Sunday, January 19, 2020

"Into Fresh Wineskins" by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

Into Fresh Wineskins

But Samuel said: “Does the LORD so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as in obedience to the command of the LORD? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams. For a sin like divination is rebellion, and presumption is the crime of idolatry. Because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he, too, has rejected you as ruler.” 1 Samuel 15:22-23

No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22

The Second Week of Ordinary Time started by offering beautiful readings from the Prophet Isaiah: "I will make you a light to the nations..."

Then, in the Gospel, John the Baptist and his followers see Jesus as he walks toward them. John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’”

As an opposite of the beholding of the Lamb of God, this week’s readings from the First Book of Samuel, tell us of God's rejection of Saul as king. Then, Samuel anoints the youngest of Jesse's sons, the shepherd boy David, as the king. Instead of beholding the Lamb of God, they see the temporal king. As we begin Mark's Gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples don't fast. He challenges them to have a completely open mind and heart to his teaching because he will be pouring "new wine…into fresh wineskins.” Beholding Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath brings new freedom.[i]

We heard John 1:29 in our Gospel yesterday when John Baptist said: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  Today, the Pharisees encountered Jesus without any "proper beholding."  They were just taking a look and did not like what they saw.  Let’s look at a couple of authentic John 1:29 moments.

A man said that he met a former friend before Mass. We stepped aside to a quiet corner. He looked me straight in the eye and got right to the point: "Dean, I've come to tell you how deeply sorry I am for the sins I have committed against you. I ask you to forgive me." Dean later wrote, “Bam—just like that! I knew by the earnestness of his words and the piercing intensity in his eyes that he spoke from the depths of his being and meant every word. This awkward but immensely powerful moment was the fruition of a long, complicated process of stocktaking. On that day, in that place, without forewarning, a John 1:29 moment arrived, ‘The Lamb of God’ took away his resentment and mine.”

 “Beholding” is different than “taking a look.” Beholding has the connotation of taking an in-depth, lengthy, contemplative look at something.

"Who takes away," sin expresses the idea of the pardoning or forgiveness of sin, and the removal of guilt because Jesus was destined to be sacrificed like a spotless lamb as a sin offering to God.

In fact, in both Jewish apocalyptic judgment and the Book of Revelation, it is a conquering lamb who destroys evil in the world (The Testament of Joseph 19:8; Enoch 90:38, Rev. 14:1). Jesus took away sin not by the violent destruction of evil, but by voluntarily laying down his life on the Cross; although the Biblical picture is that to "take away" is parallel to "destroy."

The Lamb of God will take away resentments.

Hebrews 12:15 says, “see to it that….no bitter root grows up to cause trouble.” Ask Jesus daily to take away your anger, resentment, and bitterness.

Here’s another John 1:29 moment that did not go as well.  A man said, “I had an excellent friend called Bob. But he and his wife moved to another country. A little while later, my wife, Charlotte, had to have a very severe operation. Bob and his wife never got in touch with us. I know they knew about it. I was very hurt because they never called to see her or ever inquire about how she was. So, I dropped the relationship. Over the years, I met Bob a few times and he always tried to reconcile, but I didn’t accept it. I wasn’t satisfied with his explanation. I was prideful. I shrugged him off. A few years later, he died of cancer. I feel so sad. I never got to see him. I never got to forgive him. It pains me so much. My advice is: don’t wait.”

Welcome John 1:29 moments when they come.

Notice the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world — “takes away” sin and temptation not “Oh, God, make it go away!” God won’t take away carrying our crosses or take away our daily responsibilities. Taking-away does not replace the need for discernment regarding what activities or things we might want to change according to the virtue of prudence.

God won’t even take away temptations if we don’t want them taken away. Consider James 1:14-15, where St. Paul says that “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

We should not delay in Beholding the Lamb of God and asking him to take away temptations.  Then, our fresh wineskins can hold the new wine Jesus offers.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

“God Wills and Fulfills” by Sam Miller

“God Wills and Fulfills” by Sam Miller

The LORD said to me: 3You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.  Now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength! It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.  Sacrifice and offering you do not want; you opened my ears. Holocaust and sin-offering you do not request, so I said, “See, I come with an inscribed scroll written upon me. I delight to do your will, my God; your law is in my inner being!”  Psalm 40:2, 7-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’  I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.”  John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.  I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’  Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” John 1:29-34

“Open my eyes, Lord; help me to see Your face.
Open my ears, Lord; help me to hear Your voice.
Open my heart, Lord; help me to love like You!
Help me to be Your servant, a light to the nations, and remain in me.  Amen

What a HOLY COINCIDENCE!  I wrote a Tripod for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time in 2018!  The readings are not exactly the same, different Liturgical years (ya know), but I scanned that Tripod and noted the Responsorial Psalm verses I picked out are the same!  The slight word differences I found between the USCCB Daily Readings and the USCCB Bible really spoke to me.

