Spiritual Restoration

May the Good News lift you in joy and peace!

The historical context of the first reading indicates that the people are just returning to Jerusalem where the Temple had been desecrated and is badly in need of repair while the people themselves suffer ignorance of God’s covenant and law because of their captivity in the Babylonian exile.  The focus of Ezra and Nehemiah is twofold: repair the Temple building and teach the people to live the law and covenant.   The people need to be restored physically and spiritually to reclaim their identity as God’s holy people.

In the Gospel, Jesus has just returned from the desert where he struggled against the temptations of the devil.  By overcoming all the temptations, Jesus does not succumb to the captivity of sin and maintains his identity as God’s Beloved Son.  Jesus comes in the power of the Spirit to announce the good news of salvation and a promise of favor from God.

The combination of both readings beckons us to evaluate ourselves before God and identify the things that hold us captive.  But we are not to punish ourselves with negative thoughts about ourselves, our failings, weaknesses or past sins.  Rather we are invited to trust Jesus’ promise of God’s favor ever more deeply and rejoice!  This is a time of liberation and deliverance!  God’s goodness and mercy are not just for a day or a year, but from the moment Jesus announced it until the end of time.  When Jesus said “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” he meant that this fulfillment is in him from now on.

St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we have a special relationship with other people of the church—spiritually we’re members of Christ’s own body.  The gifts that all the members have received are for service and the good of others—just like the ones Jesus announced.  Giving of ourselves and receiving from others are the concrete forms of the communion we have as members of the one body and it is the concrete expression that strengthens us spiritually and brings joy.  As God’s beloved child, how do you experience this good news today?  How do you proclaim this good news to others each day?  God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Covenant With God

Peace be with you!

The readings this weekend draw us to contemplate the deep, passionate love that God has for the human race— especially for the people he calls his own, the Church.  These readings enhance the meaning of the covenant relationship of baptism that we enter with God through Jesus’ baptism.

In the first reading from Isaiah, the people are just returning from exile—a place of servitude and slavery.  It is a time of transition which includes the mix of feelings that always accompany change but the message is overall one of great hope and bright promise!  This first reading serves as a spring board for the Gospel.

The Gospel story of the wedding at Cana is the first of Jesus’ signs that announce God’s presence among us and that the fulfillment of all promises is taking place!

The wedding is symbolic of the marriage of mankind with God.  This union of two natures is present in the water and the wine and the person of Jesus as Son of God and Son of Man.  Mary appears in the story as one who understands the needs of the people and as one who speaks or intercedes on their behalf before God.  Mary knows that Jesus is the Savior and the source of all grace for the human race.  When she tells Jesus “they have no wine,” she is asking Jesus to remember the love and compassion he has for humanity and to fulfill his promise to save them by letting his divine love and grace flow upon them to heal the division between men and women and restore harmony and peace to the human race by reconciling them with God: to free them from sin.  Jesus responds that his “hour has not yet come” because the consummation of the new covenant is not until he offers his body and blood on the cross for his bride the Church.  Jesus must accomplish the expiation of our sins at the appointed hour.  Mary understands what Jesus means but she also knows that she is the first among the redeemed.  Because she was given this favor from God at the beginning of her life, she also asks a share in this grace for the people that God was preparing to be his bride.  Mary’s words to the servants are also directed to us: “do whatever he tells you.”   At Mary’s request, Jesus generously shows his love by giving them a foretaste of the new covenant symbolized by the best wine.

When I think of Cana, I am awed by the interplay between Jesus and Mary and the attentive care they have for every person.  In my brief reflection, I have only hinted at some of the deep realities contained in this scripture passage.  I hope that you find yourself rejoicing as you savor the new wine of God’s gifts of love that are yours.  I hope that you can be awestruck when you look at your spouse and children and contemplate how great the gift of a human life is.  I also hope that you are even more awestruck at how the gift of divine life comes to us through the sacraments!  God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Renew Your Baptism!

Peace and grace to you!

This weekend we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord in which God reveals Jesus as The Beloved Son.  This event always calls us to reflect first upon John’s baptism of repentance (turning-to-God) and why Jesus was baptized by John.  Even John questioned it.  Jesus expressed his desire to fulfill righteousness, which means to fulfill God’s plan— to do God’s will and sanctify people of faith in Christ who are baptized.  Jesus entered creation and was born a man so that human beings could share divine life with God.

