Homily for October 10, 2021, the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homilist: Deacon Dave LaFortune
What is The Eye of The Needle?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
I never really understood that passage until a few years ago when I traveled to the Holy Land. As we approached the wall surrounding the city of Jerusalem, our tour guide said we would enter the Jerusalem through the entrance known as “The Eye of the Needle.”
Then she explained the architectural significance of this entryway.
You see, to ensure people entering the city were easy to inspect before passing inside, they had the entrance designed with two large walls on both sides of the road coming together to make a holding area with a small entryway. This small door was called The Eye of the Needle—a place where people could only enter one at a time. This made inspections easier and kept the city safe from invasions.
Because the entry here is quite small, a camel would be a tight squeeze.
My friends, Jesus tells his disciples it’s easier for a camel to get through an eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter heaven because the rich man is fatter than the camel. Why? Because of the possessions and attachments that the rich man carries with him.
All Things are Possible for God
The disciples knew, however, there had to be a deeper significance to what Jesus said, so they asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus reassures them when He replies, “This is impossible for human beings but not for God. All things are possible for God.”
There is a spiritual truth in today’s Gospel. God can’t fill our cup with something infinitely better if it’s already filled with something lesser.
So, let’s talk about the rich man in today’s Gospel.
The rich man approached Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered, “Follow the commandments.”
The rich man responded, “I have followed all the commandments since my youth. There must be something more?”
The Gospel says Jesus looked at him and loved him—like a teacher who loves the student who cares less about what’s needed to minimally make the grade but rather wishes to obtain wisdom for wisdom’s sake alone.
Jesus doesn’t disappoint.
“You lack one thing,” Jesus says. “ Go, sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.”
The rich man went away very sad because the homework assignment involved a huge sacrifice that he wasn’t willing to make.
A Higher Bar
Does Jesus sometimes ask His disciples to literally sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow him? Yes! Just ask St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa about that!
For most, I believe this is a spiritual invitation to consider these questions: “What possessions do I own? What possessions own me? What is limiting my growth in the spirit life?”
In Jesus’s estimation, what limited the rich man’s progression in the spirit life was an inordinate attachment to earthly possessions. The rich man had to empty his cup before Jesus could fill it. This is why the rich man walked away sad.
We can ask ourselves: Do we have inordinate attachments to earthly passions limiting our spiritual growth? What are they? These are healthy questions from our Gospel reading to contemplate.
The good news from the Gospel reading is that the rich man’s salvation wasn’t in jeopardy. He followed the commandments, after all, and all things are possible for God for those who are sincere about living a good life.
What the rich man wanted was a higher bar to achieve, and Jesus sure gave him one! If Jesus gave you a higher bar to make this week, what would it be? Are we willing to empty our cup so Jesus can fill it with something better?
You see, there’s this God-shaped hole in our hearts we fill with all manner of earthly attachments, addictions, and desire that keeps us from becoming the people God desires us to be.
Instead of filling that God-shaped hole with earthly possessions, we’d do better searching for a more personal relationship with God. We would also do well to remember St. Augustine’s words from his autobiography, Confessions: “Our hearts are made for you, O Lord, and shall not rest until they rest in you.”
A Spiritual Adventure
My friends, Jesus offered this rich man—and you and me—an opportunity for a spiritual adventure—perhaps the most meaningful adventure of our lives.
Adventures are risky, however.
Adventures can be dangerous.
Adventures can be challenging.
Adventures can involve all kinds of discomfort at times.
But in every adventure, there comes a moment where we confront that “eye of the needle,” a place where something must be left behind if we are to move forward.
This coming week, spend some time with Jesus and ask these questions: What are the possessions, attachments, addictions and desires I must leave behind to pass through the eye of the needle? What do I need to empty from my cup so Jesus can fill it anew?
When you stop to think about it, what lies behind that doorway could be salvation itself!
I think this is a good exercise for anyone in the Body of Christ: lay people, deacons, priests, and bishops alike, especially in this day and age.
When we begin to wonder if it’s even possible to release whatever attachments weigh us down, we can find consolation, hope, and—dare I say—a newfound faith from Jesus’s words today, that what is impossible for human beings is not so for God, for “All things are possible for God.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!
September 26, 2021, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homilist: Deacon Dave LaFortune
A Deeper Consideration
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Hello everyone, it’s good to be with all of you today.
As a child, I attended a Catholic elementary school. I remember being taught in fifth grade: “Outside the Roman Catholic Church, there is no salvation.”
This teaching caused me a great deal of anxiety. Because my relatives on my mother’s side were not Catholic, attending the United Church of Christ, I worried they wouldn’t go to heaven when they died.
When I shared my concerns with my mother, she told me not to worry. She said God created all people, and God loves everyone. She went on to say God wouldn’t punish people and not allow them into heaven simply because they didn’t belong to a particular group or religion. God’s love was much greater than that limited thinking. According to my mother, the Church was much larger than the Roman Catholic Church. Years later, the Second Vatican Council would issue a document affirming what Mother taught me: The term ‘Church’ includes the Roman Catholic Church, as well as all other faith traditions.
The plurality of various faith traditions leads us to a deeper consideration of the first reading from Numbers, Chapter 11 and the first part of today’s Gospel from Mark, Chapter 9.
In Numbers, Moses was told to summon 70 leaders to the meeting tent to receive a portion of the Spirit he’d been given. And 68 did go to the tent, received the Spirit, and began prophesying.
However, two other leaders, Eldad and Medad, had remained in camp. Yet they too received the Spirit and began to prophesy, even though they weren’t among those with Moses in the tent. When their prophesizing was brought to his attention, Joshua wanted Moses to stop them. But Moses wouldn’t because he could see Eldad and Medad’s preaching was authentic, with the power and authority of the Spirit of God.
For whoever is not against us is for us
In today’s Gospel, the same issue comes up. Our Gospel begins with John sharing with Jesus: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”
Powerful words from our Savior! There is an implied urgency in the Lord’s response. The salvation of souls is at stake. Just like the time of Moses, the time of Jesus, and even in our own times, there are many people of many faiths whose preaching is authentic. They may not be part of the Catholic Church—they may not even be Christian—but they still have a share of the Holy Spirit.
Some might say: “But Deacon, there is a dogma or article of faith that says that salvation comes through the blood of Jesus Christ. How can those who don’t recognize the seven sacraments, or those who are not Christian, receive the Spirit of God? How is this possible when we read in John, Chapter 6: “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you will not have life within you?”
My response to that question: God the Father saw the condition of humankind after the Fall and sent His Son to offer the eternal sacrifice for the redemption of all. Jesus became one of us and allowed our world to do its worst to Him, ultimately sacrificing Himself to the Father for us.
After His death and resurrection, Jesus became united with His Father in heaven. Together, the Father and the Son sent their Spirit, the Holy Spirit, upon people of good will.
Some of these people of good will are Catholics.
Some of these people of good will are Christian but not Catholic.
And some people of good will are not Christian, such as Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists. They share in the Spirit of the Father and the Son, and in their own way, doing God’s work and should be respected and supported in their ministry.
