Monthly Archives: January 2013

Personal Health Update

For those of you who don’t know, I had surgery Monday morning on the 28th. It was the third surgery that I had done on my shoulder in two years. Essentially, the first two surgeries done on my rotator cuff were badly done – some of the damage, like an inch excised from my clavicle, is irreparable. Since the last surgery, I have still been experiencing a fairly great amount of pain.  Dr. Simon finger decided that it would be best to do a shoulder scope and a procedure called a Tenodesis, which cuts the bicep tendon from its original place in the rotator cuff and reattaches it lower on the arm bone.  When he opened the shoulder, he discovered that my biceps tendon was almost completely shriveled.  The reason for this he ascribed to the last surgery – he said that it was nothing that I could have done to myself.   He also discovered some bone spurs and a great deal of scar tissue which he cleaned up. He went through with the operation described above and reattached the tendon.   Here is presentation of the procedure in case anyone is interested:

I was told that I will never have full use of that shoulder again; but hopefully it will be good enough to stay fit and active.   I will be in a sling for at least six weeks and need a good bit of physical therapy.   I am sincerely hoping that this surgery cleans up some of the mistakes of the former surgery and allows me to get back to serving God’s people and simply living a full life the way that God intended.

Many thanks to  my friend, Father Kyle Dave, who anointed me before the procedure and to Patrycja Black who organized a prayer calendar for me; Bob Alton who came to visit me in the hospital, Father Frank Lipps for covering for me at the parish while I’m gone, and my parents for putting up with my sorry self while I recover the next couple of weeks.  Thank you everyone who supported me  (and continue to support me) with prayers and words of encouragement – I can never really  thank you enough.   May God bless you all.  

While recovering, I am learning how to use this new Dragon dictation program for my computer since I cannot type yet.   I am using it right now as a matter of fact!   I am also attempting to plan a future lecture series which should begin on the Wednesday night following Ash Wednesday.   I will cover various topics, and intend for it to be a fairly regular practice of mine at the parish. 

 Thank you again for your time your patience and your prayers.

Fr. Basil

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January 27, 2013 — WE MUST REALIZE WE ARE A “SAVED” PEOPLE

In the first reading we are confronted with a rather strange situation.  The high priest Ezra is reading the Book of the Law to the people and interpreting it as he does so, and the people are so happy that they are weeping out of joy.  Some commentators think that they are weeping because they have been so convicted by the words of the law that their hearts are moved that much. This drama went on, we are told, from daybreak until midday—approximately a six hour long reading and homily.  Imagine that happening today, huh?  In any case, it is an event of extreme importance and high emotion.  When they are finished the high priest commands them to go home and celebrate.  What gives here?  What exactly is going on?

 

In order for it to make sense, you have to have a little history.  Ezra the priest lived from about 480 B.C. to about 440 B.C.  What you have to understand is that in 586, approximately a century before this, King Nebuchanezzar destroys Jerusalem, burns down the temple, and the Jewish people go into exile in Babylon.  To make a long story short, Kings Cyrus, Xerxes and Artaraxes of Persia allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild, and Ezra was a key leader of this group sent to rebuild.  If you want some modern day comparisons, basically Babylon was Iraq and Persia was Iran.  This is, of course, historically inaccurate, but you might say that the Iraquis captured the Jews and the Iranians let them go.  So yes, there has been full scale war between these peoples since at least 600 B.C. and even further back.  To this day, the Iranians consider themselves ethnically a European people fundamentally different than the middle-eastern people that settled nearby them.  Many of the Iranians still insist on being called Persians.  But that’s a trivial point.  What is important is that the Jews have finally been allowed to live according to their old laws and customs, on their own land, and with their own leaders.  Ezra is actually attributed with founding many Jewish traditions, particularly the public reading of the law.  He basically started the Sanhedrin and the practice of reading in synagogues.  To Ezra, it was much more important to concentrate on the study of the law than on rebuilding the temple – this was quite a controversy between the Jews at the time which one was more important.   They have been humbled.  They have virtually nothing, and have realized what is truly important—keeping their families together and serving their God.  That’s it.  I wonder what it will take us to recognize the same thing.  Will it take war, exile and persecution as well?

