke of us when he wrote: Blessed are you who have heard and believed; every soul that believes, conceives and begets the Word of God. May Mary’s soul be in each of us to glorify the Lord. May the spirit of Mary be within each of us to exult in God. (Commentary on Luke, CCL 14, 39-42)

You will be more blessed and find greater dignity in the Word you nourish in your hearts and profess with your lips than in any office you may bear. You are first, and most importantly, members of the Body of Christ. Never separate yourselves from this Body, from the Church! Never!

You cannot become witnesses to Jesus unless you have first welcomed the Word in your hearts, treasured it, nurtured it, pondered it, obeyed it, followed it, and trusted it. Mary would not have become the Mother of God, Theotokos, had she not first accepted and kept the Word of God in her immaculate heart. You cannot become witnesses to Jesus if you do not first hold in the purity of your hearts the Word entrusted to you. Mary could not have endured the passion and death of her Son had she not first cradled in her heart the Word that had come to her. You will not be able to endure the trials and difficulties of life without first knowing, nurturing, and loving the Word entrusted to you.

Yes, our lives, both individually and together as the Church, are to be modeled after Mary. Ours is a vocation of humble service to God and humanity.. We are to give humble yet bold witness to Jesus Christ.

May our lives magnify the Lord, as did Mary’s!

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Pope Francis’ Christmas Homily

A belated Merry Christmas to all my readers! Blessings for 2016 also!

Here is the homily Pope Francis delivered for Christmas night Mass this year. As usual, I let it speak for itself.

HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS
THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD – MASS IN THE HOLY NIGHT
ST PETER’S BASILICA
24 DECEMBER 2015

Tonight “a great light” shines forth (Is 9:1); the light of Jesus’ birth shines all about us. How true and timely are the words of the prophet Isaiah which we have just heard: “You have brought abundant joy and great rejoicing” (9:2)! Our heart was already joyful in awaiting this moment; now that joy abounds and overflows, for the promise has been at last fulfilled. Joy and gladness are a sure sign that the message contained in the mystery of this night is truly from God. There is no room for doubt; let us leave that to the skeptics who, by looking to reason alone, never find the truth. There is no room for the indifference which reigns in the hearts of those unable to love for fear of losing something. All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart.

Today, the Son of God is born, and everything changes. The Saviour of the world comes to partake of our human nature; no longer are we alone and forsaken. The Virgin offers us her Son as the beginning of a new life. The true light has come to illumine our lives so often beset by the darkness of sin. Today we once more discover who we are! Tonight we have been shown the way to reach the journey’s end. Now must we put away all fear and dread, for the light shows us the path to Bethlehem. We must not be laggards; we are not permitted to stand idle. We must set out to see our Saviour lying in a manger. This is the reason for our joy and gladness: this Child has been “born to us”; he was “given to us”, as Isaiah proclaims (cf. 9:5). The people who for for two thousand years has traversed all the pathways of the world in order to allow every man and woman to share in this joy is now given the mission of making known “the Prince of peace” and becoming his effective servant in the midst of the nations.

So when we hear the story of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face. If we take him in our arms and let ourselves be embraced by him, he will bring us unending peace of heart. This Child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives. He was born into the poverty of this world; there was no room in the inn for him and his family. He found shelter and support in a stable and was laid in a manger for animals. And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God’s glory shines forth. From now on, the way of authentic freedom and perennial redemption is open to every man and woman who is simple of heart. This Child, whose face radiates the goodness, mercy and love of God the Father, trains us, his disciples, as Saint Paul says, “to reject godless ways” and the richness of the world, in order to live “temperately, justly and devoutly” (Tit 2:12).

In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer.

Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too, with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus, the Son of God. And in his presence may our hearts burst forth in prayer: “Show us, Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation” (Ps 85:8).

 

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C, 2015

Here is my homily for this weekend. God’s blessings on each of you!

