Jesus Redeems our Baptism

Note: this homily was preached on January 12, 2020. It was posted online on January 17, 2020.

Why did Jesus insist on being baptized?

Battesimo di Cristo (Baptism of Christ) – Andrea Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci

It was not even the same as the sacramental baptism we now receive. Strictly speaking, it had no power of law over the people. Jesus had no need of John’s baptism. John knew this. He protested Jesus’s request. Jesus replied to these protests, saying, “Allow it for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does this mean, though? How would Jesus receiving John’s baptism fulfill righteousness?

John’s baptism was one of repentance. It had no sacrament power to forgive sins, but it allowed people to show God that they recognized their sinfulness and that they desired to repent and be closer to him. In receiving John’s baptism, Jesus showed solidarity with us. He had no need to repent. It is quite impossible for God himself to sin, but Jesus was also fully human. He knew that we need to repent. He wanted to be with us in every way possible. There is an ancient principle within Christianity, it goes back to at least St. Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century. In the fourth century, we, as a church, still had a lot to figure out. Many heresies attacked the idea that Jesus was fully human and fully God at the same time. People were scandalized that God would demean himself so much that he would become a human being. In fact, some say that this scandal goes back to before the creation of the universe itself—that Satan’s refusal to follow God was based on the fact that God was going to become human. Anyway, the principle St. Gregory Nazianzus articulated was the idea that anything which is not assumed is not redeemed. If Jesus had not been fully human, if he had not lived a fully human experience, then we could not be healed of our sins and saved. Jesus allowed a baptism of repentance so that he could experience the very human experience of repentance. He experienced human repentance and purified it, he healed it, he made our repentance holy.

While John’s baptism could not change Jesus, Jesus did change baptism. By being baptized in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus communicated his holiness to those waters. By submitting to John’s baptism of water, he made the waters of baptism holy. His holiness was contagious. That water communicated the holiness to all the rest of the water on the planet, by virtue of the water cycle and all that science stuff we learned about in grade school, and so now all water has been made holy for baptism. When we entered into these now holy waters of repentance in our baptisms, they put to death all that is sinful within us. Then this same sanctified water is used when the Holy Spirit raises us back to life, instilling the fire of Christ in our hearts, as the words that change us and open us up to a new life of grace are pronounced: I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This brings me to my final point. Jesus’s Baptism is also an epiphany. We used to celebrate it as a part of Epiphany, and the Eastern Church still celebrates this feast primarily on Epiphany. God reveals himself to us in a couple of critically important ways on this occasion. It is, perhaps, the first time when God the Father, in the voice, God the Holy Spirit, in the dove, and God the Son, as receiving the baptism, are all together and manifesting themselves to the people at the same time. God reveals himself to be a Trinity at Jesus’s baptism. Furthermore, when the Father calls Jesus his Son, it reveals that this person standing before them, Jesus, is truly God, truly divine. God fully reveals himself at the Baptism of Jesus: He shows that Jesus, the Messiah, is truly and fully God and truly and fully man, and God reveals that he is a communion—a community—of persons.

Today, we thank God for the gift of his Baptism, through which he revealed so much of himself to us. We also thank him for the gift of our own baptisms, through which he opens our hearts and our souls to his holy grace which, if we allow it, will lead us back to him in Heaven.

Today’s Readings:
January 12, 2020
Baptism of the Lord, Year A
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

The Manifestation of Christ

Note: this homily was prepared on January 5, 2020. It was published online on January 17, 2020. Sorry about the delay.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. We all just heard again the story we know so well. Three magi, guided by a star, come to Israel in search of a newborn king. They find Jesus with Mary and Joseph, prostrate themselves, and offer him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Warned in a dream against Herod, they depart from Bethlehem a different way. But why do we call this Epiphany? You used to have to look these things up in a very thick and fancy book about Bible things, but now Wikipedia tells you right away that “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word ἐπιφάνεια (epipháneia), which means something like manifestation or appearance. They used it to refer to the appearance of a God to worshippers. What occurs during the visit of these three wise men from the East, these three astrologers, these three Gentiles, that reveals Jesus to his followers—to us?

