Jan 17, 2021

You can’t teach sins away!


St. John the Baptist had attracted many people by his message of repentance and the need for conversion in preparation for the arrival of Christ. Now as the Lord has entered into the scene, John points his own followers in the direction of Christ. John, having attracted thousands of people now retreats back into obscurity. He has fulfilled his mission, to prepare the way for the Lord. 

He could have joined Christ, and the two of them could have been a powerful force together, but no. What Christ had now to do must come whole-heartedly from the motivation of God, not man. Even John the Baptist’s former disciples, could not look back, now that they have been introduced to the Lord. 

In the same way, there are many methods of prayer, of reading and appreciating the Scriptures, ways of preparing to receive the Sacraments. But once we make contact with Christ himself, we must be prepared to let our Lord teach us personally and allow him to lead the way.

And this He does through two great sacraments. St. John the Baptist helps us to understand these by identifying Jesus as the” Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” In Confession the sins of the repentant are taken away. “It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin.” CCC 1423

How does Christ do this? Does He just cover them up, delete them, wash them away? No. He puts them to death. Christ the Good Shepherd took the place of the most vulnerable lamb of the flock and gives His own life in sacrifice for the sins of the world. That sacrificial death is renewed, made present, in an un-bloody way in the Mass we offer to our Heavenly Father. By actively participating in His sacrifice with mind, body and soul, with sorrow for our sins, and repentance from them, our trespasses are forgiven and our life begins anew. 

We stand before the altar of God conscious of our “constant need” to be purified of our sins – the purification of our minds (for we carry the memories of bad choices we have made), the purification of our bodies (which too often bear the side affects of our sinful disposition) and the purification of our soul which cries out for union with God and is often ignored. Like the disciples in the Gospel today who left their past associations to follow Christ, we must allow our Lord to point us too in the right direction. And this takes time, thank God.

Even though Jesus is introduced as the Lamb of God, the disciples in the beginning chapters of the Fourth Gospel, at this beginning stage of their journey simply address him as “teacher”. Only a little later, when they are invited into his house, do they recognize him as the Messiah. But it will take the later chapters of their lives when they are introduced to the cross and the resurrection for the disciple to humbly acknowledge Jesus as “my Lord and my God”.

Having left the season of Christmas, the Church calendar today introduces us to the first part of Ordinary Time. It will take us to Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. This journey is reflected in the color of green. It announces life, growth, looks forward to spring. It is a color which comes forth after storms and rain. It must mark our own journey of continuing conversion and growth, seeking deeper insight and renewed faith in Jesus Christ through the Church which he has made Holy by his presence in our midst and though the Sacrifice of the Mass. In this great sacrament he takes away the sins of the world, beginning with yours and mine, if we allow him to. Time will tell!

Jan 10, 2021

This world stinks!


Baptism of the Lord


Some time ago I had led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to visit the historical sights associated with Christ. We visited the little cave in Bethlehem where Our Lord was born, wandered through the desert where He confronted Satan head on. We sat on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where our Lord preached. We walked the streets of Jerusalem, our feet touching the every stones which paved its streets two thousand years ago. We looked up at the ancient crumbling walls of what is left of the old temple and visited the place associated with the site of the Last Supper. We entered into the large church built over the hill of calvary where He was crucified to death and, one by one, passed into His empty tomb where he resurrected from the dead. We climbed the steep and winding path up the hill of the Mount of Olives where the Risen Lord was lifted up into heaven.


Of course, during our visits we share the road with tourists, holiday makers, Christians, Jews and Muslims, believers and nonbelievers. But as we read the scripture accounts, studied our surroundings and meditated on the significance of where we were, we could not help but be immersed into the very life, death and resurrection of Christ. What we had learnt in Sunday school, seen in holy pictures, read in the Bible, within the context of the holy sites we stood in, Christ became real, His life meaningful and His spirit and grace alive in those moments.


A rare opportunity was opened for us to also visit the river Jordan in whose waters Jesus was baptised, as we read in the Gospel today. We had even planned to wade into the river, to renew a sense of our own baptism in the waters that Christ had once been baptised in. As we approached the banks, we looked at the river. It was filthy! Parts of it were stagnant. You could see trash and plastic objects floating in it, even here and there a shimmer of oil on the surface. The water was brown and smelly, flies and insects danced on its surface. Even an occasional dead fish floated by! God only knew what lay beneath it. It was repugnant. Instinctively, I knew this place was a major health hazard.