 

The history of the Jewish people, particularly in the Old Testament, is one of growing close to God and then growing stubborn again, ignoring him, chasing after other gods, and then God essentially leaving them to the consequences of their actions.  It’s not that God punishes them exactly.  It’s more like God says, “O.k., by your actions you have told me that you no longer want to live close to me or under my protection.  Fine.  I will give you what you want.”  They wandered for forty years in the desert because they were stubborn; they went into exile because their behavior became an abomination before God; they were given awful rulers and were subjected to many wars for the same reasons.  Is their history not our history as well?  Do we not do the same thing, certainly as individual people, and now as a nation that was once “one nation under God.”  I’m not sure what it is anymore, and it scares me a great deal.

 

I mention this history for two reasons.  First, because spiritually speaking, the history of the Jewish people is our history as well.  Our messiah came from the Jewish religion and fulfilled about 300 or so Jewish prophecies, so we should be aware of some of the connections between Jesus and the history of the Jewish people.  We are always going astray.  MY KEY POINT IS THAT WE ARE A PEOPLE THAT NEED TO BE SAVED.  Otherwise, why would we need a Savior?

 

With some of this background history in mind, I want you to hear again what Jesus says in what many scholars call his inaugural address.  It is his first public speech, so we might imagine that its meaning is extremely important.  That is what Jesus says:

 

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 the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free

And proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

 

then he rolls up the scroll and tells them that they have just heard a prophecy fulfilled right in front of their eyes.  The first thing that should impress us is that Jesus is absolutely declaring himself as the anointed one of God–the one that comes to fulfill the prophecies.  But why does he come?  What prophecies does he come to fulfill?  He could come to fulfill the prophecies about destroying God’s enemies, or becoming the new king.  But those aren’t the prophecies he focuses on.  The prophecies that the Lord focuses on are the ones that specifically talk about saving the poor, the captives, the oppressed and the blind.  Here’s the problem:  if you don’t think that you are poor, imprisoned, oppressed and blind, then Jesus doesn’t really have much for you, does he?

 

I wonder how much we have been able to realize this?  I wonder how much each one of us without exception has realized that this is actually the Truth:  that we are poor, imprisoned, oppressed and blind and without a Savior we will remain that way for all eternity?

 

Why did Jesus come to this earth?  Why did he become a man at all?  I took the time to compile the statements where Jesus himself tells us the answer to that question.  Please listen to these meditatively:

 

**************

Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 9:13 “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 10:7 “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

Matthew 20:28 “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom* for many.”

Mark 1:38 “Let us go to the nearby villages so I can preach there also. That is what I have come to do.

Luke 12:49-51 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

John 6:38-40 “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

John 18:37 Pilate said to Jesus, “You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.

Matthew 18:11 “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

 

What you have just heard is not my interpretation of why Jesus came to this world, it is Jesus’s interpretation of why he came to this world.

 

After hearing this list, we should be impressed with a few facts.  Jesus comes to save sinners.  He comes to save the lost.  He has no use at all for the self-righteous or the perfect.  In order to do that, he will preach without ceasing, exorcise demons, heal sickness, and die on a cross, for he came to give his life as a ransom for the many.  He came to live a life for the sake of others rather than for himself.  He did not come to build himself a temple, but instead he came to wallow in the deepest dungeon so that prisoners might be freed.

 

There are two things that we should think about here.  First, how much do we identify with those people who need to be saved?  And second, how much do we feel compelled to save others once we have the knowledge that we ourselves have been freed?  You know that after going to confession, it is customary for the priest to give a penance.  Doing a penance should indicate some sorrow for our sins.  But St. Ignatius of Loyola is right when he says that real penance is the desire to live a life of charity and self-sacrifice out of the sheer gratitude of being saved.  I’ll repeat that:  real penance is the desire to live a life of charity and self-sacrifice out of the sheer gratitude of being saved.

 

I’m sure that we’ve heard stories of someone saving another person’s life, and out of gratitude the victim serves the hero or else some other noble cause for the rest of his life.  This seems logical to us. It makes sense.  Well, can’t we see that this is precisely what Jesus has done for us?  Maybe one day we will have an epiphany that all of our worldly dreams don’t mean diddly squat in comparison with the one truth that we were once lost and now we are found?