Today upon his baptism, we see something new: Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit!  In this event, Jesus makes the waters of baptism holy so that those who experience Christian baptism are reborn, cleansed from sin and re-created as children of God, united to God as members of Christ’s own body and sharing in the life of the Holy Spirit.  As Christians we are enabled to live and love as God’s beloved sons and daughters and we are empowered to carry on the saving mission of Jesus in the world.  We are called and sent to work for justice and peace and share the Gospel message so that other people may be free from error, darkness and sin.  For many of us who were baptized as infants, we have never fully understood or embraced the radical character of our baptism.  That is why Feasts like today’s and the renewal of our baptismal promises are so important.  They help us to understand more fully what baptism really means.  Such occasions also help us recommit ourselves to living more deeply the covenant of love as Jesus Christ taught us.  The baptism of Jesus was the starting point of his public ministry when he taught the people about God and the moral life.  He worked many miracles of healing to show that God’s power comes as love and mercy for the person who desires salvation.  This was Jesus’ mission and ours too.  Jesus still works miracles through those who do good works in his name.  I hope that many of us have a sense of renewal and a spring in our step knowing that we share in such a beautiful and important work.  May God bless all your efforts! +++ Fr. Peter

Epiphany!

May the light of faith guide you to eternal life!

We celebrate the Epiphany this weekend, which means “manifestation.”  It refers to the events around Christ’s birth that show how God has revealed his plan of salvation for the whole human race; not just the Jewish people.  The first reading prophecies that a ruler shall arise from the assembly of faith who will truly be like a great light in the heavens!  This ruler will establish true justice, peace, and he will govern with heavenly wisdom and be recognized by all nations as a gift from God.  St. Paul speaks of a stewardship of divine grace that was given him by God in order that he may continue guiding all nations in the light of the Gospel: God’s love and mercy shown toward the human race in Jesus.

The Gospel story depicts Wise Men from the East.  They saw a light in the heavens that they had never seen before and they believed this star signaled that a very important and great king had been born.  The journey of the Magi speaks of the yearning for peace, justice, love and mercy in every human heart through history.  The Magi represent everyone who seeks the truth in hope of healing, peace and salvation.  Herod, on the other hand, represents those who feel threatened by an authority greater than their own, those opposed to accountability to truth and justice and those who are selfish to the point of evil.  This also pertains to the fallen part of human nature and selfish inclinations to seek only after our own desires with little or no regard for God or others.  We are given an example of the forces at work within ourselves through the characters in the story.  We seek the truth and are guided by God’s heavenly wisdom which leads us to peace through serving God first and others.  This is the path by which we discover the joy of knowing the truth, acting in justice, mercy and love.  We have a choice to follow the wisdom of God or we can turn away.  The conclusion of the story is that the Wise Men experienced Jesus in humble simplicity and were enriched by him in a profound, mystical way.  They went away in a new direction because they had been changed by the light of God’s love and goodness.  Herod remained hardened at heart and dark in selfishness.  Let us pray that we too will seek God’s wisdom so that we will shine more brightly with the joy and peace found only in Jesus and his cross.  Let us ask Jesus to touch others with his light through us.  God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!

The Christmas season has officially begun!  For a lot of people, Christmas season seems to have begun much sooner.  I noticed this year that decorations, advertisements and Christmas theme items began to appear the day after Halloween instead of the day after Thanksgiving.  I guess there are a couple of different ways to view that but it seems to me that our world longs for the Christmas season because we long for more of Jesus in our lives.  Although we may complain about consumerism and a loss of the sense of the sacred in our society, there are still a great many believers and to them, it is truly Christmas that we celebrate!  I have a special attraction to Advent and to Christmas so I don’t mind the extra time of decorations that announce Christ’s coming.  To me, it all serves to extend the reminder of Christ’s special presence among us “Emmanuel” and God’s incomparable gift of forgiveness that brings peace, reconciliation, joy and salvation to the whole world!  This is truly worthy of an extended celebration!  In one of the traditional songs, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” it mentions that a special gift was received on each day of the Christmas season, which continues to the Epiphany of the Lord.  The song reminds me that one way of making Christmas Season special may be to space out our gift giving and gift opening so that it extends through the Christmas season.  As you know, the song mentions that the gifts received came from “my true love,” which is God.  The partridge in the pear tree is Christ. 2 turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments. 3 French hens are the theological virtues of Fath, Hope and Charity.  4 calling birds are the 4 Gospels.  5 gold rings are the first 5 books of the Old Testament.  6 geese  laying are the first 6 days of creation.  7 swans swimming are the seven seven sacraments.  8 maids milking are the beatitudes.  9 ladies dancing are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  10 lords leaping are the Ten Commandments.  11 pipers piping are the 11 faithful disciples.  12 drummers drumming are the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.

