Jan 24, 2016

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

When Jesus entered the synagogue of his home town and announced the beginning of his ministry as God's Anointed One, we are told that "the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him." We must do likewise. As important and necessary it is to see the face of Jesus in others, how easy we can disappoint each other when we are not Christ-like and we can become obstacles to others who sincerely seek the face of God.

As important as our Christian witness should be, all who seek Christ must seek Him above all and everyone. We set ourselves up for disappointment and disillusionment when we judge Christianity by her members. We are sinners. It is difficult for us all, indeed for all who seek Him to look directly into the eyes of Christ. We know He sees everything that we are – there are no secrets from His gaze. And His look into our eyes can be as beautiful as it can be so frightening to behold.

This present year in the Church’s calendar will very much focus on the Gospel according to St. Luke. How does this evangelist invite us to look at Jesus? St. Luke, as the beginning of this written Gospel first explains, interviewed eye-witnesses who could tell him about the historical life of Jesus. ‘With them we are back to ground level, because, because they did not become disciples as a result of what they heard from others. Rather they were eyewitnesses and servants of God the Word” (St. Athanasius, Festal Letter 2.7). We are thus able to be invited into the events of the Lord’s life and ministry, to see Him as those who were His friends and disciples saw Him.

And how did his disciples see Him? In the early Church, the symbol for the Gospel according to St. Luke was an ox. During the time of Jesus, the ox was the choicest sacrifices one could make in the temple of Jerusalem. St. Luke sees Jesus as that choice sacrifice. He sees Him as strong, able to carry the great burden of the worlds sins on His shoulders. He sees Him as the offering on the altar of sacrifice so to take away the sins of the world. But because He does so freely, we see Jesus as the priest as well as the offering itself. We see the face of the Mercy of God.

Because we see the Mercy of God for the world in the sacrifice Jesus offers on the cross at the beginning of His public ministry, Our Lord is able to proclaim liberty to captives and sight to the blind. Our own sins have made us blind - blind to God's mercy, blind to the great sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for you and me to free us from the captivity of fear and death.

It is for this reason that we must constantly ask that the Holy Spirit will help us, not only to see ourselves as we truly are, but to have the courage to look into the eyes of Christ and see the Merciful One who loves us to the point of sacrificing everything so that I might be set free from all forms of slavery and darkness. I

St. Luke had a most close and beautiful relationship with Mary. Through her, the evangelist was given a unique window into the events of Christ's infancy, not shared with the other gospel writers. St. Luke must have been able to look into the eyes of Mary as she told him who the angel came to her, how she traveled to Bethlehem, how she reared Our Lord as her child, and how she saw him leave home to begin His public ministry.  As she told him the stories that she, no doubt pondered and reflected on for so many years, St. Luke, must have seen Jesus through her eyes.

And so must we.  Never close your eyes to Our Lord, and tell the story of His life so that with Mary and so many others, we too can be eye-witnesses of the great things that God has done for us too.

Jan 18, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord

Ritual And Reality

When we talk about the baptism of the Lord, what immediately comes to mind is a church baptism – typically a baby, parents and godparents. 

The word baptism hears “to dip, immerse in water”. When St. John was baptizing people in the river, he was using the water as a symbol of cleansing. Those willing to leave behind their old lives, repenting of their offenses against God, could now formally recommit themselves to God and they could “see” their sins being washed away down stream.  No, of course, they did not literally “see” their sins floating away down the river or dissolving in the water.  But the ritual was very important.  

Rituals seek to communicate what sometimes words cannot. We remember the event of a ritual. It helps us place something that is personally important for our interior lives, within the timeframe and history of our public life. 

For any ritual to be authentic, what is being communicated visibly must be genuinely happening invisibly within our heart and souls.  That’s the difference between a ritual and a performance.  In a simple performance, we learn our lines, we understand our role and do what we are expected. And after the performance is over we go back to the same type of life we were living before the play.  

However, when we perform a ritual, we seek to express publicly through our actions, what is happening invisibly to our souls. Whether we can understand it or not, our senses tell us that the ritual communicates something that is authentic, meaningful, sacred.

Christ was sinless. He did not need to have his sins washed away. He didn't have any.  Why then was be baptized? Did he just go through all the motions? Was it just a performance? No.