Over the years, I’ve been part of various ecumenical groups that included Catholics, various Christian denominations, as well as Jews and Muslims. Together, we used our voices to speak out against racism and develop programs to help those most in need. The people of these faiths recognize the urgency and responsibility of caring for the poor in our area, just as Christ would care for them.
But then, why Catholic?
In 1968, the Church concluded in the Second Vatican Council, that among many other acts, formally recognized the hand of God in non-Catholic faiths. Sadly, the excitement at the emergence of ecumenism and inter-religious unity often resulted in Catholics acting as though they belonged to other faiths, instead of Catholics respecting their own gifts of faith as much as they respected the gifts of other Christian denominations and non-Christians.
It’s been widely written that many millennials and others have left the Catholic Church to worship in various evangelical Churches. I don’t assume to know why each person who leaves the Church does so, but I do think our teaching on the Eucharist and the other sacraments needs to be strengthened and clarified, so those in the Catholic Church have a deeper understanding of the great gifts we’ve been given.
Thus, the question arises: Is it acceptable for a Catholic to leave the Catholic faith and join a non-Catholic religion, since that religion also shares the Spirit of God?
When asked that, I respond: “I need Jesus Christ, and I find Him in the Words and Sacraments of the Catholic Church.” To leave the Catholic Church would be to leave the Eucharist and the other sacraments. Except for our Orthodox neighbors, no other faith tradition believes Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist and the other sacraments, i.e., to abandon Catholicism would be turn from the truth of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
We recognize people of other faiths share in the Spirit of the Father and the Son and proclaim His Truth.
We celebrate their proclamation and join them in works of charity.
We pray with them and for them.
We join people of good will, people who have received a portion of the Spirit, as who we are.
And we need to pray and work together, but we cannot likewise sacrifice our Catholic identity, or worse, our Catholicism. We are Catholics and recognize we’ve been given a share in the Spirit of the Father and the Son, which includes the Presence of the Son, nourishing us in the Eucharist, forgiving us in Penance, binding His Love to that of the husband and wife in marriage, etc. Leaving the Catholic Church would entail leaving the Sacraments.
Although Eldad and Medad were not in the meeting tent, they proclaimed God’s Truth. The Spirit of prophecy would not be confined by the institutional structure of the time, nor can it be contained by institutional structures of our time.
We need to proclaim God’s truth through our Catholic Church and with those not part of the Catholic Church.
Today, we pray for a deeper understanding and respect for the Spirit of Truth, wherever He may assert itself.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
September 5, 2021, 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Homilist: Deacon Dave LaFortune
Why We Follow Jesus
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My friends, our Gospel reading today comes at a good time for all. It gets us back to why we follow Jesus.
One of the basic things we know about Jesus from the Gospels is that He was a healer. He performed miracles throughout His ministry, and miracles still happen today in the life of the Church. I know, I’ve seen them.
It’s a simple thing we can do—along our spiritual journey, when it gets really tough—to simply lift up to Jesus whatever is hurting in our soul and ask for His healing.
This weekend, I want to explore this question with you: Why does Jesus perform healings? I think this question comes at a good time because we all seek healing from the Lord at times.
Like I said, I have seen miracles happen. The people healed by Jesus are real people. I’ve seen enough in my life to say so and believe the miracles recorded in the Gospels happened, and they continue to happen today.
What’s important, however, is to understand that Jesus doesn’t perform supernatural healing for healing’s sake alone. Jesus’ miracles always have a deeper symbolic relevance pointing to the Kingdom of God.
Was there really a deaf man with a speech impediment cured by Jesus as told in our Gospel readings this weekend? Yes, it really happened. But let’s look at the deeper significance of this miracle.
I like Bishop Robert Barron’s take on this Gospel reading from Mark, and much of what I’m about to say comes from Bishop Barron’s articles on this subject.
The Gospel story begins with Jesus coming back to his home country. For St. Mark, Jesus is the Christ who will gather the tribes of Israel—the good shepherd gathering the lost sheep. The miracle then demonstrates Jesus, as the gatherer of Israel, by taking this deaf-mute man, who symbolizes Israel, and addresses the problem.
You see, in The Bible, the Israelis are the people privileged to hear God’s word. Think of all the great biblical figures who were hearers of the word: Abraham, Noah, Moses, and all the patriarchs and prophets. And look how difficult it is at times to hear the word of God!
Elijah must strain his ears to hear the tiny voice in the silence of a mountainside.
Remember how Samuel hears the word of God while asleep but at first isn’t quite sure who was calling him. He needed Eli to help him discern the Voice of God.
Then there’s John the Baptist, who must go into the quiet of the desert to hear the Word of God.
Or Saul, on the way to Damascus, who must be knocked to the ground before he can hear the Word of God.
Are there great biblical figures who hear the Word of God? Yes!
But now we come to the basic problem: Is Israel often deaf to the word of God? Again, yes!
Learning to Listen
In The Bible, Israel is often found listening to other gods—the false gods of their neighbors or the voice of popular culture. Sometimes, the Israelis simply closed their ears because the Word of God is too challenging. God speaks, but they don’t listen.
What happens if we can’t or refuse to hear? Well, speech becomes compromised. Israel, by closing their collective ears to the word of God, can no longer speak effectively or convincingly the Word of God. Israel herself needs healing.
Pay close attention to this miracle of the healing of the deaf-mute. There are three moments we mustn’t overlook.
First, the Gospel says Jesus began by taking the deaf-mute away from the crowd. This is important. What makes Israel deaf? Israel is lost in the deafening loudness of worldly concerns. Israel must get away from the crowd to hear the Word of God again.
What was true for Israel then is also very true for us today.
What happens next? Jesus touches the man’s ears, spits, and touches the man’s tongue (Okay, I know, this might sound kind of gross but bear with me.) Then Jesus says, “Ephphatha!” (Be opened!”) For St. Augustine, the spit of Jesus evokes His inner nature, i.e., Jesus’ Divinity. Israel needs to be linked to God to hear the Word of God and proclaim it once more. Bishop Barron says this awesome moment of Jesus touching the deaf-mute is like Michelangelo’s beautiful painting in the Sistine Chapel, where God is shown reaching out from heaven to touch Adam. There’s an electricity of touch. Likewise, Jesus touches the deaf mute to re-establish a link to the Divine.
Now, what is the new Israel, commissioned to hear and speak the Word of God? For St. Mark, the new Israel is the Church, the Body of Christ. My friends, we are the healed, deaf mute! We are the new Israel. That is our vocation. We are the special people called to hear and speak clearly the Word of God.
What is necessary to hear and proclaim God’s Word? Jesus’s invitation seems to begin by getting away from the crowd. Spend some time each day alone with Jesus. Then, allow Jesus to touch our mouth and ears, so we may hear and speak effectively the Word of God by how we live our lives.
But do we dare?
Do we dare to take time this week?
Do we dare to take time each day to be away from the noise and re-connect with Jesus?
If we dare, we may become a miracle in our own lives when we hear Jesus whisper into our ears “Ephphatha!”