We offer tokens of love and esteem to each other in the form of presents and kindness.  This is important because love flows forth from God who is the source of love and God’s love within us then reaches out to others.  We also know that our most true and lasting gifts come to us from God’s love and mercy!  The Christmas season is interspersed with special feasts: Saint Steven, The Holy Innocents and The Holy Family and Epiphany.  Each of these feast days offers a particular window from which to view the mystery of Christ and his mission to save us.  Let us ponder with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and kings the gift of Christ who is our true love and give thanks to God for our families: family of origin and our family of faith!  Blessings of peace and joy to you all! +++ Fr. Peter

The Gift Of Grace

Rejoice!  The Lord is near!

The readings this weekend are filled with hope and fulfillment.  Isaiah’s message fills us with hope because all people of the world will recognize God’s people as his “delight.”   They will receive abundant blessings from God, so much so that their land will seem to be “espoused.”

The Gospel traces out the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to Jesus.  One important feature in this genealogy is that some of the characters in Jesus’ family line were not all Jewish and some were far less than perfect.  In the Gospel, we are given a sense of fulfillment.  Jesus entered human history.  He had a normal human family complete with flaws.  God is entering human history embracing humanity with love and acceptance, even with our personal imperfections!

As Christians, we recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise to David that one of his descendants would rule his kingdom.  When we ponder the way that God chose to fulfill his promise and plan of salvation, we should be struck with awe.

Mary and Joseph were descendants of David and God chose Mary who was a poor, lowly girl to be the Mother of the Savior of the whole world!  When Mary said “yes” she was lifted up and so are all women through her.  Because of this all generations now call her “Blessed.”  Mary was the last who became first among the Redeemed and reigns as Queen in heaven.  The mighty and powerful rulers of the world are reduced to silence before her and no accomplishments of theirs will compare to her part in salvation history.  God surpassed Mary’s hopes and dreams in a greater way than he did those of David.  Jesus told us that the poor in spirit will attain the kingdom of heaven, the meek will inherit the earth and the pure in heart will see God.  The kingdom that Jesus established is beyond the powers and limits of this world and we are invited to come and follow his plan.  We are invited to say “yes” to God with Mary every day of our lives and as we do, we experience a surpassing gift that only Christ Our Savior can give.

Our expectant hope for a special grace every Christmas in the present is based upon God’s action of grace in the past.  A Christmas hymn that underlines the fulfillment of God’s promise is O Little Town of Bethlehem.  The last line of the first verse says: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  Our hopes are fulfilled by a loving, merciful Savior who dispels darkness, fear and doubt.  God bless you with light and peace! +++ Fr. Peter

Rejoice!

May the approaching dawn lift you in hope!

The readings from the Third Sunday in Advent of Year C are considered some of the best because they really inspire us to rejoice in hope!

The prophet Zephaniah encourages the people to shout and sing joyfully, to be glad and exult with all their hearts because God is coming to favor them with love and mercy.  The people of Zephaniah’s day had turned away from God and fallen into idolatry—placing other things as more important than God.  The king introduced religious reform and encouraged the people to put God first in all things.  He then instructed them not to fear but look to God, ask for mercy and ask for help and blessings.

The Psalmist too invites us to join in a song of joy because God is already among us.

St. Paul further encourages us to rejoice in prayer and in good deeds because it is by the practice of our faith that we experience the peace and joy of God’s kingdom.  Paul’s experience as a builder of the early Church was filled with challenges and difficulty.  It seems that he was persecuted on every side.  He was stoned by Jewish people, beaten with rods by Gentiles then finally imprisoned and put to death by pagan authorities.  His successes were probably not huge numbers of people coming to faith in Christ but rather small numbers.  Our sense is that he took great joy in the fact that those who became believers were sincere and dedicated to the practice of the faith knowing that God would bring the increase over time.

