Sunday, January 3, 2016

Three Kings and Company

We three kings from orient are . . .”

Who were the three kings?  Were they really kings or wise men-wizards known as Magi or some other important seekers from foreign lands?  Tradition names them, Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar and we believe they followed a star - a star placed in the sky by God that called them from other lands to witness the birth of the infant Jesus.  We also know they stopped to visit King Herod, as polite protocol dictated because it was not considered prudent to travel into another’s territory without paying your respects, but what else do we know of them?      
We have our imagination to serve us on who were these three travelers come to pay homage to Jesus.  We have no record of their real identity.  We know not exactly from where they came - other than ‘from the East’ or if there were more than three of them or if they were really kings.  We arrive at their number by the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh they bring to the King of kings, the infant Jesus.

A few things we may surmise about the kings.  Despite the popular Christmas card images of three royal individuals traveling alone by camel, kings and other wealthy important people always had an entourage of servants, soldiers and courtiers traveling with them. 
After all, it was dangerous times for anyone to be traveling alone – and someone had to carry and protect the valuable gifts and look after the needs of these important persons.  - And, we can assume that these foreigners were Gentiles, not Jews.  Herod most likely would have known them if they were Jewish royalty.

In this story God shows that He calls all people to Himself in Christ Jesus.  Leading these Gentile kings to Jesus is God’s desire for all His children come to Him and receive His gift of new life found in His Son.  He asks all people to witness His Good News of Light coming into the world; bringing what we have seen to others, so that His love may be known by all people.

The angel-messengers appeared not to Herod or other Jewish leaders – not to the power and might of Israel - who would use it to their own purpose, but to these foreigners, these Gentiles - and to the lowly, to shepherds and servants.  These, - whom the powerful considered unworthy, - God calls to witness His glory and to bring away what they have seen and experienced to the all the world. 

The Word made flesh, from the very moment of His birth, spreads God’s message of love through those - whom the Father calls to witness the birth of the Son. 

He calls them to sing the first notes of the song of salvation to the world.
He calls them to share what they have seen and heard, so that hope may be made known in the birth of the Christ-child; bringing everlasting joy and peace to the world.

He calls them to see the great light that comes to banish the darkness – His light that leads to love and newness of life – so that all may share in the Father’s love and mercy; leading all to everlasting life.

Each of us, - in our station in life, - is called by God, just as were the shepherds and the three kings, along with their servants, to witness God’s glory, - to follow His star - and proclaim His wonders that lead others to Jesus Christ.  We too are called - to take away with us the miracles we have seen, - and the Word we have heard – to sing God’s praise, and proclaim His Good News - that this Jesus, this Son of the Living God, is Lord - to all we meet wherever we journey in the world. ~Amen.

Deacon Don

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

Each time I hear this phrase in scripture I wonder at what Mary did keep in her heart.  I try to image how a young girl in her times reacted to these astonishing things that were happening to her. 

The appearance of an angel!

Hearing who sent the angel! 

The angel’s message! 

The astonishing news about her cousin Elizabeth!

And now while pregnant, after making an arduous trip to Bethlehem; she gives birth to her son in a stable. All these things have to be playing on her mind and in her heart.  Here is her child, the one who is to lead his people, Israel, arriving under less than glorious conditions.  Mary may have been asking herself, “What next, Lord?”

And what was next were the shepherds. 

Shepherds arriving at the stable had to be remarkable in of itself.  Shepherds, by virtue of their lifestyles, rarely came into town.  Their lives were spent in the hills and meadows tending their sheep; protecting them from predators and their own lack of good judgement (more on sheep at another time).  The shepherds couldn’t just leave their flocks alone in the hills, so in all likelihood they arrived with their sheep.  A visual wonder with an overpowering odor and noise for Mary to reflect on.

And these shepherds bring Mary the news of what was told to them by the angel and all that they had seen and heard.  This too she kept in her heart as she contemplated the child in her arms; nursing at her breast.

I like to think on the strength of Mary and her calm acceptance of all these amazing things happening to this young girl chosen by God to bring Emmanuel, God-with-us, into the world.  Only the most perfect Mother of God could calmly live these experiences without doubts, fears or hesitations – accepting all these things, reflecting on them in her heart: remembering what had been told her by the angel – accepting the truth of God with complete faith and love.

