The Transfiguration – 2nd Sunday of Lent

We have what seems to be two impossible storylines in our readings today.  Abraham who has been promised by God that he would be the father of a great nation. And as he looks out over the land of Canaan, he’s promised that all of that land would belong to his descendants, and his descendants would be a blessing to the world. That’s extraordinary when you consider that Abraham was an old man with a rather old wife, and they had no children. I’m sure Abraham thought, “How could this possibly happen?” But of course, nothing is impossible for God. Nothing.

I think we sometimes forget that nothing is impossible for God. We easily get caught up in the face of difficult situations and find ourselves feeling helpless or hopeless, believing that nothing will work out. We convince ourselves that nothing will turn out for the best, especially when depression sets in, like when we lose someone we love. How will I ever get through this? The anxiety and discouragement that comes in facing an addiction and not knowing how to manage it, or the fearful feelings we get when a family member is alcoholic or addicted, has a severe health problem like cancer, or a mental health problem, etc. How am I ever going to get through this? How can I help when the other person doesn’t want to be helped? In these situations, life can be quite overwhelming. But again, regardless of the situation, nothing is impossible for God! Nothing!

And then there’s our Gospel reading – the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Three apostles, Peter, James and John, are invited by Jesus to go up on the mountain with the Lord and witness the Transfiguration. They witness the impossible. They see Jesus transfigured before them. And who is with Jesus?  Moses and Elijah, two of the most important prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus face shines like the sun, reminiscent of Moses face which shone with the glory of God because of his encounters on Mt. Sinai. Moses was transformed on Mt. Sinai. And Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, except that in this situation, Moses is at Jesus’ side. Moses, the most important and central prophet of the Old Testament is attending to Jesus, not the other way around. This clearly indicates to Peter, James and John that Jesus is even greater than Moses.

It was just a chapter before this reading in Matthew that Jesus asked the apostles the question, “Who do you say that I am?”  And it was Peter that gave the most insightful answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And in essence Jesus says to him, “You couldn’t have known that on your own. God the Father revealed that to you.”

Strangely, right after that Jesus says that he will have to suffer much in Jerusalem, be killed, and on the third day rise again. Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Right after saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter refuses to believe that something like that could ever happen to Jesus, and he challenges him over it.  Then Jesus sternly rebukes Peter by saying, “Get behind me Satan! You are thinking as man thinks, but not as God thinks.” God revealed to Peter the reality of who Jesus is, and yet Peter attempts to rebuke Jesus? That’s because it all seemed so impossible to Peter. The incarnation seems so impossible. God becoming human flesh, a man, and walking this earth all seems so impossible. But nothing is impossible for God.

Once again on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter sees Jesus for who he is. But that doesn’t settle it for Peter. He still has his questions. He still denies Jesus on the night before Jesus died. Deep down he has faith, though – a very real faith.

There are so many situations in life that seem impossible. And then there’s the gospel reading which emphasizes God’s voice from the heavens testifying to Jesus as his Son in whom he is well pleased. And the Father said, “Listen to him.” “Listen to him.” Such an important command from God the Father to all of us, not just Peter, James and John. It’s hard to listen when we really want to tell God the best way to answer our prayers. It’s so hard to listen when we think we know better than the wisdom of God.

Answers may not come the way we want or expect, but God does not abandon us. He does not leave us in times of trouble. It may feel like it at times, but he never leaves our side. He is at our side, within our hearts and souls, suffering with us in our losses, whispering to us in our pain. So as difficult as it may be, “Listen to him” and nothing, no matter how overwhelming, will ever be impossible.

(Readings based on Gen. 12:1-4a and Matt 17:1-9)

 

 

Refugees and the U.S.

A short argument for allowing Refugees into the U.S.

Should we protect our borders? Yes!

Should we have mercy upon our brother and sister refugees? Yes!

Should we even temporarily ban those who have already been through a strong vetting process?  NO!!!