I say this because we all come before the Lord for healing at times. And sometimes the best healing Jesus can give us isn’t a supernatural display, but rather what happens naturally when we truly welcome Jesus into our hearts. Whatever healing we seek from Jesus this week, turn to Him, and have faith Jesus will offer us healing in the way He knows we need it most.
Finally, as we reflect upon today’s Gospel reading, we might ask ourselves: “Am I really open to God’s love?”
Am I open to seeing others, especially the poor and needy, the same way that God sees them? What am I willing to do to help those who are in need?
What acts of generosity and kindness am I willing to do to help my family members or my friends who are hurting?’
Perhaps we should ask God today to heal our blindness, open our eyes, and open our hearts, so we may see all around us who could use our help, and then act with generosity and self-giving toward those in need.
May our ears hear God’s Word and may our mouths always speak God’s Love to those around us who most need to hear.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!
August 29, 2021, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
Homilist: Fr. Patrick L. Connor – Pastor
Faith Without Works
We read in today’s Letter of Saint James: “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”
There is a quote later in that same chapter: “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead,” which reminds me of what Saint Francis of Assisi said to his Friars when he was about to send them on Missions: “Preach the gospel at all times, but only use words when necessary.”
In other words, Saint Francis was stressing the importance of being ‘doers of the word’ just as St. James said in today’s reading. This is what people notice and draws them to you . . . and then can come a time of speaking and sharing of the Faith.
Think about our Parish Mission Statement on the front of our bulletin. Have you read it lately? If you have a bulletin, pick it up, and look at the bottom of the front cover. There you’ll see our Parish Mission Statement. I invite you to read it aloud with me:
We are a Catholic Community of faith / united in our Love for Jesus Christ / We strive to maintain and carry the message of hope and salvation to others /
through our works of evangelization and examples of sacramental life.
Notice the phrase “through our works of evangelization and examples of sacramental life.” Those two words—“works” and “examples”—speak to St. James’ instruction: Be doers of the word and not just hearers.
The Greatest Temptation
Whenever a call is put forth from this altar for help in a particular ministry, probably the greatest temptation we parishioners face is to say, “Let someone else do it!” We may have all kinds of excuses—and some may be very good ones—but if that’s our usual response to such a calling, how can we succeed in the evangelization part of our Parish Mission?
Evangelization is about helping others connect to Jesus Christ, his message, his Gospel. Jesus is God’s gift to the world—not a secret to be kept and hidden. In fact, Jesus came to reveal the Kingdom of God, which was, so to speak, God’s Dream for the World.
That dream became reality when God first created the world with the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. But when sin entered the world, the dream became a sort of nightmare. Death entered the world thru sin.
But something else entered with Death and Sin: namely the Fear of God.
Not a Holy Reverence and Respect for the Lord, a type of Love for the Lord, but something much different, and based on the deceit of the Father of Lies, the Devil. He planted lies in the minds and hearts and souls of Adam and Eve, after they committed that first Original Sin by eating the forbidden fruit; the lie that said not only did God hate sin, but that God hated sinners. So, Satan told them to run and hide when God came to walk with them in the Garden the next time.
So, they did, the book of Genesis tells us. When God called their names, they went and hid in the bushes, afraid God would see their nakedness and want to punish—even kill them—because they had sinned by eating the forbidden fruit.
But God, all knowing, wanted to teach them the Truth and help them discover an important lesson. He called them out of their hiding and had them tell Him the whole story right from the beginning. He got them to expose not just their nakedness, which God had seen ever since He created them, but to expose their inner nakedness meaning their shame, their fear and their deep, deep, sorrow.
When all was out in the open, God showed them love, mercy, and peace. They experienced inner healing in this tender moment with God. The Devil went back to the fires of hell, cursing God because now God would redeem this nightmare by the promise of a Savior, who would come into the world through the woman who would crush the serpent’s head with her heel—namely, Mary.
Due to the consequences of their sin, Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden. But God clothed them to cover their nakedness. In fact, the Bible says, God Himself made the clothes, clothed, and guided them as they left the Garden. He was a faithful God, who did not abandon them even though, in those few moments, they’d abandoned Him by their sin.
Restoring God’s Dream for Us
In today’s Gospel, we meet Jesus attempting to restore the dream of God’s Kingdom. But the effects of the nightmare that sin brings are still felt, especially in the legalism some people stir into the practice of God’s Law.
God’s Law is meant to create life and trying to stir legalism into it only makes it an instrument of death. Maybe not physical death, but death of the inner spirit, leading to discouragement and turning away from the Lord, due to this false image of a God who not only hates sin but hates sinners as well. . . . Not true!
This image is created in part through the hypocrisy of religious leaders acting in God’s name. The word ‘hypocrite’ means ‘actor’, one who is putting on a show, even wearing a mask of sorts. They’re not being their true selves with others, with themselves, even with God. They are hiding.
Perhaps it boils down to fear: Hiding out of the fear of God—not the fear of the Lord that is virtue, meaning a humble love for and respect of God and his commandments. Rather, fear meaning scared of God, thinking He not only hates sin but also the sinner, and sends people to the fires of Hell, laughing as he sees them tortured.
It’s Our Choice
God doesn’t send anyone to hell. God gave us free will. It’s their choice. If we honestly hate God enough that we want nothing to do with Him and His kingdom, then the only place left to go after death is Hell.
Hell could be defined as life without love for God. But God even loves the Devil and his angels. For they were originally created by God as angels in Heaven. Lucifer was the Angel of Light, with the highest place in Heaven. But then came the fall. Lucifer and his followers wanted to be like God and rebelled. They chose to leave Heaven, and the only place to go was the place of no-Heaven…namely, Hell.
Jesus when preaching called it “Gahanna,” a place of no-life and perpetual fire. That’s because it was the village dump…a place of no life…and fire!
Today, Jesus calls us to life—a life based on God’s intent for us—even though we’re not perfect and sinners. We can never become doers of good deeds if we’re not convinced of God’s love for us.
All you must do is gaze at a crucifix.
I spoke of St. Francis of Assisi earlier. I close with a picture of him embracing Jesus on the cross. This work was painted by Bartolome Esteban Murillo of Spain, who died in 1682 at the age of 64. St. Francis is shown hugging Jesus around the waist, looking up into the Jesus’ face. Jesus has pulled his right from the cross and put it around the shoulders of St. Francis as if to pull Francis close to Jesus. Jesus is looking down into the eyes of St. Francis.
My friends, put yourself in St. Francis’ place. Yes, we belong there, close to Jesus our Love and our Life. For it’s an embrace that will give us the peace and joy to go out and, in the words of St. James, be doers of the Word and not just hearers.
And in the words of St. Francis’ opening line of his “Peace Prayer”: Lord, make me and Instrument of Your Peace!
August 22, 2021, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Homilist: Deacon Doug Farwell
How many here today find our readings for this week disturbing or difficult to accept?
So I ask you, do you also want to leave?
Our scripture readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time are harsh and possibly create angst in many. Especially the readings from the epistle to the Ephesians and the Gospel of John, which takes us to the core of our faith.
