March 7, 2021, Third Sunday of Lent (Year B)
Homilist: Deacon Dave LaFortune
I Will Rebuild This Temple in Three Days
As we reflect on today’s Gospel, it’s important to remember that in the Old Testament days, the people of Israel encountered God’s presence, particularly in the Temple. The Temple was the privileged place to encounter God, His dwelling amongst His people.
The destruction of the Temple by the Roman army in the year 70 A.D. was a cataclysmic event both for Judaism and Christianity. Without the Temple, the question arose: Where will God be found?
Rabbinic Judaism turned to the Law. Christianity, however, pointed to Jesus as God’s new dwelling, where God is present to His people; where God is encountered and worshiped.
Jesus’s cleansing of the Temple heard in today’s Gospel was a turning point in the life of Jesus, putting him in direct conflict with the authorities and would ultimately lead to his arrest and crucifixion. His claim—that He would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days—became a key point of evidence raised against Jesus at His trial.
The New Temple
Jesus’s overturning the tables predicts the Temple’s destruction and replacement by a new one built by Jesus in three days. John’s Gospel points out Jesus’s words are only understood after His death and resurrection. Jesus’s Body is the new Temple–God’s new dwelling among his people, the privileged place of encounter between God and man, is Jesus Christ.
This speaks volumes about who Jesus is and His relationship to God and to God’s people. Jesus assumes the role of the Temple as the means to encounter God, enter into relationship with Him, and come to know Him.
If we want to know God, we must know Jesus.
Jesus’s death and resurrection is key to understanding and believing the words Jesus had spoken. It’s only in light of this new perspective of Jesus risen from the dead that all becomes clear. Jesus’s life and ministry make sense, and the Scriptures become unlocked.
Where God Can Be Found
The heart of the scandal Jesus caused that day was not driving away the money changers, but His proclamation that he, a human being, was the new temple.
This implied an encounter with genuine humanity, offering an experience of the real presence of God. Humanity, created in the Divine Image of God, came to life by the infusion of the very Spirit of God’s breath and can be the grounds for an experience of God’s real presence.
But it’s always easier to imagine God safely confined in a church tabernacle and speaking only through religious authority than to believe God courses through each of us and speaks especially in the voice of unruly prophets and our needy neighbors.
We join ranks with those who rejected Jesus’ message to the extent we allow a focus on Christ’s presence confined in our churches and tabernacles to dwarf our awareness of His real, and much more disturbing presence, outside church walls.
The Body of Christ in the tabernacle is very real but often silent. But the poor and marginalized, who are also part of the Body of Christ, tend to clamor loudly for justice, dignity, and most especially, love.
A Lenten Meaning
The moral of today’s Gospel story is particularly important for the Lenten season.
Jesus’s cleansing of the Temple of the corrupt influence of money has deep moral significance for our own souls. You and I, as temples of the Holy Spirit, are destined like Jesus to be destroyed by death but raised to new life. We, like Jesus, have a human body that is a dwelling place of God.
And God wants to live in our hearts—to take up His dwelling with us. Yet there’s all kinds of junk in our lives that gets in the way and needs to be cleaned out.
We have taken our own souls, meant to be God’s house, and turned them into marketplaces focused on secularism, materialism, egoism, and hedonism. Our love of money, love of self, and love of pleasure have taken the place of God in our hearts and displaced Him from His own home. We’ve become blinded by secular attitudes and no longer see the world as God does. We avoid the poor and the homeless, failing to recognize they too represent the Presence of God in our lives.
During this Lenten season, Jesus wants to clean out our souls for us, to drive away whatever has pushed God out of our lives; to change our attitudes and negative habits, so God can meet us where we are.
Jesus denounced a temple that honored the privileged, took advantage of some, and condemned and excluded others. Jesus claimed His mission was to fulfill the law—to demonstrate its deepest meaning as a guide to loving as God loves.
Jesus is the new Temple, God’s dwelling place among mankind, and our place of encounter with Him. In making his human body this new Temple, He made our bodies temples. He wants us to meet Him, not in some distant place, but right in the temple of our own hearts. He wants to come to meet us, so He can raise us up from the destruction of our sins into new, risen lives in communion with God through Christ Jesus.
During this holy season of Lent, let’s clear out the temple of our hearts, so we can be true temples—true dwelling places of God and places to encounter Him who raises us to new life.
As our Lenten journey continues, I suggest we reflect on the following:
Do we revere each person as much as we do our holy places?
Do we care for the decor of our spaces and style of our liturgy more than God’s dwelling place in and among the poor?
Finally, how are we doing at making temples of our lives?