We can actually learn a lot from the three wise men from the East. These men were watching the sky closely enough to recognize a new star being born in the sky. They were constantly on the lookout for a manifestation of deity from the Heavens. As the magi watched the sky for signs from heaven, we are called to watch for the Lord. We must live with open eyes, because the Lord will come at a time we do not expect. We might not even recognize him at first—his own Apostles did not recognize him on the road to Emmaus! We do not know the day or the hour that we will meet our Lord; however, we must always be prepared to meet Him.

After traveling for quite some time, the magi went to Jerusalem to inquire about where the new king had been born. The star, the light and guide for their journey, seems to have become hidden from their view. We too can lose sight of our Lord. We too can become lost along the way. There are many responses we could have when this happens, but the wise men show us what we must do. They consulted the scholars of the law and the chief priests for guidance. If anybody knew where the King of the Jews would be born, it was them. When we become lost, when we struggle to find God in our lives, we can turn to our Church and our priests for guidance. Sometimes this can be an incredible challenge, especially when our Church finds itself mired in all the muck that she finds herself in today. How can we trust the Church and her ministers lead us to Christ? The simple answer is that we trust God to make it happen. Look at who the magi consulted: Herod the Great was known to be a paranoid, homicidal despot. The Jewish religious authorities had a bad history of killing every prophet they came across. Despite all that, the wise men consulted them and received the truth.

When the wise men arrive, finally, in Bethlehem, the prostrate themselves—a gesture of worship—and give Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts each symbolize and reveal something about the child Jesus. Gold shows Jesus’s kingship, frankincense his divinity, and myrrh his humanity. The wise men, who were not even Jewish, recognized in the mystery of the Christ Child something greater than themselves, so they prostrate themselves in worship to him. They offered him lavish gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh were not easy to come by in the ancient world. We too are called to worship God and offer him good gifts. We worship him most perfectly when we attend Mass and witness the re-presentation of salvation to us. We are called to offer him gifts every moment of our lives, because God wants much more then our treasures: he wants to be on our mind constantly. When we go to work, to school, to the gym, to our sporting events, God is there, waiting for us to acknowledge that he is with us even there.

On this feast, Jesus’s kingship, divinity, and humanity are made manifest by the magi, let us learn from these wise men. Let us ask the Lord for assistance in following him every moment of our lives, so that our eyes may be open to see his work even in the most mundane moments of our lives. Let us ask the Lord for the courage to ask for help when we can’t see him. Let us ask the Lord for the resolve to always be attentive to his worship and in recognition of the many gifts he has given us, to offer some of those gifts back to him.

Adoración do los Reyes (Adoration of the Kings) – Diego Velázquez

Today’s Readings:
January 5, 2020
Epiphany of the Lord, Year A
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Reflect on these things

Note: this homily was preached on January 1, 2020. It was posted on January 16, 2020. Sorry about the delay.

Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

There are two holy days (holidays, for those keeping score at home) throughout the year that are so incredible, so mysterious, so full of grace, that the day cannot be contained within 24 hours. Instead, we take 8 full days to celebrate them. These two feasts are Christmas and Easter. On these two feasts, we follow the example of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and our mother too: we follow her example and take these mysteries into our hearts, pondering them, making these mysteries present again, here and now, by our words and actions, and carrying them into the world with us. By pondering these words in our hearts, we allow these mysteries to shape our lives, and we allow God to work through us. Following Mary’s example, we become agents of Christ’s Incarnation in the present day.

Today, we conclude our observance of Christ’s birth, a new beginning in our story of salvation, on the same day as we celebrate the beginning of a new calendar year. What a fitting intersection of beginnings and of days! We can celebrate this last day of Christmas by giving the world a Christmas gift on this New Year’s Day: the gift of a joyous Christian heart. Throughout these days since Christmas, we have been filling out hearts with God’s love, filling our hearts with the joy of the Nativity, filling our hearts with the Good News that God has become one of us. Saint Pope Leo the Great, in a sermon on the Nativity, taught us that these days of Christmas should fill our hearts with love and joy. As members of Christ’s body, of his Church, Christmas is not just his birthday: it is ours too. The head does not celebrate its birthday separate from the body! What birthday is this that we celebrate with Christ on Christmas? our Baptismal rebirth with Christ. Leo also taught why God becoming one of us is such Good News. Leo, wrote that our Savior, Jesus, became the Son of Man so that we might become children of God. This is one of the most important teachings of Christianity. By becoming a human being, Jesus bridged the unbridgeable gap that existed between God and us. Jesus opens the gate so that we might cross that bridge by his Passion and Resurrection.

The Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection are all mysteriously linked. All three of these mysteries are necessary for our salvation. Without each other they are not complete.  Today, Jesus received his name, which means “God Saves,” and so it is good that we celebrate the beginning of our salvation. We celebrate God’s coming to earth to save us. We thank Mary for saying “yes” to God, to giving him flesh. Without Mary’s yes, God would not have been able to become a human being. Without Mary, the bridge between us and God would never have been built. Without Mary, our chance at redemption would have been lost. Luckily, she said “yes.”

Then, Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Let us follow Mary’s example and bring Christ into the world by allowing him to enter into our hearts, by allowing him to show us how to love as he does, by allowing him to shatter everything we ever thought we knew about ourselves and the world, by allowing him to shine forth from us like the beacon of a lighthouse to ships in stormy seas. Let us follow the example of the Mother of God. Let us keep all these things and reflect on them in our hearts.

Today’s Readings
January 1, 2020
Ordinary Form: Mary, Holy Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
Extraordinary Form: Octave Day of Christmas
(sometimes called the “Feast of the Circumcision”)
Titus 2:11-15; Ps 97:3-4, 2, Hebrews 1:1-2; Luke 2:21

Family Life

It seems like every time Joseph goes to sleep, an angel of the Lord appears to him and give him more work. Joseph, incredibly, appears to have no problem whatsoever with following the commands of God’s messengers. Whether it was to take his wife into his home or to flee with his wife and infant to Egypt, the Bible records no protest from Joseph. When God asked, Joseph simply acted. Joseph was able to act because he trusted God. He had confidence that God would provide, as God always had for his people, and so he did not fear.

This complete and utter trust in the Lord enabled Joseph to lead his family, the Holy Family. If Joseph had not trusted God completely, he would never have been able to complete the task he had been given: to protect his young wife, Mary, and his foster child, Jesus, and to raise up and teach Jesus—he was fully human, after all—in cooperation with Mary. Joseph did so through his example. Scripture records none of his words; only his actions are recorded. His trust and confidence in following the will of God became an example to his family.

We see this trust and confidence in God within Mary and Jesus too. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in the miraculous events that surround the Holy Family. Sometimes we forget that Jesus lived with his family, mostly in silence, for the better part of 30 years. Not much has been recorded during those 30 years. It is safe to assume that the Holy Family lived much like any other family, that they experienced the same things any family would experience: living on a budget, working to make ends meet, going to the synagogue to worship God, saying your daily prayers, and raising a child. At some point between the Finding in the Temple and the Baptism of Jesus, Joseph dies: so the Holy Family experienced the loss of loved ones too. Jesus knows the pain of losing a parent. Since we don’t know particular stories about the home life of the Holy Family, and can’t draw examples from them, we must instead look in other places.

The book of Sirach tells us that both a father and mother exercise authority over their children, that children should care for their parents, and that children should honor their father and revere their mother. In other words, Sirach is calling for children to learn filial piety. Fr. Scalia, in his book That Nothing May Be Lost, describes this as simple devotion to one’s family, country, God, and all that bestows and shape’s one’s life. (p. 21) Jesus is a perfect example: he is a devoted son, of his parents, his country, and his Heavenly Father. He begins his ministry at home. Even when he ventures out, he remains in Israel. It can be easy to forget the importance of our home and our roots in our society. Our American way is tragically individualistic. We seek to make a name for ourselves, and convince ourselves that the familiar is our enemy. In the meantime, we lose our sense of community and belonging, things which are vital for us to thrive as humans. (see pp. 22-24)

Paul gives us a lot also, but it can be summarized in one word: love. Husbands and wives must love each other with a sacrificial, self-disinterested love. The husband, in particular, should be willing to lay down his life for his spouse. Their relationship must be rooted in Christ, because only he can give them the grace needed for all of the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness they will need to make a marriage work. Parents should love their children, and children should love and obey their parents.

None of this is easy, but it is not really supposed to be easy. God never promised us easy, and his Son, Jesus, certainly didn’t have it easy. Families are hard. But it is through our families that we learn to love our God, our neighbors, and our fellow human beings. It is through our families that we learn how to interact with God and the world. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. We just have to allow ourselves to trust the Lord.

Trust in the Lord, and do not fear, for God is with us.