The liturgy from the epistle to the Ephesians has provoked so much debate, confusion, and anxiety that U.S. bishops have petitioned the Vatican for permission to shorten the reading—excluding the part regarding the submission of wives to their husbands—to begin at verse 25: Husbands love your wives.
Most of the angst created from this pericope stems from a literal translation and poor theological interpretation. Perhaps other teachings of the Catholic Church have likewise created much of the same consternation and caused many to abandon their Catholic faith. Perhaps it’s also why only 30% of Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist that I mentioned in my homily three weeks ago.
Today’s Gospel from John picks up from last week’s continuation of the Bread of Life discourse (Chapter 6) that began three Sundays ago, where we heard Jesus say we must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood.
This week, we learn of the difficulty accepting Jesus’ words. So difficult was this teaching, that many had their faith shaken. Particularly because Jesus meant this literally, which went against the law. The negative response to Jesus’ words is understandable, based on the clear and repeated prohibitions in Hebrew scripture against consuming of flesh with blood. Look it up. It can be found in Genesis, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy: You shall not eat the meat with the life (blood).
Blood was considered the life for it sustains life. Without it, life ceases.
Isn’t it ironic how people take scripture literally when it isn’t meant to be, and yet don’t take scripture literally when it is meant to be? Understanding scripture is difficult, involves study, research, and understanding the scripture’s context.
A Common Theme: Covenants
What really do the readings today have in common? The main theme today is covenant, beginning with the first reading from Joshua.
At 110-years old, Joshua is at his life’s end. For many years, he’s led the Israelites throughout the promised land, the land of Canaan. He has conquered much through God’s assistance, as God had told him and the Israeli people: “I will deliver to you every place where you set foot.” It’s called the “Divine Promise of Assistance.”
However, it came with strict instruction not to deviate from the law. Do this, and you will achieve your goal. This was a covenant established with God and the Israelites upon the exodus from Egypt.
As his life nears its end, Joshua gathers the people of the tribes and poses this proposition: If it does not please you to serve the Lord, then decide today whom you will serve—the other gods whom their fathers served beyond the Jordan (meaning Abraham’s ancestors, who were polytheists) or the gods of the Amorites in whose land they were now dwelling.
Joshua makes it very clear that he and his household would serve the Lord. The people renew the covenant by announcing they too would continue serving the Lord, not forgetting all God had done for them since the time of their exile from Egypt.
They chose not to abandon God, because God never abandoned them.
Jesus Continues to Invite Us into a Covenant Relationship
In the Gospel today, God does not abandon us in our sinfulness, but provides hope in the salvation that Jesus won for us through His sacrifice of body and blood.
Christ gave up his broken body and spilled his blood, so that we may live. We participate in this mystery every time we come to together at Mass. We receive his broken Body and his Blood as a living memorial of his presence in our lives.
The reality is that some will fall away. Some will deviate from the law through temptation: by the allure of worldly goods, desires, and sadly because of disbelief. God, however, will not leave them but provide the necessary grace for those wishing to return to Him with sorrow and humility. However, they must be receptive to God’s grace and mercy.
This leads us to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians today. It too is about covenant and deals with the domestic church—family and how the family is to conduct itself in living out the covenant relationship with Christ. Today’s pericope isn’t about domination, controlling, or ruling over, rather it’s about selfless giving to one another. It’s about the household’s relationships of man to woman, parent to child, and in Paul’s time, master to slave, while in direct relationship of the Body of the Church (the people) and the Head of the Church (Christ).
The household code draws from an ancient literary form dating back to Aristotle. Greek Stoic and Cynic philosophers employed similar moral exhortations. Hellenists embraced the code as a model of moral exhortations, and Christianity similarly adopted it. The code was considered a model for a well-ordered household.
However, we must remember the cultural norms of when Paul wrote this. While our social norms and context of our lived experience are much different today, the responsibility of living a Christian life remains unchanged. Just as Jesus invites us into a covenant relationship with Him, it is the model for the household to live in relationship with each other.
God is always willing to give when we strive to maintain order. Order has always been the way to maintain a steadfast faith. It is in the covenants where order is established. The covenant was made with Abraham, Noah, Moses, and renewed with Joshua. It’s the new covenant through Christ that gives us the order we must accept and follow.
We recall that order each time we attend Mass, when in the Eucharistic Liturgy we repeat the words spoken by Jesus himself. It is known as the “anamnesis”–remembering. Not only do we reenact and remember the Sacrament, but we’re also invited to partake.
Once we partake, we can respond to the question—Do you want to leave also?”—with the words of Peter: “Master, to whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
August 15, 2021, The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary
Homilist: Deacon Dave LaFortune
A Brief History of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s so good to be with you today. This day, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, commemorating that day Mary is taken up—assumed, body and soul—into heaven, to be with the Lord.
Pope Pius XII solemnly declared the Dogma of the Assumption on November 1, 1950. One document of the Second Vatican Council, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, has an entire chapter discussing the Blessed Virgin Mary as the model of the Christian believer. Our mother Mary is our guide in everything!
You see, every doctrine we have about Mary, the Mother of our Lord, is ultimately a statement about what we believe about her son, Jesus.
So, let’s begin.
A miraculous thing had occurred: Mary, a young Jewish girl, said yes to the invitation, delivered by the Angel Gabriel, to become the mother of our Lord. Mary’s yes reflected her faith and trust in the God, who created her. Through her yes to become the mother of Jesus, Mary gave our full humanity to the invisible God.
In today’s Gospel, Mary gives us her Magnificat! That wonderful poetry from the mouth of Mary herself. Priests and deacons are very familiar with the Magnificat because it’s part of the evening prayer, The Liturgy of the Hours, that we pray daily. The Magnificat reminds us that, like Mary, we should always praise God for all the good He has done in our lives.
How many of us can find ourselves saying no to God when we really should be saying yes? Mary’s “yes” makes her the first disciple, the first model for us, providing all with hope.
God’s Solution: Mary born free of original sin
As we reflect on the Assumption of Mary, we find ourselves also reflecting upon the meaning of original sin, the immaculate conception, and the Annunciation to Mary by the Angel Gabriel.
Humanity is plagued by sin. The Church argues our inclination to sin is due to the stain of original sin, which I would define as that terrible instinct inside us to rebel against God.
If God is the Author of life, rebelling against God leads to death. Original sin can be viewed as a spiritual cancer at work in the heart of the human race, making humanity less than human, i.e., less than what God intended us to be.
Original sin has deformed our human nature. Thus, God’s solution was to send his Son, in full human nature, to show us who we are called to be and steer us from the path of death to the path of life.
Theologians rightfully ask: How could our divine Lord attain a full human nature unless Mary, his mother, also fully human, was without the stain of original sin? Despite the stormy waters of sin and death, God created Mary unstained by original sin. This is why the angel Gabriel describes Mary as “full of grace.”
Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which transcends all time to earn our redemption, Mary remained free of original sin, i.e., Mary is fully human, so she could be our new Eve, a new mother for humanity. Through Mary, Jesus shows us the original vision of what it means to be fully human, a vision we can all share by living out our baptism in the Body of Christ.
