January 25th, 2015 ~ The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle
(But the liturgical observance of his feast day is suppressed this year because it falls on a Sunday.)
Paul was an amazing man. He was small of stature; he refused to depend on charity ~ thus, he worked as a tent-maker wherever he went. After he was severely beaten, he was in constant pain, but went on and on and on, because. as I have tried to learn . . . .
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
~ Philippians 4:13
Paul before his conversion was known as Saul of Tarsus, and as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles he says, I persecuted this Way to death, binding them both men and women and delivering them to prison. And then he tells the story of his conversion on the way to Damascus, that a great light blinded him and he heard a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (You can read the rest of the story in Acts 22: 1:16.
I enjoyed what St. John Chrysostom, a bishop in the early church says about Paul in the divine office for this day:
Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists and in what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed even higher; each day he rose up with even greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in his words: “I forget what lies behind me and I push on to what lies ahead.”
I never paid a lot of attention to Paul for the longest time until recently. And suddenly, I fell in love with him; thus, I’m taking the time to write this blog in his honor, despite his texts about women and the misuse of his words toward gay people. Here’s the reason . . . .
Chrysostom (a word meaning “GoldenMouth”) was an outstanding preacher. He goes on to say:
The most important thing of all that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love he considers himself happier than anyone else . . . . He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored. So too, in being loved by Christ he thought himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet.
Several years ago, a priest-friend sent me a Christmas card with a favorite quote from St. Paul on the cover that I framed and that still sits in front of me on my dining room table. As I have had my own cup of suffering from long years of manic-depressive illness it means a great deal to me . . . .
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for in weakness power reaches perfection.”
And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
For when I am powerless, it is then I am strong.
(2 Cor. 12:9-10)
You see, Paul has helped me love my Lord ~ or rather to deeply and richly realize with tears of joy that Jesus loves me ~ as I am, weak and sinful. He has raised me up and heals me and sometimes allows me the grace to share his love as best I can at the tip of my cursor, if in no other way.
And so, dear friends, know that you, too, are loved, whether you know it or not. Our God is love! Know that ~ despite whatever else you’ve been taught, no matter how guilty you may feel or how unworthy you think you are. YOU ARE LOVED! THIS IS A MEANINGFUL UNIVERSE! And if you want, call me and I’ll try to help ~ 904-315-5268.
We’ll let St. Catherine of Siena have the last word which really grabbed me, Paul “became a vessel of love filled with fire to carry and preach God’s Word. Amen. Amen!
And now, before you go, here are the St. Louis Jesuits singing the Prayer of their Founder, “Take, Lord, and Receive.” It’s a beautiful prayer and a beautiful song. Click here.
Today is the forty-second anniversary of Roe v Wade.
Let’s stand down, stop the condemning and judging and seek light and understanding, forgiveness and wholeness, kindness and compassion for the young in desperate situations who have no one to turn to and who may themselves be abandoned.
We live in a world that refuses to recognize the inviolateness and sacredness of every single person on this planet.
Jesus shed his blood so that not one drop of blood need be shed ever again!
My sense is that the sin of those who are quick to condemn others is as great or greater than those who bring violence and bloodshed into their very own bodies.
We ALL have much for which to ask forgiveness . We ALL need to ask God to increase our capacity to love and turn away from hate.
There is just too much hate in this world ~ sometimes from those who even minister the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar.
The ones Jesus loves the most are the lost sheep of this world. He would reach out to those who have had abortions.
The enemies of Jesus are those who justify themselves, the self-righteous, the hypocrites, the ones who know nothing of compassion, those who would never think of walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins before lashing out with their tongue.
St. John has said NO ONE is without sin! He also said that “Any one who HATES his brother or sister is oneself a MURDERER!”
HOWEVER, I quote from a blog on the Los Angeles Times: The blogger is commenting on those polled who said that abortion was no longer a key issue.
“If the killing of 1,200,000 babies each year in this country, with over 700,000 (59%) of those children killed being Black (400,000+) and Hispanic (300,000+), if this is no longer a “key” issue, then that speaks volumes of how far we have regressed back to the days when Hitler and his Nazi henchmen thought that the genocide of the Jews was also a non-issue. Abortion is the most violent of all heinous crimes as it attacks life in the holy of holies, the mother’s womb. For those of you ignorant of your history, every civilization that went into the killing of their children has perished from this planet by the same violent means as they used to kill their future generations. These include: the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Mayans, the Incas and the Aztecs just to name a few.”