 

But what happens when we live in the world too long and are bombarded with its lies of pleasure, materialism, selfishness and false freedom?  We continue to sin.  As we continue to sin, our hearts begin to harden and we rebel against the truth, refusing to do what is right.  As the habit of sin builds, it becomes easier and easier.  Our conscience becomes darkened and we start to rationalize that the evil we are doing is actually good.  We begin to make excuses for our behavior, and when we are corrected we rage against God and say, “How dare he interfere with my life!”  As our hearts grow hardened, it because harder to repent.  And finally, when God sends messengers and prophets to turn us from our evil way, we are so set in our ways that not only do we ignore the prophet, we might even hate and persecute that prophet.  First, God sends kindly prophets.  But when kind prophets are not obeyed, he begins to send prophets that are increasingly more harsh.  And then finally fed up with this state of affairs, God allows exile, war, famine and devastation to humble us and bring us back to what is real — THE TRUTH THAT WE ARE NOT GOD AND THAT WE ARE IN DESPERATE NEED AT ALL TIMES OF A SAVIOR.  This is the history of Israel.  This is our history as well.  This is not bad news.  It is good news for those who are on their way to eternal life.  If this news bothers you, it is already evidence that your heart has begun to harden and that you are in danger.  If it is a truth that you will accept, consider me one of those kinder prophets sent by God to ask you to turn from ugodly ways.  Hopefully we will heed kinder warnings that we need not suffer through prophets that are less kind.

 

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 the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free

And proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

 

But do we think that we are a people who NEED TO BE SAVED?

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An Announcement

For those of you whom can make it, I will be teaching RCIA this evening on the topic of “Who is Jesus Christ?” at the Family Life Center at Our Lady of Lourdes.  Everyone is welcome.  

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Intimacy with God — Homily January 20, 2013

“Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”  I repeat, “do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” or maybe I should ask you another version:  Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?  Unfortunately, this question has sometimes been over-asked by some Christian faiths, particularly as a question posed to Catholics.  Maybe not.  Maybe you’ve never heard it before.  It is a question that might make some of us immediately shut down, roll our eyes, and mumble, “Oh boy…”  But it really shouldn’t; because it’s a great question.  It’s an awesome question, and it’s not a bad question to ask as long as its ask honestly and in charity.  Hopefully we can answer with a resounding YES. 

This question really has two main parts.  It wants to know if your relationship with Jesus is PERSONAL and if your relationship with him is a SAVING one.  Let’s not get into the theology that Jesus is our one and only Savior, he died once and for all for our sins, broke the spine of death, and opened the gates of Heaven.  Hopefully we all get that; but if we don’t I will talk about that some other time.  What I would like to focus on is this notion that our relationship with him is supposed to be PERSONAL. 

To have a personal relationship means to be somehow invested in a relationship in a way that only a person can.  There needs to be some kind of mutual sharing between two people who are truly capable of sharing some kind of communication, love, work or other common endeavor.  That is why it is not entirely correct to say that I can have a personal relationship with my dog or my cat or fish or spider monkey or whatever you have.  They kindof respond, but not very personally.  That being said, I indeed CAN have a limited personal relationship with the girl behind the Starbucks counter, the bus driver, the janitor of the school that I see a few seconds a day, and the list goes on.  DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT THIS IS THE KIND OF RELATIONSHIP THAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO HAVE WITH JESUS.  JUST PERSONAL? 

I think that Jesus wants a relationship that’s not only personal, but far more intimate and far more intense.  The question “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior” is a great question and we should answer with a resounding YES.  But I don’t think the question goes far enough.

Let me just offer you a few examples from Scripture.  God told Moses that not only was he a prophet, he said, “You are my intimate friend.”  Even God the Father extends his friendship to man. Or what about on the night he was betrayed, he said, “I no longer call you disciples or slaves, I call you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my heavenly father.”  These are not the words of a man who simply leaves behind a few rules to follow.  They are the words of an incarnate god who wants us to join him in an epic adventure to save souls.  I wonder if we have ever thought of our faith this way?  Or maybe we don’t believe it.  But my guess is that if you don’t believe it, then you haven’t really tried it; and when I say TRIED IT, I mean you haven’t really made your intimacy with God number one on your bucket list, and made it a matter of life and death.  As G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found too difficult and left untried.”