Let’s ask God today to help us become the temples and disciples He created us to be. Let’s always remember our God is truly present in the tabernacle, truly present in the Host when we receive Holy Communion, and wants to be truly present in the temple of our hearts and souls so we may truly encounter God in our lives.
Let us ask God to cleanse our hearts and souls during this Lenten season.
February 28, 2021, The Second Sunday of Lent (Year B)
Homilist: Deacon Doug Farwell
Abraham—a Model of Blind Faith
The liturgies of the first two Sundays of Lent date back to the 4th century, making them the oldest Lenten observances. From the 4th-mid-6th century, Lent began the liturgical year and the continuous reading of the Bible. Abraham—the father of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian believers—is remembered every Second Sunday of Lent. Abraham was so important to the history of the faith that the ancient writers devoted thirteen chapters to his life, deeds, and relationship with God.
Today’s story of Abraham is called, “the testing of Abraham,” and for most, perhaps a difficult story to conceive. Imagine a God who would demand the sacrifice of a child, Isaac, especially under the circumstances which Abraham and Sarah conceived this child. It could raise a question from those without faith: “What kind of God is this, that asks you to perform such a heinous act? If that’s the kind of God you want me to worship, then I want no part of him.”
Yet this story has been upheld as a premier story of faith. If you’re like me, it causes some serious discernment about the strength of our faith. But it’s more than that. It’s a story reminding us what it means to be a disciple of God. We are to completely put our trust in God and to yield to God’s sovereign will for our lives.
Most of us know how hard it is to totally put our trust in God.
Abraham was led by what I call blind faith. I mean that God initially called Abraham from his homeland to another land. God didn’t tell Abraham initially where he was going but promised bless him and make of him a great nation. This alone is a monumental test of faith.
A Precursor to Jesus
Our story today is also a precursor to the sacrifice of God’s only Son. A story of Jesus’s willingness to be sacrificed for our sake. A complete and total trust in God’s sovereign will for him for our sake!
Today’s Gospel takes place after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, following by Jesus’s prediction of His Passion, in which He rebukes Peter, and finally followed with Jesus explaining the conditions of discipleship.
Now all this may be difficult to comprehend, and that may be why Jesus takes the three principal disciples—Peter, James and John—up the high mountain to witness the Transfiguration.
It seems these three were privileged to witness other principal events of Jesus. Why these three? It was these men who witnessed the raising of Jairus’s daughter from the dead, the Transfiguration, and would be with Jesus at Gethsemane. My reasoning they were chosen is because they were the first to follow Jesus in blind faith. Peter, James, and John were the first to answer Jesus’ call to follow him. To be the first to commit to something new takes courage and faith. They would be the leaders to continue building the Christian Church.
The Gospel connects us to the story of Abraham and Isaac, but it is not a test of faith for Peter, James, and John, rather it gives them insight into who Jesus really is and what he must endure for the salvation of humanity. Their blind faith eventually turned to a seeing faith, just like Abraham. Seeing and experiencing all that was promised would come true.
What is Our Faith?
Do most of us initially come to the Eucharist in blind faith? Eventually, as we learn more about scripture and become catechized in our faith, we come to believe with a seeing faith. Unfortunately, many of the Catholic faith—a staggering 70%–don’t believe in the real presence of God in the Eucharist. It is John, who witnessed these mystifying events and wrote the Gospel, that relays what Jesus says about participating in the eating of the flesh and the drinking of the blood. (Chapter 6: 46 – 59). The whole discourse of the “Bread of Life” is Chapter 6: 22-59. If these 70% don’t believe, maybe it’s because they have not come to trust totally in God.
The letter from Paul today is a rhetorical pericope. All in the form of a question, but it is not meant to be answered by us; rather Paul gives us the answer. The last verse in Romans today is not a statement, but a question. Who will condemn us? Christ Jesus, who died or rather was raised up, who is seated at the right hand of God, and who intercedes for us? Certainly not! Jesus sacrificed himself for us! He would not put himself through crucifixion to condemn us.
God, who has the power to condemn but wishes not to, gave up his only Son to take upon our sins. We condemn ourselves by not being attentive to our responsibilities as children of God By making God’s work and action in us operative through faith, hope and God’s unconditional love!
We may have come to our faith blindly at first, but we must work on complete and total trust during this Lenten journey so we may come to a seeing faith that will become a believing faith when we witness the heavenly kingdom, and all that God has promised.
February 14, 2021, The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homilist: Deacon Dave LaFortune
Hearing vs. Listening.
Our readings today focus on leprosy, and how Jesus not only hears, but also truly listens to the plea of the leper. I think all would agree there is a difference between hearing and listening.
Hearing is physical. It is a mechanical sense. Sound waves enter through the outer ear to strike the eardrum, making it vibrate. We can’t stop hearing, although as we get older, we may have a harder time trying to hear. Hearing is not the same thing as listening.