The President, who as we know, is an advocate of Planned Parenthood, a strong abortion provider. I’d prefer to see Mr. Obama to take Mr. Clinton’s approach that “abortions would be “safe, legal and rare.” Planned Parenthood has an aggressive, non spiritual agenda; they talk about a fetus as if it was just disposable tissue, not a living being. That is not acceptable! And we should call the President to account for that!
Yesterday I was reading a magazine from Defenders of Wildlife that I enjoy very much. They’re concerned about the killing of wolves in Wyoming, Grizzlies in Montana, Polar Bears in Alaska, Orcas in Hudson Bay. And I wonder if they are Defenders of Unborn Human Life.
Dearest Lady, mother of Jesus,
whose tender love brought Love Itself into our world,
help those who have never known the tender embrace of their own mother’s love
to receive the same tender care and love you wish for each of them. . . for each of us . . .
as you offered the strict, yet tender, love of a Jewish mother upon Jesus, the Son of God
who was nourished at your tender breasts,
cradled in your arms,
bounced upon your knee;
whose boo boo was kissed by your lovely mouth,
whose dead body you received come down from the Cross.
You were the one from Jesus learned the joys of human love.
Receive today all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters on this planet, born and unborn.
Draw us all into that one great mystery of divine/human love which is the glory of our Christian faith,
the Incarnation of the son of a young beautiful woman, Son of God,
our Brother, our Friend, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
And now, before you go, here’s “Surely He has borne our grief”, from The Messiah. Click here.
And P.S. Don’t worry about the aborted children; the innocent ones will shine like the stars in God’s kingdom.
The tragedy is that they will never set foot on this beautiful planet.
He was 39 when he was martyred on April 4, 1968 ~ a young man who had a powerful influence on our country.
This is an excerpt of what I said on the fortieth anniversary of his death April 4th 2008, also the fortieth anniversary of my ordination:
Forty years ago on, April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee while he was leading a strike for sanitation workers. He inspired and led the Civil Rights movement that achieved great change in our land.
This man is still one of my mentors. He was a man who committed himself to absolute nonviolence like Mahatma Gandhi and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as the only way that justice and peace can be achieved. He inspired ordinary folks, black and white, to stand up for their rights, to sit down and accept the vicious blows of police and to have the courage to go to jail for what they believed in.
Forty years ago on the day after he was killed, April 5, 1968, I formally entered the service of the Roman Catholic Church as an ordained deacon. I was a seminary student at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The shrill sound of sirens all over the city mingled with the ancient chant melody. As I lay prostrate on the floor with my brothers to be ordained I sucked in a deep breath and committed my service to the Church to be in the shadow of this man whose ideal of justice and peace and freedom I wanted to absorb into my soul and body.
On this anniversary, April 4, 2008, in this land of America, we have lost a lot of the freedoms and ideals of another great man Thomas Jefferson who declared that all men are created equal and have the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Today, not only young black men are listless and have no hope; it’s true of young white men as well.
We are no longer a free nation when “they” can listen in on any of our phone conversations without a court order, our cell phones track and Google track our movements, when“they” deny the right to a trial, when we torture our enemies.
Where are those today who will inspire us and lead us out of our complacency?
Who will inspire us to stand up and put their lives on the line for what they believe in?
Who still dreams the dream of Martin Luther King and Thomas Jefferson?
Who is willing to sacrifice to restore those ideals to our beloved country?
O God of Justice,
raise up men and women in our day who will inspire us and restore us to the original ideals of our nation.
Enable us to wake up from our slumber and see what we have lost, that we are no longer a free nation.
Give us the strength and courage to pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to win this spiritual revolution that now lies before us in 2008.
We pray to you, God, for You are the God who cries for justice for your children
and who still hears the cries who know and realize they are poor without You.
We pray to You for only You can can restore us to the ideal of freedom and justice FOR ALL.
St. Luke attributes has Mary sing these words in her Magnificat sung or recited every evening in the church everywhere in the world. Would that we would believe it and commit ourselves to it!
“[God] has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servants
for he has remembered the promise of his mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers [and mothers}
to Abraham [and Sarah and Hagar]
and [their] children for ever. (Luke 1:46-55)
I call us more than a generation later, now in 2015, to the principles of Non-Violence Dr. King gave to us.