Consider the crowds of people who came to the waters seeking to turn away from sin and wanting to express this by having their sins symbolically washed away.  Consider that this was taking place in the desert, and that the villages upstream were using this river for water, for washing, for laundry and also for waste disposal.  Now you are downstream. What color would that water be when it reached the desert? How clean would it be?  Now consider that this water was being used to symbolically wash away sins. Not only at this stage was the river unhygienic, but also because John was using it to baptize, the water was symbolically polluted with sins, the sins of the whole world.

Now consider what Christ does. The Son of God, the embodiment of all purity and innocence, freely steps into, immerses himself into the dark and murky waters of our sins – he is literally “up to his neck in it!”.   In order to save us from our sins, Christ dives into the deadly waters to free us, to takes upon himself all the sins of the world, so that he would make safe the waters for us and we can emerge alive.

Unlike our own baptism which, when you think about it, is accomplished almost in an instant – we could say it happened in a “splash”, Christ’s baptism is a tsunami - it’s powerful, it generates waves that spill out in every direction through time and history, into the past, the present and to the future and beyond – a shockwave that rattles even heaven itself!

A Christian is someone who has been immersed with Christ into his life, death and resurrection. This is ritually communicated through our baptism.  But the waters of baptism can become stagnant and foul.  For this reason, when we turn back to God, our heavenly Father sends his Holy Spirit to breath upon the dark and deep waters of our souls, stirring our heart to repentance.  Through the sacrament of Confession, Christ in his love and mercy, filters out our sins and infuses oxygen once again into the waters of our baptism.

Keep the waters of baptism fresh, clean and full of life.  Express this with the simple ritual of blessing yourself with holy water every time you enter the church.  Fill up a bottle with holy water from the baptismal font and mark it as such. Every time you feel vulnerable to sin use it.  Have it close by when you are in danger. Bless yourself with it before you close your eyes into the darkness of sleep.  

Water is the most natural of all the elements, used by God himself in a ritual to communicate the most supernatural gift he offers us, the cleansing of our sins and the abundance of life in abundance. With God’s grace, let us keep this precious and life-giving gift fresh in our lives, free from the pollution of sin and safe from the decay of death and darkness.

Jan 3, 2016

The Holy Name of Jesus

The Gospel is very short. Practically, it is one sentence, it is the most powerful revelation in the whole of the Scriptures. Simply put, it tells us that the child of Mary was given a name, a name

The name of God was so sacred to God’s Chosen People that it was blasphemy to pronounce it. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the high priest entered the Holy of Holies of the Temple, and sprinkled the covering of the Ark of the Covenant with the blood of sacrifice. He then pronounced the name of God. This signaled the forgiveness of all sins committed during the entire past year. This was the only time when it was legitimate (and holy) to pronounce the name of God. Even today, Jews will not pronounce the name of God. When they write God or Lord or the name of God, they omit the vowels in order to show the sacredness of God.

When God became incarnate, enfleshed in the child of Bethlehem, God was given a human name. A name is not simply for identification. A name was chosen to reveal something about the child, how this child would live their vocation. The name of the baby of Bethlehem was not picked out of a book or given to him by his parent. The Gospel reminds us that this name was, instead, revealed to Mary and Joseph by heaven itself. The Angel told Mary that the child to be born of her would be called “Jesus”, a name which means “God saves” and that is what God does through Jesus, “God saves”.

In the Introit entrance song we are reminded “that at the name of Jesus every knee should genuflect”, not just by us, but also in heaven – so sacred the name of the Lord is. It is a name that has the power to save. This we acknowledge in the opening prayer, the collect. But because this name revels what God does, he saves, we pray that this saving name of Jesus will be effective in our lives.

An example of this is given to us in the first lesson from Acts of the Apostles. St. Peter recounts a miracle whereby he healed a cripple. He did so, not in his own name, but in the saving name of our Lord. When someone gives us permission to act in their name we become their representatives, we do as they would do. We extend their presence. We bring them close. In the Gradual and Alleluia verse, we hear the song of the people of Israel who, calling upon God by name, know that he is with them, even in the face of danger.

In the sacrifice that we now give to heaven, the mystery of our salvation and the power of the saving name of Jesus Christ continues to bring healing power to all who will accept and give reverence to the “name which is above every other name”. And so the celebration today of the Holy Name of Jesus, teaches us not only to respect and give reverence to his sacred name, but also the confidence with which we should be inspired by it.

Inside Water

Ritual And Reality...   When we talk about the baptism of the Lord, what immediately comes to mind is a church baptism – typically ...