The words, “I come with an inscribed scroll written upon me” to me, resonated with the word “remain” in the Gospel.  The verb inscribed is synonymous with engraved, carved, etched, cut and that indicates a pretty serious state of permanence to me.  In our Gospel reading for today, the word “remain” appears twice.  According to a footnote, “remain” in this context emphasizes the permanence of the relationship between Father and Son and between the Son and the Christian. Jesus is the permanent bearer of the Spirit!

Oh, my goodness, how much more permanent can one get than carving? “Your law is in my inner being.” JESUS is IN ME. Not just tucked under my arm, IN ME.  His law is IN ME; I am joined to Him by acknowledging that he is my Lord. He is staying IN ME.  Another, different arrangement of those two words, Jesus is MINE!!!  (Now, THAT was inspired!!)

To aspire daily, to show proof that Jesus is IN ME, MINE!!

Follow Me

Follow Me

Jesus went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him, and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed Jesus. Mark 2:13-14

There are four stages to group development according to a concept first proposed in 1965 by Bruce Tuckman.  He said that the four phases are all necessary and inevitable for a team to grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results.

The stages are forming–storming–norming–performing.  At this stage in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is still in the formation phase.  Jesus did not need some social construct to know that success doesn't magically happen. While it is tempting to try to take shortcuts, teams must face the conflicts and obstacles that arise as they develop and cohere.

As Jesus calls Levi/Matthew today, the emerging team faces one of its first challenges: the skeptical critics wondering why Christ sits down and eats with sinners. This band of disciples is not in the welcoming-everybody-play-nice-stage for long. A critical step in team-formation occurs when Jesus reveals one of the basic principals of his ministry: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew2:17)   

There is hope for all of us sinners.  Just as Jesus calls Matthew, he calls us.

Two teams are forming right now.  The Women’s 154th Cursillo sinners are starting preparation for a weekend experience from March 19-22 at San Damiano under the guidance of Kat Sigler, although not a daughter of Alpheus or a tax collector, she is the Rectora.  Consult for instructions on sending Palanca to the team.  They know that Jesus will take them as they are. However, let us prayer that St. Joseph the Worker will be at their side as they craft their weekend and talks. Nosotros Oramos!  

(Also, keep the Men’s 140th Weekend team formation in your prayers.  That weekend is May 28-31, also at San Damiano.  Those sinners are still fishing and collecting taxes.  Watch the Cursillo website or this space for more information.)

Friday, January 17, 2020

Make His Implements of War

The U.S. has killed untold numbers of civilians by unmanned aerial drones, bombing raids, cruise missile attacks, and special operations missions in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia—also in Syria and Yemen. (Photo: via EuroYankee)The U.S. has killed untold numbers of civilians by unmanned aerial drones, bombing raids, cruise missile attacks, and special operations missions in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia—also in Syria and Yemen. (Photo: via EuroYankee)
Make His Implements of War

“The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups
of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.” 1 Samuel 8:11-12

Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:2-5

Samuel must have been exasperated.  Despite his warnings, the people still clamored for a king.  However, the hope in the Gospel is that despite the problem we may have with secular governance, we still have time to seek Christ and bring others into friendship with him. 

No obstacles need apply. No roofs.  No egos.  No elections.  No abuse. No cover-ups.  Just embrace Jesus, and take up your cross daily.   

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton is a Samuel among us.  He recently issued a warning about our leaders bringing us to the brink of war (again).

After nearly two decades of fighting in Central Asia, documents recently surfaced, showing how military leaders said one thing in public about how successful the war was progressing while inside private meetings, they told a different story. (Bishop Thomas Gumbleton is a retired Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit.)

