Offers food for thought
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Moses, told the people to listen to the prophet that God would raise up for them. Jesus is that prophet, the one who speaks for God, definitively and forever. He is the one of whom God the Father said, “This is my Son, Listen to Him.”
Listening often involves both the eyes and the ears, and always actively involves alertness of mind and attentiveness of the soul. Today’s Gospel account of the words and actions of Jesus tells us something very important about His mission that we ought to listen to carefully. We see and hear that his work is focused on exercising from the world and in the souls of man, the presence of evil wrought through the work of Enemy number 1. With the power and authority of his word, Jesus silences and expels the demon. “Be quiet! Come out of him!” The man is made free. Christs work of salvation has begun.
We are being reminded not to overlook the truth that the enemy is real and is determined to sabotage the work of grace in and through us. We are being reminded that our faith teaches (CCC #414), "Satan or the devil and the other demons are fallen angels who have freely refused to serve God and his plan. Their choice against God is definitive. They try to associate man in their revolt against God." We are being reminded that the beloved disciple summed up Jesus' mission saying: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 4:8)
Some folks might say, even some folks here today, that this is a story for a time before the enlightenment of man, because for us in the age of science, such stories about demons and supernatural evil forces have no meaning. But, these folks aren’t listening to the Word of God and they are ignoring the actions of Christ. They are like ones who have eyes but cannot see, who have ears but cannot hear. They fail to see and to hear the truth behind the words and actions of Christ and the Saints throughout history. Jesus himself frequently referred to the devil in his parables and other teachings, and the devil himself tempted Jesus in the desert and returned later to engineer Judas' betrayal.
This denial makes easier the work of the enemy. For example, ignoring the existence and activity of the enemy, would be like being sick and pretending you’re not, so you go about your business as normal… but pretending doesn’t make you not sick, in fact it will make you and others increasingly sick. Such is the danger of ignoring the reality of the enemy.
People have become conditioned to believe that such things as reading horoscopes, watching horror movies (especially those focused on the demonic), Ouija boards, palm reading, tea leaves, crystals, etc, are merely harmless entertainment. But the Church as well as former self-professed ‘true disciples’ of the enemy consistently and tirelessly warn against experimenting with these things and more, because they are in fact gateways which the enemy uses to draw us into a web of lies.
We should have no trouble believing and understanding this truth, because we clearly know and understand that human beings are capable of doing exactly the same thing, and we’re not nearly as clever as the enemy. None of us would disagree with the fact that brainwashing techniques, national propaganda efforts and psychological warfare practices rely on the use of media to affect the way people think about things. Think even, of the social engineering efforts that happen right now through the work of creators of movie and TV shows, which is not primarily for entertainment but is oriented toward changing public opinion about certain moral practices. Dabbling with these things, consciously or pretending them to be harmless, is to directly contradict the faith, our baptismal promises and parts of the Creed… and allow friendship with Christ to eventually be destroyed.
There is a spiritual battle going on and we cannot avoid being the subjects of it. We must always, as St Peter says, "Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour." (1 Peter 5:8)
Cling to Christ. Through regular prayer and receiving the Eucharist in a worthy state and manner.
Cling to the truth. The main weapon of the enemy is deception. This is one reason the enemy fights to keep us out of the confessional. Confession is the gift of truth: we face the truth about ourselves and God. Through the priest, we are reminded of the truth of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace.
Cling to a love that serves. The enemy is the lord of selfishness, and Christ is the Lord of love. When we resist our selfishness by serving others, we weaken the devil's influence in our lives.
Jesus always expelled the demons from the possessed, easily and definitively. Jesus gives us power in him to do the same and overcome the enemy. Every Christian must become a spiritual warrior and one who absolutely can be victorious in Christ. The enemy has no power over us or in us, that we don’t give it….
Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
One major complaint about the church is that we don’t walk our talk. We don’t look like Jesus and we don’t live like Jesus. Someone might say to you, “You know what the problem is with you Christians?” and without rolling your eyes, you tell him “I’d love to know.” So he continues, “You guys have an outstanding product but your delivery system is messed up.” Confused, you ask “What do you mean?” He clarifies by asking, “You guys are selling Jesus right?” Despite the thoughts immediately swirling through your mind, you charitably respond “Uh, sorta. Yeah.” So, he goes on saying “Well Jesus is amazing. He’s incredible. What a tremendous product. But the delivery system – the church of the lukewarm, nobody wants that. You guys are like bait and switch salesmen… you talk a good talk but you don’t even believe it enough to walk the walk”
So there it is, take a minute and reflect on your own life and commitment to follow him. Mercifully, God never gives up and his word is always ready to speak new life into our souls, as it calls us back and teaches us how to go forward.
