You Are Christ’s Body

Jesus is truly the fulfillment of the Old Covenant of God with his people. He is the completion of which the Law and Prophets pointed and anticipated. St. Luke tells us in his Gospel that near the beginning of his ministry, Jesus, who customarily attended and taught in the synagogue, was handed a particular scroll of Scripture and then proclaimed a particular prophecy from Isaiah: “’The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.’ Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (NAB, LK 4:18-21)

We who are followers of Jesus, are called to fulfill that same prophecy. We are called to bring the Good News to our world, to open the eyes of the blind with the light of Christ, to proclaim true freedom and liberty to the imprisoned and oppressed, and to lift up the poor. As Christians, we have died with Christ in Baptism, and so we now live in his Spirit, as members of the One Body of Christ. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many.” (1COR 12:13-14) St. Paul also offers this reminder: “You are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” (12:27)

We are the Body of Christ and Temples of the Holy Spirit, and as such, we are to carry out and accomplish the mission and promise to be fulfilled through his coming. In a sense, we are the hands, eyes, ears, mouth, feet, and heart of Jesus. We are in this world to bring his ministry and Good News of Love to our hurting and confused world. We must hear the cries of the financially and spiritually poor, and accommodate their needs. We must hold and console the suffering, grieving, and dying. We must teach and bring about true freedom for those who are spiritually and physically oppressed and imprisoned. Love compels us to proclaim the Word of God, the Truth revealed to humanity, through our words and actions in this lost world of ours. To withhold the true teachings of God from our families, friends, and neighbors is to withhold Jesus himself. It is of no service, and is absolutely contrary to love, to avoid truth by softening or avoiding the uncomfortable teachings of our Lord. Our God is One God, indivisible, and cannot be divided against himself. His Love and his Truth are one in the same.

Heavenly Father, give me your grace and the courage I need to proclaim your Truth in my world. I will not fear the lies of this world, for you are always with me, you, who have conquered sin and death and opened the doors to eternal life. Your Spirit dwells within me, and my hands, my feet, my mouth, my ears, and my eyes are yours. Take my heart as well, and use them according to your will and for your glory. Amen.

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Do Whatever He Says

It is fitting that the first public miracle performed by Jesus took place during a local wedding feast. Feasts and banquets pervade the New Testament scriptures, including of course, the Wedding Feast to which we are invited, the heavenly and eternal banquet with our Father. Each Mass is in fact, a participation of the Heavenly Eucharist initiated by Jesus at the Last Supper. It is not a repetition of the event, but is a real participation in the one-time Pascal Sacrifice by our Lord and Savior.

The Gospel of John tells us that while Jesus, his family, and his disciples were attending this wedding in Cana, “the wine ran short, [and] the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” (NAB, JN 2:3-5) Mary, who had some role in the supervision of the servants, gives clear direction to them, and to us, to do the will of her son, Jesus.

Mary, in her simplicity of faith, trusts in the will and actions of Jesus. Mary points to the Lord. She does not come up with her own plan regarding a problem of which she’s concerned, but instead relies on the love and compassion of God’s Only Son. Mary is the example par excellence of discipleship, as she comes to Jesus with her concerns; she tells him the “problem,” and then leaves it to him for resolution. Mary, the Mother of God, does not claim a position of superiority, demanding and arguing for her position; rather, in her incredible humility, she abandons her concerns at the feet of Jesus, and then, in perhaps the simplest and most direct instructions possible, Mary provides THE Key to Discipleship: “Do whatever he tells you.

The Miracle at Cana happens through faith, trust, and obedience, when Jesus turns the water gathered by servants into wine, not ordinary wine, but choice wine. The transforming power of Jesus, when the problem is solved according to his will, results in a situation that is even better than what it had originally been. By trusting Jesus, by doing what he says, and by obediently following him, Jesus transforms our lives to heavenly heights never before imagined.

Jesus, I trust in you. Increase my faith, that I may obediently follow you as I am transformed into the person whom you created me to be, a person far greater and more beautiful than can be imagined. Help me to recognize that I am a Child of the Kingdom, as my hope of heavenly reward is fulfilled in my daily journey of loving you and loving those in my life. Give me strength and courage when I am weak, that I may do whatever you ask, according to your will and for your glory. Amen.