He trained them to sit down on the ground and take blows of the police because they knew that Non-Violence was a more powerful weapon than guns and bombs.
That legacy of Dr. King made it possible for Barack Obama to become president of the United States.
Would that he would have the courage to commit himself to that great man’s ideals.
Dr. King held no public office. He persuaded us by the power of his words and the depth of his conviction.
And his willingness to give his life for what he believed in — no matter what.
Is there anything you are willing to give your life for?
I continually ask myself the same question.
Now, before you go, here’s a 5-minute excerpt of Dr. King’s last speech the night before his assassination in Memphis. If you’ve never heard him speak, (and I had in my seminary days), I promise you, it would be worth your time. Click here.
This feast is part of the epiphany cycle of feasts ….
It reveals further the meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God, that is, our God entering our world and becoming flesh and blood.
God sent his only Son to become one with us.
What better way to do this than to show acceptance of the human condition by being baptized for the forgiveness of sin?
Jesus had no personal sin. Yet he lined up with hundreds of pilgrims to be baptized by the prophet John in the Jordan.
In this we see Jesus’ humility. He is willing to accept ALL of the human condition. He willingly presents himself for baptism.
There he is: John in his camel-hair shirt at the edge of the desert, wading out into the waters of the Jordan River.
A crowd has gathered on the banks. Jesus is among them. He is unknown at this time because he has yet to begin his ministry. He has chosen this meeting with the Prophet to inaugurate his own mission.
Jesus waits patiently amidst the crowd. There’s a line of people eagerly waiting to meet individually with John and to receive his baptism of repentance.
It’s almost Jesus’ turn. John catches his eye as he talks with the young woman ahead of Jesus. (They’re cousins, you may remember.)
As Jesus walks up to John, his cousin objects, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’
I wonder why John said, “I NEED to be baptized by you.”
There’s a crowd around but a bit of an intimate conversation between cousins takes place.
I wonder when the last time they talked.
I wonder how close they were.
Did they ever have “guy” talk?
But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.
John probably admired his cousin a lot and found it difficult to play this role of “holier than thou,” so to speak. Consenting, he probably did so reluctantly.
But if I were John, I would have doused my cousin GOOD!
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
I have a strawberry conditioner I put on my non-hair as a reminder of my anointing at confirmation. It’s a ritual I do every time I shower to remind me of my baptism.
There have been times that I have felt like a beloved son, with whom my heavenly Father and my Lord are pleased. At other times, I just try to be faithful.
You see, Jesus fulfills ALL of the proscriptions of a penitent. He does everything that he is supposed to do. He does not ask for special favors. He does not expect any courtesies or privileges.
An astonishing thing happened; the two of them were privileged to a vision. The sky opened up and John saw the Spirit of God descend on Jesus like a dove and hover over him.
With that, a voice from the heavens said,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
In our immersion into the waters of baptism, we are consecrated, set apart and made holy. In Jesus’ immersion in the baptismal waters of the Jordan, the opposite becomes true. Jesus consecrates, sets apart and makes holy the waters of baptism. Jesus as Man consecrates the movement of divine grace that flows just as rivers flow.
Sometimes the river has abundant waters that give life to all living things that share its banks. But sometimes the waters dry up and become like a desert.
So, too, with grace. Grace flows like a river bringing wonderful fruit to all who drink and are immersed in it. But sometimes grace seemingly dries up and we live in a desert. But the river is still there ~ unseen; it just moves below the surface.
So we have to be willing to be immersed. To be immersed in divine grace. To be immersed in God. To be immersed in love.
But that precisely is the problem. We are scared of being immersed in love. We are scared of being immersed in God. We prefer to stand on the banks of the river and watch the waters of grace flow by, without having direct contact with it.
So this feast day is about us as well. Don’t be afraid to be immersed in God. Don’t be afraid to be immersed in love.
If we are immersed in God, in love, we will hear the voice of God say to us
“You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.
Now, before you go, here’s Bill and Gloria Gaither singing the traditional spiritual “Shall we Gather at the River.” Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
The Feast of the Epiphany ~ Sunday, January 4th, 2015
Today’s feast day has several meanings. In the Roman Church we celebrate the story of the Magi visiting Jesus and offering him gifts. In the Eastern churches, they focus on the story of the Baptism of the Lord. Both celebrate the manifestation, the revelation of Jesus to the whole world.