Once again, information has surfaced regarding United States governmental efforts to mislead and misinform people about disgraceful, cruel destruction caused by a United States war of choice against people who meant the U.S. no harm. In the Afghanistan Papers, the United States government officials acknowledged, privately, their own uncertainty about why they were going to war against Afghanistan in 2001. The trove of newly released documents about the 18-year war unmasked years of high-level deceit and deliberate efforts to obfuscate realities on the ground in Afghanistan.[i]

Gumbleton continues: “This tragic pattern of killing and destroying begs the question of our responsibility as Catholic followers of Christ. The endless War on Terrorism has fallen short of the Church’s Just War requirements on multiple fronts. Likewise, the United States nuclear weapons policy, which targets the world’s children, falls short of Just War requirements. I call on Catholics in the military, including chaplains, as well as all who work for the military or any branch of the armaments industry to heed Pope Francis’s call to set aside the futility of war. All Catholics should refuse to kill and should refuse cooperation with United States wars. Catholic taxpayers should make every effort to avoid paying for war and weapons. Rather, embrace Jesus, who calls us to love our enemies, put up the sword, and take up the cross.”


Thursday, January 16, 2020

“Give grace, Lord, to want what you want“

“Give grace, Lord, to want what you want“ By Beth DeCristofaro

Let us fetch the ark of the LORD from Shiloh that it may go into battle among us and save us from the grasp of our enemies.  (1 Samuel 4:3)

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” (Mark 1:40-41)

God, give me the courage and the grace to know what you want and to want what you want.  Fill me that in my piety, study and action I offer to you all glory in gratitude.

Such a simple request.  “if you wish you can make me clean”.  And such a humble, hopeful waiting.  Perhaps this leper’s piety study and action is a model for me today.

The leper studied the young rabbi who healed, and engaged people with deep empathy, achieving miraculous results.  His piety is simple:  I will ask and I will receive what is given to me.  What a beautiful prayer.  He then acted against cultural norms to approach Jesus with his request.  So simple, so elegant in fact, for a man who was most decidedly in physical as well as psychological pain. 

When I read today’s Gospel Alleluia verse (Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom and cured every disease among the people.) my first reaction was “Of course we know he did not cure every disease.  There were many there who could not get to Jesus for healing.”  On reflecting on this leper and the warring forces from I Samuel however, I believe that Jesus did cure every disease but it is my limited sight and knowledge which does not see it. The army of the Israelites did not win their battle, but the healing of the Chosen People was already in progress as God brought first Samuel then other prophets to put them back onto the road of wholeness in their God.  Jesus established his Church in order to reach those who never saw him in person, able to touch his hem or kneel before him in supplication. Jesus heals me today in many ways when I seek to know and do his will, then sends me out to heal my neighbor.

In what ways do I resist wanting to know and do God’s will – perhaps presenting my will to God instead?  What causes this?  Fear? Pride? Arrogance? Doubt in God’s true love for me?  Reread this Gospel putting yourself into the place of the leper.  Ask for strength in faith.  Ask for God’s wish for you.

(Title from an Ignatian Prayer)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

“Prayer as Listening” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“Prayer as Listening” by Colleen O’Sullivan

At that time, Samuel was not familiar with the LORD because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.  The LORD called Samuel again for the third time.  Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am.  You called me.”  Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.  So, Eli said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” (1 Samuel 3:7-10)

I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry…  Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.  (Psalm 40:2, 7ab)

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.  (Mark 1:35)


Lord, open my ear to the sound of your voice.

Praying Hands, Albrecht Dűrer, 1508,
Albertina Museum,
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
The other day I was on a phone call, which, after a while, began to seem more like the other person’s monologue than a two-way conversation.  Clearly, this person needed to talk, but I may as well not even have been there.  Whenever I tried to say anything, I was interrupted and my words were overridden.   Finally, I just sat back and listened until the speaker finally ran out of steam.

I wonder if that’s how God experiences us sometimes when pray.  We are full of things to say to the Lord, often offering something akin to a laundry list of what we’d like God to do for the persons for whom we’re praying or for us.  God is very interested in our needs and our concern for family and friends, but we may not have a clue about God’s response to our prayer, because we’re not listening.  We’re thinking instead of the next thing we want to say. 

Prayer is just as much about listening and discerning what we hear as it is about talking to God.  Samuel was awakened in the night by someone calling him and thought it must have been Eli, the high priest of Shiloh, who was training him.  Eli, however, had more experience in the ways of the Lord than his young protégé and realized that this was God wanting to talk with Samuel.  So, Eli instructed the boy to tell God that he was listening. 

