Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Reflection for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Once upon a time during a bout of sleeplessness, I came across a television program that described the phenomenon of how and why people conform.  Scientists conducted experiments showing how people are easily influenced by the opinions and actions of others into making decisions or taking courses of action that they know to be wrong or contrary to their own beliefs or perceptions.  

The study used groups of people brought together to view a series of picture pairs of various objects.  The participants were asked to comment on whether the objects depicted were the same of different in size, shape and/or color.  Among the participants were several ‘ringers’ planted to all give the same incorrect opinions, in an attempt to influence the opinions of the rest of the target group.  These ‘ringers’ were instructed to make their corresponding incorrect opinions known early in the answer process to see if the others would follow their opinions or voice their own independent opinion.

In the face of obviously mismatched objects, -- most of the target people conformed to the wrong answers given by the ‘ringers’ rather than voice contrary opinions.  If the opinion leaders, who always went first, said a pair matched, even though they obviously didn’t match, the majority of the group agreed with their incorrect answer.  

Later, when the target people were confronted with this behavior most said they didn’t want to appear out-of-touch or different or not-in-step with the rest of the group, even when they knew their answer was incorrect.  The participants said they did this to be accepted by the group.  They didn’t want to be alone in giving a contrary opinion.  To them it was more important to appear to be part of the group than it was to be correct.

The people who conducted this study said that further study indicated that the seriousness of a decision had little influence on this behavior.  A majority of the people continued to conform to group thinking rather than make independent, non-conformist decisions.

If it is this hard for us to act independently from the crowd (despite how independent we Americans think we are) imagine how hard it was Simon, Andrew, James and John to drop everything they were doing, leave their fathers, families and friends to follow an unknown itinerant preacher. 

They stopped in the middle of their work and followed Jesus who offered no more explanation beyond, “Come, I will make you fishers of men.”  What ever that meant – I’m sure they had no idea.  Their culture made this behavior as radical then as we think a call to discipleship is today.

Jesus called them to a radical change of life: a change that led to where they could not even begin to imagine.  Throughout most of their ministry with Jesus they thought they were going to become great leaders, powerful magistrates or princes in a worldly kingdom.  

That morning, as they sat on the beach drying their nets, I am sure they never thought that following Jesus would lead them to the greatest life-changing event in the history of mankind.  Little did they realize that they would be witnesses to the Glory of God manifest in our Lord’s suffering on the cross and the glory of His Resurrection. 

These were common ordinary folk, not unlike you and me; going about their daily business until they listened to God’s call: The call to make that radical change in their lives.  The call to which, by their actions, they answered “Yes,” just as Mary did, or like Samuel answering, “Yes Lord, your servant is listening.”  They followed the Lord’s call; going against the usual, the acceptable, the norm, doing what is different from the crowd; following the call of the Father to follow Jesus.

Today, as we hear Jesus’ call in our hearts – we too should find the courage to act just as did Simon and Andrew, James and John.  We, as they, are being called to leave behind all the trappings of this world to follow Him.  Let their “Yes” be our guide.  Let us be influenced by those who have answered the call before us; saying, “Yes Lord, your servant is listening.” 

The opinions of what is good and right in this noisy world drowns out that voice in our heart that calls us into a closer relationship with the Holy and Divine life found in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The allures and false promises of fleeting glory in this world, where the evil-one dwells, are not where an eternal life of peace and love is found.  Do not be dissuaded by the false prophets of this world to follow their journey on a destructive path into darkness and despair.  

Come, follow Jesus.  Leave all that keeps you tied to this world, for He will lead you beyond your imagination - into the light and life of God’s heavenly kingdom. ~Amen

Deacon Don

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - John 1: 335-42 - Missionary Work

Jesus himself commissions all of us saying, “Go therefor and make disciples of all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit . . .” Matthew 28:19 

Jesus invites each of us personally to spread the Good News to the whole world.  He calls us to be His missionaries; spreading to the whole world the Good News that God loves us and sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from our sins and bring us into the everlasting peace of God’s heavenly kingdom.  
Jesus calls us to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation 
He desires us to teach all people to observe what He commanded: to love God and love one another as we are loved by God.

Jesus calls us to be ‘Salt and Light’ to the world; bringing His Truth to all who will hear and being His Light for all the world to see.
He commissions us Testify to the Truth of the Gospel by our lives; giving Glory to God and making Him known in all the corners of the world.
Jesus entrusts to us His mission of salvation for all God’s children.