Paul in today’s letter to the Ephesians proclaims that “that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
We focus on the story of the Magi in our celebration today. In the Gospel of Christmas, the angels proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, who were uneducated and poor folk; The story from Luke indicates that the gospel is to be preached to the poor.
Today’s story is from Matthew. The Magi, are scholars and learned men. They discern from their study of the heavens that the Messiah was to be born in their time; they would risk the search for him and offer their treasures. The Magi represent all the peoples of the earth outside and beyond the Jewish experience. Jesus is the Christ for everyone!
This Gospel story is about darkness and light.
Brilliant light and terrible, fearful darkness.
The Magi were comfortable with the dark. They knew how to find their way in the dark because they could interpret the lights of the sky. They were adventurers ~ seekers ~ explorers.
They represent all people who are at home in the world of the intellect. All people who are willing to journey far to seek and find the truth.
They went out into the night following the light, the great star which marked a singular event in human history.
They stopped to see Herod, expecting that he would welcome the light. He couldn’t; he was filled with diabolical darkness; he could not abide the light of truth. He tried to snuff out the life of the God-Man ~ Jesus the light of the world.
Herod, the guy in charge, a king, was worried about the birth of a baby. Herod was powerful, and yet, as Matthew says, “ . . . he was greatly troubled.”
What was Herod afraid of? Obviously, he knew that Jesus was going to make a difference in his world and was afraid that a change would mean losing the power he had. He wanted Jesus gone before any of that could happen. He liked things just the way they were.
So Herod decreed that all firstborn males under two were to be killed. Jesus and Mary and Joseph had to flee into the night to find a safe place in a foreign land, the land of Egypt. And so a shroud of violence comes over the innocence of the Christmas story. Jesus and his family became political refugees.
Some of us too are swallowed up by darkness, enshrouded by night.
Some of us live in dysfunctional families. That too can be terrible darkness, though we may not recognize it. We may think that yelling and screaming are quite normal.
Some of us get up and work very hard day in and day out. Perhaps it is work that we do not enjoy, perhaps even hate. Perhaps our spirits are far away from our jobs. We go to work trying to make a living while hoping that the darkness will not overwhelm us.
And we know that there is darkness in the world. Israelis refuse to seek peace with the Palestinians. And there’s troubles in Sudan, Iraq, Syria. Hate seethes deep in the souls of neighbors a few miles away from each other.
And so, listen to these powerful words from Isaiah in the first reading:
RISE UP IN SPLENDOR, DEAR PEOPLE OF GOD, YOUR LIGHT HAS COME.
THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHINES UPON YOU.
This feast is about a light that penetrates the most stubborn darkness of our lives.
This feast brings a Light to us all, if only we, like the Magi, would seek.
SEE DARKNESS COVERS THE EARTH
AND THICK CLOUDS COVER THE PEOPLES.
Violence seems to shroud our whole planet at times.
BUT UPON YOU THE LORD SHINES
AND OVER YOU APPEARS HIS GLORY.
Don’t despair of the darkness, dear friends. Know that there is a light that can penetrate it.
There was sadness and a thick veil of darkness over my own life for many years. I had the good sense to move to the little bit of light that I could find.
A candle flame can be as bright as a great Nova when one is looking for light.
WE need the light of God’s truth in the world today.
NATIONS SHALL WALK BY YOUR LIGHT,
AND RULERS BY YOUR SHINING RADIANCE.
Out of the darkness came the Magi bringing gifts for the Light of the World. Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Holy Child who was the Light.
But before we can give a gift, we must ~ often in the midst of the darkness ~ open our hands and our hearts to receivethe gift that God would give to us. We must first receive before we can give.
Out of the darkness of your lives, you also can find gifts to give to the Lord and your family and friends.
What gifts do we bring?
Do we bring Jesus the gift of our adoration which the Magi did? The gift of our hearts?
These learned and influential people got down on their knees before this little child.
What or who receives the gift of OUR adoration and allegiance?
The world does not know how to adore God. We adore so many other things ~ a new sports car, a new home, a gifted child of our own, good-looking women or men. Maybe we adore a favorite movie star or our favorite sports team when they’re winning at least. Maybe we adore our career path, willing to do whatever it takes, even if we embrace the darkness along the way.
Remember the story of the little drummer boy?
What one gift can we give to God this day?
Close your eyes. Think about it for a moment.
Now, before you go, here’s The Little Drummer Boy to help you think about what gift you have to offer. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
You can find today’s Mass readings at this link. Click here.