Listening requires effort. Listening requires desire and focus.
The bad listener never shuts up.
The bad listener rarely asks questions. If the bad listener happens to ask a question, he/she often doesn’t allow others time to answer.
Not too long ago, I was with two friends. Mike had recently been in a car accident as he was leaving a popular local restaurant. His daughter, in the passenger seat, ended up with a broken arm. Mike talked about feeling guilty over the accident and his new fear of driving.
The other friend interrupted the story about fear and guilt and noted how he had been to that restaurant not too long before and really liked the restaurant, especially their fried onion rings!
Mike knows our mutual friend can be a bad listener but loves him anyway. Mike just looked at our friend and asked, “Can I get back to my story?”
If we can recognize a bad listener, we know it’s wonderful when we encounter someone who really listens!
Listening to God
Good listeners simply allow us to talk. Good listeners attend to our situation and ask questions related to what we’re saying. Good listeners are also good at non-verbal communication. They communicate empathy and let us know in all sorts of ways that they want to listen.
My friends, the primary service the Christian owes God is to listen.
The primary service the Christian owes others is to listen.
The ministry of the church is to listen.
In today’s Gospel, we see a good listener, Jesus. We also see a bad listener: the leper!
We are told the leper falls at the feet of Jesus and says, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” The Gospel says Jesus was “moved with pity” and then, “He stretched out His hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’” Being a good listener, Jesus moved past the leper’s awkward phrase: “If you wish, you can make me clean” and heard a prayer for healing.
Being a good listener, Jesus knew the man was not just asking for relief from a physical illness. Lepers—as we heard in the first reading from Leviticus—were outcasts from the community. To reenter society and go to his home, hug his wife, kiss his children, and greet his friends, the leper first needed to be ritually purified by a priest. The book of Leviticus also indicates how this is to be done.
Listening to the man and realizing that reentering society was as important as physical healing, Jesus reminded him to go to the priest and do what is prescribed in the law of Moses.
Jesus reunites the leper to God by listening to his prayer, even if it didn’t sound like one! Jesus reunites the leper into the community.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “Healing infirmities or forgiving sins, Jesus always responds to a prayer offered in faith.”
Jesus saves us to love, honor and obey God. Jesus saves us such that we might obey Him, and through our witness, glorify God in everything we do, so that others might also be saved.
By listening to and obeying Jesus, we bring others to Christ.
The Latin word which means both “to listen” and “to obey” is auscultare. In English, listening can convey a sense of obeying.
The only thing Jesus asked the leper to do was “tell no one anything!”
The leper, however, neither listened nor obeyed. What did the leper do instead? He told everyone everything! As a result, Scripture says, “It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places.”
Because the leper told everybody what had happened, Jesus switched places with him! It was now Jesus who, like a leper, could not go into the towns and villages. The leper was not saved for that! The leper was saved to obey Christ, and by this obedience, bring others closer to the Lord. Instead, the leper’s disobedience made things more difficult for Jesus.
In the early church, candidates for baptism were called, “audientes,” which means “listeners.” Certainly, our baptism suggests we have been saved to be good listeners not bad ones. We are to listen to the Word of God and follow the examples of Jesus and His saints.
Do Everything for the Glory of God
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul says it well: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God.” We must imitate Christ by listening to him. Christ’s goodness is all around, giving us reason to glorify God.
For many years, as the pastoral administrator for St. John Vianney Parish in Bath, I volunteered at the food pantry run by Catholic Charities. Through this food pantry, Catholic Charities would give food to over 600 families each month and help many more homeless people.
Routinely, when the poor came to receive their food, I would ask them how they were doing. Routinely they responded, “I’m blessed!” Indeed, they were listening, even during hardship, and recognizing Christ’s generosity.
Jesus saves us to love, honor, and obey God. Jesus saves us so we might obey Him and glorify God in everything we do.
The Good News of this Sunday’s Scripture is God saves those who listen to Him! I pray we learn to become better listeners of God’s Word, and in doing so, become good imitators of Jesus Christ.
This Wednesday—Ash Wednesday—we are invited to receive ashes on our heads, abstain from meat, and called to fast. In so doing, we mark the beginning of a season of repentance, in which the Church exhorts us to make a Good Confession and embrace extra prayer, penance, and charity in preparation for Easter.
One of my friends, instead of giving up something he doesn’t eat much anyway—such as chocolate for Lent—is going to eat half of whatever he’s given at every meal. Another friend is giving up texting and Facebooking, especially at the dinner table.
Lent challenges us, like today’s Gospel story, with the question of what we do about our internal, spiritual leprosy. Do we go to Christ for healing? Do we join Christ in confronting the evils of our world but also within ourselves and ask him to touch us as He did today’s leper? Or do we let things slide, blaming others, or even God?