Was I going to even touch this water, even dip my finger into it, to at least bless myself?  


I read and mediated on the Gospel we have just heard, recalling Christ being baptised in this river. It then occurred to me, during Christ’s time this very river that flowed into the desert was used by towns and villages upstream to dump their human waste. Now that I looked into this filthy dirty water before me, realizing how disgusting and more vile it must’ve been so 2000 years ago, used as a floating dumpster for humanity. What was Christ getting himself into?


As pilgrims, passing through this world, we can visit the sites associated with Christ’s life, death and resurrection but we can keep ourselves clean, sanitized, on the outside looking in or reviewing our Lord’s life like a picture book, a movie or walking through a museum. 


God did not tiptoe through the murky waters or walk carefully across stepping stones from one side of the river Jordan to the other. No. The word “baptism“ literally means “immersion”. God was no tourist to earth or a pilgrim visiting sites. The pure and the holy, the divine and sinless one, totally immersed Himself, plunged himself completely into the filth and horror, into the physical and spiritual (dare I call it…) excrement of the human condition, into the dark depths, into the very bowels of human sin. He was baptized, not only into our life, but into our sickness, our diseases, our sins, our death. 


Do we as Christians remain on the riverbank peering in from a distance, astonished, removed, or from the sidelines, simply full of admiration for what Christ did? Can we hear His voice again that calls to us saying, “come follow me”. What? Follow you into your baptism, that baptism? 


Yes. Do not be afraid, He would tell us. Despite its appearance from the shore, Christ has cleansed the sinful and dangerous waters of the human condition. He has absorbed into His very self all the sins of the world - He has put them to death. Through Him, they have no sticking power, but only if we allow ourselves to be immersed deeper and deeper into His life, His death and resurrection. 


That’s why we can not simply sit on the riverbank, or observe Christ’s life from a safe distance like tourists simply passing through. The grace initiated in our life when we were first baptised, still runs through us. Is that water still clean or does it stink?  That’s why it is also so important to regularly repent of, confess and do penance for our sins. Doing so safeguards us slipping or falling down a muddy bank into an uncharted river whose contents and direction we know not.


With the closing of the Christmas season now upon us, meditate on how God immersed himself into the complexities of our human lives. But do not be afraid to immerse yourself deeper and deeper into his, so that we may come to share in the heights of his divinity because He dared to plunge Himself into the depths of our humanity. 





Jan 2, 2021

2021 Which Way?

 


2021

Which Way now?


Sunday sees us celebrating the event when the “three wise men'' (often called the three kings or the Magi ) arrive on the scene of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. Their journey to the Christmas manger was a careful choreography of following a star, making prudent inquiries from civic and religious authorities and exploring the scripture prophecies - all while the general population was on edge as to what all this would mean to the political, religious and cultural ideologies of the day. There were a lot of mechanisms at play, checks and balances, both by heaven and earth, by saints and sinners to set the stage for the coming of the Messiah. 


After they had paid their homage to the baby Jesus and paid their respects to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, the Wise Men disappear into the darkness and secretly return to their distant lands. Of course, this provokes the rage of the paranoid King Herod who, failing to track and trace the whereabouts of the newly born messiah, initiates the slaughter of all the newborn babies in the region of Bethlehem. Forewarned, St. Joseph quickly takes Mary and the child Jesus, escaping the impending bloodbath by retreating to Egypt. There they must wait until it is safe to return home. In the meantime, family life is far from normal. 


This has been, in so many ways, the story of our lives too, even at St. Margaret’s. During the past year, like the three wise men, we found ourselves carefully navigating our way through civic and religious complexities in order to encounter Christ in the sacraments, and in a manner that did not provoke outside intervention. 


Like the Holy Family, we know that our surroundings are not ideal but that they are temporary. Like them, we also have the sense that we can not return a sense of normality for some time yet. Both the Wise Men and the Holy Family must leave their Christmas of Bethlehem behind and take the long way home. That we also must do. 


What we have been through so far has inevitably changed us. It has reshaped and redefined our relationships with God, each other and the church. We might be tempted by muscle memory to dream of returning to the ways we had it in the past. But when the Wise Men returned to their distant lands and the Holy Family returned from their exile in Egypt, there would be no turning back the clock, no nostalgia for times past. 