A both/and position. From an American perspective, because we are a nation of immigrants, and because we have a long tradition of providing protection to refugees, especially those in imminent danger, we should continue allowing them into our country. Well vetted of course.

From a Christian perspective, some element of risk is inherent in our faith. The good Samaritan risked himself by dealing with the beaten and downtrodden man on the side of the road, and he inconvenienced himself at the same time. He is just one of our models for how to act in Christian charity. Or in the words of Jesus,  blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

For some reason, popular opinion suggests that past refugees have not been properly or adequately vetted. They have! I had the opportunity to go to Capitol Hill to meet with Congressional Staffers and Senators’ Staffs back in October with Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Senator Alexander’s office staff were quite convinced after having toured refugee camps outside of Syria and Jordan in the Fall of 2016, and analyzing their findings closely, that Syrian refugees were some of the best vetted refugees in the world. Overall, our vetting process is very thorough.

To my knowledge we have not had any cases of refugees who have committed terrorist acts in the U.S. from Syria or Iraq. In fact, the ones who have committed such atrocities are not even on the 7 country list for a temporary ban. The 9/11 terrorists were almost all from Saudi Arabia. Other more recent terrorist atrocities in our country have come from radical Muslims who were born here and are U.S. citizens.

Continue the vetting by all means. Raise the standard of vetting by all means, but don’t even temporarily ban from our country those in greatest need of relief.

Women’s March? Right to Life! – 58,586,256 Abortions Since 1973

fetus

Media attention and hype! For what?  The Women’s March on the Capitol in D.C.  But for what end?

***Before you jump to conclusions, I did NOT vote for Donald Trump!  But I also did NOT vote for Hillary Clinton!  However, I DID vote.

I have respect for the women who marched on Washington, D. C. this weekend, because many of them have their hearts and minds and souls in the right place. They demonstrated because of real and valid concerns about the direction of our country and the leadership they are expecting out of President Donald Trump, especially because of his history toward women, immigration, etc. I share some of those concerns. He is extremely controversial and often divisive. He has many flaws, no doubt. But I also had many real and valid concerns about the direction of our country under the leadership of President Barack Obama. I certainly had major reservations about the direction of our country under a possible Hillary Clinton presidency. People have the right to protest, and if done in respect, “Go for it!” I have done it every year in Washington, D.C. for the last 8-10 years over an issue close to my heart.

But one thing I can assure you is that you won’t see the March for Life covered in the media like you’ve seen the Women’s March. Every year the March for Life is the biggest organized demonstration in D.C., but you’d hardly know it. The media barely covers it, minimizes the numbers participating, and treats the topic as an aberration. If it is covered, it’s with a 10 second video to show that there was a march, but that’s about it. Yesterday was the 44th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade becoming the law of the land. 58,586,256 abortions have been committed since 1973. The numbers are staggering.

It’s sad. Defense of the unborn is treated with disdain by so many in our society. In fact, defending the most vulnerable (the unborn) is characterized as hating women or being controlling of women’s bodies–interferring with women’s reproductive rights.  I don’t think anyone really wants to interfere with women’s “reproductive rights”. But when those “rights” deny the right to life, especially for the most innocent of human beings, then there’s a major problem. Is there anyone out there who would even begin to claim that abortion is a virtuous act? An act that Christ would endorse?

I was an embryo once, a human embryo! I was a fetus once, a human fetus! I was unborn for nine months, a human unborn! I was a newborn once, a human newborn! I was a toddler once, a human toddler! Every stage is part of our human development.  Every stage! And you can’t get to adulthood and the right to vote without passing through the stages where abortions occur the most.

I’ve read several reports and heard media interviews of women who wanted to join the Women’s March but were REFUSED because they were “Pro-Life Women”. This wasn’t a Women’s March!  Not for all, but for many who marched, it was an Agenda March and an Anti-Trump Rally which largely rejected the views of millions upon millions of women who see things differently. 42 percent of voting women voted for Trump. That’s more than 30 million women. Some of these women were bullied by protesters when they tried to join the march because they were Pro-Life.