I pray we make a good Lent, humbly returning to God in shame for our failings and with confidence in His mercy.
I pray as we make our journey through the Lenten season, we open ourselves to the God who created us and strive to become the disciples God calls us to be.
May we all learn to become good listeners of God’s Word.
February 7, 2021, Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)
Homilist: Deacon Doug Farwell
The Lesson of Job
We can definitely relate to the pericope from the Book of Job today as we endure the nearly yearlong pandemic. Job is one of the literary masterpieces of the Wisdom books and considered one of the finest works contained in the Old Testament.
How many of you have read the Book of Job?
The book of Job is a didactic literary work, meaning its purpose is to teach. There are three themes posed in Job to consider: suffering, the plight of suffering, and the mystery of suffering.
In the culture of that time, we could say that it taught “prosperity ministry”—a firm belief that righteousness will bring prosperity.
Do good, and God will reward you.
Commit infidelity and do evil, and you will suffer.
Those endowed with prosperity then must be righteous, and those that suffer must be sinners.
The Book of Job points to the reality that suffering and pleasure coexist in God’s creation. You’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for the answer in Job as to why suffering exists. No explanation is given for suffering. Rather, the Book of Job teaches that those who see through the eyes of faith possess the ability to see God’s goodness in creation. Once we see the goodness, then no matter what afflicts us, we can find meaning during life’s worst catastrophes.
Suffering just is. It’s a mystery. It isn’t meant as a punishment or malice or a method for purification. In reading Job, we’re invited to reflect upon the incredible tenacity of the human spirit to endure and persevere and dwell upon the unbelievable love of God, who suffers and grieves with us.
The Healing Connection with Christ
The connection of Job’s scripture today to the Gospel is a contrast between the mystery of human suffering and the healing ministry of Jesus.
The Gospel begins with the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, who lie ill with a fever. Jesus not only heals her immediately, but also empowers her to serve. Yes, scripture tells us that she waited on them.
But we must look deeper here.
The Greek translation of the verb used for “helped her up” is translated as “raised up”. Not only is Jesus’s power to heal but to renew meaning in their lives.
Jesus miraculous healings were significant for his community because they were a sign Jesus possessed God-given powers. They were a sign of God’s arrival and reign among them, bringing with Him redemption. Jesus’s healings foreshadowed the resurrection He and all of us will experience. We will be healed and delivered from sin and invited into ministry.
This is the example Paul gives us today in his Letter to the Corinthians. Paul defends his apostleship and obligation to preach the Good News. Paul views preaching the Gospel more than an authority that allows him to charge a fee, but more importantly, as a stewardship for his own recompense.
Paul refers to his own conversion. He was healed and empowered to serve. Recall Paul’s first encounter with Jesus when Paul was knocked down and blinded. For three days, Paul fasted and lie in solitude until God directed Ananias to him, and laying his hands upon him, Paul regained his sight. Paul remained in Damascus for some time and at once became empowered to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God.
The Communal and Private Aspects of Faith
This brings up two movements in the Gospel: solitude and Jesus commission to preach.
After Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, he healed all those brought to him who were ill or possessed. The whole town flocked to him. Jesus was drained, and rising early the next day, went off to a deserted place to pray.
Those times of solitude are times when, like Jesus, we are drained from the events of life and need to be renewed and revigorated in our faith. It’s a time of contemplation of God’s plan for our lives.
It was in solitude that Jesus received his commission to preach, and so it was revealed to Paul, as lie blind in solitude, of his commission to spread the Good News.
We’ve been given that obligation as well through Jesus’s own sacrifice, which has brought healing to everyone. Through the Body and Blood shed for all to share in, we have been commissioned to serve.
While many may not experience the extreme sufferings of Job, all experience the sufferings of sin. Like Peter’s mother-in-law and Job, we will be healed from our sufferings, but we must persevere with eyes of faith to allow us to see the goodness in God’s creation.
To obtain those eyes of faith, we may need to go off by ourselves and engage in that intimate relationship with God.
Bishop Matano’s article in this month’s Catholic Courier mentions the many sacrifices all have endured during the pandemic—isolated from family, restricted from social gatherings, suspension of Mass, isolated in our homes—to name a few. However, Bishop Matano points out times of solitude are also opportunities to bond with Christ and poses the question: “Did you take time to talk with Jesus?”
These sufferings caused by the pandemic can’t be explained but can point to the answer: To see with the goodness of God through our own eyes of faith.