My friends, God doesn’t want human beings to follow the path of death. God wants us to be fully alive—fully human—and to live with Him forever. Because of her unique relationship with Christ, Mary becomes the first to receive the gift Christ wants to give each of us: eternal life with God. How wonderful that the first recipient of this gift would be a woman, a poor, teenage Jewish girl, who said yes to God and not no.
A Day of Hope: The Assumption of Mary
You see, if Mary were born originally fully human, it simply isn’t fitting that she should experience death the way we do. Like the angel who recognized that Mary as full of grace, it’s fitting that Mary be assumed into heaven body and soul.
The solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a day of hope, a day of promise. In today’s Gospel, Mary has a moment of profound joy when she praises God for the good He has done.
Today offers us the same opportunity for a moment of defiant joy amid the many worries we face in today’s world and our lives that can tempt us away from joy.
The Church’s remedy for this is to show us two expectant mothers embracing each other in celebration of their hope in the future. We need their hope. We need to make their hope our hope. The invitation today is to share their hope and joy regarding the salvation promised us by God through Jesus Christ.
Even with all the worries surrounding us each day, our faith in Jesus—who is the way, the truth and the life—gives us a reason to join Mary in her timeless prayer: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.”
By following the example of the Blessed Lady in this life, we, who were not immaculately conceived, can hope to have the reality foreshadowed in Mary’s Assumption. She, the first and perfect disciple, leads the way for us.
Strengthened by the Eucharist, that Heavenly Bread of Life, with Mary, we pray today that we too may be found worthy to come to that place in heaven which God has prepared for all those who love Him.
As an aside: Like many of you, I grew up in a family that prayed the Rosary daily after we finished our evening meal. The Hail Mary prayer was one of the first prayers I learned as a child. To this day when I go to bed, I pray a few Hail Mary’s to help me fall asleep.
I would like to end my homily today with us praying together our prayer to Mary:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed are Thou amongst 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.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen!
August 8, 2021, 19TH Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
Homilist: Rev. Patrick L. Connor
Hungering for God’s Word
I have two questions for you, but don’t raise your hands. Keep your answer to yourself. These questions will help us enter the depth of God’s Holy Word today, and that Word Made Flesh in Christ’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion.
The first question is: Do you feel upset about something?
The other question is: Do you feel hungry?
The first question reveals a hunger for inner peace, while the second question reveals a hunger for food. God’s Word today in our scripture reading refers both to food and to peace.
In the Book of Kings, the prophet Elijah was so upset that he prayed to God to take his life. Elijah was starving for inner peace. But there is a happy ending. Elijah falls asleep under the broom tree, and an angel wakes him, offering food. Elijah probably hadn’t eaten because he was too upset. But Elijah eats and drinks, so he can make the journey the angel sets him on for 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.
Forty days and forty nights. Sound familiar? It should. After his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus goes into the desert to be tempted by Satan for 40 days and 40 nights. It was a time of testing but also strengthening.
Perhaps we could see Elijah’s walk was also a time of testing and strengthening. At the mountain of God in Horeb, he would be fed in his soul and heart by his encounter with God, which gave Elijah new hope and strength.
Comfort in God’s Word
Responsorial Psalm 34 echoes this hope and strength. In Verse 5, we read: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
In Verses 6, thru 9, we read, “Look to Him, that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame. When the afflicted man called out, the Lord heard, and from all his distress, he saved him. The angel of the lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.”
How comforting and consoling these words from the Psalm are: Not only to those who hunger for inner peace of their souls, or for physical food for hunger of the body, but those who struggle with issues of shame, getting along with others, or even yourself.
St. Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Ephesians:
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate and forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
Those Ephesians must have been quite a controversial group, much like those I’ve seen on the daily news!
Or maybe you might have encountered such turmoil in your own families, and we can even see this behavior among ourselves in churches. No one is perfect.
Let me read that list again for you from those Ephesians in their less-than-better times: bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice.
The solution, Paul suggests, is: “be kind to one another, compassionate and forgiving one another.”
Getting to Better Times
So, we’ve seen the Ephesians at their worst and their best.
Their worst is symptomatic of a hunger: a hunger in their soul and perhaps their bodies. For them to come to better times of kindness, compassion and forgiveness, they needed food—food from Heaven. And the food come down from Heaven is exactly how Jesus described himself: “the living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Think about your hunger for peace of soul and your hunger for something to eat so your body feels full. Both bring you here to the Altar of God. It’s no accident you’re in this church, at this time, at this Mass, and at this altar.
As Deacon Doug reminded us in his homily last weekend at Mass, you are about to witness a miracle at this altar: when the bread and wine, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are transformed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Their appearance or substance will not change: They will look and taste like and bread and wine. But beyond that, they are what Jesus called that living bread come down from heaven, and we can receive it today because Jesus gave his flesh for the life of the world by his suffering and death on the cross.
Yet, let’s not just focus on His death, but remember that through his resurrection, Jesus conquered death, and thus restored life and gave hope. The Bread of Life is a sign of hope for us in our worry and our hunger because it reminds us that we’re not alone when facing the struggles in life.
Here we are, a mixed crowd, you might say. Mixed in the sense of what might be on our minds, where we have come from, and what we will return to. But for all our differences, we’re united in our faith in, and love for, Jesus, the Bread of Life. No matter what distractions we might have, there is something that unites us, and it’s here in the sanctuary.
But that isn’t all.
The last verse of today’s Responsorial Psalm gives us a message of hope: “taste and see how good the lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him.” I put myself in that verse. Everyone should put themselves in that verse so it reads: Blessed am I who takes refuge in Him. It tells us that when we turn to God in our troubles—in the hungers of our heart or body, in the troubles of our souls, mind and body—God is our refuge and our strength.
The “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” who is “the bread of life come down from heaven” is also the one who knows exactly what it is like to be in your skin! He knows you through and through.
So, trust Him and come to Him and in your communion with Him! Open your heart and soul just as you have opened your body to welcome Him as food for your body and soul.
O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament, Divine,
all praise and all thanksgiving
be every moment Thine!
August 1, 2021, 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)
Homilist: Deacon Doug Farwell
Understanding the Connections
Last Sunday, we heard from the Gospel of John regarding the multiplication of the loaves—the only miracle story found in all four Gospels. In John’s Gospel, the multiplication of the loaves is the fourth sign given by Jesus as proof of His divinity.
The first is the changing of water into wine, which reveals who Jesus is at the outset of His ministry and manifests His glory. The second is the healing of the royal official’s son, with the theme here being the power of Jesus’ life-giving word. The third is the curing of the sick man at the pool of Bethesda, again expressing the power of Jesus’ words alone to bring healing and life.
These first three miracles are explicitly linked together: Jesus need only speak, and it happens.
The fourth miracle is the multiplying of the loaves and fishes. This sign symbolizes the food that sustains forever and available only through Jesus. It ties us to the exodus but implies a new exodus with Eucharistic overtones. It’s the true bread provided by God that is of heaven and gives life to the world.