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Our Transforming God

Anyone who were to look upon the face of the winged, Greek mythological Gorgon known as Medusa, would instantly be turned into cold, lifeless stone. By some accounts, she had been an incredibly beautiful young lady, attractive to all men, but as punishment for a misdeed, her hair was changed into serpents. and her face made so horrible that anyone who looked upon her instantly would be turned into stone. So, as the myth goes, Medusa’s power was revealed in her ability to transform a living person into dead earthen rock.

Another mythological creature, King Midas, had what was known as the golden touch or the Midas touch. As a result of a wish having been granted to him, everything that met with his hands turned into gold. Midas was joyful and elated, touching everything in sight, including the flowers near his house. His daughter, whom he greatly loved, however, was dismayed and greatly saddened that the flowers no longer had their uplifting fragrance, but were now cold, hard, and lifeless. Midas attempted to comfort his precious daughter, and as he began to embrace her, she likewise turned into solid gold by his touch. Full of sorrow, he repented and begged to be released from his wish. The “gift” Midas had received had become a curse and his greatest sorrow; touching his loving daughter changed vibrant life into  dead earthen metal.

Unlike these mythological characters of old, we know of one who can truly transform lives, our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is true God and true man, who humbled himself to be born of the Virgin Mary in the poverty of an animal stall, to grow up as an exile and an alien in a foreign land, and to return to his homeland for his adolescent years. He studied and learned the woodworking craft of his father Joseph, and at a time preordained by God the Father from the very beginning of time, Jesus began his ministry on earth. Today, we hear from Luke’s Gospel, the events that unfolded on that first day.

After all the people had been baptized [by John in the Jordan River,] and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” (NAB, LK 3:21-22) The mysterious Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, revealed at this moment, the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry on earth and his revelation as the Messiah, the Christ, the long-awaited Second Person of the One True and Only God.

Jesus, who was without sin, did not need baptism, but in being baptized in water, Purity and Holiness itself sanctified the waters of earth. He who was present at the waters of creation now changes what is of earth into the holy, giving life to what was dead. When Jesus touches, he sacramentalizes, he makes holy, and he sanctifies whatever is profane and ordinary. He elevates what is of this earth to the heavenly heights, for heaven and earth are united in him and through him. Jesus, who emptied himself and became one of us, subject to the laws of this world, performed his ministry of teaching, healing, and forgiveness in real and tangible ways. He touched people, He ate with them, He cried with them, He held them, and He died for them. In his humility, he sanctifies humanity itself, making possible the blessed and eternal life for which we hope.

Jesus, you emptied yourself by becoming one like me, and you further humbled yourself by submitting to John’s baptism of water. You did this out of love for me, and thereby sanctified the water, making it holy, that I may be reborn in water and Spirit, through your grace and the saving, sacramental waters which flow throughout your Church. Your touch brings life to what was dead. Touch me! Touch my heart, so that I may faithfully live in your love, proclaiming your Kingdom, as I await the fulfillment of my eternal hope. May you forever be glorified. Amen.

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Long Live the King!

The joyous Twelve Days of Christmas have been celebrated, and as we bring the Christmas Season to a close, we commemorate a special manifestation of our Lord, the Solemnity of Epiphany. Our Gospel today, tells us of magi coming from the east, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” We sometimes refer to these magi as “wise men” because of accounts of them being pagans from the East, astrologers, and interpreters of dreams, but our Gospel doesn’t tell us how many magi sought Jesus. We can only assume there were several of them, each accompanied by other family members and many servants, along with loads of supplies and provisions. Their journeys to Judea most likely took between 4 to 12 months, and were constantly met with the difficulties, trials, and threats of the wilderness. They knew the stars, however, and they followed a new star, one that was believed to reveal a new ruler of the people, a newborn king that would unite the human and divine by his death.