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Word of God Sunday, January 24, 2021
Homilist: Deacon Dave LaFortune
Reading the Bible
In his apostolic letter “Aperuit illis”, dated September 30, 2019, Pope Francis declared the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time should be devoted to the celebration, study, and dissemination of the Word of God and would become known as Word of God Sunday. In his decree, the Holy Father said, “The relationship between the Risen Lord, the community of believers and Sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians.”
Recalling the importance the Second Vatican Council gave to rediscovering Sacred Scripture for the life of the Church, Pope Francis suggested that on Word of God Sunday, we should focus on the importance of God’s Word and encourage all to read the Bible as a part of our daily lives.
The timing of the apostolic letter is significant. September 30th is the Feast of St. Jerome, who translated most of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin and famously said, “Ignorance of Sacred Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
On this Word of God Sunday, we reflect on the importance of learning how to read, study, appreciate, and pray daily with Sacred Scripture. How many here today can say they strive to read, study, appreciate, and pray daily with Sacred Scripture? I know I don’t, though I know I should!
Why do we struggle to study the Bible? Perhaps Catholics were never taught or encouraged to do so. Perhaps we know it is the Word of God and intimidated by what God might tell us when we listen to His Voice in Sacred Scripture.
Forming a “New” Habit
I’d like to offer a few suggestions on how we can start to appreciate and pray daily with Sacred Scripture.
First, ensure you have a good Bible, one with lots of footnotes. I highly recommend The New American Bible, which provides the Scriptural translation used by the Church for our Sunday readings.
Second, set aside a specific time each day to be with Sacred Scripture for at least 15 minutes to a half hour.
Third, read and study a short portion of the Bible daily. A good example would be today’s first reading from the Book of Jonah, or our reading from the Gospel of Mark. If we’re trying to study Sacred Scriptures daily, a good strategy would be to focus on the Scriptural readings for the upcoming Sunday.
Fourth, in studying God’s Word, read the verses, and especially read the footnotes to gain a deeper understanding for the verses you just read. For example, in today’s Gospel, we heard “this is the time of fulfilment.” The corresponding footnote states: “the period in human history appointed by God for making good his messianic promises.” Sometimes, the footnote will state “see note” found in one of the books of the Old Testament, in another Gospel, or from the Acts of the Apostles.
Another example in today’s Gospel, chapter 1, verses 16-20, was the call to the first four apostles to “come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The footnote states “see note on Matthew 4, 19.” That footnote gives a detailed explanation for what the phrase “fishers of men”’ actually means. Another footnote focused on the immediacy of the first four apostles’ response to Jesus’ invitation to “come after me.” The point? On this Word of God Sunday, we’re encouraged to make a habit of studying the Sacred Scriptures daily and learn to truly appreciate God’s revealing Word and thereby deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ. The time we spend appreciating Sacred Scripture gives us a better understanding of the importance of the Word of God proclaimed every time we attend Mass.
What Better Time?
In a few short weeks, we’ll enter into the season of Lent. To prepare for Lent, now would be a wonderful time to develop that daily habit of reading Sacred Scripture.
As I reflected on today’s Gospel, I was amazed by Simon, Andrew, James, and John’s decision to Jesus’s invitation to “come after me . . .” They simply and very quickly got up from their work and started following Jesus. Where do we expect to hear God’s call? Are we willing to say yes to God’s invite to become a follower of Jesus Christ?
From the beginning, Jesus made daily decisions to follow God’s Will and proclaim the Kingdom of God. Throughout our lives, we face many decisions. These choices often seem inconsequential in light of the overall picture of our lives. In reality, these daily choices are important, as they either further confirm our life’s path or take us away from it—one step at a time.
Come After Me
For Christians who have heard the invitation, “Come after me,” the daily choices either identify us as Jesus’s followers, or they don’t. At some moment in our lives, many will have to make a big decision for right or wrong, or for integrity or dissolution. When that moment comes, what we have chosen on a daily basis will determine how we hold up under the big test.
Jesus decided to enter the public arena and fulfill his calling of proclaiming the Reign of God. His daily decisions to continue His ministry ultimately prepared Jesus for his final “Yes” in the garden just before he suffered and died on the cross.
Today, in listening and reflecting upon Mark’s Gospel, we respond again to the invitation to follow Jesus and be his witnesses in the world. At this Eucharist, we ask for the Spirit that came upon Jesus in the Jordon when he was baptized by John. This Spirit will strengthen our resolve to follow Christ; for on our own, we might take the shortcuts tempting us each day and eventually getting us to follow another voice on another path.
But with the Holy Spirit as our guide, we‘ll take the necessary steps leading to respond daily to Jesus’ invitation, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
May we resolve to read, study, appreciate, and pray the Sacred Scriptures daily. In doing so, may all become the disciples of Jesus that God calls us to be.