Sometimes we patiently wait before we hear God talking to us, as the psalmist mentions in today’s psalm.  God always hears us when we call.  And God wants to respond, but you and I aren’t always in listening mode.  A few verses further on, the psalmist says he realizes what God wants most from us is ears attuned to God’s voice and hearts ready to do whatever God asks of us.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus accompanies Peter to his mother-in-law’s house.  She is ill, and Jesus heals her.  Jesus then heals many from the village.  When it grows late, Jesus slips away to a place where he can pray in solitude.  St. Mark does not tell us how Jesus prays, but since everything our Lord does come from his Father, there must be a great deal of listening going on.

Jesus must have received some direction from his Father in heaven because, by the time Simon and his friends found him, he had made up his mind to go on from there to other villages, even though Simon protested that the villagers were looking for him.  Jesus was clear that his purpose in being here on earth was to move on and preach to people who hadn’t yet had the opportunity to hear him.

The next few times, you pray, be attentive to how much time you spend talking, and how long you spend listening.  

Listening for God’s voice isn’t easy.  If you need help with this, find an experienced spiritual director who can help you.

Monday, January 13, 2020

“Pouring Out My Troubles” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“Pouring Out My Troubles” by Melanie Rigney

As she remained long at prayer before the LORD, Eli watched her mouth, for Hannah was praying silently; though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli, thinking her drunk, said to her, “How long will you make a drunken show of yourself? Sober up from your wine!” “It isn’t that, my lord,” Hannah answered. “I am an unhappy woman. I have had neither wine nor liquor; I was only pouring out my troubles to the LORD. Do not think your handmaid a ne’er-do-well; my prayer has been prompted by my deep sorrow and misery.” Eli said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (1 Samuel 1:14-17)

My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior. (1 Samuel 2:1)

Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him, and with a loud cry came out of him. (Mark 1:25-26)

Father, I feel I am of little value to the world. Help me to embrace Your eternal love.

We all have moments where we feel “less than:” less than a family member, a friend, a colleague, maybe even an enemy. Often, we’re wrong and recover our equilibrium after we stop think about our emotions… or perhaps we pray, or maybe we come up with a juicy rationalization to power us past our feelings of inadequacy.

But in Hannah’s case, she didn’t just feel “less than.” While her husband loved her very much and was kind to her, his other wife was not. The other wife, it seems, delighted in provoking Hannah, taunting Hannah about Hannah’s barrenness and the other woman’s fruitfulness.

We meet Hannah today after one such challenging encounter during the family’s annual pilgrimage. She went to the temple to pray—and to offer a bargain. If the Lord were to give her a son, she would turn him over to the Lord. It’s easy to imagine the depth of her pain and sorrow, especially at that moment. She had just left a dinner where she had had to smile and seem happy, even though it likely had followed one of those taunting sessions by the other wife. Only God could understand her situation—and, she knew, only God could change it.

And change it, He would—with the birth of Samuel.

We live in a time where we can so easily share our sorrows with the world and look for those supportive (and okay, yes, sometimes taunting) comments and emoticons. Those interactions can help us with a reset or affirm our less-than-ness for a moment. But no one else can understand our situation—and only God can change it. Hannah’s story is a good reminder that we can not find the Great Healer on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. He wants to hear it all, and no often how often He hears it, He listens and offers comfort.

Pour out your troubles in prayer.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

“The Time of Fulfillment” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

“The Time of Fulfillment” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me? Psalm 116:112

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Mark 1:14-15

Sunday was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. We heard the Lord say in the first reading from Isaiah, "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit." Those words echoed into Matthew's Gospel: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Baptism is the feast marking the end of the Christmas season. Today, the Church begins 34 weeks of "Ordinary Time."  These weeks will take the entire liturgical year outside of the Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter seasons.  The first portion of this ordinary time will continue until Ash Wednesday on February 26.

For the next few weeks, until the beginning of Lent, the weekday gospels are from Mark.  They will give us a look at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism. Jesus calls his first disciples – a couple of humble fishermen at work: Simon and Andrew, then James and John. "Then they left their nets and followed him." He drives out evil spirits and heals the sick (in both spiritual and biological cleansings).

Ritual cleansings continue bringing Baptism to life in the coming days as Jesus also hears the cry of the leper: “If you wish, you can make me clean." Jesus, "moved with pity," heals him. Jesus also extends an invitation to the despised tax collector, Levi: "Follow me."