When Herod heard of their quest, he was deeply troubled. Nearly forty years earlier, Herod was chosen by the Roman Senate and given the title, “King of the Jews.” The Roman Senate sent Herod to Judea to maintain and monitor the emperor’s interests in the region, ruling over the Jews. Herod, a convert to Judaism, had financed and completed incredible construction projects, including the magnificent expansion of the Jewish Temple. Four walls, including the Wailing Wall, still remain in place from his construction efforts. Hearing of a “new” king would most certainly have meant that he was to be replaced, and this infuriated and enraged Herod.

As we know, Herod plotted to use the magi. After assembling his priests and advisors and getting information about where this king would be born, Herod sent the magi on their way with instructions to return to him with the identity and location of this newborn king so he himself could do homage. The magi, who were very attentive to their dreams, were warned not to return to Herod, and when he realized the magi had foiled his plan, Herod ordered the execution of all the infant first-born sons in the region.

We oftentimes believe and act like we are kings of our own lives. We live day-to-day as if we are autonomous and independent rulers, and would never give up our power and control. And sometimes, we destroy whatever we may see as a threat to our independence, authority, position, title, or wealth. The reality is that none of this belongs to us – all that we “have,” even our talents, gifts, motivations, and good desires, all come from God. We can be like the magi, make a life-changing journey, and present our most precious gifts to our true King, lay all of our treasures, even our very lives, at the feet of Jesus; or we can seek to destroy anything and everything for which we feel threatened, even that which is perfect, beautiful, good, and true.

Some questions to consider: Who sits on the throne of my heart? Is it Jesus? Is Jesus the ruler of my life? Is it he who drives me and motivates me in my relationships with others, in my efforts at work or school, and in my dealings with those less fortunate, the marginalized, or the poor? Am I allowing the fear of “losing” something, perhaps my position, power, or prestige, to keep from acknowledging and submitting to the true King?

Heavenly Father, allow me to imitate the “wise” magi. Give me the courage and humility I need to release myself from the pursuits common in this world and to put Jesus on the throne of my heart, to be ruler of my life. Take away my fears so that I live according to your will and for your glory. Amen.

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Seek the Lord

The Sixth Day of Christmas!

So much of Jesus’ childhood and young adult life are unknown to us, but the Gospel of Luke (2:41-52) gives us a glimpse into the life of the Holy Family, as he describes the events surrounding the family’s pilgrimage journey to Jerusalem. They went there to celebrate the Feast of Passover when Jesus was twelve years old. As is customary, when Joseph and Mary left Jerusalem to return back to their home, they traveled in separate parts of the caravan; men traveled together and the women traveled together in a separate part of the group. Because of Jesus’ age (12), he could have been with either the men or women, so it is reasonable that Joseph and Mary would think that Jesus was with the other. However, after a day of traveling and then realizing that he was not with either of them or any of their relatives, they experienced what parents dread, the great anxiety and fear of not knowing where their child is.

Joseph and Mary return to Jerusalem, and after three days of searching, they finally found Jesus in the Temple asking questions of and dialoging with the priests and teachers, and “all who heard him were astounded!” (NAB, LK 2:47) In response to being asked for an explanation from his parents, Jesus responds, “’Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (2:49)

There are many things to learn from the Holy Family. One lesson is precisely this, that when we experience that sudden, great fear and anxiety in our lives, when we’re not sure where Jesus is, or who we are, or when we feel empty inside and alone, it’s time to return to Jerusalem, whose name means, “City of Peace.” When we lack peace, we can be assured that we need to reconcile ourselves with God. This is especially true when we are undergoing various trials and difficulties; we are called to return to the Holy Land, return to our Father’s House. There we will find our Lord, listening and teaching. He hears our cry, and he speaks to us in the temple of our hearts, and he speaks to us through his Bride, the Church.

Father, give me courage to return to you, to learn from and imitate the Holy Family as I seek to find your Son Jesus, especially in times when I lack peace, feel anxiety, or experience fear. I know I can find him in Your House; He’s always there. Give me faith so that my life my glorify you. Amen.