In the Gospel, we encounter John the Baptist who is calling the people to turn away from sin and to seek God above all.  When asked what should we do?  The Baptist’s reply is consistent, turn away from sin: avoid corruption and selfishness, don’t lie, cheat or steal, don’t harbor grudges or hatred but have charity toward others and give of your wealth, your possessions and of yourself.

It seems like we have a connection with each of the characters in the readings today.  We all know people who have fallen away from the faith or have never had a faith at all.  Many of us are experiencing the challenges and difficulty of being Christians in a world that doesn’t want moral constraints.  There are also discord, tensions and dysfunction in our families.  So why the call to rejoice?  Because, against such a back drop of darkness we should rejoice as we put into practice the Good News that we have in Christ!  Jesus is truly present within us as we go about our day-to-day faith in plain fashion.  Jesus didn’t overthrow the Roman occupation, he transcended it.  This weekend we rejoice because we see ourselves lifted up by his love and mercy transcending the foreign occupations of our time–those in our world, our towns, our families and ourselves.  Our faith filled works make God’s love and mercy palpably felt by hearts and souls all around us and it is God working through us!

May the God of all joy bless you with peace! +++ Fr. Peter

Spiritual Fulfillment

May the coming light of Christ dawn in your hearts!

Many people are living lives that are full but not fulfilling.  Some may be overwhelmed with obligations and responsibilities that bring tension and worries, others may be consumed by busyness, clutter and the complexity of demands that they’ve taken upon themselves.  It’s easy to get trapped in an endless cycle of hyperactivity and consumerism.  But what everyone really wants, what we all really yearn for is peace, wholeness, and feeling loved.

What is it that can lead us to a new level of freedom?  Spirituality.

Many are seeking an inner balance, peace and happiness through consumerist channels.  But there is a better way to spend time!  Spirituality requires and returns the gift of time.  Spending time in prayer with the Lord restores our sense of freedom and well-being.  Prayer brings us to inner peace and helps us discover the best way to use our time of life.  We understand that life doesn’t have to be frenetic with activity and we don’t have to be stressed because God will take care of the things we can’t.

John the Baptist calls us to prepare the way of the Lord by making a straight path for God to enter our hearts and minds so that we can experience his saving love at every moment of our lives!  That’s what spirituality is all about.  It’s about lifting our hearts and minds to God who is coming to fill us with his love, presence and blessings!

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception we will make an act of faith in which we spiritually entrust/dedicate/consecrate ourselves, our families, our homes, our possessions, our towns, our state and our nation to the care of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  As we do so, we are embraced by Mary in a special way.  She will intercede for each of us in the same way as she did for the people at Cana asking God to fill us with his blessings.  She also asks us to embrace her and trust her as a special mother, a teacher and a guide in discipleship.  She instructs us just as she did the servants ant Cana: “do as my Son tells you.”  For our part, we will pray the Rosary and meditate on her life with Jesus and the disciples.  Following the inspirations and inner light we receive in Mass, confession and prayer, we will strive to live holier lives through daily conversion.  We will place our prayers and sacrifices in her hands for sinners and the world so that she receives from us the honor and dignity that God wishes her to have: a Mother, Intercessor for the human race.  The Five First Saturday Devotion to the Immaculate Hearts of Mary and Jesus will begin at St. Edward on the first Saturday in January: 8:30 Rosary, Mass at 9:00.  I am looking forward to this devotion that promises so much grace and heavenly aid to our families and our world.  I hope that you are too!  God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Advent!

Peace and grace to you!

In the first reading we are given an encouragement to be watchful or vigilant because God is soon going to fulfill a promise.  In the Gospel, Jesus says that there will be changes in weather and signs in the heavens and events that seem like the end of the world which include the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  To many, these events will be terrifying and overwhelming.  But to those who are disciples, Jesus says stand erect and raise your heads!  Then he warns us to beware not to become drowsy in our faith or grow slack in discipline or let things overwhelm us to the point that we forget or miss what is truly important.