If we are to allow God’s Word to again take root, grow and produce a great harvest, then we too must be open to new changes, a new environment, a different way experiencing divine grace and mercy with a better understanding of what it means to be a parish church. 


Like the Holy Family waiting out their time in Egypt or the Wise Men slowly navigating their way home through uncharted lands, when we eventually get settled back into parish life again, it definitely will not be the same as we left it. That’s because we will not be the same as when we left it. 


May this new year of grace, bring forth within us, at the right time and despite the challenges and uncertainties, a new and refreshing model of being a parish church, not just for ourselves, but for the new generations to come. 

Dec 26, 2020

Mask on, mask off?



The Gospel (Luke 2:22, 39–40)


When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.           



The Homily


I must admit, during these past months, seeing some images of Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph wearing masks over their mouths, does at first glance, seem awkward if not a little disturbing. Maybe it’s the same initial reaction that one might have had seeing all the fully naked bodies of Michelangelo’s freshly painted Last Judgement scene in the Sistine chapel. It didn’t take long for another artist to come along and paint in clothing or add bits of cloth here and there to cover up....well, you know what?


Do we need to see the Holy Family depicted wearing masks?  When we all rise from the dead on the last day, will we be taking a suitcase of clothing with us or will we be happy to simply appear before God in all our own unashamed glory? 


The Gospel for today’s feast day of the Holy Family offers us a good reflection to meditate on. According to Jewish Law, not only the first-born son of every family was to be presented to God in the Temple, but the mother also, after giving birth, had to be purified.  Did Mary need purification?


No. She was always pure. And even though she gave birth, she remained a virgin, pure and immaculate. Nevertheless, Mary, out of obedience to the Law of God, in a spirit of humility, would have followed the practice of every new Jewish mother. She did not wish to stand out in the crowd or put herself above any other mother, even though she was perfectly entitled. Although she remained free from any virus of sin and immune from any contamination from the effects of fallen humanity, she joined the line of women before and after her. If religious law required her to cover her face, to keep a social distance from others, Mary did so in humble obedience. She expected no special treatment before the world, even though God had blessed her beyond all others.  


Maybe, that’s a lesson for us too.  Even though, through baptism and every time we go to confession we can emerge purified from all our sins, let us never be tempted to expect worldly recognition or a title of saint before our name!  Even though one may think themselves immune from the infection of sin or beyond the expectations and requirements of certain religious practices Mary teaches us this by her example of humility and sacrifice to submitting to religious laws, expectations and practices of her day. She wasn’t an actor going through all the motions. She was loyal, obedient, gentle and lovingly unassuming in everything she did. 


And of course, Joseph is a saint because of his obedience to God’s instructions to take Mary as his wife and to carry out the prescribed expectations of Jewish law regarding the Christ child who, as God with us, didn’t need to be told what to do. But was humble in doing so. 


Between them, Joseph and Mary kept the secret child wrapped up in their embrace, the Son of God, hidden from the world until the time would be right to reveal Him to the public. But in the meantime, the Holy Family kept their halos undercover!


Let us ask our Mary Most Pure, and the obedient and faithful Joseph to help us to seek humility in mind, body and soul so that we can be more and more Christlike in our thoughts, our prayers and our actions.  This will allow us, with God’s grace, to be a gentle light that cleanses the darkness of fear and despair which can often overshadow our lives. And when the time is right, to fully reveal Christ in all his glory to a world in need of God’s own divine healing.

Dec 25, 2020

Freed From Darkness

 


To all Christian people gathered, to the family of the Catholic Church from every walk of life, to visitors from near and far, to believers and to wanderers and to those who look to this place as their home church and community of faith, Christmas blessings and peace to us all. 


Human labor may have built our church buildings, human hands may have fashioned its doors, human creativity may have painted icons and imagery, human resourcefulness may have harnessed fire and electricity, human laws may conduct our lives, but our God is the God of the great outdoors, the creator of the stars at night and the earth in all its beauty. 


In all of creation, in the immensity of all the wonders of nature and the complexity of the universe, only one thing bears upon it the image and likeness of the eternal God - the human being, humanity. From the first instant of conception, invisible to the naked eye, a human being comes into existence made in the image and likeness of God. 