The fifth sign is what we hear of today: It’s the natural miracle, portraying Jesus sharing God’s power. The Bread from Heaven is provided through Jesus, who is the very Bread of Life. Through Him only do we receive eternal life.
The first reading from Exodus ties to the Gospel by showing God provides for us. The difference between the story in Exodus and the Gospel: In Exodus, God provides for the Israelites; in the Gospel, God now provides for all of humanity.
It doesn’t come without some effort on our part
As proclaimed in Exodus, God provided, but the people still had to gather the food and only enough for each day, except on the sixth day, when they gathered twice as much to completely rest on the Sabbath. So, while God provided, the Israelites had to be proactive to collect the food and take an active role in the miracle.
Which is exactly the action that took place in the miracles Jesus performed: the water had to be collected in the jars; the royal official had to act and have faith in Jesus’ words alone; the sick man at the pool had to desire to be healed and faith in Jesus as well.
It calls for us to become people of faith, and not to just believe, but to live our faith and become an active participant in it.
Paul’s reading today speaks to the inhabitants of Ephesus: They must live in the renewed spirit of the new self. Those who were baptized were marked with a new life through Christ alone, and each member of the Church must now live a changed way of life.
Ephesus was a large portal city populated with diverse people and diverse beliefs. There were various gods and religions, diverse social layers, daily violence, and immoral personal and social practices. That sounds a much like the world we live in today. We’re called to those same life changes through our baptism. We are called to learn or teach about Christ and His life-giving death and resurrection. All other attitudes must be put aside.
Sadly, we’re failing to live out our commitment. Not long ago, I mentioned only 30% of Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. You here are among that minority, which should be a majority. The unity and the witness of the Church very much depends upon its baptized members to live renewed lives converted to Christ.
The Strength of Our Faith
Just like the Israelites, who grumbled against God as their journey took them into the Sinai desert, we forget all God has done for us. Have we become the grumbling Israelites? Have we forgotten all God has provided for us? Have we become spiritually dry?
It’s been two months since the Easter season. Easter is a time, after spending forty days of Lent, when we feel spiritually fulfilled after emptying ourselves. You see, we can only be replenished when we empty ourselves from the distractions of secular life. Are we feeling the need to be filled up? It’s bound to happen because we’re exposed to distractions every day.
This is why we need the ‘strength of our faith’ to help resist the propensity to sin. This becomes our life as we navigate through our own personal journey and enter our own deserts, where we feel empty and dry.
How many of us have heard of something miraculous and commented that I need to see it to believe it? When we witness something, it provides the proof we need. In today’s Gospel, that’s what some of the people are asking for. In the verses we don’t read today (verses 22-3), it further mentions other boats came from Tiberius to the place where the bread had been eaten when the Lord gave thanks. They came to see for themselves, and now they leave from there with the others to find Jesus.
Just like the Israelites, we ask Jesus to show us the work of God so we may believe. But it doesn’t call for us to be complacent. We must work at it in our personal lives, as God’s miracles are all around us. We must take an active role to fulfill God’s miracles in our lives.
The Miracle Before Us
Each time we gather for Mass we witness a miracle: the “transubstantiation”—the changing of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation means changing the substance while retaining its form. The true Body and Blood are present while the appearance of bread and wine remain. Like the Israelites that followed Jesus, they were asking for a sign to believe in. What they didn’t realize: The sign was right before them, but their minds were not processing spiritually but superficially. To see Jesus as the miracle, effort must be put forth. Likewise, to see the Body and Blood, effort must be put forth.
This past May, Bishop Matano put out a letter reinstituting the obligation to attend Mass after granting dispensation due to the Corona virus. In his letter explaining the obligation’s significance, these words stood out: “Our focus shouldn’t be on the obligation to attend Mass, rather our attention should be that we desire to attend Mass so as to fulfill our obligation.”
Finally, as we approach the upcoming Olympics, there have been advertisements on television about the Para-Olympics that will follow. One commercial—designed to encourage hope in those with handicaps—caught my attention. The tagline was: “You don’t have to be amazing to get started, but you have to get started to be amazing.”
We could apply that same ideal with our faith: You don’t have to see the miracle to put forth the effort, but the effort must be put forth to see the miracles of God.
July 25, 2021, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homilist: Deacon Dave LaFortune
Celebrating the Body of Christ
Hello everyone. It’s so good to be here today!
First, I want to say thank you for your prayers and your written expressions of concern during my health journey. When I was first diagnosed with bladder cancer last February, I never anticipated that it would be so long before I would feel strong enough to return to this pulpit. I have missed all of you. I have mostly missed celebrating and receiving the Body of Christ with you. In so many ways, I was truly hungry to receive the Body of Christ, so I think it’s fitting I return on the weekend when the Church begins its five-week focus on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, the chapter on the Bread of Life—the chapter that helps us understand the true meaning of the Eucharist.
The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel speaks of the theology of the Eucharist in an unparalleled way in the New Testament. That the Church gives us five weeks on the sixth chapter of John, demonstrates its importance. It may be worthwhile for everyone to simply sit and reread this chapter from John during the coming weeks. We begin this weekend by recounting the miraculous story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish.
A Deeper Spiritual Meaning
We hear about the crowd following Jesus and the disciples to a deserted place. They soon face a very practical problem: How are we going to feed all these hungry people?
My friends, life can feel like that deserted place sometimes—a place where we find ourselves hungry. As a people on a pilgrimage, what do we hunger for?
Over the years, you may have heard this story described as a message of everyone sharing the food they brought with them, suggesting that Jesus’ public blessing of the meager offering of the boy encouraged everyone to open their backpacks and share with the people around them. Thus, we have all the leftovers! This is an interesting interpretation, but I don’t think this was the message John was trying to communicate at the beginning of his 6th chapter.
John points out it was a miraculous sign that Jesus performed, and he challenges us to look for the deeper spiritual meaning in this passage. My friends, there are several moments in today’s Gospel reading that unlock a deeper spiritual meaning and set the stage for the rest of the Chapter 6, which begins with Jesus going across the Sea of Galilee and a large crowd following him. For John’s community, these opening lines of the chapter have a deeper spiritual meaning. John speaks of the relationship that exists between the Sacrament of Baptism in Chapter 3, and the crowds desire to follow Jesus across the Sea of Galilee. This calls to mind the Hebrews following Moses across the Red Sea. We follow Jesus through the waters of baptism to the Promised Land. With that in mind, what happens next?
The Gospel says Jesus went up on the mountain. Here, we’re dealing with symbolism, because there aren’t any mountains near the Sea of Galilee, only rolling hills. John calls one of these hills a mountain because mountains are places where heaven and earth touch. You can’t get closer to heaven than on a mountain. The meaning of this symbol is that we can’t get closer to heaven than Jesus. In the person of Jesus, heaven and earth touch. This has an important implication regarding our baptism in Jesus Christ. Our connection to Jesus leads us to a place where we can touch heaven, where we can touch God.