All of us baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Our old selves
By Phil Russell
and bad habits also were buried with him so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Ministers traditionally perform the option of full-immersion baptism by cradling the convert back into the water as if being buried in the ground and then lifting them forward as if being raised to new life.

Author King Duncan loves to tell the true story of something that happened to his grandfather, the Reverend G.F Cox, who was a lay pastor in the Methodist Church. To appreciate this story, you have to understand that East Tennessee, where his grandfather preached, is Baptist country.  Some people say that even dogs and cats are Baptists. In the early days, people would join the Methodist church, but the Baptists had told them that a person could not go to heaven unless they baptized “all over,” meaning by immersion. Just sprinkling water on someone during the baptism ritual was not correct to Baptists.

One day, a rather tall lady came to Rev. Cox wanting to join the Methodist church, but first, she wanted to be baptized by full immersion, “just in case the Baptists are right,” she said. Rev. Cox said that would be fine. So, they scheduled a time for the church to gather down by the river for what must have been a most beautiful and meaningful occasion. What happened on this occasion, however, was a little unexpected and just a bit ridiculous.

The river was quite shallow that summer, and as already noted, the lady was rather tall. To complicate matters, she also wore her hair in a top knot, a fashionable hairdo in which the hair appeared to spiral upward on a lady’s head for another 8-10 inches.  Think of Marge Simpson and you’ll get the gist. So, this lady must have approached 7 feet tall, top knot and all, and Rev. Cox was a rather short man.

So, mightily he labored easing this statuesque lady (with the top knot) backward into a shallow river. As she made her entry into the chilly waters, she did what most of us would do – she jerked her head forward until her chin nearly rested on her chest. This motion, in turn, kept her topknot from going under the water.

Triumphantly Rev. Cox lifted her from the water and stood her upright as the choir sang the last verse of “Shall We Gather at the River.” He had already started moving toward the bank of the river when she stopped him. “My hair is still dry. I’m sorry, Brother Cox. You’ll have to do it again.” I guess she didn’t want to go to heaven without her topknot.

So, with a prayer for patience muttered under his breath, Rev Cox braced himself to lower her into the water again. Speculation ran through the congregation gathered on the shore as to why he was repeating the baptism. One time is usually good enough. Gently the Reverend lowered her back into the water. Again, as soon as she entered the chilly water, she pulled her head forward as a reaction to the chilly water and her topknot stuck defiantly out of the water. So, they had to try a third time. This time, the good reverend put his left hand on the lady's forehead to make sure the topknot went under the water. Finally, it worked.

The people on the bank had finally figured out what was happening and were laughing. They would never forget the lady with the topknot who wanted to be baptized all over.

The moral of the story -- It’s interesting,” wrote Rev. Cox, some years later, “most of us are not like that lady. We do not want to be baptized that completely. Most of us want to leave something out when we are baptized – our money, our habits, our moral inclination, whatever it may be.”

He makes a good observation. After John baptized Jesus, Satan tested our Savior in the wilderness. You’ll feel the pull of going back to the self-centered life you once lived. But in your baptism, you died to your old life and came alive to the new life that reflects God’s Spirit and God’s will.

In Romans 6:6, St. Paul wrote that “our old man [or old self] was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with.” Paul also talked about putting “to death the parts of you that are earthly: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language. He says, “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.”

Here is a second illustration of being buried with Christ in baptism to rise with Him:

Margaret Burks, a retired missionary from Tanzania, told of a baptism she'd watched in East Africa. Some new believers followed the minister into a river that had nearly dried up in the summer drought. The water was so shallow that the missionary had to scoop out a place with his hands in the deepest portion of the river. There, if the converts sat in the sand, there was just enough water to lower them below the water. The ceremony continued, and Margaret watched from a distance.

By Phil Russell
When the missionary baptized a boy in the shallow water, the child came up out of the ceremony, shouting, "I'm alive! I'm alive! I'm alive!"

When the missionary asked the boy what he was doing, he explained that when the minister said people were "buried with Christ in the waters of baptism," he thought people physically died through the process.

Those listening to the story chuckled at the child's misunderstanding – until she asked us a haunting question. "That child thought that baptism would kill him, and yet he was willing to go through the process. Would you have done the same?"

I once heard a preacher who said, “My old man has died with Christ in baptism, but sometimes the devil does CPR and manages to resuscitate him.”