Paul, in today’s Second Reading gives us a key truth without which we will never realize the holiness for which we are made. He tells the Corinthians that it’s who and what we are in God, not what we have, that defines us. He affirms the Way of Christ which is to live in total freedom and holy detachment from that which isn’t lasting. If any of us is going to be able to respond to the voice of God calling us, we will first need to be free and detached, or at least somewhat internally oriented in this way and stay that way.
In the second part of today’s Gospel four fishermen are called and we see how free and detached they are. They weren’t unfamiliar with Jesus, they had already spent time with him. They would not have gone home without being changed. Now, after their encounter with the Lord and after a time of growth in understanding, Jesus seeks them out and calls them to be with him, learn from him and share in the mission of salvation; to proclaim the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.". Acting with complete trust and total surrender, they left their nets and followed Jesus.
Most of us, are we like those first apostles or are we fearful and pragmatic? “Where are we going? What will we do? How long will we be gone? What do I need to take? Where will we stay?” However, God promised us that if we cling to Jesus and commit to lives that affirm our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, cooperating with the grace of God and the transforming power of relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit; then we will increasingly be able to recognize Gods voice, discern God’s will, and eagerly respond with freedom and complete surrender.
Jesus started a revolution, in the souls of a few people who said ‘You are the Messiah, to whom else could we go’ and, we are completely yours ‘be it done to me according to your word’! Let the revolution, in your soul happen. A revolution that transforms you and changes the world. THIS is the adventure of your life. We are saved to be sent. We are saved to serve. We are saved to share. This is how you will know the will God.
The call to repent, believe, follow and serve, continues to go out to each one of us. It’s also a progressively unfolding call. I am first called to ‘come and see’ and then to ‘repent and believe’. Then I’m called to ‘listen to him’ and to ‘do whatever he tells us’ as we increasingly learn how to live in the imitation of Christ. At some point, Jesus seeks us out some of us and calls us to participate directly in the mission as Priests and Religious Brothers and Sisters. For others, he calls to participate in the mission primarily through building the Kingdom of God as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers… and to love God and Neighbor through the mission of a holy family.
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: First Samuel 3:3-10, 19; Psalms 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10; First Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20; John 1:35-42
Everyone has a vocation: Today’s readings are about that. Everyone has a state of life to which their called and within which they will experience the fullest joy and realize their greatest potential for holiness. That’s what we mean when we say that everyone has a vocation. There are three vocations that a person could be called to live. Most people will be called to the vocation of marriage. Some to religious life / priesthood, and very few to consecrated single life. The readings today focus on the call to religious life / priesthood.
The first and second readings speak to us of two pillars for discerning your vocation. The first is becoming aware of God’s voice and listening. The second focuses on the importance of moral purity of life. Both of these become essential to being able to encounter Jesus, as they did in today’s Gospel reading, and to engage with him, to spend time with him and to discover your true self in him.
The second reading, about moral purity in life, is an important lesson to learn, understand and embrace. Sin and selfishness are like chains that bind the power of God to work within us. The more we serve ourselves, our sinful passions and treat others as objects to be used and abused, the more separated we are from God and the ability recognize the voice of Lord, to listen and to desire to follow as God leads us. Our commitment to moral purity and respect for the temple of the Holy Spirit, our bodies, is directly proportionate to our ability to grow in holiness and self-understanding. It affects our ability to love God, others and ourselves in the way in which we were made to love.
The gospel is also about how the Lord calling can be progressively understood / revealed. We have to be obedient, humbly surrender to God increasingly each day of our lives, in order to increasingly recognize how the Lord continues to lead us. “Come and see.” Knowing Jesus and where he stays is a matter of experience. One could know the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, all 700 pages of it, by heart and still not know Jesus. To know him in the Gospel sense is to seek, find and respond to his loving presence in the fabric of our daily lives.
But, it’s not just all about the will God over and above our own will. It is about discovering ourselves in God and embracing our identity in God. Our deepest desire is for God and our greatest good is to know, love and serve God. In uncovering that desire within and allowing it to flower in fullness, we will discover that our will and God’s will are in union. This is where our freedom is fully realized and our vocation is fully recognized. Just as Jesus said the disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus also asks of you: “What do you want?”