Why not be inclusive? I thought that was part of the progressive agenda–inclusiveness, protecting the rights of “all” Americans. What about the rights of Americans with a more conservative stand? What about the rights of Americans who have strong religious convictions?

Go ahead. Attack me and pick me apart because of my moral convictions. Why not? Christians are the last acceptable target for public prejudice and bigotry, the last acceptable group to hate.

Because I stand up for the unborn, attack me!

Because I want strong laws in place that will protect my right to advocate for life and a variety of moral issues, attack me!

Attack me for intolerance if you feel like it. After all, I believe there is such a thing as “sin.” I am a sinner. We are all sinners, but it’s something to work against, not embrace and tolerate. Tolerance is NOT a virtue. Faith, Hope and Love are virtues.

We need a radical shift!

I don’t think Donald Trump is the answer, but I also don’t think the massive intolerance, judgment, and prejudice toward Trump as President is the answer either. Evil cannot defeat evil. Evil simply begets evil. Only Good can defeat Evil.

What say we strive after virtue as an American society. Or is that too radical?

A New Year’s Thought and a Prayer!

newyearsevefireworks

I don’t want the new year to pass without sharing my two cents. Every year has its peculiarities. This last one has been no different.  Perhaps the most unexpected  has been the election of a controversial President-elect. Let’s pray for him. We should want him to be a great President so pray for him. If he isn’t then we all suffer. If he is an excellent President then we all benefit. Pray for him and for our nation.

New years are just dates that come and go on the calendar, but they help us to organize our lives.  We can’t really put a year behind us because all that happened during that year has come to shape us. But we don’t have to be defined by the past. The past is the past and we no longer have any control over it. The future is yet to be cast, but we have amazing influence there. The present is where we are, whether it’s December 31st or April 12th makes no difference. It’s our here-and-now and the only time that our actions matter.

This year has seen many acts of violence, like the awful bloodshed in the Florida nightclub, terrorism in France, continued civil war and violence in Syria, refugees, ISIS.  God help the refugees, and help us to help them. So many countries turn a blind eye. So many people want nothing to do with taking them in. Were I a refugee, I would pray and implore with all my heart that some country would have mercy upon my poor battered soul.

What has this year to offer?  Who knows the joys and the sorrows that will make us or break us over the next year? Family loss or national tragedy? Awards or commendations? Economic problems, job loss or a promotion? It’s impossible to know, but regardless of any best case or worst case scenario, let’s place all our trust in God and give ourselves to him fully and completely. Then whatever happens won’t be as devastating; and when good happens, we can give our thanks to the One who made all things possible.

Help us Lord to be merciful and forgiving, loving and giving, thankful and appreciative of our lives, our families and how very fortunate we are to live in such a nation as the U.S.

May this New Year be a blessing to all of us!

Gaudete Sunday

pink-cross

3rd Sunday of Advent – A
Dec. 11, 2016

“Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”

These are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent,
Gaudete Sunday.

The season of Advent originated
as a fast of forty days in preparation for Christmas beginning on Nov. 12th.
As early as the 5th century it was established as a “type of Lent”
with all the prerequisite penitential practices built in.
By the 9th century Advent was reduced to the four weeks with which we are now familiar.
Gaudete is similar to Laetare Sunday in the season of Lent,
a break midway through–
–a day’s break from the sacrifices one may have made,
and a joyful reminder that the Lord is near.

This Gaudete Sunday reminds us that the birth of Christ isn’t very far away.
So the priest today wears a rose colored vestment.