Today’s Readings:
December 29, 2019
Holy Family Sunday, Year A
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

God Is With Us

Tonight, we hold vigil in preparation for that most incredible event: the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child. We hold vigil, because he is not yet born. The entire universe awaits that glorious moment, when God speaks his Word to all of us: that Word which burst forth from God and creates all things; that Word which God cannot keep quiet; that Word which vindicates; that Word that shines forth, like a burning torch; that Word, foretold by all the prophets and heralded by the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist. The entire universe awaits, with pangs of labor, for God to speak his Word. The entire universe awaits, as the Virgin Mary prepares to give birth to her son and our Savior.

As we wait for this joyous event, we do what every family does when we wait: we tell our stories. We speak of those who have gone before us. We remember our past, how we got here, and where the future might lead. Tonight, we heard a long list of names, but each of these names has a story. It is the family tree of Jesus, the human lineage of God himself. His family history is that of the entire human race. To really understand it, we have to go further back, though. We must go to the beginning, to the dawn of history.

In the beginning, God created the universe and everything in it out of love. The crowning moment of God’s creation was his creation of humanity and our first parents, Adam and Eve. These progenitors of humanity spoke for all of us, as parents speak for their children even now. They initially accepted God’s great gift, but soon began to doubt. They experienced that all too human of emotions: fear that God might not mean what he says. Satan, the vile tempter and the enemy of all humanity, saw his opening in those seeds of doubt and convinced Adam and Eve to do something seemingly innocuous and small: to disobey God. To say “no” to the One who created all out of love. The “small” decision, though, shattered the entire universe. Humanity was separated from God and his love, no longer able to see with eyes of faith. Adam and Eve were bound to toil and labor for their nourishment, bearing children became painful, and human vision was clouded through the fog of sin. We must now search and strive and suffer. We are all born, wounded by this original sin. After Adam and Eve, humanity has experienced millennia of pain and suffering as a result of that tragic, small choice.

That is not where our story ends, though. That is just the beginning. Because even as our story took a turn for the worse, as the universe was shattered and the human soul wounded for all time, God also give us a promise of redemption. He is never willing to accept defeat, and he will always fight for us. Despite the tragic sin perpetrated against our all-loving God, he condemns the vile serpent. In Genesis 3:15, God vows to “put enmity between you,” that is, Satan, “and the woman, and between your offspring,” that is, all Satan’s perfidious minions, “and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.” This woman: Mary. This offspring: Jesus. But humanity was not ready yet. You see, we expected a savior. The Jews had figured out that a Messiah was coming, but what we got was so much than we ever expected. What we got was something we never expected. Nobody expected that God himself would become man. God knew this, and he had to prepare the world—us—so we might recognize him when he comes.

The beginning of this preparation was with Abraham, our father in faith, the first in the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Abram was faithful to God, he followed God wherever he was led. God rewarded him with a covenant: he would be the God of Abraham, and Abraham and his descendants would be God’s chosen people. The descendants of Abraham were called to be a light to all the nations. Isaac, Jacob, and those following generations took up this mantle, finding their climax in David the king. There are a few blemishes in the record, and you can find all their stories in Genesis, but King David represented the height of Israel. From that height, Israel shined throughout the world as a beacon. Sadly, it did not remain such a beacon. Solomon, the son of David, begins the next set of names. These names tell the opposite story: one of decline into darkness. Where David repented and turned toward God, Solomon persisted in his sin and turned to false gods. There are a few bright spots in the record, but most of these names belong to kings who led Israel further away from God and into the darkness. Their stories are in the books of Kings. The Babylonian exile ends this list at the darkest moment in Jewish history.

The nation of Israel suffered many times under foreign rulers, but nothing quite compares to the Babylonian exile in Jewish consciousness. I am not exaggerating when I say that in Jewish consciousness, the two worst moments in their history—the two moments in history every Jew remembers with pain—were the Babylonian exile and the Holocaust. That’s the kind of darkness and tragedy that we’re talking about here.

The next set of names, beginning with the Babylonian exile and ending with Jesus is largely silent in Jewish history. From the darkness of exile, generations of silence emerged. At the end of that silence, after generations of darkness, there came a light: a burning torch, which cut through the night. That torch was Jesus, the Christ, the Word, spoken by the Father, through whom all was created. Jesus, both fully God and fully human, came to save his people from their sins. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy under King Ahaz—one of those names we just heard—that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy to David that his son, a member of his line, shall sit on the throne forever. Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that from his descendants a light shall shine forth to all the nations.