Deacon Don

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Life in Transition
I have not written since before the beginning of Advent.  Life got in the way, but I look forward to resuming with the New Year.

I had some health issues that, through the prayers of many good people and the skills and dedication of my doctors, nurses and caregivers I appear to be on the mend.

Also, during this time I made a change in parish assignments and beginning with the 4th Sunday n Advent,I am serving at the Bishop's pleasure, the community of St. Anthony of Padua in Red Bank.  I am happy and excited to be among these fine people in their growing and diverse community.

I want to wish everyone a blessed and joyful Christmas and peaceful New Year.

Deacon Don

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"A Radical New Way" - 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 10:35-45

Last Sunday we heard in the Gospel how difficult it is for a rich person to get into heaven.  The burden of possessions weighs heavily.

The young man proclaimed himself to be a ‘good person’ but could not bring himself to face the truth Jesus called him into living as his disciple.  For the young man, giving up his worldly possessions was more than he was willing to sacrifice for the kingdom of God. 

It was more than material possessions Jesus was calling the young man to sacrifice.  He challenged him to change his whole way of life; his whole world view.  Jesus called him look at the poor and the whole world in a radical new way.  Behind the young man’s sad face was his fear of changing his heart; of sacrificing his long held understandings of this world.
The Lord said:

“I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36: 25-26

Jesus called the young man away from himself.  He called him to seek fulfillment in service to ‘the other’.  To see ‘the other’ with the love of God; taking responsibility for their well-being, their justice and their peace.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, calls James and John away from seeking glory for themselves into seeking fulfillment in a life of service to ‘the other’.  James and John sought to possess Jesus in a material way; riding on his coat-tails into positions of power and honor. 

But Jesus calls them away from themselves.  He calls them into a radical new way of looking at the world.  He tells all the disciples that those who serve others are true leaders.  They, who give up their lives in service to the needs of ‘the other’, are the ones who gain true glory in the eyes of God.  They shall receive their reward in the love of God; becoming inheritors of His eternal kingdom.

Jesus calls his disciples into a life of sacrifice.  But this sacrifice is not one of loss, as the world thinks of sacrifice. It is a sacrifice of love, of joy and of fulfillment found in the embrace of God. 

Those who serve the least of His children find their reward not in the material things of this world: which decay and do not last; but receive the reward in the ever-lasting glory of God and the peace of His heavenly kingdom. ~Amen

Deacon Don

Sunday, October 11, 2015

"Let Go - Let God" - 28th Sunday Ordinary Time - Mark 10:17-30

“There is a story about a tribe in North Africa with an interesting method for catching monkeys.  The hunter hollows out a gourd; making a hole in its side just big enough for a monkey to insert his open hand.  He then fills the gourd with nuts; tying it to a tree.  The monkey attracted by the smell of the contents, reaches into the opening in the gourd and grabs a handful of the nuts.  Here comes the trick: The hole in the gourd however, is too narrow for the monkey to withdraw his hand while holding a fistful of nuts.  In his greed, the monkey refuses to release the delicacies to extract his hand; allowing him to become easy prey for the hunter. 

If only the monkey would relax his grip on his desired treasure, he would escape capture.  But because of his stubborn refusal to let go of his prized possession, the monkey is easily trapped.”

Let go and let God.  We are called to let go of the things of this world, the things that trap us; keeping us tied to this world: for Jesus came into this world to release us from the world so we can enter with Him into the next: God’s eternal kingdom of glory.

As we see in the Gospel, the act of being holy and holiness are not the same.  We rely on God, through His Holy Spirit, to touch our hearts; making us truly holy, enabling us to keep the things of God ever on our minds and in our hearts; releasing us from the traps of the evil-one through the things of this world.  It is the evil-one’s distractions that keep us from being truly holy.

We are called to trust in God; relying on Him for all our true needs, the desires of our hearts – that lead us to eternal life and the peace of His kingdom.  We are never truly free until we let our Lord free us from enslavement to the things of this world. We do not reject this world, but are called to hold it in proper perspective, so that in our heart – God’s love and His gift of eternal life are held – as our true heart’s desire.