John also tells us that the Jewish feast of Passover was near. Ask yourself, when does Jesus die for our sins? During the feast of Passover, of course, so everything that follows in this chapter needs to be understood in terms of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. One of the titles for Jesus in the Gospel of John is the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” That is a reference to Passover. The miraculous sign about to happen, and the conversations that follow, need to be understood in this context.
The meaning of the miraculous sign of Jesus multiplying the bread and the fish for John seems to be: if we follow Jesus through the waters of baptism, we will be led to a place where heaven and earth touch in the person of Jesus. Because this happens in context to the Passover, even if we find ourselves in a deserted place, Jesus will feed us with the bread from heaven with the power to save.
Christ in the Eucharist
This bread saves us because this bread comes from Jesus’ person and meant to be food for our journey through life as we make our pilgrimage to be with God in heaven.
My friends, during this Mass, God’s grace will again overflow for us. Simple gifts of the earth will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Our earthly lives will be elevated to heaven if we understand the Eucharist correctly and try our best to receive worthily.
As we reflect upon John, Chapter 6 over the next five weeks and prepare to continue our celebration of today’s Eucharist, we need to ask ourselves at communion time:
“What am I doing? Am I just following the crowd?”
“Am I receiving some sort of blessing?”
Hopefully, we realize that communion is much more than a blessing.
What is it that we are doing when we receive communion?
We are receiving the Food that God provides. We are receiving the Bread of Life that we will hear about in next week’s Gospel. We are receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Today my friends, let us pray for a deeper appreciation, a deeper reverence for the great gift of Love that is the Eucharist.
April 18, 2021, Third Sunday of Easter (Year B)
Homilist: Deacon Doug Farwell
The Suffering Messiah Raised from the Dead and Glorified
For the next 50 days of the Easter season, we’ll experience what is known as the “Mystagological period” of our faith. Mystagogy is Greek meaning, “to lead through the mysteries.” The Catechism describes mystagogy as a “liturgical catechesis that aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ by proceeding from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified, from the Sacraments to the mysteries.” (CCC 1075).
Each year, the Church takes time during the Easter season to reflect upon the Paschal Mystery. The Easter homilies break open that mystery, helping the faithful focus on the mystagological reflection of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit. During this time, the newly catechized further explore the mysteries of our faith. The rest of the faithful explore the spiritual treasures contained in the Sacraments by continuously reflecting on their meaning and significance.
Peter Proclaims the Wonders of the Lord
In today’s reading from Acts, Peter addresses the people in what is known as the Discourse of Peter’s Speech. Saint Peter proclaims the Word (kerygma) and insists the people become totally converted to God. He even offers them an excuse by saying they acted out of ignorance, but God had fulfilled what had been announced in scripture through all the prophets.
Now, Peter isn’t being rude or insulting when he calls the people ignorant. Rather, he’s acknowledging their lack of knowledge. Ignorance is a state of being uninformed or uneducated on a topic or wanting knowledge. So, Peter informs them of scripture, passing along what Jesus brought to light: That the Messiah had to suffer and become our intercessor and the offering for our sins.
Offering can be more properly interpreted as “expiation,” i.e., atonement or reparation. One theologian, C.D. Dodd, prefers the word “disinfection,” stating: “Even those that know God can sin; and knowledge, even absolute knowledge cannot atone for sin. For that reason, sinners need Christ to disinfect them from the taint of sin; by his sacrifice, the union between God and those who would know him is restored.”
Our Road to Emmaus
Last week, we heard from the Gospel of John revealing who Jesus really was through Thomas, who proclaims the truth of the mystery, “My Lord and my God!” For those of us who haven’t witnessed but rather heard the Word proclaimed are blest because we “have not seen but have believed.”
This week, we read from the Gospel of Luke, in which Luke uses Chapter 24, titled the “Resurrection Narrative,” to educate those of the Church on the mystery of Jesus’s Passion, death and resurrection. Today’s readings show the intimate connection between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The gospel reading today picks up on these events following the well-known Emmaus story. These two disciples turn around immediately and find the Apostles to relate their experience, and while there, Jesus comes among them, opening their minds to the understanding of the scriptures. Thus, He commissions, “In his name, penance for the remission of sins is to be preached to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem. You are witnessed to this.”
Over the centuries, many commentaries have pointed out the Emmaus story is a symbolic presentation of Mass. We come to Mass like the two disciples, often walking in the wrong direction. (Remember, the disciples encountered Jesus as they were leaving Jerusalem.) Because of our sinful direction, we begin our Mass by beginning with the Penitential Rite, beseeching forgiveness. Then Jesus joins us in the Liturgy of the Word, teaching us the meaning of the Old and New Testaments, and how it culminates in and centers upon Him.
That is not enough, though, as we reflect upon those words.
On the road to Emmaus and later in the locked room, the Word prepared the hearts of the disciples to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. St. Augustine gave us an adage that holds true: the Word is spoken upon the human reality, and it becomes a Sacrament. Word and sacrament are not only mutually exclusive but also complementary. It isn’t until we sit down with Him at the Eucharist, in the breaking of the bread, that we see Him in the real presence. The Eucharist is our celebration and participation in which Christ is fully present but also still absent.
St. Catherine of Sienna once remarked how truly blessed we are that Our Lord should love us so much that He gives us Himself as food. Experiencing this, we’re hopefully now moving in the right direction, and we leave with hearts afire, going forth to spread the Word as we are commissioned to spread the Good News.
April 3rd, 2021, Easter Vigil, 2021 (Year B)
Homilist: Deacon Doug Farwell
As to Jesus’s death, He died to sin once and for all; as to life, He lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
A very busy week
This is my third Homily since the Sacred Triduum began Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes, it feels like I don’t to reflect on these holiest of days leading to Easter. I’ve been an ordained deacon for eight years come this June 1st. In the Sunday cycles of our faith, cycling from Year A to B to C, I have been through all three cycles and have homilies from past Easters Vigils and Easter Sundays. I could have easily pulled from my files to resurrect past Homilies, especially when it seems there isn’t enough time to properly prepare.
However, I had a revelation. In preparing for these Homilies—the research, praying, and talking aloud to myself—I realized just how much contemplation I really do!
Then I remembered what the priest who taught the Homiletics class said: Never use a past Homily because our lives aren’t the same as they were three years ago. How very true! Certainly, this year isn’t the same as last, and I hope never will be again. Last year during the pandemic, only Father Pat and I were in the church to celebrate the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. Speaking for us both, it’s so good to see you all here tonight!
Besides, you got to hear me chant the Exsultet. Admittedly, I was happy to see you still here once the lights were turned on, and my chanting didn’t chase you away. My wife even knew how much help I needed, so she sent me a prayer for Deacons singing the Exsultet. I guess it worked.
Or maybe you’re just being kind . . .
Celebrating the most powerful transformation: from darkness to light, from sin to salvation, and from death to life.
Now, it’s a privilege as a deacon to chant the Exsultet, which proclaims the special significance of this night we’ve prepared for and anticipated since Lent began almost fifty days ago. It’s a historic proclamation of praise and a blessing of the new light introduced to the Church, symbolic of the new Light of Christ to the world as the new and eternal covenant, forever conquering death due to sin.