Tonight, we hold vigil in preparation for that most incredible event. The entire universe awaits, with pangs of labor, for God to speak his Word. The entire universe awaits, as the Virgin Mary prepares to give birth to her son and our Savior. As we wait, let us ponder our history. Let us recognize God’s desire and love for us. The angel that appeared to Joseph told him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home. As Joseph was called not to fear, so are we. Let us not be afraid to allow Jesus into our hearts. It can be frightening to allow God into our hearts, because when we do we might recognize that we have to change. We might recognize that God is calling us to more. That is not a small ask. God is calling us to greatness and perfection. That request can be frightening.

But do not be afraid. Jesus is coming. He will save us from our sins, and he will be with us for all ages. Emmanuel, God is with us, is more than just a name. It’s a promise. The question we must ask ourselves this Christmas is this: How can I let God be with me?

The Holy Night
The Holy Night – Antonio da Carreggio

Today’s Readings
December 24, 2019 (published December 27, 2019 at 11:06 am)
Christmas – Vigil Mass
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25

The Only News That Really Matters

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” The Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass asks us to rejoice. If you ever wondered why we call this Gaudete Sunday, it comes from the Latin version of this verse from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico gaudete. […] Dominus prope est.” The Church, during this time of preparation for the Nativity of our Lord, feels it necessary to remind us to rejoice in the Lord. Our reading from Isaiah speaks of the joy that we will experience when we the Lord comes to us: the earth itself will be unable to contain its joy, with even deserts exulting and blooming with flowers.

To me, this little breakout of rejoicing and joy seems like a perfectly human thing to do. When I am preparing for some really amazing event, at some point everything just fades out, and I have to simply sit back and delight in the joyful anticipation of the event. I must admit, I am feeling this way about Christmas right now. I’ve been very conscious of my preparations for Christmas this year, and at this point, that’s all fading away, and I’m just excited for Christmas. When I was praying about the readings this Sunday, I kept thinking about a movie I recently saw… Ford vs. Ferrari. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s a really good movie. A little bit of language, but nothing really objectionable. I wish more movies were like it.) You may be thinking, “what in the world does a movie about Ford beating Ferrari at Le Mans have to do with Gaudete Sunday?” Well, that’s 100% fair, but I kept thinking about the voice-over at the beginning of the movie, where Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon, says, “There’s a point, seven thousand RPM, where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless, it just disappears. And all that’s left is a body moving through space and time. Seven thousand RPM, that’s where you meet it. It creeps up near you, and it asks you a question. The only question that really matters. Who are you?”

Seven thousand RPM aside, there is a deep and profound point here. The question at the end, “who are you?,” is a critically important question, but there is even more than that here. When we have focused on something long enough, when we have prepared for it with everything we have, and when we finally find ourselves right in the middle of it: everything else really does fade away. We are left with just two things: ourselves and whatever it is we’re getting ready for. In Advent, we prepare to make present again the memory of our Lord, Jesus Christ, being born in Bethlehem all those years ago. We try to let all of the hustle and bustle of the world, all of the parties, all of the distractions fade into the background as we focus on just that one even: the sudden and completely undeserved appearance of Jesus Christ on this earth, in our hearts, in our lives. It is a moment of profound joy. Elizabeth, at Mary’s visitation, asked, “why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” We, ourselves, can pose a similar question as we move closer to Christmas: “why has this happened to me, that my Lord comes to me?”

The simple answer: God loves us too much to leave us. Our love is fickle and fades, but his never does. So, he came to us to save us. In case we wouldn’t take him at his word that he was who he claimed to be and had the power he claimed to have, he worked miracles and incredible signs, so that we might know he was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. John the Baptist had dedicated his whole life to preparing for the Lord. There was no more credible witness than John the Baptist that Jesus was the Messiah foretold from the very beginning, the offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.

There’s a point, the Third Sunday of Advent, where everything fades. The things of this world become weightless, they just disappear. And all that’s left is that pure and joyful expectation. Third Sunday of Advent, that’s when you meet it. That joy, it creeps up near you, and tells you Good News. The only news that really matters: Rejoice! The Lord is near!