God speaks through others: So, today’s homily is not just for those who have yet to discover the vocation to which God calls. The first reading, although it is about learning to recognize God’s voice and listening, it is also a reminder that having a spiritual guide or mentor is really helpful, almost essential. The young prophet Samuel had been chosen to lead and instruct God's people but when God first started to speak to Samuel's heart, the future spiritual hero didn't even know how to recognize his voice. Eli, had to teach him. Samuel needed Eli in order to know how to directly encounter the Lord and respond.
Not only in this way, but also, every brother and sister in Christ who has realized their vocation, embraced it and continued to grow in holiness through living that vocation, also has a responsibility to become the help that others need for their discernment. John and Andrew had been chosen by God to become two of the twelve apostolic pillars of the Church, and yet, John the Baptist had to point Jesus out to them, twice, before they got the message. Andrew, then became not only a committed follower but the one who also calls. With great excitement he went and found his brother, Simon. Through Simon we see how encounter with Jesus reveals our identity in God. God speaks in so many ways, through so many messengers! Most of us will first experience the call of God through others. It might be parents, grandparents, godparents, friends, co workers, pastors, teachers… even strangers! We just need to tune in.
For all of us: Friendship with Christ, then, means wanting and working for whatever Christ wants and works for. Today's Psalm puts it beautifully: "Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will...,” that is to say, I want my will to be indistinguishable from your will, because I’ve discovered your purpose for having made me in your image and likeness. So, meaning in life, identity and vocation as well as our ability to be the voice of God in the lives of others are to be found in and through deep relationship with Christ. If we understand that, then our highest priority in life ought to be to constantly deepen that friendship. There are three essential ways to do this. First, you have to gradually develop a mature life of prayer. Second, you have to build your life around the sacraments. Third, allow the deepened relationship with Christ to reveal your true self.
Everyone, take the “Samuel” challenge this week: not just once, but everyday. Take a few minutes of silent prayer and say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” then listen. If you have trouble listening, or think the Lord is trying to tell you something, but don’t quite get it, ask someone, who can give you good spiritual advice, for help.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
"Therefore, though it is God who takes the initiative of coming to dwell in the midst of men, and he is always the main architect of this plan, it is also true that he does not will to carry it out without our active cooperation. Therefore, to prepare for Christmas means to commit oneself to build 'God's dwelling with men.” Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 12 December 2006, Vatican City.
The message throughout Advent has been, to prepare / to be ready… for the coming of the Lord. Well, the day before Christmas, it’s probably a good idea if we do a bit of a personal check to make sure we’ve kept Christ in Christmas and took seriously the need to evaluate our relationship with God and that that relationship is transformative for us.
In the First Reading, we can see in the words of God to David, an acknowledgement of readiness and the unexpected way that God allows us a role in the great plan of salvation. God made a solemn promise to King David, that a descendent of his will rule an everlasting Kingdom. King David wasn’t ready to hear that promise and receive that joy until, "he was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side." For us, his palace symbolizes our soul, our interior lives. Freedom from enemy occupation, symbolizes who is ruling the soul. Are there still some evil, self-centered desires, sinful habits or patterns, dominating our souls and our activities.
Does this reflect my interior spiritual reality? Who is ruling my soul?
David didn’t just get comfortable when all was ‘all was well with his soul’. He thought seriously about how he would continue to Love and Serve both God and Neighbor. It turned out that it wouldn’t be in the way that he imagined or presumed. In order for us to be prepared we too must be asking ‘What more can I do for God and neighbor? Each one of us is called not only to receive God's grace, but to be instruments of his grace.
Does this reflect my actions? What spirit inspires my choices?
St. Paul, in the second reading, shows us in his words the disposition toward God’s will in our lives that we should have. He praises God for the mysterious and wonderful plan of salvation, which was "kept secret for long ages," but now has been "proclaimed," revealed, and "manifested through the prophetic writings." The evidence of the first coming of Christ affirms the promises of God, the faithfulness, the love, the mercy and the coming victory.
Do I believe this? Does the truth impel me to Glorify God and share the Good News?
It is about living a life of Grace, the fullness of Grace through Christ. In today's Gospel, Mary gives us the perfect example of grace filled living as she declares that she belongs to God and her will is to do God’s will. The most profound openness to God, is in the way she allowed her womb to become the dwelling of the Lord. As Christmas approaches, we are increasingly focused on the notion of a dwelling place for God.
Is there room for Him?
Each of us, who remains open to God’s grace and being bearers of Christ to the world, live no longer for ourselves but for him who died that we might live… he must increase and I must decrease. “Surely you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you!... For God’s temple is holy and you yourselves are his temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17).