Just how close are we willing to be to God?  Let’s try to be honest here.  This church is full of people who, to either a small or a great extent, are mad at God for allowing certain unpleasant things to happen to us.  And yet have we truly been willing to do everything he has asked us, sacrifice for him, and spend the time it takes to build the very intimacy that would take away that anger, console us, and possibly even give us so much peace and joy that we would forget about what made us angry in the first place? 

Have you ever reflected on the face that Jesus had a close, intimate group of friends just the way that most of us do?  Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.  He seemed to hang out with his sisters Martha and Mary a lot.  Jesus even seemed to have a special group of friends among the apostles – Peter, James and John.  He brought them up the mountain to see him transfigured.  He brought Peter, James and John closer to him than the rest of the apostles in the Garden of Gethasemani and desperately wanted them to stay awake with him in his agony.  When I traveled to the top of Mt. Tabor where Jesus was transfigured, I found myself praying to be in that special group.  I DON’T WANT TO BE JUST ONE OF THE TWELVE — I WANT TO BE ONE OF THE THREE!  BUT WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE THAT, LORD?

THOUGH WE WILL ALL BE JUDGED IMPARTIALLY, JESUS DOES NOT HAVE THE SAME LEVEL OF INTIMACY WITH EVERYONE. 

What if our God didn’t only want us to be his friends, but he wants to literally sustain us as our physical and spiritual food?  Jesus told the disciples things like “you live in me as, as I abide in my father.”  “I am the vine and you are the branches.  Without me you can do nothing.”  He said not once but several times, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.”  When he was born, he was born in the city of Bethelehem which means “the house of bread” and was laid in a manger, which is a feeding trough for cattle.  COINCIDENCE?  One of his greatest miracles was the feeding of the five thousand from just a few loaves.  COINCIDENCE?  His first miracle was the wedding at Cana, where he transformed water into wine.  Coincidence?  His last miracle at the last supper was to make his own body and blood into food and drink, made possible by his death and resurrection.  COINCIDENCE?

  • So God wants to have a personal relationship.  Fine.  But he wants more than that.
  • God actually wants to be our FRIEND.  Fine.  But he wants more than that. 
  • God wants to actually be our nourishment and live inside us.  Fine.  But what if he even wanted more than THAT.
  • He wants a union with us now and for eternity.  But do we have the patience, faith and courage to make that relationship first? 

Listen to what God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, that we heard in our first reading:

NO more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or you land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My delight,’ and your land, ‘Espoused.’  For the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse.  As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a Bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.”

Could this really be true?  The church in her wisdom connects this reading to Jesus’s first miracle which is where?  At a wedding feast?  Do you think that is an accident?  Do you think that God might be trying to tell us something, and maybe even being just a little fun and coy about it?  That is how Jesus’s public ministry begins.  But what about the end of the bible?  Do you know that image that the whole bible ends with is a WHAT?  AN EVERLASTING WEDDING FEAST.  Wow.  How about that 

So how do we start this union?  How do we make this marriage or find this friendship?  That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?  Everything that Fr. Frank or I say from this pulpit, this mass, and that confessional are suppposed to be partial answers to that question. 

But let me end with one final reflection about intimacy with God.  As you heard, the gospel was about the wedding at Cana.  As we know, there was a wedding feast at Cana where everybody was partying and eventually ran out of wine.  Mary notices and almost pushes her son to do something about it.  At first he balks and then he agree.  There were six stone water jars that were near the entrance to the wedding feast, because it was customary for the jews to ritually purify themselves before entering a home.  (OUR MESSIAH’S FIRST MIRACLE WAS MAKING ABOUT 200 GALLONS OF WINE — NOT A BAD SAVIOR, HUH?)

Stewards filled these to the brim and Jesus changed them into wine without saying a word.  Exactly how did they change from water into wine? 

This was a question that I had on the retreat that I took this week, so this reflection is actually quite important to me. 