2nd Sunday of Ordinary time, January 17th, 2021 (Year B)
1Sm 3:3-10; Ps 40:2, 4, 7-10; 1Cor 6:13-15, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42
Homilist: Deacon Doug Farwell
Through Baptism, We’re Joined With the Lord
This past week began our return to Ordinary Time in the Church. It began on Monday after the final Feast Day of the Christmas season, The Baptism of the Lord. The weekday readings are read from Year 1, and Sunday Gospels concentrates on Mark. However, our Gospel reading today comes from John as this reading makes a smooth transition from the Feast of Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.
John begins his Gospel using the first words of the Bible, “In the beginning,” referring to when God created the Heavens and the Earth, so also did the Son exist. John’s Gospel doesn’t specifically talk about the baptism of Jesus but implies it through the introduction and encounters with John the Baptist. We’re introduced to the Baptist after the opening prologue that presents the main themes John’s Gospel wishes to focus on: life, light, truth, the world, testimony, and the pre-existence of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos, meaning Word.
John the Baptist is encountered three times leading to the identification of Christ as the “Lamb of God.”
The first encounter is when the Jews from Jerusalem approach John to question his testimony of repentance and baptism. They inquire, “Who are you?”
To which John identifies himself using scripture from Isaiah (40:3), “I am the voice of one crying out from the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.”
The second encounter comes the next day, when John is baptizing in the Jordan. He sees Jesus approaching and draws the attention of the people to Jesus, who John identifies as “the Lamb of God.” How does he know this? Because the one who sent him told him, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” John proclaims Jesus as the “Son of God” because he has seen and testified.
The third encounter comes on the third day as John—this time with a couple of his disciples—watches Jesus walk by and proclaims, “Behold! The Lamb of God!”
Immediately two disciples, identified as Andrew, brother of Simon Peter, and John, the son of Zebedee, begin to follow, thus beginning the ministry of Jesus by the calling of His first disciples.
John the Baptist’s main purpose in the Gospel of John isn’t so much concentrated on repentance and the forgiveness of sin, but the revelation of Jesus to Israel. This is what ties our Gospel to the first reading from Samuel.
How Well Do We Listen to His Voice?
Samuel had been consecrated to God by the promise of Samuel’s mother, Hannah, being barren, prayed to God that if she conceived a son, she would give him to the Lord. Keeping her vow, Samuel is under the care of the priest Eli when Samuel first encounters God calling his name. Whether occurring in a dream or whether it woke Samuel from his sleep, God calls Samuel three times before Samuel understood and spoke the words for those wishing to become followers of the Lord should likewise utter: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Today’s readings should cause us to reflect on three thoughts:
- Through our baptism, we are joined to the Lord, who calls us to be His disciples.
- How well do we listen to His voice?
- How willing are we to do His will?
With the Lenten season beginning in a little over four weeks, perhaps these questions should become the theme of our Lenten journey this year. Especially with what’s going on in our world today and specifically within our own country—something we probably never thought would occur within our borders.
Our baptism is the promise of our sharing in the inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, bringing us into a kinship with Jesus as brothers and sisters—children of God. Jesus voluntarily submits to baptism as a manifestation of his self-emptying (CCC 1224) and sets an example for us of our own self-emptying. It’s our incorporation to the Church, the Body of Christ, calling us to be priests, prophets, and kings. Baptism makes us “living stones” to be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood (CCC 1268). By Baptism, we are to share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission (CCC 1268). The person baptized belongs no longer to himself, but to Him who died and rose for us (CCC 1269).
Taking a part in this mission, we must ask ourselves: “How well do I listen to the Lord’s voice?” His voice comes to us in many ways: in dreams (as we hear today from Samuel), in prayer, in scripture, or even through another person. Regardless of how it comes, are we listening closely or too preoccupied with the world’s material distractions and all its empty promises? We need to block this out and listen to the instructions of Jesus as He tells us to go to our inner room, close the door, and pray in secret to your Father, who sees in secret will repay you (Mt 6:6).
How Willing Are We?
His voice will lead you on the path that He calls you to, but how willing are you to do His will?
In today’s Gospel, we should focus on the conversations between Jesus and the disciples to reflect on: how did the disciples receive these discussions, and correspondingly, how do we receive them?
First, John the Baptist identifies Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God!”
Immediately, Andrew and John follow Him, believing John’s title for Jesus indicated that Jesus would be the “sacrificial lamb” who would take upon Himself our sins and bring forgiveness to all.
It’s that same title that we profess three times in our liturgy:
In the Gloria: Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father . . .
During the Communion Rite: Prayer before Communion: Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world . . .
And our profession just prior to receiving the Sacred Body of Jesus: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world . . .
So, believe in what you’re professing!
What Are You Looking For?