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Become the Manger of Christ

In Churches, homes, and even some civic places throughout the world, we see the beautiful, quaint, and charming manger scenes on display. Most certainly, things weren’t as pretty, neat, and clean at the time of Jesus’ birth. The uncertainties, difficulties, and stresses of it all must have been monumental, yet the Holy Family also shows us peace, perseverance, trust, faith, and hope. The beauty of the manger scene is also one where God is seen in the normal, the every-day places and events of life, among the cattle and sheep, in the city and suburb, in the stable and under the stars. Ordinary people, working people were witnesses, like the inn keeper and shepherds, and so were the exalted, the wealthy, the wise, and the angelic.

In fact, ALL OF CREATION was and is witness to the birth of its Savior, the Son of God, humbled in flesh and born as one of us. All of humanity and all of creation is “good” because the God who is Goodness itself sanctified it, touched it, and speaks it into being. This is why we are able to physically and spiritually see the very presence of God himself in creation, in His creation, in our world, and in each other. At the celebration of Christmas, we rejoice in the birth of him called “Emmanuel,” the name which means “God with us,” for he truly is and always will be.

The real gift of Christmas is Jesus. We cannot receive a gift when our arms are filled with all sorts of needless things, and we cannot receive the gift of our Savior when our hearts and lives are filled with all sorts of unnecessary clutter. So much in our lives block and hinder our ability to receive God and his grace. Let’s empty ourselves. Let’s look upon the simplicity of the nativity scene and reflect on its humility and ordinariness, so that our hearts can be transformed into the manger, the empty feeding trough, where Jesus was laid.

St. Paul reminds us that Jesus came into the world and was born to be the Sacrificial Offering for eternity. No more animal holocausts and offerings on altars to cover sins would suffice, but the Infant Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God, would offer himself once, in an Eternal Sacrifice, his Passion, for the salvation of the world. His Blessed Mother placed her precious child in a feeding trough on that Most Holy Night. It was an act of maternal love, but, according to God’s will, it was a gesture which foretold the greatest act of love in all of salvation history, that of her son Jesus giving himself, both Body and Blood, “real food” and “real drink,” in the Eternal Sacrifice “through which we have been consecrated.” (HEB 10:10)

Being prepared for our Lord Jesus Christ, emptied of sin, attachments, and all that keeps us from God’s grace, we will be emboldened by the Holy Spirit to loudly proclaim for all the world: Rejoice and be glad! Our King has been born. Our Savior has come to set us free. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will. May all praise, honor, and glory be to God, our Heavenly Father, for ever and ever!

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Rojoice in the Lord!

Rejoice in the Lord, always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (NAB, PHIL 4:4) These words from St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians call us to a life of joy. So often we see Christians, and perhaps we ourselves are guilty, of having long faces and apathetic spirits that seem miserable, with no sign or semblance of joy at all! Listen further to St. Paul: “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:5-7)

The Christian identity is based in joy. At a daily Mass on May 23, 2016, Pope Francis beautifully spoke about this issue: “The identification card of a Christian is joy: the joy of the Gospel, the joy of having been elected by Jesus, saved by Jesus, regenerated by Jesus. [It is] the joy of the hope that Jesus is waiting for us, the joy that – even in the crosses and sufferings of this life – is expressed in a different way, which is having peace in the certainty that Jesus accompanies us; that He is with us.

This period of Advent waiting and preparation is the anticipating of the Christmas joy we will celebrate. We long for Emanuel, whose name means “God with us.” We will sing the great song, “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” beginning this week, through Christmas. It is our prayer and our statement of faith that God is truly with us. His presence in both good times and bad, gives us, through his grace, the abiding peace to live a life of joy.

Our scripture reminds us, “the Lord is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear [because] the Lord, your God … will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.” (ZEP 3:15, 17) As we await the coming of our Savior and the celebration of his birth in Bethlehem, let us prepare our hearts and souls to receive his presence, to realize his presence in our lives, and as the Christmas celebration approaches, may our hearts burst open with Christian joy so that WE become Joy to the world!

Heavenly Father, give me a clean heart and purify my soul, so that I may empty myself of what keeps me from you, so as to receive the incredible and indescribable gift of your Son, the infant born to Mary, Jesus, my Lord and my Savior. Let me always know your presence, so that in your peace, I may be joy in this world. Amen.

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