Sunday, January 27, 2019

Which Voice?

January 27, 2019 –– 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nehemiah 8:2–4a, 5–6, 8–10 / Psalm 19 / 1 Corinthians 12:12–30 / Luke 1:1–4, 4:14–21
Which Voice?

We are inundated with voices.

––in the programs we watch on TV….
––in the words of songs we hear….
––in the opinions we listen to and read in social media….
––in the expressed thoughts of our inner circle of family and friends….
––in the billboards on our roads….
––in the signs on our office bulletin boards….
––in the values that are assumed by our general society…. voices.

We often have voices ricocheting within our own heads. These voices often accuse us. They can make us feel conflicted with one voice saying yes and another saying no, and both at the same time.

Which voice gets our attention? Which voice gets our assent? How do we know which voice to trust? How do we know which voice is right?

Some say go with one’s feelings––that if if it feels right it must be right. That doesn’t work so well. We live in varied social settings and not everyone “feels” the same way about everything. Whose feelings get affirmed and whose feelings get squelched? On what basis? What standard of discernment and judgment?

Some say, okay, we’ll listen to what the majority thinks. But to be honest, think how many times throughout history the majority has been wrong!

Differing a bit from “majority” is “popular.” Here we might consider the numerous entertainers (actors, musicians, and sports figures) who think that their notoriety gives them the right to speak to issues for which they are unqualified to speak. Would you want a crucial interpretation about your medical exam from a pop-musician or someone whose only claim to fame is her good looks that landed her a talkshow spot? Yet those people get a platform when they speak about crucial moral issues of our day––and only because they are popular for something that matters very little!

One other voice that can compel us is the one that suggests ease and comfort. This likely is the one that undergirds all the others. It is so easy for us to listen to voices that demand little of us. Then we are free to go our way…. but the desire to go our own way is a spiritual cancer.

Here is my point: in contrast to all that is popular and easy, we need to take the time and effort to listen to God. In the first reading, God’s people had listened to wrong voices for so long that they had been conquered, taken away from their land for seventy years, and were now back in their land looking at desolation and a total rebuilding project. A copy of the Scripture had been found and it was read publicly––from daybreak till midday…. read[ing] plainly from the book of the law of God, [and] interpreting it…. and all the people listened attentively.

They had learned that the many and varied voices from the past had not given what they promised, had not made life easier and happier, and had, in fact, caused them to lose touch with God. Now they were ready to hear the Word of God.

This lesson has to be relearned again and again. This past week there has been a chorus of voices  starting and spreading from New York which are distorted, awful, and even evil. These voices have legally approved, attempted to justify, and actually exulted in the act of killing a human child up to the moment just before birth. There is social pressure to go along with what is presented as popular opinion. It is the easy route to put it out of our minds and let it go with passive resignation. Can we hear the voice of God through the prophet Jeremiah:

A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they were no more (Matt 2:18)?

God so wants his people to hear his voice that the Son of God himself came into our world so we could listen to the voice of God. In today’s Gospel, He stood up to read….where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings….

Today we still have a reading of the Scriptures before the congregation. The Church is the inheritor and the “conduit” of the Word of God. When we hear Scripture being read, we are hearing the voice of God. When we hear Scripture being preached faithfully, we are hearing an extension of the Apostolic Faith that has gone throughout the world changing lives and giving hope––Luke says his witness is so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings. We are part of that right now, because the Voice of God is among us.

Which voice are you really listening to?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Wedding Wine

January 20, 2019 –– 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 62:1–5 / Psalm 96 / 1 Corinthians 12:4–11 / John 2:1–11
Wedding Wine

Weddings carry a lot of weight in our society. Many prospective brides come to their plans with images that have simmered in their imaginations even before they became conscious of them. I have no idea what the financial outlay might be each year for the wedding industry, but I know it’s huge. Venues for the reception alone are easily in five figures for a single evening of celebration (and there is usually plenty of wine). All of this is symbolic of the hopes a newly married couple have for future happiness.

Marriage, at its best, offers some of greatest and deepest delights this world can give. Dashed marital dreams can inflict some of the deepest emotional pain. It is in this context that God speaks to his people through Isaiah after their hopes had seemingly been destroyed:

As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.