First of all, the stewards weren’t allowed to have wine since they were working.  If they were caught drinking they would be FIRED.  And of course, all the party-ers were having fun.  There are probably many times when we would prefer to be one of the party-goers.  We don’t want to be stewards.  No fun, huh?  But the ones who stayed close to Jesus — the stewards, particularly, the payoff for them was that they got to see the miracle.  Instead of being drunk on wine, imagine how they felt as they served their brothers and sisters this miraculous drink.  The stewards were drunk on a miracle; intoxicated with the first love for a savior who do such marvelous things.  And the party-goers remained oblivious.  I wonder how often we drink our own wine rather than work like the stewards and wait for a miracle.  If you keep drinking your own wine, whatever it is — a distraction, a particular sin, a grudge, an addiction, a selfish pleasure — it’s no wonder that you don’t experience the wine that Jesus might make if just worked and waited patiently.  JESUS SAID NO WORDS TO CHANGE THE WATER INTO WINE.  IT ACTUALLY CHANGED WHEN THE STEWARDS GOT BUSY DRAWING IT OUT AND SERVING IT TO THE PEOPLE.

  • So God wants to have a personal relationship.  Fine.  But he wants more than that.
  • God actually wants to be our FRIEND.  Fine.  But he wants more than that. 
  • God wants to actually be our nourishment and live inside us.  Fine.  But what if he even wanted more than THAT.
  • He wants a union with us now and for eternity.  But do we have the patience, faith and courage to make that relationship first?

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found too difficult and left untried.”

Maybe it’s time we really tried it. 

 

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Epiphany Homily — God is Making things PERSONAL….

Imagine that you had a secret admirer.  You would never know you had a secret admirer unless the secret admirer revealed himself or herself to you.  If not, then their identity remains a secret.  A poetic way to understand the feast of the epiphany is that we have all had a secret admirer in God, and the Epiphany celebrates the day that God decides to tell us that he is in love with us.  In the case of the Epiphany, this isn’t just a poetic image.  It is actually quite true.

As y’all are aware, particularly when we have a feast like the Epiphany, I want to first explain what it means and why we are celebrating it.  Then I would like to make some kind of spiritual application of that information to our lives.  Like many of our feasts, the Epiphany had its early roots in the Eastern church, and is one of our older feasts.  Its history is very complicated and for those of you who like studying the development of liturgy, the Epiphany is probably one of the more interesting feasts to study–but we are not going to go into it here.

Literally, an epiphaneia in ancient Greek is a kind of showing or manifestation or “striking appearance.”  So when we apply that word to the life of Christ, The basic meaning of the feast is that it celebrates Jesus Christ’s appearing or manifestation to the Gentiles.  Because the word, epiphany, is rather vague, it has been connected primarily to the following events in Jesus’s life:  his baptism, the visit of the Magi, the first miracle at Cana when he changed water in wine, and it even referred to his birth.  It is primarily in those events that Jesus first comes out an reveals who he truly is.  At his baptism, God the Father himself spoke and said, “This is my beloved son.”  At the visit of the Magi, even important persons from another culture recognize that a new king has appeared.  At Cana, Jesus reveals his miraculous power for the first time at the wedding feast. 

In many churches in the East and a few in the West, the congregation will hold torches or candles on this feast day to symbolize that Christ is the light — he has shown himself in history through his word and deed and he wants us all to be lights for him.  

God is an all-powerful, infinite being.  If we are to get to know him, then he has to REVEAL HIMSELF to us.  There is only so much that we can figure out on our own with our limited minds.  We can look at creation in all its splendor and order and point to a creator.  I think we can accept this as a logical proposition even if we also accept the Big Bang theory.  (After all, the Big Bang needs a Big Banger.)  So in order for us to truly know him, God decided to become a man and teach us about him; but not only to teach, but to pay the price for our sins.  He left behind two sources for us to learn about him:  Holy Scripture, and tradition of the Catholic church through the succession of the popes and bishops. 

God could have left things very general.  He could have remained up in heaven and told us to just obey the Ten Commandments and that’s enough.  He could have remained distant.  But he did not.  Almost exactly 2012 years ago, he became a human being in the womb of a Jewish teenager named Mary, fulfilled the prophecies of the Jewish religion, performed miracles, was eventually put to death by Roman and Jewish authorities, and left behind 12 apostles and others to follow his teachings and worship him as the son of God. 

Y’all, that is not general at all.  That is very specific as a matter of fact.  And actually, our faith is so particular and special that I think it bothers some people.  Let me tell you what I mean.