Pope Francis said in 2014 that Gaudete Sunday is the “Sunday of joy”.
He said that instead of fretting about all we still haven’t done to prepare for Christmas,
People should “think of all the good things life has given you.”
Admittedly it is much easier to think of all of the things that need to be done
to make Christmas as a seasonal event happen—
setting up the Christmas tree,
baking Christmas cookies,
buying and wrapping gifts and decorating
and getting caught up in the what am I getting mentality,
but what about the spiritual dimension of Christmas?
Am I ready for it?
Have I considered all that God has already given me,
and do I take joy in that?

The gospel reading might make us wonder about “joy”
and whether it is evident in the circumstances of John the Baptist.
To put it plainly, John the Baptist’s career ended in disaster.
He was put in prison,
a dungeon to be more precise,
never to see freedom again.

And why was he there?
Because he spoke the truth!
He spoke the truth to everyday people,
and he even spoke the truth to Herod.
He couldn’t help but speak out when he saw evil in the world.
He rejected evil with every ounce of his being
regardless of the cost!

It was Herod who had him arrested.
He didn’t like what John was saying about his recent marriage.
Herod had visited his brother in Rome,
and then seduced his brother’s wife
(who, by the way, was also his niece).
Then he came back to Jerusalem,
dismissed his own wife,
and married his sister-in-law
while his brother was still alive.

John had courage to speak out about a man who had a lot of power
which he could easily use against him.
And in the second part of today’s gospel,
Jesus highly praised him because of that courage.

John, while still in prison,
wanted to know if Jesus was the One they were expecting
to lead the people of Israel.

He had a lot of time to think while in prison.
He may have had his doubts?
Perhaps he was impatient?
Or maybe he was sure that Jesus was the Messiah,
but wanted his own disciples to see it for themselves.
Who knows?

So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus,
and Jesus responded by basically saying,
decide for yourself!
Look at my actions!
The blind see,
the deaf hear,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the dead are raised.
Tell John what I’m doing and decide for yourselves if I’m the One!

We can apply that same test to ourselves, can’t we?
Am I a good person?
Only if I do good things!
Am I a faithful Christian?
Only if my actions demonstrate my faith!
Am I a good example?
Only if I live what I preach!
We can never say,
“Do as I say and not as I do!”
because that’s nothing but a lame excuse for inaction.

Jesus had a great admiration for John the Baptist.
Once John’s disciples left,
Jesus spoke to the crowds and said,

What did you go out to the desert to see?
Was it a reed shaking in the wind?
…Was it to see a man clothed in luxurious clothes?
…Was it to see a prophet?

Seems like strange questions.
A reed shaken by the wind is a common sight near the Jordan River.
John was neither a common nor ordinary man.
John certainly wasn’t dressed in luxurious clothes!
He was dressed in a camel’s hair and had a leather belt about his waist
and ate off of the land.
He didn’t feast—instead he fasted.
John seemed to be in a perpetual state of penitence.

He was a prophet, a great prophet, Jesus said.
John had God’s wisdom in his mind.
He had God’s truth on his lips.
And he had God’s courage in his heart.

Jesus described John as being like Elijah.

In the Old Testament,
it was prophesied that Elijah would return
to usher in the coming of the Messiah,
a dramatic new age in the history of Israel.

Even today, Jews set a place at their table for Elijah
when they eat the Passover meal
because they believe he will eventually return
to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

All four gospels recount John’s work preparing the way.
As much as John suffered and struggled in his imprisonment,
he rejoiced that Jesus affirmed for him that he was the Messiah.

We rejoice in our yearly celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
We rejoice at the incarnation of God in the flesh.
We rejoice that the future is full of hope.
We rejoice that the doors to heaven have been opened by Jesus’ great love and sacrifice.
We rejoice with our families as we attend Mass at Christmas.
We rejoice today that all of this is so near to us.
What an incredible gift we have been given.
When we think of all those gifts under the tree,
what we haven’t yet bought,
and what we dream of getting for Christmas,
it would be well worth recognizing that we have already received the greatest gift—
the gift of salvation
which perpetually pours forth from Jesus self-sacrifice and abiding love for us.