I don’t know about you, but I find all that to be a bit exhausting and intimidating.   We may ask ourselves, how are we expected to go out into the world to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all those people?  Where do we begin?  How do we prepare for such a mission?  Is there training available?  How much time do I have to prepare before I go out into the world?  What are the Lord’s goals and expectations for my success?  What happens if I’m not good at missionary work?  How do I make all this work?

Before we get ourselves all twisted up in a knot - there is something we must always remember: God uses the weak of the world to fulfill his plan and that all things are possible with God.

Today there are about 1.2 billion Catholics in the world.  Just in the Diocese of Trenton there are over 800,000 Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ.  This mighty community of disciples of Jesus began with John the Baptist pointing out the ‘Savior of the World’ to just two of his followers.  John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God” to two people standing near him by the Jordan that day.  He didn’t shout it out from a hilltop or gather a large crowd together to make an announcement, he just told two other people - what he had come to know, that Jesus was the Christ.  John was a missionary for Jesus.  

Andrew, one of the two of John’s disciples who went with Jesus and saw and stayed with him, in turn went to his brother Simon to tell him what he, Andrew, had come to know – that Jesus was the Messiah.  Andrew was a missionary for Jesus.  

Tell a friend about Jesus
This is the great missionary work we all are called to by Jesus.  So, to be a missionary for Jesus we need to tell another person - what we have come to know: That Jesus is the Christ, the holy One of God, the Son of the Father, the Savior of the World, our Lord and Redeemer.  Tell them that you know Jesus is the living Word of God, the One who dwelt among us; bringing us the Good News of the Father’s love for His children.  Share with them the truth of God’s love of us: Jesus’ suffering, death and rising to new life, so we all may be saved from our sins and have life eternal in God’s heavenly kingdom.  Tell a friend what you know – that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  Be a missionary for Jesus.

BTW – there are 6.4 billion people in the world and over 2 million people living within the 4 counties that comprise the Diocese of Trenton, so there is still much missionary work to be done, but do not be afraid, because Jesus is with us until the end of the age. ~Amen

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Baptism of the Lord - Mark 1:7-11 - "What's in a name?

When a child is presented for Baptism, the parents are asked, “What name do you give

your child?”  The answer just doesn’t establish the child’s identity and heritage as members of this family, but, is a proclamation by the father and mother that this child is their son or daughter.  The child will forever be recognized by the name given them and as the son or daughter of this father and mother.   They are established as members of this family and of these people: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters.  

The identity of each member of the family changes with the naming of a child.  The parents are no longer Joe and Samantha, but Chris or Abbey’s parents.  You are referred to as Noel’s Mother or Riccardo’s Father.  In your own home you are called Mom and Dad.  You become Vinnie’s Aunt or Jessie’s Uncle or Susie’s brother or that sister of Kevin.  We each are changed in naming of a child.  

The name of a child too has importance in its meaningfulness.  Was the name chosen because it has a specific meaning that you hope will tell the world more about who your child is and the family to whom they are a part?  Is it a name that is strong and masculine or beautiful and feminine?  Is it a hopeful or joyful name?  Or is it a name that honors someone from the family or a person the parents admire?

The name Jesus is the name given him by God, his Father.  The angel, when calming Joseph’s fears upon learning that Mary, his betrothed was with child, told Joseph to name the child Jesus, “. . . because he will save his people from their sins.”  Jesus is Savior, ‘God with us’, Emmanuel.  The name given him by his Father is the name above all names, by which every knee shall bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

When Jesus comes to the Jordan, presenting himself for baptism by John, God claims Jesus as His Son, announcing, “This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well please.”  With this proclamation, Jesus is claimed and established as God’s Son; the fulfillment of His covenant with His people to bring us salvation and everlasting life.

Just as in the naming of a child all the members of the family are changed, we brothers and sisters of Jesus are also changed.   As Son, Jesus calls God, Father.  For us now, God is no longer a distant God, a God removed from the lives of his people, but now comes into an intimate personal relationship with us, as Father, through His Son, Jesus.  

We move into a closer relationship with God, as Father, in the name of Jesus, as his brothers and sisters.  
In Jesus’ name, we are now claimed as sons and daughters by our heavenly Father.  
In Jesus’ name, we too call God, our Father, as we are his beloved children.
In the Father and the Son and in the Holy Spirit we are truly sister and brother to one another because of the name of Jesus. ~Amen

Deacon Don