After nine months of darkness, being formed, molded and shaped, within the mother’s womb, responding to the filtered sounds of the outside world the baby emerges and meets the world for the first time. But the child is vulnerable, in need of instant care, love and attention.  It takes a family, friends and even trusted strangers to help in this sacred task of guiding someone after 9 months of being inside, in darkness, to the light of a new day to begin living outside the womb.


We have all been there. But even now, after the past 9 months we are getting ready to, in a manner of speaking, to be “born again”. We are past due and it will be a long labor, as we try to get up on our feet again and it will take family, friends and trusted strangers to help us, for we are still vulnerable and weak. 


But what can inspire us, who can inspire us? The God of all creation, the God of the great outdoors, not only entered physically into our history 2000 years ago, but allowed himself in all humility to accept the confinement, the restrictions, dare I say the lockdown, to stay in place for 9 months in the darkness of the womb of the Virgin Mary. 


And when born into this, his own world was born weak and vulnerable, exposed to the elements, susceptible to the political, economic and cultural conditions of his day. We have been there, we are there, but God has accompanied us every step, because He has been there also, Himself. Because of that first Christmas that followed his own 9 months of vulnerable confinement, in the womb of Blessed Mary, God lovingly anticipated every move, every challenge, every step forward that we must make. 


How do we go forward. How do we emerge from 9 months of confinement?  We follow the Christ child, we learn from Him, we hold Him, we allow Him to slowly grow in our lives so that the child of Bethlehem will emerge in our lives, no longer a baby, weak and vulnerable, but a strong, powerful and fully mature, Man of God, God fully embodied in our humanity accompanying us through every aspect of life, with all its joys, challenges, sufferings and leading us, even through the darkness of death itself to the promise of immortality. 


Do not keep God in the darkness. Do not keep Him a baby. Learn from Him, obey His commands, love Him, follow Him, even to His Cross and offer your life to Him in exchange for His. Do so, and our captivity, in whatever shape it takes, will soon be over. 


Merry Christmas. 



Dec 19, 2020

God in His Tent


As we approach the Christmas festivities, (and I say festivities, for there are twelve days of Christmas, not  one) we begin our final approach to the upcoming Holy season. 

Let’s put it into context from what we are experiencing now being here outside in the piazza. 

The first reading from the Old Testament shows us the city of Jerusalem and King David inside his palace. He feels very secure of himself. All his campaigning is over, his battles are won, he has appointed all his government posts, brought his own advisors, and staff, and security detail. He can now relax, put up his feet, entertain his supporters, clap his hands and food is delivered to him. He doesn’t even have to go outside. He can go for a walk around his ramparts, bathe in his outdoor pool, stroll through the palace gardens and from his balcony, wave to all the cheering crowds. 


But from his white limestone palace, where does he go to pray in his new city?  Not to a temple or synagogue. Instead, he goes to a tent set up across town. There, under the shades held up with poles, he finds a makeshift altar and the arc of the covenant - that sacred place where the God of heaven dwells on earth. 


David reflects on his own comfort house and palace, where all his creature comforts are catered to. He has a panic attack, embarrassed by all he has built around him for his own security and pleasure and then to see all the priests and people worshiping God outside exposed to the cold and night and the harsh sun during the day with minimal shelter. Out of a sense of guilt, he feels compelled to do something about it. But God says no. God tells David, in so many ways, I don’t need your pity. I don’t need your bricks and cement. I can stand on my own two feet. 


Dear friends, that is what our preparation for Christmas is all about this year in particular. We might feel the need for a church building to worship in. We might feel the injustice of being able to gather here indoors, be it inside our homes, inside a store or workplaces, and then arrive here forced to pray outside in a tent. King David felt the same. If I can live in a house, then God should be able too as well.


The problem here is that David was telling God what was best for God . Should God live according to our standards or is it the other way round?


Although King David’s intention to build a temple for God is commendable, he is reminded through the prophet Nathan not to rely on a temple made by human hands. A temple made from bricks and cement will be destructible. God's Presence, the prophet announces, will instead be enfleshed in a future descendant of King David.


And when the fullness of time would come, as recounted in the Gospel, the creative God is seen working on his own design for a temple to dwell in - building within the womb of the Virgin Mary, using her cells and DNA as the building blocks, the new bricks and cement forming the new body and blood of a unique individual that through every instance of his existence and development in her womb, a tiny developing temple of the living God, was being built to endure forever. That, of course, is Jesus Christ, the great outdoors man, who feeds us, not with creature comforts, but with His very body and blood. 