The image of God being married to his people is woven throughout Scripture. In the New Testament the Church is the Bride of Christ.

It is no accident that the first miracle of Jesus was at a wedding. Neither is it happenstance that the specific act was turning water into wine. There is more about this written by the Church Fathers than one can easily read; one observation by Saint Augustine is that water naturally turns into wine all the time, but usually through a gradual and natural process. Out of this Bishop Barron notes: “God delights in taking what we can contribute––and then lifting all of it up to a higher pitch through his grace.” 

Then there are all the Eucharistic implications of Jesus providing “miraculous wine” so far beyond this one event so long ago. Jesus gives us miraculous wine so that all we are naturally can be transformed into the glory of God. 

We are invited to bring the water of our lives to the Bridegroom who is able to change us into choice wine. What if we had a bride’s expectation each time we came before the altar to receive Jesus?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Following Jesus in Baptism

[This is an edited repeat from several years ago, but some things need regular repetition.]

Sunday: January 13, 2019 –– The Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 40:1–5; 9–11 / Psalm 104 / Titus 2:11–14; 3:4–7 / Luke 3:15–16, 21-22
Following Jesus in Baptism

Catholic identity is grounded in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. On this Sunday the Church celebrates The Baptism of the Lord. It's an event that is recorded in all four gospels, so we know it's important. But there's a question: Why was Jesus baptized?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, baptismal grace means forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, and birth into the new life by which a person becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit and incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ....  [CCC 1279].

Jesus didn't need any of those things! So, why was he baptized?

The baptism of Jesus is part of his mission, and his mission is clearly stated in the Scriptures: The angel told Joseph: he will save his people from their sins (Mtt 1:21).

How does Jesus save us? The Scriptures give more answers than I can include here. Today’s epistle reading is an extended treatise on salvation. More succinct verses tell us:

[God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21).

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins (Eph 1:7).

....all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death (Rom 6:3)
This last verse makes an explicit connection of baptism with our salvation; it portrays dying to sin and rising to new life. But again, why did Jesus himself need to be baptized?

Here is the “heart” of what we need to grasp: To save us, Jesus goes ahead of us and gives us a path to follow. Particularly, in his death he was taking upon himself our death. In his resurrection Jesus destroyed the power of death. When we follow Jesus, we too die to sin and thus have the hope of resurrection to eternal life.

This is the way we understand baptism. To take our sins upon himself and die our death, Jesus submitted to baptism to take the initial step of identifying with sinners so he could take the path to the cross to be our Savior. It was one more way the Son of God humbled himself to do for us what we could never do for ourselves..

Hear what the Church says in the Catechism: “Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that we too might walk in newness of life” (CCC #977). This is at the heart of the historic Christian understanding of salvation: God became like us so that we could become like him. He became humanized so we could become “Divinized” (see 2 Peter 1:4). Baptism is the first step in the process of becoming a saint––truly being like Jesus!

It is important to know, however, that Baptism is not an end in itself; it is the “gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (CCC #1214, emphasis added). It is sad that not all baptized people live up to their Baptism: “the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature” (CCC #978). Here is the issue for us on this day that we honor the baptism of our Lord: Am I living out of my Baptism?  

Being baptized into Jesus Christ is our highest calling. Nothing is greater than being identified with Jesus Christ. The implications are eternal.

As I progressed in my journey into the Church––as I began to understood more of the tangible things that mark Catholic life––I was pulled into the power of the Sacraments. I began to think more about my own Baptism. I came to understand that entering the church and making the sign of the cross with holy water was connected to my Baptism.

I want to renew a challenge I have given previously: Try to remember that as you enter the church, dip your finger in water, and make the sign of the cross, you are renewing your Baptism. It helps us to focus if we say a prayer––something like: I belong to you, my Lord. I give myself to you fresh and new. Let the power of your baptismal waters keep me clean and make me totally yours.

Jesus Christ gave his life for our salvation. He suffered death for every one of us. He rose from the dead to open the door of eternal life for all humanity. He initiated it all by being baptized. Christian Baptism marks who we are.

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