Even though Jesus said that John was the greatest man ever born of a woman,
Jesus also said that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Faith in Jesus Christ is our greatest friend and our surest hope.
Let’s make sure to nurture our faith,
rejoice in the hope of our promised salvation,
rejoice in all the good things that have happened in our lives,
and love as Christ taught us to love.

For what am I thankful?

thanksgiving-turkey

As we approach Thanksgiving, it makes good sense to stop for a moment and reflect on all the things for which we should be thankful. It’s easy to focus on losses and struggles and take for granted the things that go well. That’s part of our human condition.

For what am I thankful?

I am thankful for life and the freedom to make decisions – good and bad.

I am thankful for my wife, Cathye, and my three wonderful children who have blessed my life with quality and joy and meaning. This is my first vocation – husband – and I am a better man because of her and a better person because of my children.

I am thankful for my parents who, though passed away, continue, I believe, to pray for me and for my marriage, my wife and for my children. Their love and example and generosity not only gave me life, but fueled me to strive after the good, to be a person of faith, and to reach out beyond myself.

I am thankful for the Church and for my vocation and ministry as a Deacon. I thank God for the opportunity, the blessing, and the trust the Almighty has placed in me despite my weaknesses and my shortcomings.

I am thankful for the ever-present God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who made the life-giving love of my parents possible. I am thankful for God’s beautiful creation and the gift of my life, the Son’s sacrifice that redeemed me from my sins, and the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying grace which leads me and guides me, even when I don’t pay it enough attention.

I am thankful for God’s beautiful creation and all that nature gives to me – peace and awe and wonder.

I am thankful for the chance to have received a quality education from Elementary School through Graduate School and the blessing to enjoy the privileges of meaningful jobs, careers and income. While there are many in the world who do not have these privileges or opportunities, I am grateful to have had the chance to take advantage of them and to use them reasonably well.

I am thankful for the gift of a quality job teaching in a Catholic high school with the chance to teach the Theology and nurture the next generation in faith and understanding of God and his Church.

I am thankful for the food on my table, the cup of oatmeal I had for lunch today and the chance to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal this week with family. Family is easy to take for granted, and this is the time of year to make sure these quality relationships are placed front and center.

And I am thankful for the chance to breathe yet another day and the hopefulness of unpacking further hidden treasures that life has to offer in the days and years ahead.

Thank you God for family and friends, Church and the world, for a mind, education, food on my table and the freedom to share my thoughts openly.

N.B. Have I covered everything for which I am thankful? No way!

All Souls Day – What does it have to do with me?

November 2, All Souls Day
While All Saints Day commemorates all those who are in heaven with God, All Souls Day remembers those who have died but are undergoing purgation or cleansing in purgatory.

On this day, we not only remember the dead, but we also apply our prayer, efforts, and the holy Mass to their release from purgatory. Acts of faith, like visiting churches or cemeteries are common practices which demonstrate our continued bond with those who have died. If, after all, there is one body of Christ, then those in heaven, those in purgatory, and the people of God in this world are inextricably bound together.
Praying for the dead is part of our Christian obligation. As people of faith, we strive after God, desire a personal and communal relationship with him, and desire entry into his kingdom. People of faith do not strive selfishly for themselves alone. It is something that must by its very nature be shared. Christians have an obligation to aid others in finding God. We have a solemn obligation to help others find eternal salvation. Our efforts, example and prayer help not only those alive in this world, but those who are in purgatory.
On a day like All Souls Day I particularly remember my family members—my mother and father and my brother, my grandparents, great grandparents and many generations of ancestors I never met but to whom I am indebted. They are primarily the ones who handed down the faith to me, and so I reciprocate by doing what little I can—praying for their eternal salvation. I truly hope that some day my children and grandchildren will pray for me when I depart this world.