4th Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
December 19/20 , 2015
Micah 5:1-4; Heb 10: 5-10; Luke 1: 39-45

He is almost here! Jesus,the Son of God coming in the flesh, in a manger, the child Jesus. We have been awaiting him, throughout Advent we have been waiting, praying, and singing of his coming in many ways here at the parish:

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – God is with us!
On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry: Make straight the way of the Lord!
Level the mountains of sin!
Fill the valleys of darkness and loneliness!
Let all mankind see the salvation of our God!

Yes, we have waited for, we have prayed for, and we have sung of his coming!
Yes, soon, Jesus is coming!

We remember his coming during Advent and Christmas each liturgical year, but really we are to experienc and remember, every day throughout the year the coming of Jesus, because he continually comes into the world and into our lives.

Yes, so long ago, 2015 years ago, he came in the flesh, as the child of Bethlehem, born the son of Mary and the Son of God, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. True God and true man. This was his first coming, and there was no room for him in the inn, no place for him in the hearts of most men that night, except for the shepherds, the poor, so he was born in a nearby stable with the poor.

Yes, someday in the future, he will come again, in glory with salvation for his people, and on that day we will see his glory, the dead will rise, and the just will be united with God forever.

But today and every day he comes, he never ceases to come, at every moment in our lives he wants to come to us if we are open to him. He knocks on the doors of our hearts, asking to be let in, asking to enter our lives asking if there is room for him in our inn, asking if he can make his home among us, asking to live within us, asking us if we have a room prepared, cleaned up for him, whether our lives are in good order to welcome him.

Yes, Jesus has come, he comes today, he will come again!

That is our faith. It is the faith of the Church. The three comings of Jesus.

On this last Sunday of Advent, we await, in a holy waiting, his first coming, the day in which God, Emmanuel, took on our human nature and entered our world as a man, to bring humanity back to God, to grasp us firmly and lift us up, with him, to share in his divinity, yes, to make us like him, to make us sons and daughters of God. God will reach down into the deepest of the deep to raise us up to the highest of all heights and take us back to the Father, to our heavenly home.

On this last Sunday of Advent, we look for his glorious coming someday in the future, at a time only God the Father knows. We long for that day, if we examine our hearts, this final coming of Jesus, when all of humanity, yes, all of creation, will see Jesus again, he who has created, and loved, and cared for us all this time even if we didn’t recognize him or accept him,we will see him in all his splendor and glory.

On this last Sunday of Advent, we open ourselves to his coming into our lives now. We have a final chance to get ready, to seek forgiveness of our sins, to try to open our hearts and our minds to the presence of God who is all around us, a God who wants at every moment to become one with us, to become intimate with us, who wants to share our every joy, our every sorrow, our every triumph, and to soften every defeat. A God who continuously knocks at the doors of our hearts and asks: “May I enter? May I be not only your God and Lord, but your brother and your father? Is there room for me in the inn?”

One of my good memories of my time in Rome in 1977 and 1978 was attending St. John Paul II’s initial Mass as pope. Maybe you remember it from watching the TV. In his homily he repeated several times, “Non avete paura! Aprite le porte a Cristo!” “Do not be afraid!Open wide your doors to Christ!”

Open wide your doors to Christ! For he comes!

Open wide your hearts! Do not fear! Look at Mary, the Mother of God. She opened wide her heart. She kept close to her heart the God who came to her. She said, “Yes” to God. She said, “Fiat.” She said, “Let it be done to me.” Mary would not have become the Mother of God had she not first had an open heart that waited for her Savior, and trusted in him. She welcomed and treasured, she nurtured, obeyed, followed and trusted the God who became her son. She opened her heart to the coming of the Lord.

Open wide the doors of your life to Jesus! Do not fear to let him come, to let him enter, to let him carry you when you have no place to stay, when you have no room in the inn, when you are lonely and frightened, alone and afraid.

Do not fear, but rejoice that Jesus has come into our world to redeem us, to forgive us our sins, to fill in the valleys in our lives, to knock down the mountains that block our path to heaven.

Let us not fear, but with hope, open our hearts to Jesus and look for him to come again,we who have waited for him, desired him, prepared for him a place in our hearts.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily at the Advent Clergy Day 2015

Here is the homily I was asked to give at the Advent Clergy Day for the Diocese of Winona.