Third Sunday of Advent - 'Gaudete Sunday - Rejoice in the Lord'
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; First Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
Gaudete Sunday made a little more sense, back in the day. It was a sort of ‘break’, from the solemn tones and a reminder of the coming cause of great and lasting joy. In the past, Advent was a penitential season like Lent, and so the ‘feel’ was deliberately somber. Today, not so much. Everybody is too busy, or full of secular ‘Christmas Spirit’, or just to burdened with the realities of life to be able to ‘experience’ the season of Advent in the way all your priests and others are telling you to do.
Because, through our baptism the spirit of the Lord is upon us, we have been made like Isaiah, anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God. And so, as participants in the mission of the Messiah, to “Rejoice always,” as St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading. To do so by praying without ceasing and in all circumstances, to give thanks, because this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus.
What does it take, in a world of craziness, to “rejoice heartily in the Lord; in my God… the joy of my soul” as Isaiah says. Well folks, although our time in history isn’t without it’s trials and tribulations, let’s not forget that we don’t live in the worst of times, the busiest of times, the poorest, ugliest, most violent or oppressive of times. Let’s remember that Isaiah, John, Paul, Mary… everyone throughout scripture who tells of their great joy… they did it in the midst of their suffering.
The Scriptures were written over the course of human history and by people who knew what it meant to work day and night; who never had all they deserved or what they needed; for whom poverty and suffering were their life and lot; living under corrupt civil and religious authorities; hoping they could give their children better and fearing failure. These words in Scripture gave voice to the sorrows and the joys of those who were rich with stuff and poor in spirit; who were materially poor but rich in the Lord; they were refugees in foreign lands; they had intellect and ability but the wrong color skin or last name; of those who were rotting in prisons (the just among the unjust); those who were physically challenged with disabilities. Yet, alongside their lamentations about their sinful condition and the difficulties of their real lives, they rejoiced in the love of God, in the promise of a savior and their redemption.
So to, for you and I. Advent happens in real time, to real people. Throughout human history Advent has always be woven through with the promises of God to every suffering soul, dripping with God’s LOVE and that love finding its way through the real circumstances of our lives, to fill us with HOPE, PEACE, and JOY.
Every individual human being, was created in order to find lasting joy and fulfillment, the abundant life, through living union with God. But, we become so lost and tangled up in the dense jungle of selfishness and sin, that there’s no path through the thick of the jungle without God making a way for us. So, "The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God" (Catechism #457). We need a Savior.
Our Advent theme might well be ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ Lord, welcome to the concrete wasteland wrought by human sin. Into that jungle, the tangled reality of our lives, he comes, as he came into the world that night among barnyard animals and shepherds who smelled like the sheep. He comes full of love and joy, even though he can see the Cross of his sacrifice in the distance. Just as he will come again at the end of history, righting every wrong, wiping away every tear, and restoring every loss.
So, yes, our world is overflowing with bad news and unsettling truths… and yes, your life might not be perfectly awesome… there’s all the more reason to be full of joy… we and the world of people around us, need a savior… as much as ever… and here he is, God with us, as much as ever… because of that day when a young girl said, ‘behold, be it done unto to me according to your word’.
Good news for us, God isn’t willing to wait until the end of time, to start making things right, to start weeding the jungle of our world, our families, our lives, our hearts. His only begotten Son didn’t break on through to our side, just to suffer and let the enemy win. He did it to make us see, that even though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we ought not to fear the evil.
Now that’s cause for rejoicing, in the Lord! That we have come into possession of something good and whenever we lose our grip on it, we know where to go, to whom to go, and how to get it back. Our hearts are thirsty for a joy that will never go away, because that's what we were created for. And now, because of Christ, the true, lasting joy that each one of us desires more than anything else, is possible. Because of Christ, like our brothers and sisters in faith throughout history, in the midst of suffering and life challenges, we can avoid quenching the Spirit by despising God’s prophetic word; we can discern and retain what is good and refrain from evil; we can “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing… and in all circumstances give thanks.” We can believe and affirm that God will make us perfectly holy and preserve us blameless for when he comes again for us… because “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”
For the disciple of Christ, Love – Hope – Peace – Joy… are what permeate our daily experience. They are what give meaning to every aspect and experience of life. They animate our ability to live the truth of our Salvation in the freedom of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. But, for this to be true, we must be encountering the Lord daily through the habit of unconditional openness to the love of God.
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.