We enter the church somewhat in darkness, so the new light will stand out. I refer to it as the “light at the end of the tunnel”—an expression we’ve all used when faced with our own tribulations. However, this light is passed among each of us to instill hope and consolation that we’re not alone in whatever trials or temptations we face.
The Mother of All Feasts
St Augustine describes the Easter Vigil as “the mother of all feasts.” It is the culmination of the Sacred Triduum and takes center stage to the other liturgies of the Sacred Triduum. Once we reach this high point, we dwell there in the highest hope awaiting the Resurrection of the Lord.
Our readings take us from the creation of Israel to the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage, to their exile and return to Jerusalem as a people of God; to explanation of the path that we, the followers of Jesus, must take to be raised to the newness of life, and finally, to the testimony of the Risen Christ.
In our Gospel, there’s the young man, clothed in white, who tells the women that Jesus is not here but has been raised up. Thinking back to Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Christ according to Mark, there’s also mention of a young man in the garden when Jesus was arrested. They seized the young man as well, but he escaped, leaving the cloth behind to run away naked. Many of you, like me, might have wondered what these two verses were about. There are different thoughts on this, but one scholar noted the contrasts with the young man. In Palm Sunday’s Passion, the young man ran away naked, leaving everything behind to abandon Jesus. But today in Mark’s Gospel, the young man sits in the empty tomb clothed in a white robe, testifying to the truth.
We who are baptized into Jesus were also baptized into His death
Tonight—from the creation of the heavens and earth to the liberation of the Israel people and covenant God made with them, and the new eternal covenant made for all people—we also get the real reason for this celebration, given to us from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Through the waters of baptism, we were buried with Christ into his death. Thus, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of Father, we too might be raised from the death of sin to newness of life. Through our death, we grow in union with Jesus to be united with him in the Resurrection.
Christ freed us from the power of death by his own sacrifice on the Cross, becoming the ultimate sacrifice that death could not prevail against. Our Christian faith believes that if we have died with Christ, so then we shall also live with Him.
April 1, 2021, The Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Homilist: Deacon Doug Farwell
Our Lenten Journey Comes to an End
Before Evening Prayer (i.e., Vespers) tonight, the season of Lent comes to an end. For forty days, we’ve exercised Lenten discipline to empty ourselves of our desires and instead embrace humility while getting ready to be filled in the glory of Easter’s light.
Palm Sunday recalls Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem amidst shouts of “Hosanna” and waving palm branches—a welcome befitting a king. The Church sees Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem as necessary to accomplish the “Paschal Mystery.” Further, the celebration from Monday through Thursday of Holy Week takes precedence over all other celebrations. Except where death may be imminent, baptisms and confirmations aren’t celebrated since these sacraments’ rightful place is at the Easter Vigil.
Tonight, the Church relives the “Mass of the Lord’s Supper” and begins the Sacred Triduum. “Triduum” means the celebration the Lord’s Paschal Mystery spans three days. By the fourth century, parts of the Triduum began to merge into one distinct commemoration of the Paschal Mystery. There is no formal closing to the Sacred Triduum liturgies that culminate with the Easter Vigil and end with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday,
The church enters and remains within Christ’s tomb for three days.
We’re called to a sacred silence as we leave tonight’s liturgy, and again when we enter and leave the liturgy of Good Friday. After the “Gloria,” bells are silenced, and music minimized with chants for the procession of the Most Blessed Sacrament, leading to the veneration of the Cross at Good Friday’s liturgy.
At dusk on Holy Saturday, the church remains in darkness as we gather for the Easter Vigil. It isn’t until we’ve listened to the history of God’s salvific plan does the church illuminate with the Glory of the Easter Light. These three days are an anamnesis not a mimesis, i.e., a remembrance of the events leading up to and fulfilling God’s great plan—not an imitation.
A History Retold
It’s history we encounter—a remembrance of Jesus’s last days, resulting in victory over death—and handed down from those Jesus chose as his first followers. These historical events cannot be repeated. What happened once now passes into the mystery of liturgical and sacramental celebrations.
What takes place during the Sacred Triduum is known as Oral Tradition—a retelling of our faith’s hallmark events. The Triduum appropriately begins with the Gospel of John, because the entire Passion of Christ, His death and resurrection, is understood in the light of the Passover. The high Christology of John puts Jesus as the fulfillment of all promises inherent in the Passover tradition.
Our first reading from Exodus ties to our celebration of these Sacred days, remembering the unleavened bread and Passover lamb. Originally, these rites were separate. Prior to the exodus, shepherds moving their flocks from well-irrigated winter lands to the dry, summer pastures performed the ritual of the sacrificial lamb as an offering to the gods. Farmers performed the ritual of the unleavened bread as a spring cleaning of the previous year’s leaven. Thus, the Israelites’ Passover celebration marked a time of anamnesis, remembering the liberation from the unleavened bread of the Exodus.
It reminds us of our liberation from death due to sin!
The shedding of Jesus’s blood connects to the Old Testament’s understanding of blood. Blood was a sign of life; as such, blood was offered to God as atonement for humanity’s sins. Lamb’s blood represented the blood of sinners offering their own life to re-establish the broken covenant with God. The spilling of Jesus’s blood on the Cross fulfilled the ancient ritual of blood offering. He offered His blood for the sins of the entire world, so death wouldn’t prevail. It is why Jesus instituted the Eucharist, so we sinners could partake in the new Passover, the eating of the Body and drinking of the Blood, passing over from death to sin, and new life in Christ.
Delving deeper into The Last Supper
Tonight’s liturgy entails more than instituting the Eucharist. It’s also about instituting the priesthood and the commandment of filial love—i.e., bearing the relationship of a child to a parent.
John’s Gospel doesn’t focus on the meal, but what takes place after—the washing of the feet. Holy Thursday is the best place to comprehend the mandatum (i.e., ceremony of the foot washing). The term comes from the Latin mandatum novum, meaning new commandment.
Holy Thursday used to be known (and still is in some Protestant faiths) as Maundy Thursday, a derivative mandatum. This ultimate act of service flows from Jesus’s ultimate act of love—the gift of life. This high priest empties himself to the point of a slave, which is the ultimate act of “agape” love. Then, he commands us to do the same; to act as Jesus, the humble servant.
This act may be even more difficult to understanding than the “transubstantiation” of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. One scholar suggests the underpinning of the washing of the feet is the daily forgiveness of sin; thus, forgiveness is a specific command inherent in the preparation for the Eucharist.
Living the Eucharist
The institution of the Eucharist, the priesthood and the command of filial love leads us into the mystery of the next three days!
On this night, which institutes the Eucharist, an anamnesis is performed at each Mass until His return. Jesus elevates the Eucharist even higher by challenging us to not only remember but live the Eucharist.
The Eucharist’s implication is that we share in the paschal mystery.
We are called to serve one another in filial love.
We are called to love one another as Jesus loves us.
And what He has done for us, so must we do for others.
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.