Through Holy Communion, even if only once a year, or even through the desire of Spiritual Communion from the depths of our heart, and even by the mere fact of our baptism, we share in the nature of the God underneath the Tent, the God made flesh and blood, born to face the elements of heat and cold, light and darkness, life, death and resurrection from the dead.


So, as we prepare for the Christmas season, we may grow frustrated like King David that God is met in the great outdoors. But is that not how he was born in Bethlehem just over two thousand years ago. He’s used to it. We’re not. But with His grace and following His lead, we can also be toughened up to make the necessary sacrifices for our own salvation and the salvation of the world inside or outside.

Dec 18, 2020

Meditation for Advent and Christmastide

 The Adirondack Meditation Workout

for the

Fourth Week of Advent 2020


The following exercise is based on the ancient Christian practice of Lectio Divina. At the center is a short reading from the Bible.  


By first opening the mind to our own memories and life experiences, we can touch the Scriptures, allowing God’s Word to respond in a way we can personally appreciate. 


This approach respects the fact that when we enter into dialogue with God we do so with our mind, body and soul already affected by the world we live in and the experiences we already have. 


Like a “power nap”, ideally one should mark out at least 20 minutes and find a place where you know you will not be disturbed. At best, this exercise could be printed out or if on a smartphone screen, consider engaging the airplane mode for the duration of the meditation. 


Recall and Notice


When you are ready to begin, first be conscious of your breathing and your body.  This is an invitation to the Holy Spirit, the breath of God Who dwells in your body, His Temple. 


When ready, follow these pointers. 


Remembering: Have you ever watched a Christmas play, maybe put on by children? What is the typical reaction of parents and teachers during the performance? Have you ever seen a child being born? What was it like or how do you imagine the reaction of those in the room, from parents, doctors and nurses? How prepared do you think everyone is at that moment?



Read: Luke 2: 1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived


Reflect : God could have simply revealed His power and His presence instantly and brought the whole world to a standstill. Instead, the God and architect of the universe became embodied (what we call the “incarnation”) in a vulnerable baby boy and was born in a makeshift animal shelter outside of an obscure village.

Review : From the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph’s perspective how did the birth of Jesus in these circumstances prepare them? 1. They learned quickly the realities of life 2. They had to “grow up” and learn how to cope. 3. They trusted that God would always protect them. 4. That hardship and sacrifices are always the best teachers.

Respond : From your own perspective when you find yourself thrown into unpredictable circumstances do you 1. Find yourself overwhelmed? 2. Wait out the storm? 3. Try to figure your way out? 4. Ask for help? 5. Go with the flow hoping it can only get better? 6. Take it slow and steady, stopping and starting anew as it unfolds?

After reflecting on your divine placement in the plan of God,

consider this prayer. 


Heavenly Father,
You formed me in your own image
and entrusted the whole world to my care,
so that in serving you alone, the Creator,
I might have influence over all your works.
And when through disobedience I had severed friendship with you,
you did not abandon me to despair.
For you came to us by a small child so I might seek and find you and through your Son, to look forward to salvation.
He shared our human nature
in all things but sin.
To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation,
to prisoners, freedom,
and to the sorrowful of heart, joy.
To accomplish your plan,
he gave himself up to death,
and, rising from the dead,
he destroyed death and restored life.
And that I might live no longer for myself
but for him who died and rose again for us,
he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father,
as the first fruits for those who believe,
so that, bringing to perfection his work in the world,
he might sanctify all of creation to its perfection. 
Father, may I receive that same Holy Spirit, through Christ our Lord. 
Amen


The Lord's Prayer - say it slowly and carefully. 


Our Father, Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be Thy Name.

Thy Kingdom come.

Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.”


Finally, take note of your breathing, your body and how your spirit is now. Remind yourself not to forget this present moment. 

You can return and enter this to this same meditation again, with a fresher insight of one’s soul. Like any physical exercise, it will mean a commitment to a regular time and place, even repeating the same exercise to slowly build up a discipline of loving God with your mind, heart, body and soul.


You can’t teach sins away!

St. John the Baptist had attracted many people by his message of repentance and the need for conversion in preparation for the arrival of Ch...