Jesus did not need baptism. He did it to show us the attitude of obedience, faith, and willingness that God desires for us.  Jesus got baptized to identify with us whom he came to save.

As Catholics, we believe that baptism is necessary for salvation (Catechism 1257). Protestants do not share this belief.

In John 3:5: "Jesus answered, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit."

Don’t be tricked. Jesus does NOT say that you must be born of water THEN born of the spirit.  He says you must be born again of water and the spirit. As Catholics, we believe that the born-again experience IS baptism.

The first Christians, as the historical record makes very clear, baptized babies when they were eight days old or even sooner.

No Bible verse says “baptize infants” just as there is no Bible verse that says “do not baptize infants.” The baptizing of infants comes from early Authoritative Catholic Christian Tradition.

This Ordinary Time is the time when we live out our Baptismal promises day by day.

The real question of “Are you born-again” is really “Have you had a personal affective experience” of having spiritually met Jesus?

Be able to dunk all of yourself when temptations or traps come your way so that all of you get buried with Christ, and you can arise and live victoriously in the Risen Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

“My Beloved Son” by Phil Russell

“My Beloved Son” by Phil Russell

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17

“The Lord will bless his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

“He (JESUS) went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” Acts 10:38

“For God was with him....,”

By virtue of our Baptism, God is with us, too! And we are with Him.

What are we? “Beloved.”

Each one of us anointed Prophet, Priest, King. The Children of God, the Body of Christ!


Jesus submits himself to his Father’s will.  This act of righteousness fulfills and leads Jesus to Jerusalem and his suffering, death, and resurrection.

There we, too, are “called,” and Jesus says to us, “so must you also do.”

We are beloved of The Father!

I was baptized 70 years ago.  In these years, I’ve come to a better understanding of “Beloved” by the very virtue of my Baptism.

I opted as a parent to have my children baptized. One of the hardest things that I had had to do as a baptized person, “beloved” of God, was to give up my child when he died so suddenly at 27. And then, release him back to, my Heavenly Father. At his funeral Mass of Christian Burial, I stood in the same Church, just feet between the space where we baptized him, on that Sunday, November 4, 1990, to this “ritual” rite of “ March 26, 2018…returning him to my Heavenly Father...the One who had gifted me with Michael, my own “beloved Son, in whom I was well pleased.”

There was a song playing, as Father incensed his “urn” it was a Song called “Benedictus” by Steve Angrisano .... “our God has raised up for us a mighty Prophet, fulfilling the promise to save his people.”

Those words of Benediction washed over me that day, words of promise, and truth. As a “Beloved” child of God, I am/we are “called” to “Bless his people with peace.” As we sing this day as our response to our God, in thanksgiving for his Promise to us.

At this liturgical end of the Christmas Season, we are called to be fully equipped as his “Beloved”!

He Must Increase

He Must Increase

We have this confidence in him that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask,
we know that what we have asked him for is ours. 1 John 5:14-15

John answered and said, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Christ, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” John 3:27-30

On this last weekday of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle, we encounter the final testimony of John the Baptist. Herod has not yet arrested or executed John.  But this time of transition shows that John’s ministry decreases in importance while Jesus takes over the lead role.

This statement also rings true in our lives.  Our ego and selfishness must decrease if Jesus is to have any room in our mind, on our lips, and in our heart to live. If we ask for it, then it will happen.


The world today is filled with the reality and repercussions of a changing climate. Glaciers are melting. Intense storms are strengthening. Seas are rising. Floods are spreading. Heatwaves and droughts are prolonging. And the destruction and disruption all those events bring to people in all parts of the globe are increasing.[i]

Science alone has not provided the spark to overcome political opposition.  Something more – perhaps a moral force – is needed.  Into that void stepped Pope Francis, who introduced nearly five years ago his landmark encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," a compendium of Catholic teaching and thought on creation and humanity's role within it. With it, he outlined in unequivocal terms the essential duty to care for nature at the core of what it means to be Christian and positioned the global Catholic Church as a prominent voice on climate change and the environmental degradation that faces populations across the planet.

Right now, we have two pressing priorities in different parts of the globe. The news of the wildfires in Australia and the recent earthquake/aftershocks in Puerto Rico are devastating. It is difficult to see the suffering of our Australian and Puerto Rican brothers and sisters when there is so little that we can do to help.

Financial support to disaster relief organizations - to the workers on the ground - is often the best way that we can help. Listed below are the Catholic Church's agencies that are providing local aid.