There are some people in this world — millions in fact — that think that we should keep our religion so general that we don’t offend anybody anymore.  Who cares if we call God “Allah” or “Buddha” or “Jesus” or even “Shiva” or if we think that Mother Earth is God and call her “Gaia,” or maybe we should even worship like Jedi from Star Wars and believe that God is just a great and powerful force.  These people would have us think that we should all get along, that we should stop naming God because that divides us, and above all, let’s stop this nonsense of maintaining that he became a man on this earth and demanded that we respond to him with our love and our lives.  Let’s not have laws or dogmas anymore because we just argue about those, and try to be as general and mimalistic as we possibly can.  This kind of spirit even exists within the Catholic church, you can be absolutely certain.

 

Why does the specificity of God bother some people?  Jesus himself explains it.  He says in John 3:20, “Everyone who does evil hates the light for fear that his evil deeds will be exposed.”  And some people aren’t evil, they’re just lazy.  Having a very vague, general God means that they don’t have to go through any effort to truly follow him.  But a specific God who reveals himself to us as a person and demands a relationship with us?  That makes some people very uncomfortable indeed. 

There are some theologians who have even referred to the fact of Jesus becoming a man as the “scandal of particularlity.”  In other words, it is a scandal to some people that God would become such a specific kind of person in history rather than to keep things as general and as distant as worshipping the sunrise.  The sunrise won’t ever ask you to special things for him.  Mother earth isn’t going to ask you to change your life for her sake.  Maybe just ask you to feed a few dolphins, which is fine.  I love dolphins.  

But Jesus Christ the Son of God will ask you for a significantly more personal response than a dolphin will.  Our religion is a scandal because yes, we ultimately have to claim that other religions have a number of things WRONG about the truth of God.  It’s not very popular nowadays to say that other religions are wrong.  It doesn’t mean that they have EVERYTHING WRONG.  There are many things that we have in common with other faiths, but we cannot ignore the fact that there are many things that divide us, and the solution isn’t giving up on what we hold dear in order to keep the peace.  That is the solution for cowards and men and women who have lost their faith.

With all due respect, I didn’t give up my own wife and family to preach a God who hides behind the clouds.  He asked me very specifically to do this, and I have attempted to respond to him, though haltingly.  OUR GOD HAS MADE THIS GREAT ADVENTURE CALLED LIFE VERY PERSONAL INDEED.

There are scholars like Richard Dawkins who are presently arguing that religion is actually the root of all evil.  There are already groups forming in the United Nations that want to outlaw religion altogether worldwide.  There are more insidious movements in the world to combine all religions into one vast, vague general religion that will supposedly offend no one.  But I would be willing to bet that it will offend Jesus Christ.  Let’s remember that in the name of wiping religion off the face of the earth, 20th century atheist regimes saw the murder of maybe 50 million people or so — we will never know the extent of it.  Arguably, this equals and surpasses the many centuries of religious wars that went before.  Both sides have committed atrocities.  But let’s not be naive and maintain that religion is the problem.

So what is the real problem?  As a Catholic, my answer is this:  the real problem is that Jesus Christ has revealed himself and not enough people have responded to his call to repent, to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, and to love.

But there are forces in this world that are offended by how specific this is.  Wouldn’t it be easier to keep things general?  Wouldn’t it be easier to keep God as some nameless force, hiding behind the clouds, so long as he doesn’t really ask me to change my thoughts or my actions?  Sure it would be.  It might be easier, but would it be good?  Would it be holy?  Would it be true?  They mock us and ask, “Do you really believe in this fairy tale?  Will you really bet your life that this is truth.”   I will repeat what the Jewish general Joshua said as he prepared to take over the holy land:  “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

It is a wonderful thing to get along, but not if it is at the expense of the Truth.   The problem with all this very cloudy generalness is that the Epiphany teaches us that God has revealed himself as a very special person, he wants us to do special things, he established special sacraments for our salvation.  But because of this, we can have a special relationship with him.  That’s the payoff. 

What does all that have to do with the Epiphany?  Good question.  I’m glad you asked it.  My main point is that the Epiphany is the revelation of a person, a very specific man who was God.  After the Epiphany, we can no longer be satisfied with a God who lives very comfortably behind the clouds.