This isn’t really so much a question but an invitation by Jesus to His disciples. They respond positively, accepting Christ’s invitation, when they in turn ask, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
Jesus extends the invitation, “Come, and you will see.” This same invitation extends to us to come and seek Him, and He will show us.
Finally, the last phrase to contemplate: “We have found the Messiah!” This bold statement is the revelation we seek. These exchanges with Jesus show the progression of His first two disciples from John the Baptist to the discipleship of the Lord. This is the same progression we are called, to, and it begins with Baptism.
So, are you receptive to hearing His voice and ready to do His will? Are you ready to listen for God’s call?
Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
January 3, 2021, Feast of the Epiphany
Homilist: Deacon Dave LaFortune
The Darkness in Our Times
If this past Christmas marks the end of a very dark year, Epiphany starts 2021 with light.
Pope Francis, in his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, writes about the “Dark Clouds over A Closed World” and names the darkness in our time: COVID-19, damaged economies, social distancing, racism, climate issues, political divisions, lost homes and evictions, and unnatural death. Nonetheless, Pope Francis invites us “to dialogue among all people of good will,” reminding that all are siblings in Christ.
Epiphany calls us to keep our eyes on the Light of Christ and move confidently out of the darkness of 2020 into this new year.
Our Guiding Star.
The Magi travelled from afar in darkness, but they saw the promise of light and acted with hope.
Jesus is our Guiding Star. Jesus the Christ is the Light of the Universe, our true star in every situation, especially in the middle of a pandemic. We must keep our heads up and our eyes on the Light, trusting the Gospel’s roadmap as we go forward. Whenever we see darkness, we can look for the Light and act to make our times brighter and our lives better.
A Study in Contrasts
In today’s Gospel, we are presented with two contrasts. The pagan astrologers, also known as three kings or wise men, are contrasted with the leaders of the Temple.
The pagan astrologers were searching. While they studied the stars, their field of study was much broader than astrology. These wise men from the East had studied many ancient texts in their search for wisdom. Within that assortment of texts would be what we call the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures. They would have been familiar with the writings of the prophet Isaiah and intrigued by the Jewish belief in the Messiah. When these pagan astrologers saw a star rising in the heavens where they had never seen that star before, they believed some god, somewhere, was announcing something through that star.
So, they embarked on a journey to see, “the newborn king of the Jews because they saw his star at its rising and ha[d] come to do him homage.” When they first arrived in Jerusalem, they looked for a political figure, the King of the Jews, which is why they went to Herod first.
But when they arrived at the house where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were staying, they fell down in worship. They became the first gentiles to experience the presence of the Messiah. Their journey of life, their journey to find God, was complete. They were sincere in their search and indeed “wise men.”
The scholars in the Temple—who devoted their lives to the Sacred Word and traditions of the Jewish people—were, however, not so wise. They knew the Messiah was coming as foretold in Scripture. They even knew He was to be born in Bethlehem. But the political mood then was such that it just wasn’t a good time for a Messiah. They were motivated by worldly events instead of seeking God. As a result, they missed entering into the presence of the Messiah.
The contrast is clear: the wise men who did not know God, but nonetheless searched for Him, found Him. The Jewish scholars, despite the help of Scripture, were not searching for Him and subsequently missed His presence on earth.
What Does the Epiphany Mean to Us?
The Solemnity of the Epiphany celebrates Jesus, showing Himself to those whose faith lead them to Him, for those who wish to see Him. Today’s feast leads us to ask about our own attitudes in life: Are we really searching for God? Do we really want to find Him?
Those are very important questions, because finding God necessitates changes in our life.
Every experience with God demands a change in how we live. If during Christmas we feel drawn closer to the Lord, then we must refine our lives so we can enjoy His presence. If we’re unwilling to move closer to Christ, then Christmas was just a week full of empty sentiment.
My friends, Jesus calls us to come before His Presence. This Presence is not just in Bethlehem but in many places of our everyday lives.
He is present in the members of our family who are hurting, depressed, or going through difficult times in their lives. We’re called today to be the Light of Christ to our family members who are in need. We can be that light by picking up the phone and giving a family member a call to just say hello.
We need to remember Jesus is present in all who struggle to get by in difficult times. He is present in each of us as we stop and listen to our consciences rather than just going with our emotions.
If we really want the Lord in our lives, we’ll continue the journey toward a new experience of His Presence:
- Deepen our search for the Lord by starting with daily prayer and meditation, setting aside private time to just be with God.
- Read the Bible or books on spirituality to help us draw closer to God.
- Participate in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, to keep us centered on our search to deepen our relationship with Christ Jesus.
As we go forward in 2021, one of the best ways to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ, and bring the Light of Christ to others, is by practicing the Corporal Works of Mercy. Let’s resolve to:
- Look for ways to feed the hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Visit the sick, and
- Shelter the homeless.