Today’s Readings:
December 15, 2019 (published December 27, 2019 at 11:40am)
Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Desert Preaching

Why was John the Baptist preaching in the desert?

There were so many other places he could have gone. In the Negev, the arid, desert area in Israel, there were—and still are—many towns and cities near the Jordan River, such as Jerusalem. Instead, John waited for people to come to him as he preached repentance to the people of Israel in order to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah.

I think that a large part of the reason the John preached in the desert was precisely because it meant that people would have to go to some effort to reach him. Depending on where John was and where the people come from, I would imagine that it was a day or two’s journey for many of these people to reach John. While it was not an enormous journey, it was also not a small feat to make the trip.

I wonder if perhaps the journey and the barrenness of the desert were not a large part of the point. It wasn’t trivial to get to John in order to hear his message. When you did reach him, there was nothing but a man preaching repentance. Perhaps the hope was to help people recognize that God asks us to journey towards him. Perhaps the hope was to help people recognize that the things of this world are unimportant when it comes to repentance and salvation. Perhaps the hope was to help people recognize that it is their faith in God that drives them towards him, that helps them to prepare for him, that helps them to recognize their sinfulness and turn back toward him.

This could also explain why John was so upset with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. At first glance, John’s anger is odd: wouldn’t it be a good thing if they are repenting? John’s point, though, is that they aren’t. They approach John assuming that by being descendants of Abraham they are saved, but John emphatically explains that their lineage has no bearing on salvation: only their own personal repentance does. In Isaiah today, we hear that a new shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse. This new shoot is us, having been grafted onto Jesus’s family tree by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, blossoming by our faith which propels us to follow the will of God. John, that voice crying out in the desert, is preparing the way for the Lord, so that Jesus might set himself up as a signal for the nations, a signal that all might seek out and find.

When we see that signal from Jesus in our lives, we cannot help but move towards it. That doesn’t mean that it will be easy. After all, it wasn’t easy for people to follow John, why should it be any easier to follow God himself? Through this journey of endurance, though, where we suffer in mind, body, and soul, we learn to put our hope in God: our hope that he will grant us eternal life. Through this journey, we learn to put our faith in God, knowing that he can do what he says, because he has the power to give us eternal life. Through this journey we learn to love God, knowing that only he can truly fill our hearts.

Through this journey to find Jesus, that signal to all nations, where we are aided by the sacraments of the Church—notably confession where we learn repentance and the Eucharist where we learn how to worship God and enter into his Divine Life—we learn to conform our hearts and minds to God. St. Paul says to us today, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” May it be so.

Today’s Readings:
December 8, 2019 (published December 27, 2019 at 11:45am)
Second Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12

You do not know the day

The prayers and readings of today’s Mass are full of joyful expectation for something incredible. In the collect, we prayed together asking God for “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.” In our first reading, all nations stream toward Jerusalem, the Lord’s city, which was built on top of a high mountain, saying as the go “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” The psalmist echoes this sentiment, saying “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” Even St. Paul is swept up in eager expectation today, writing that “it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” Jesus himself even tells us to “Stay Awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”

What are all of these readings pointing toward? They are expecting the coming of the Messiah. It is fitting that in the season of Advent we would be preparing for the Nativity of Jesus, but the prayers and readings today are also pointing beyond that. As we purify ourselves and prepare ourselves to commemorate and memorialize the birth of the Messiah at Christmas, the Church is trying to remind us to look to the future: to the second coming of the Messiah. We spend weeks preparing ourselves and our homes to celebrate Christmas Day; many are already celebrating Christmas: we love to have our Christmas parties during Advent, as opposed to the—admittedly brief—Christmas season. There are probably people out there who’ve already started preparing their Christmas dinners, who’ve purchased a tree already, who’ve put up their lights.

I suppose that’s all fine, as long as we remember that we’re not there yet. Christmas is still 24 days away. We still have time set aside to prepare for that day. Whether or not we’ve decorated yet, whether started planning our dinners and parties, or whether we’ve tuned our radios to one of those “All Christmas All The Time” stations, we still have 24 days to get ready. If keeping all those reminds of what we’re preparing to celebrate helps, then great. But we cannot forget to prepare for the coming of our Lord, because while we memorialize and make Jesus’s birth present again to us on Christmas Day, Jesus is going to come again. As we prepare for Jesus’s first coming, as a little child, we are teaching ourselves how to prepare for his second coming in glory, where he conquers the world and brings us all back to himself.