Jesus was not born on a vague day.  He was born on Christmas around 2012 year ago.  He did not have vague parentage.  Their names were Mary and Joseph, and his real father was God himself.  He was not a mix of all races, he was very, very Jewish.  Because he became a scandalously particular man, many events happened.  A wicked king tried to kill him.  A group of infants were slaughtered so that Jesus might be put to death.  Joseph and Mary had to leave their home for years because of him.  3 wise men probably gave up their religion and changed their hearts in order to pay him homage.  12 men plus many more left everything they had behind in order to follow him.  The world has changed because of him.  But you know what the real scandal is?  Will my heart and life change because of him?

God is not content with being worshipped vaguely.  God is not content with us saying hello to him just once a week.  God is a secret admirer that has made himself known.  He has become so personal in these times that he gives us his very own heart in the Holy Eucharist so that we might have the strength to give him ours.  In one of the most beautifully written love notes of all time, a star rose over a manger over 2000 years ago to point the way for us to make a long journey and lay our gifts before an infant God.  Our secret admirer has made himself known. 

                                      Now its our move.

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The Holy Name of Jesus: What Does it Mean?

Today is an optional feast honoring the Holy Name of Jesus.  It’s history is a little complicated and I’m not really sure how to make sense of it myself.  Different orders of the church, like Dominicans, Jesuits and Franciscans, actually celebrate this feast on different days.  Even Anglicans celebrate it, although they usually celebrate it on the 1st of the year.  It was made an optional memorial by Vatican II, and is really an extension of the story of Christmas — the naming of Jesus is an important event in the story of His birth.

The name, “Jesus” is an English transliteration of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which itself is a short form of the Hebrew name “Jehoshua.”  “Yeho” is actually a shortened word for the name of God in Hebrew.  (Remember that Hebrews could not use the name of God so they had to shorten it.)   There were several important characters in the bible with this name, specifically Joshua the successor of Moses, and Joshua the high priest.  And “shua” actually means a cry for help.  So if you want to be totally literal about Jesus’s real name, it means “A cry for help to God.”  The whole word put together in Hebrew came to mean “God saves” or “God delivers.”

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We read in Sacred Scripture how the angel Gabriel revealed that name to Mary: “You shall call His name Jesus.”  But when the angel spoke to Joseph in a dream, the meaning of the name was even more explicit:  “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” 

But have we ever stopped to reflect that God the Father himself chose this name for his son?  It is even possible that the Son of God chose this name for himself before he became a man — but this gets into pretty deep Trinitarian waters in which we don’t really want to wade right now.  (Please take it to prayer!) 

When we name something, it should represent what it truly is.  We should remember that one of the primary jobs that Adam was given in the garden was to name everything — and presumably, to name everything rightly.  We can lead astray with our names or we can lead to truth.  Calling “abortion” “pro-choice” doesn’t really get the name right.  Calling an addiction “my private comfort” doesn’t really get the name right.  When the military kill innocent civilians in a battle, they will sometimes refer to it as “collateral damage.”  Are human beings ever “collateral”?  I think not. 

 

Since God the Father himself named Jesus “A cry for help,” or “the one who saves,” we can be certain that he got it right.  But is this how we relate to Jesus?  Has he saved us?  What sins am I withholding from him that he desperately wants to deliver me from?  What am I keeping to myself that needs to be given over to him?

John the Baptist himself — the great prophet and cousin of Jesus himself — actually said, “I for one did not know him.”  As a matter of fact, in our gospel today he says it twice in order to emphasize the point (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010313.cfm).  Is this a cry of our heart as well?  Honestly, sometimes, it has been for me.  Getting to know the Lord can be a struggle.  And it is comforting to me that maybe some of my sufferings and crosses are necessary if it means that those are the only means through which I might know the Holy name of Jesus as “a cry for help.”  How else will I get to know the son of God unless I need help?  He did not come to save the righteous, but sinners.  He did not come to the healthy, but as a doctor for the sick.  With this in mind, the following passages give me immense comfort:

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, those who are crushed in spirit he will save.”  (Psalm 34:18)

” This is the one whom I approve: the lowly and afflicted man who trembles at my word.”  (Isaiah 66:2)

And, I suppose, thank God for that.  O Holy Name of Jesus, save me!

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