The evil-one sets many attractive traps using very persuasive arguments; attempting to turn us away from becoming fully human, as intended by our Creator.  In the evil-one’s jealousy, because he objects that God made us in God’s image, the evil-one hopes to lure us from the light and salvation through Jesus Christ into the darkness of disobedience and sin, thus thwarting God’s desire for His children to dwell with Him for all eternity.

The evil-one uses the things of this world, - those ever-changing fads, created needs, and must-have-now’s of our secular culture.  His toadies tell us that these things are ever so important and necessary to finding true happiness and fulfillment.  We know them very well.  We are daily bombarded with their messages; playing to our fears and insecurities, our weaknesses and frustrations, our longings and loneliness. – they become the false desires of our heart; turning us away from God and eternal life; trapping us forever in this finite world.

The act of being holy and holiness are not the same.  We can follow the rules and say the prayers, but if we don’t love with the love of God; sharing truly a life in Christ – we can be like the young man, sad - for lacking a heart that loves others with the love we have from God.

We trust in God; relying on His Holy Spirit, to touch our hearts to make us truly holy.  For us holiness is difficult, but with God all things are possible.  Through His grace we keep the things of God ever in our hearts and on our minds, so we find true freedom and peace in letting go of the evil-one’s enticements of this world that distract us; keeping us from finding perfection in God.

If it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, then we too must ask the same question today that the disciples asked of Jesus, “Then who can be saved?”

I want to finish with this little story from the pages of life.

I knew a man many years ago who owned his own business.  He was a humble worker gifted with a savvy business sense and the ability to make friends easily. As his business grew, as expected, so did his wealth.  Early in his business life he purchased a prized possession - a Corvette.  It bore the license plate ‘Toy’.   In place of pride in his office he had a gilded plaque that read: “He who dies with the most toys -- wins.”

As the business grew over the years he added to his collection of ‘Toys’. Each an increasingly expensive and exotic sports cars.  The license plates of each of these cars also sported the “Toy” license plate, with a little sub-numeral counting up his prize possessions.  When I last saw him he had added four more Toys for himself, not including the one’s he purchased for his wife and children.  Together, they had quite a collection. 

I often wondered about that little sign on his office wall.  It had a prominent position right behind his desk for everyone to see.  What I wondered was, when he died what did he expect to win?

Deacon Don

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"So all might be saved" 26th Sunday Ordinary Time

I haven’t had an opportunity to see all Francis’ speeches or read through them yet, but I have kept up with the highlights of his visit to the United States.  I don’t know how you’ve reacted to what the Vicar of Christ has had to say, but his words have certainly made me squirm a bit and somewhat uncomfortable.  I find his words refreshing – not that he is saying anything new, - saying things I haven’t heard before.  I find them a refreshing reminder of our baptismal call as disciples of Jesus Christ, children of the One God: Father of us all.  He, who’s Holy Spirit fills us, so we may live in His love.

Francis reminds us to love one another as we are loved by God.  He reminds us that we are called to express our love for God in how well we love “The Other” – the least of His children: the poor, the vulnerable, the forgotten.  Our love of God is made manifest in our love for those who are helpless, lost and despairing – the ones damaged by life and left behind by the grind of this world.

Francis reminds us that we are God’s heralds – called to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.  Jesus’ message of salvation and reconciliation with God, our Father needs to be heard by everyone.  His disciples are called, - we are called, - to go out into the world, especially those dark lonely corners - to bring His Good News to our brothers and sisters trapped in the grip of the evil one.  We are called to speak the words of truth and life in the shadows, so those who live in despair may find hope and walk in the light of Christ.

(And) Just as God gave Adam responsibility for care of the Garden of Eden and all the plants and animals that dwell within, His Holiness reminds us of our responsibility of the stewardship of the God’s gift of this world.  This too, is how we love God in our love for one another, by ensuring that this gift to all people – our earthly home – is kept healthy, vibrant and nurturing - for all people today and for all future generations – until the Lord returns to bring us into our new home – His heavenly kingdom.  How well we care for our earthly home and share its bounty with one another is our legacy of love for our children, their children and their children’s children - until the end time.