God bless each of you!

Advent Day of Reflection for Clergy of Winona Diocese
December 17, 2015
Owatonna, Minnesota

Scripture: Isaiah 30: 19-21, 23-26
I asked you to listen carefully to this Scripture taken from the prophet Isaiah. I now ask you, “Is this the kind of Lord and God we want to come into our lives and rule over us? Is this the kind of God who we will take into our lives and into the world? Is this the God that we in our flesh will make present to the people of God to whom we are sent, a people who ache for his presence, even though they may not recognize him?

He is beautiful, is he not? He promises so many beautiful things, does he not? It is easy for us to say, “Yes! Come Lord Jesus into my life and into the world! Maranatha!” but are we really prepared to say this? We need to be careful and honest lest we speak these words without preparation and prayer. As all the saints attest, to welcome the coming of the Lord into our lives and into the world requires a spiritual suffering and purification. We too must suffer his coming!

So the question is, are we willing to suffer the coming of Christ into our lives and into our world? Are we willing to be sufficiently purified and emptied of all that would place an obstacle in his way? Are we willing to be continually attentive to the Father uttering his eternal Word into our souls and into the world in the power of the Spirit? Are we willing to undergo that kind of spiritual martyrdom that is required if we are to remain both present to the Father uttering his Word Jesus into our lives and simultaneously attentive to the people to whom we are sent? Or will we fall back into a lives of distraction, isolation, and loneliness, which are the breeding grounds of sin and keep us from the God who comes to save, from each other, and from the People of God?

We must remain attentive, alert, and receptive. We must be purified of our distractions, our sin, our isolation from God, each other, and the Church. We must be purified of our loneliness and our worldly attachments if we are to welcome the coming of the Lord.

I have become convinced, brothers in Holy Orders, that central to all of us who are ordered to the Holy by our sharing in this sacrament, is a spiritual martyrdom through a complete consecration to the Gospel and to the human condition. We must be radically configured to the incarnate Jesus as obedient sons of the Father empowered by the Holy Spirit and sent in service to the Church. But we cannot be so configured or sent without first having being purified from sin, from all that would distract us, from inner isolation and loneliness, i.e., those things that give rise to sin. We cannot be who we are called to be in Holy Orders, icons of Jesus Christ, if we remain in our sin, our loneliness, separation from God and from his people, from ourselves and from each other. We must be purified! We must suffer the martyrdom of the coming of Jesus in this way. We must be willing to let go, to shed all that hinders us from this purification and keeps us isolated and lonely. We must be purified, emptied, forgiven and vulnerable to his coming in the diaconal and/or priestly character impressed on our beings at our ordinations. The touch of the Father must remain in our lives. This is and will be a suffering, a spiritual martyrdom, for us all.

Advent, then, is not only a time of anticipation of the coming of the Lord and a remembrance of his coming as the Child of Bethlehem. It is also a time of suffering the emptiness that must be ours if we are to filled with him, the Word, who comes. We must prepare a place for him in our hearts and in our world.

Let us strip ourselves of all that would distract us from his coming. Most importantly let go of the loneliness which we have allowed to take root in our lives, especially our spiritual lives. We need to be with him. We must allow for a relationship with the Lord who comes. We must pray. We must seek forgiveness. We must also allow for relationship with each other and we must take the risk of relationship with those in need of God’s presence. This is the continual message of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is it not?

We cannot lapse into a lonely self-concern or a clerical separation from the very people to whom we are sent, a people who are hurting far too much for us to be lonely and separated from them.

My brothers, we are to be the coming of the Lord in today’s world! We are the ones who are ordered to the Holy, i.e., configured to Jesus Christ, first as deacon in his diakonia, and then for some of you as priest or bishop, as victim and high priest. We must remain in relationship with the Lord who comes so we may bear him, suffer him, and present him to the world which desperately longs for him even though they may not know it.