Today’s readings and prayers tell us all of this as well. Isaiah writes that “From Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples.” The psalmist writes that in Jerusalem “are set up judgment seats, seats for the house of David.” Paul writes, “Let us them throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy.” Jesus tells us, “you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Let us prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord, our King, and our God. From ages long past until perhaps the late 19th or early 20th century, we would fast during the entirety of Advent. That later turned to abstaining from meat throughout Advent, until very recently when Advent seems to have lost nearly all of its preparatory character. These practices are very similar to Lenten practices that we practiced until very recently. Along those lines of thought, maybe we can give something up for Advent, make a commitment to pray a few extra minutes a day, make special effort to go to Confession, or something like that. By engaging in these time-honored traditions of the Church, we will make Advent more meaningful, and by extension, we will make the celebration of Christmas that much greater. Best of all, we will have begun our preparations for the Second Coming—so that we are prepared when the Son of Man comes again in great glory.

Today’s Readings:
December 1, 2019
First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44

Acknowledging our lowliness

I am so lucky that I’m the tax collector in this story. Every time I read it, I remember how humble, honest, and good-natured I am. What a relief it is to not be like the rest of humanity! like that Pharisee! Oh wait…

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel. We love to compare ourselves to one another. We love to think, “I am the best.” Somewhat perversely, we also love noticing how much better others have it—or at least seem to have it. We can’t stop measuring ourselves by others around us. We look at things like a person’s wealth, fashion sense, physical beauty, possessions, or even moral sensibility, and we get it into our heads that they are better or worse than us. This is the poison of comparison. It is exemplified by the Pharisee in today’s Gospel. If we’re really honest with ourselves, I bet we can all find this in ourselves. I certainly catch myself doing it. What can we do to fight this evil that we’re drawn to?

We must take the hard medicine of humility. We must ask God to help us. We have to spend some time in prayer every day, and we must spend a part of that time asking God to help us grow in virtues, such as humility. This isn’t something we can choose to do or not to do. We must pray. We must ask God’s assistance. It is the only way to conquer the rebellious heart, caused by original sin, that lies within each of us. We must approach God in the silence of our hearts with humility, recognizing that He is God, and we are not God. We didn’t create ourselves, this universe or anything: He did. After we acknowledge this fact, then we approach him and ask him to assist us.

This might sound like a lot of extra work compared to our normal prayer. Why must I acknowledge my lowliness before God? Doesn’t he love me? Shouldn’t he answer my prayers either way? Fair questions, but I would point us all to today’s first reading. It is an incredibly hopeful reading for us, so long as we recognize who we are before God.

The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. This first sentence reminds us that God will not be fooled. He does not play favorites, but judges each of us on our own actions, not of those around us. Simply calling ourselves a part of his chosen people won’t work. Claiming to belong to his Church will not buy us Heaven if we do not live our faith through our actions, by following God’s law and actively participating in our shared mission to save the world from sin. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. Again, God doesn’t play favorites. Even the poor will be judged on their actions when they meet God; however, those who receive poor treatment in this world do have his ear while they are here. God loves us all, and when he sees us mistreating one of his children, God takes notice.

The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. God also pays special attention to those who are in his service on this world. When we serve God willingly and share in his mission, we can be assured our prayers reach the Heavens. Remember that line in the Our Father? Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. When we serve the Lord willingly, we are implementing God’s will on Earth, and He will surely help us with that task. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay. When we serve the Lord’s mission, when we follow his will, when we recognize who we are in relation to God, we can be assured that nothing will stop our prayer from reaching Heaven. It will reach Heaven, and we are guaranteed that God will answer it. Not only will he answer it, but he will answer it with his justice, which is also his love and his mercy. He will answer it without delay, for God knows the needs of his children. He knows that we are mortals, and our days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. (Psalm 103:15-16)

The tax collector today recognizes his lowliness before God, and he knows that all he can truthfully and honestly say before God is O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. As we follow Paul’s example and follow God in this race we run towards eternal life, let us acknowledge our lowliness and ask God for his help. By following God and keeping ourselves close to Him through humble prayer, we can rest sure in knowing what Paul knew: The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom.

To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Today’s Readings:
October 27, 2019
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14