By the crowds we see wherever the Pope goes we encouraged by how he inspires people, this remarkable man, this Vicar of Christ.  Francis attracts so many by his life of love for others and his humble simplicity.  As far as discipleship goes – Francis is the real thing!

It is our hope and prayer that the upsurge of attention Francis brings to the Catholic Church will translate into genuine conversions, returns and renewals in Jesus Christ and His Church.   But Francis cannot do this alone.  He encourages each one of us to follow the words of our Lord and Savior, to live out our baptism, by going forth to “make disciples of all nations.”  Francis reminds us that we are called by Jesus to bring the Good News to the world. 

This is what I find refreshing in the words of Francis – his reminder of that Jesus calls all of us to live out our vocation as disciples by loving as we are loved by sharing His Word of salvation, so all might be saved. ~Amen.

Deacon Don

Saturday, September 19, 2015

25th Sunday Ordinary Time - "Teachers of the Faith" - Catechetical Sunday

Today we celebrate Catechetical Sunday

In the Rite of Baptism parents are asked what they desire of the Church in the name of their child.  They always respond (with some prompting) – ‘Baptism’.  The celebrant then says, “In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training (your child) in the practice of the faith.  It will be your duty to bring them up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and neighbor.  Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”  And they always answer with an enthusiastic – “Yes!”

From the very beginning parents are the primary catechists in the Church.  They are the ones who plant the seeds of faith in their children and develop their practices of our faith traditions and belief in Christ Jesus.  They develop their child’s knowledge of God and keep God’s love for his people alive in the hearts of future generations.

It is often heard that our young are falling away from the faith and its practices. But there is great evidence that young people today are yearning for faith and a more involved spiritual life.  Statistics in the western world indicate a moderate to sharp increase in young people seeking God.  But who will give them direction toward the One God and the teachings of Our Lord, Jesus Christ?

Where are these young people to learn about Jesus, our Savior? Where are they to hear of the love of God for His people? From whom will they discover and practice the traditions of our Church?  Who will be their guides and leaders in word and example of the teachings of our Lord, Jesus that will lead them into salvation and life eternal?

It is up to each of us, parents, guardians, family members AND catechists to pass on our belief in Jesus Christ found in His Church.

Parents are always the primary catechists of the Church, the heads of the domestic Church where children learn from watching and listening to their parents.  The most important formative and learning time in a child’s life is in the first five years, but continues with reinforcement throughout their young lives. When they are home with their parents and family they learn to do and say what they see and hear.  It is in the home where the strength of what they learn about God will prevail over the teachings of the world, where the prince of evil prevails.

Any teacher will tell you, if you want to know the views of the parents, ask their children the questions for an unfiltered response.

Young children are like little sponges, absorbing everything parents and family members do and say.  It is where they learn all the basic about life and survival. 
  • Home is where they learn about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. 
  • In the home is where they learn the teachings and practices of the faith: saying prayers, going to Church and loving others. 
  • Home is where they develop their moral theology and ethical outlooks which they bring into the world. 
  • At home they learn to express love and care for others and a respect and dignity of their own humanness.

Our catechists build on the faith practices the child has learned in the home.  Catechists are not the primary teachers of the faith, but are they who, with an expertise in teachings of the Church, help our young people learn more fully of the details of living our faith.  
  • Catechists bring a more developed grasp of the teachings of our Lord to young persons and help them in their understanding and development of our faith practices.  They do not instill faith, but augment existing beliefs found and practiced in the home. 
  • Catechists do not teach young people of the existence of God and His love for His children, but build on what they learn in the home about the many ways God loves us and His desire for us to be with Him for all eternity. 
  • Catechists bring a fuller understanding of our faith practices through explanation, but it is in the home where young people learn to practice their faith by watching, listening and following the faith lived out in their family.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to our catechists, who prepare themselves to teach our young people; sacrificing their time to teach and showing their love of God through their care and concern for our young people. 

We also want to celebrate all our families and guardians who pass on their belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior to their children by word and practice in the home.  They are the primary teachers of God’s love to all our young people.  It is in the home where the seeds of faith fall on fertile ground to be nourished and fed to grow fruitfully and multiply.

May God bless you abundantly in all you do in His Holy Name. ~Amen

Deacon Don