We are sons of the Father! We must be attentive to the Father uttering his eternal Word, Jesus Christ, and filled with the Gospel and always available to being sent forth from the Father, as Jesus was sent. We must be filled with the coming of Christ into our lives, filled by emptying ourselves of distractions, isolation, and loneliness which give rise to sin in our lives. We must be filled with the Word of God, the Gospel, and then be available to the Father’s will for us in service to his people.

I repeat, we are sons of the Father! We as deacons bear the Gospel of which we are heralds and the servant mysteries of Christ in the Church; you as priests and bishop bear the sacraments and Eucharistic sacrifice into the world. We all suffer his coming. We all bear Jesus! Let us now be purified of our sin so we can be sent forth into the peripheries of the world to be a purifying presence to others.

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Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

To all my readers, I wish to extend to you my blessing on this obligatory solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Mother of God.

The Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception Photo source: The Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Since this solemnity is often misunderstood as a celebration of Mary conceiving Jesus in her womb through the Holy Spirit (this is not what we are recalling this day), I want to simply state what I am sure all of you know: Today is the day we recall the conception of Mary, who was conceived without sin, who was spared, by a singular grace of God won for her by her Son Jesus’ merits, the stain of original sin. We also believe that Mary kept her sinlessness throughout her life, free from both original and actual, personal sin. All of this by God’s grace and her cooperation with the grace given her, so that she would be a worthy mother of God himself in his Son, Jesus Christ.

This is a sign from God of how important and dignified we are meant to be, all of us. Mary is a model for us, both in life and in death. What she is, we too will be if we are responsive to the grace given us in our lives, and faithfully do what is asked of us by the Lord. Mary’s highest dignity and honor was in following her Lord, her son, Jesus, by being not only his mother, but his follower. She followed him everywhere, and led all to him by her intercession, example, and acceding to grace. Yes, she was given a special, singular grace not offered to us, but like us she had a role to play in the history of salvation, and she fulfilled it perfectly. Our role, our mission, our vocation, is also equally important in some ways. Will we accept it?

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Martyrdom, Spiritual and Physical

I came across this icon painted by Nicola Savic, a Serbian artist (click here for source). It depicts the 20 Libyan Coptic Christian martyrs who were beheaded by ISIS this February after refusing to renounce the faith in Jesus. The Coptic Orthodox Church has recognized them as martyrs.

Icon of the Libyan Martyrs By Nicola Savic

Icon of the Libyan Martyrs By Nicola Savic; Photo source:  https://stream.org/serbian-artist-paints-austere-icon-holy-martyrs-libya\

The icon, and the men who died and are represented in it, are consistent with what I have been thinking and writing about the past several months, i.e., martyrdom as experienced by deacons. The martyrdom of which I have been thinking is not so much the blood martyrdom undergone by men such as the Libyan martyrs, but rather the spiritual martyrdom that seems so central to the spiritual life of a deacon who is living his vocation fully, for indeed, a fully diaconal life seems to lead one to a reality unlike what a man has previously experienced before ordination, a reality that can be described as an attentiveness to the Word uttered by the Father that leads the deacon into a purifying presence to suffering humanity. This attentiveness is a death to self and a suffering of the coming of the Word into the life of the deacon, a suffering that impels him to a purifying presence to the suffering of humanity. It seems to be all about presence, to me, and purification, i.e., presence to the Father uttered Word in the power of the Spirit, presence to the Trinity, and presence to Jesus’ suffering in the flesh of humanity in today’s world with all its loneliness and distractions and sin. The emptiness that one must allow in oneself, as deacon, so as to be able to be present to Trinitarian life and human life, this emptiness is a real spiritual martyrdom.

I could go on, but I am only beginning to develop these ideas. I will need to refer you to my next article I hope to have published in the Josephinum Diaconate Review in the near future.

Until then, let us never forget the blood martyrdom experienced by so many in today’s world. Let us pray to them to intercede for us as we face our own call to die for the faith in whatever way necessary, and for us deacons to never fear emptying ourselves so we may remain attentive to the Father and radically available to being sent by him to those most in need of his presence and his purifying love.

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