As you know, Advent is a special time of waiting and expectation for the coming of Christ into the world and into our lives in a new personal way.  We know that God always comes through when he makes promises but we are not always sure how they will be fulfilled!  That’s why we’re not supposed to get drowsy or distracted, we are supposed to watch with eyes of faith!

Consider what you find encouraging and exciting in these three weeks before Christmas.  Is it bringing out the old, beautiful Christmas decorations for your house?  Is it the memories that they bring with them as you set them up and place them in just the right spot?  Is it the fresh scent of the Christmas tree?  It could be children or grand children thinking about Santa or re-telling stories of Christmas in the past.  Getting together with friends and family always brings a certain excitement and energy with it.  There are also the cards and letters that bring us close to those who are far away reminding us that the love of the Heart of Jesus encompasses all people everywhere.  There are movies, music and special dishes that are part of the season that coincide with expectation, anticipation and surprise.

We know instinctively that this is indeed a very special time of year and it comes with a sense of hope in God’s goodness and we know that he is a promise keeper.  We also know that we can get lost and distracted with busyness and pressures.  The light of generosity and goodness can momentarily be extinguished by the impatience we feel with crowds and pushy people we encounter while we are negotiating parking lots or waiting in line at stores.  There are also the relationships that can feel draining or acute sadness from separation or loss of loved ones.  Sometimes we have to struggle for equilibrium and inner peace so that we can encounter goodness and peace in the people around us.

It would be good to make the effort to pray more and try to focus on watching for God’s presence.  God loves and cares for each and every one of us, personally.  Lift up the eye of your mind and open the arms of your heart to embrace God!  Receive the promised gift and surprise that he has for you in Jesus!  Advent Blessings to you! +++ Fr. Peter

Christ The King!

Peace and Grace to all!

This Sunday the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King.  It is an appropriate finale to the end of the liturgical year and it reminds us of the principality of Christ and his universal power and authority over all that is: both visible and invisible.  This celebration should have some personal significance for each of us in our relationship with Jesus, who is King of Mercy.

As we celebrate this feast, I recall my visit to the monument known as “Cristo Rey” in Guanajuato, Mexico.  I travelled with some companions to the shrine to pray for special needs and to offer praise and thanks for the many blessings that I had received from God.  I wasn’t expecting anything but the chance to see the 70 foot statue of Jesus, which resembles that of the famous statue overlooking Rio de Janiero, Brazil.  The statue in Guanajuato was erected as part of the reconstruction of this site following the communist persecution and destruction in the 1930’s.  Many Christians were martyred defending the faith as well as this shrine during this period in Mexico.  The movie For Greater Glory presents many of the atrocities committed against the Church’s priests, religious and faithful while focusing on a few key historical figures.

The confrontation between Jesus and Pilate in the Gospel depicts worldly power and how it is usually corrupted by selfish interests is paralleled by the characters in the movie.  The heavenly kingdom reaches far beyond the here and now of the worldly view.  It is stronger and more beautiful for it values mercy, truth, justice and peace more than temporal wealth and power.  Like the characters in the Gospel and the movie, we must contend with the same forces in our own lives.  We can sink into selfishness, greed, lust, envy, or any other worldly allurement.  Many try to compromise only to find themselves succumbing to corruption—like Pilate.  For Jesus and the faithful in the movie, there was no compromising.  Like them, we are called to rise above worldly forces and stand for something far greater and far more glorious.  We are called to take a stand for the heavenly kingdom with its eternal values and rewards with what we say, think and do which is still heroic.  What a great choice to make!

When my companions and I rounded a bend and stood before the statue at the summit of the hill, I was compelled within to kneel, while my eyes began to swell with tears—I can’t explain why.  Before my companions and I stood the large figure of Jesus standing upon the globe with his arms outstretched as if he were calming the sea.  I had the sensation that Jesus wanted me to feel his power and peace calming my soul.  As I glanced at my companions, I realized from the tears in their eyes that Jesus was giving them the same gift of this experience.  After some moments passed, we smiled at each other through tears in acknowledgement of the experience we each had.  At such times, there are no words so we remained silent, kneeling in awe and gratitude before Jesus, our true King!  As Christians, we can be so glad and proud that we know God as a loving, merciful and tender ruler!  Although we journey in a world torn with sin and chaos, Jesus preserves our hearts in peace.  May God bless you all! +++ Fr Peter