Australia: You can give through the St. Vincent de Paul Society (Australia) Bush Fire Appeal here:

Puerto Rico: You can give through Catholic Relief Services here:

Friday, January 10, 2020: Thick clouds of brown smoke from Australia's
bushfires spread across the Tasman Sea in this photo
captured by an astronaut at the International Space Station.
The picture was from January 4 when the station was
orbiting 269 miles above the Tasman Sea. — Hanneke Weitering

Friday, January 10, 2020

He Saw Jesus

He Saw Jesus

Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:5

It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it.  Be made clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately.  Luke 5:12-13

This Epiphany week, we continue to get stories about Encounters with Jesus. The Christ-child and the Christ-man draw people in and the encounters change them.  This week in the readings, we have heard and read about the stories of the Persian astrologers who wandered crossed the desert to the wonders of the baby through the man full of leprosy who fell on his knees before Jesus. 

Backing up to the First Reading, “Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”  The accounts we read in the Bible are the accounts of people who had direct contact with Jesus.  John’s letter holds out hope for us to have such a direct encounter as well.

How? Through our encounters aided by the Holy Spirit. 

This is the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and Blood.
The Spirit is the one who testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
So there are three who testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the Blood,
and the three are of one accord.

We can see Jesus in the people who need help.  These days, the stories of disasters that clamor for our attention stretch from Puerto Rico to the fire victims in Australia. 

To get desperately needed help straight to Puerto Rico after back-to-back earthquakes registering as high as magnitude 5.8 and 6.4, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York is working directly with its long-time partner organizations Comité Noviembre, Caritas, and The New York Foundling to aid the people living on the southern coast of Puerto Rico in and around the Ponce region.

Over 400 people have been forced to evacuate from the area and are living in makeshift tent shelters in a large parking lot. Over 32 houses collapsed, over 100 apartments are uninhabitable, and hundreds of other homes are now uninhabitable. Many of the area schools and churches also suffered severe damage. Currently, there are reports that more than 300,000 customers are without water and there is no power in the region. Much of the earthquake damage was in the southern coastal area, from Ponce to the west, including Yauco, Guayanilla, Lajas, and Guánica.

Consider giving support through your local diocesan Catholic Charities or working through the connections in New York.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

“Conquered by Faith” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Conquered by Faith” by Beth DeCristofaro

If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen … For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. (1 John 4:20, 5:3-4)

(Jesus) stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: 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. (Luke 4:16-19)


In the notes to the Gospel, we read, “Our love is grounded in the confession of Jesus as the Son of God and the example of God’s love for us. The Christian life is founded on the knowledge of God as love and on his continuing presence that relieves us from fear of judgment (1 Jn 4:16–18). What Christ is gives us confidence, even as we live and love in this world. Yet Christian love is not abstract but lived in the concrete manner of love for one another.”[i] Jesus knows this isn’t an easy concept to grasp nor to live.  In yesterday’s Gospel, the disciples did not grasp Jesus’ presence nor power over the storm threatening to swamp them.  The Gospel states They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:52)

And yet, for sure, Jesus’ disciples were law-abiding, commandment-following men, faithful to the Law of Moses. What they had trouble with, and many of us have difficulty with today, is that Jesus wants us to follow the law written upon our hearts, his presence fulfilled by our thoughts, desires, and actions.  This law, as Jesus said, is the greatest: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31) Again and again, we hear that our hearts must be softened so that we carry and convey, in graced confidence, the love of God into our world. 

With hearts softened in God-presence, we will not only not want to kill but will seek to be kind.  We will not covet what belongs to others because we will be contented in our relationship with Jesus.  We will be suffused with truth instead of the need to lie about others.  Honoring our parents or indeed, others will be a privilege on our part.  And it will be a joy to keep holy the Sabbath, keeping God always before our eyes, within the hand extended to others, joyfully keeping company in our “concrete manner of love for one another.”

Jesus’ reading for Isaiah tells us clearly how to love him by loving those most in need of his (and our) love.  Which of these people do I have the most trouble loving?  Those blind to the needs of others?  Those oppressed by poverty and unemployment standing on the street with a sign?  Those tyrannized by their own need for power and prestige who dominate others?  The list may be long indeed, but the inexhaustible power of God is there for us to learn first not to hate and then, indeed, to love.  I ask for God to soften my heart.