Send a card to someone who is lonely.
Offer a Mass for someone who has died.
Donate to shelters, pantries, charities.
Often the most precious gift is simply the gift of time. Spend an hour with someone who is hurting or needs help. Buy flowers for a lonely neighbor to let them know they are loved and remembered.
Help people know they have dignity. They matter. It can be a beautiful way of carrying out the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. In doing so, you bring the light of Christ to those in need.
On this Feast of the Epiphany, God calls you and me to be the Magi of 2021. We’re called to constantly search for God, to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ and be the Light of Christ to all in need.
Next week, we will celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which brings the Christmas Season to an end before we enter into Ordinary Time. As the Lord went forth from His Baptism to His Gospel mission, we will go forth with our ordinary lives.
Ordinary perhaps, but a life “by another way” and following Jesus Christ as His mission continues in us.
Have a blessed week! Amen.
Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, January 1st, 2021
Nm 6:22-27; Ps 67: 2-3, 5-8; Gal 4: 4-7; Lk 2: 16-21
Homilist: Deacon Doug Farwell
We Should Seek God’s Blessings as Mary Did
“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.”
This is an appropriate way to begin the New Year, maybe more this year than year’s past.
Today, we observe the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, as a Holy Day of Obligation. This is the oldest devotion to the Blessed Mother. Although it wasn’t adopted as a Holy Day of Obligation in the universal calendar until centuries later, it was recognized by Christians as early as the 4th and 5th centuries.
“All generations will call me blessed.”
One of the earliest titles given to the Blessed Virgin was “theotokos” which means “God-bearer,” as a celebration as the “Mother of God.” In conceiving and bearing Christ, she also bore the fullness of the Godhead within her.
“The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.” The Church rightly honors “the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.” The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, are an “epitome of the whole Gospel,” express this devotion to the Virgin Mary.
Referring to Mary as the theotokos was popular among Christians, but Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, objected by suggesting Mary was the mother of Jesus’s human nature but not his Divine nature.
However, Nestorius’s ideas were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. and at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. Because of these condemnations, the Church determined Christ was fully human and fully divine, and these natures were united in the one person of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, Mary could be proclaimed the “Mother of God” since she gave birth to Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine! Since that time, Mary has been honored as the Mother of God by Catholics, Orthodox, and many Protestants.
Calling Mary the Mother of God is the highest honor we can give her. Just as Christmas honors Jesus as the “Prince of Peace,” the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, honors Mary as the “Queen of Peace.” This solemnity, falling on New Year’s Day, is also designated the World Day of Peace.
Mary’s role in our salvation history is so important to the Church that it devotes three days throughout the Church year as Holy Days of Obligations; the other two are The Assumption and the Immaculate Conception. These are in addition to sixteen other Feast Days committed to Our Blessed Mother, along with the entire month of May dedicated to Mary, and October dedicated as the “Month of the Rosary”.
Looking back to the first line of the Catechism that I read: Mary’s response to God’s calling, within her “Magnificat”—i.e., “ All generations will call me blessed”.
What are blessings after all? They are God’s favor or gift upon someone. It is something special. The main theme from the reading in Numbers is about God’s blessings entrusted and bestowed upon the Israeli people. It’s called the “priestly blessing.” This blessing rewarded the people by keeping the covenant and assured that the blessed promise God made through Abraham to all nations would be fulfilled.
That fulfillment would come centuries later to a virgin, herself consecrated to God by her parents, and by keeping her promise, God gives her His Blessing, something special she would do and become.
Perhaps the reading from Numbers today is no coincidence as we celebrate the civil holiday of New Years. That’s God’s Mercy in action. “These words of blessing will accompany our journey through the year opening up before us. They are words of strength, courage and hope. The message of hope contained in this blessing was fully realized in a woman, Mary, who was destined to become the Mother of God, and it was fulfilled in her before all creatures.” (Pope Francis, 2015).
Through Mary, we are led to Christ in an intimate way where God becomes more than the Creator. God becomes for us “Abba” and an intimate expression of Father in the form of “daddy”.
Through the birth of Christ in flesh and blood, all peoples become adopted children of God, and we can approach God in a more intimate way, begetting trust, peace, and love.
Through Mary, we’re led to an intimate union with Christ in the Eucharist, a thanksgiving for the blessings, and the gift of God’s salvation.
Traditionally at New Years, we make resolutions for the upcoming year. These resolutions are to improve ourselves. This year, how about a resolution of faith, maybe a re-commitment to the Church and to Christ? Maybe a re-commitment to the Blessed Mother of God who can lead us to Christ?
To help boost into re-committing ourselves, let’s recite the Hail Mary.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.