Archive for the ‘St. John the Baptist’ Category

Share the Gospel

January 15, 2023

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Victor Feltes

The message of the Gospel is simple:

1. We are created by an all-good and loving God.
2. But sin separates us from him.
3. So God has sent his Son to be our Savior.
4. Therefore, believe & repent, that he may save you.

St. John the Baptist proclaimed this Good News to sinners. John preached that God’s judgement is at hand (indeed, each of us only lives once, and after this life comes the judgment). And as John warned, “Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. … [So] flee from the wrath to come.” After our harvest time, the “chaff” will “burn with unquenchable fire,” he said, but the Savior will safely “gather his wheat into his barn.” The reason why John came baptizing with water was so that this Savior might be made known. Christ is the one of whom John said, “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.” After baptizing Jesus, John proclaimed him the sacrificial “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” saying, “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” Repent and believe in Jesus Christ, so that his sacrifice may save you.

Who will be saved? How many professed atheists, or Hindus, or Muslims, or Jews, or Protestants, or Orthodox, or Catholics will go to Heaven? Thankfully, perfect, final, Divine Judgement is not my job. My mission and your mission is the Great Commission. After his Resurrection, Jesus said, “Go… and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe ALL that I have commanded you.”

Baptism and the other sacraments are the ordinary (that is, normal) means through which Christ offers the grace necessary for salvation. Jesus established his Catholic Church as both the ordinary minister of these seven sacraments and as the one, reliable guardian of Christ’s teachings on faith and morals in a hostile, sinful world through the centuries. Our Lord Jesus Christ and his one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church are the ordinary means of salvation for the world. Your non-practicing or non-Catholic relatives, friends, and neighbors are called to more with Christ. Like St. John the Baptist, your witness can help others receive this gift.

Your non-Catholic or non-practicing family, friends, and close acquaintances know you, like you, and respect you. They rarely (if ever) see or hear me, but they frequently encounter you. So here are three ways you can draw them closer to Christ and his Church: by sharing your prayers, by sharing your stories, and by sharing your invitations.

Share your Prayers
It is important to pray for the conversion of others, but you can easily pray with them, too. Whenever someone asks you for your prayers, or even when someone entrusts their burdens to you, offer to pray with them then and there. The words of your prayer don’t need to be eloquent, just sincere. People are usually quite receptive to this and very grateful for it.

Share your Stories
Today’s Gospel reading is simply St. John the Baptist sharing the story of what he had experienced with the Lord. And through this testimony, more came to know and follow Jesus. What has the Lord done for you, how have you encountered him, what are your miracles and spirit stories? Don’t hide these highlight experiences of your life under bushel baskets; be humble enough to share them with others for their good.

Share your Invitations
Invite them to accompany you to Holy Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, or our community events. Invite them to share in the life of the Gospel. Even if they decline, you will have planted a seed that may bear fruit someday. You and they were made for the fullness of God in Jesus Christ, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

In conclusion, here is your homework for this week: share a prayer, or a story, or an invitation with someone it could help – you may well save a soul.

The Allegory of the Jordan River

December 4, 2022

2nd Sunday of Advent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Preceding Jesus’ public ministry, St. John the Baptist appeared preaching in the Judean wilderness. People from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the Jordan River region were going out to see him. John said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The crowds regarded him as a prophet and were being baptized by him as they acknowledged their sins. Like a bath which cleanses one’s outer self of dirt and odor, John’s baptism was an appeal to God for an inner self cleansed from sin. John’s ministry prepared for Jesus Christ and foreshadowed Christian baptism. The Jordan River in which John baptized embodies an allegory whose symbolism remains important for us today.

The fresh waters of the Jordan River originate in the north from the living Sea of Galilee, a large lake full of fish and ringed by trees. The Jordan’s waters flow south and come to one of either two notable ends. Most of the river’s water just goes with the flow. It flows downhill (as all rivers naturally do) ultimately descending seven hundred vertical feet. These waters remain on the edge of the Promised Land without entering in. And at the end of their journey, they empty out into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on the face of the earth. After the river drains there, the water has nowhere else to go. As it evaporates to nothingness, the water leaves behind trace amounts of salt which over many, many millennia has made that sea ten times saltier than the oceans. In this oppressive saltiness, no plants nor fish can live. The Dead Sea is thoroughly dead.

Some of the Jordan River’s water, however, does not simply go with the flow downhill. This water escapes the fate of the Dead Sea, by giving itself to the Promised Land. This water enables life and generates fruit among many trees in an otherwise arid place. Jeremiah the Prophet writes of a tree planted beside the stream: “It does not fear heat when it comes; its leaves stay green. In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” And the 1st Psalm likewise says: “a tree planted near streams of water… yields its fruit in due season; its leaves never wither.” These baptismal waters are willed by God to give life and bear fruit for the Promised Land.

Most of John the Baptist’s contemporaries were convinced he was a prophet, yet the Jewish religious leaders disbelieved. When John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he admonished them: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance! … Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire!” It would not be enough (for them or us) to just say the right things and go through the motions. Our faith and repentance must be real, producing of good fruit.

As the life-giving Sea of Galilee is the River Jordan’s source, so God above is the source of every spiritual grace and good thing in creation here below. Having received Christian baptism, we can respond in one of two ways on this life’s journey. In this world, we can go with the natural flow of things, descending more and more, ending in the dead abyss without entering the Promised Land. But that is not Jesus’ will for us. As G.K. Chesterton once observed: “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Jesus wills for us to cooperate with him, to be changed, and to change the world around us. So believe in the Lord, acknowledge your sins and repent, and bear good fruit with Christ. What is one area — just one thing — one habit or virtue, you can acknowledge today and grow in throughout this Advent season with the grace of God?

Christmas, Unlike We Envisioned It — Funeral Homily for Dr. S. Ann Hartlage-Feltes, 79

December 16, 2021

Ann and Larry realized something was gravely wrong during their recent vacation abroad. She was experiencing persistent and unexplained fatigue and shortness of breath. Just some forty days later, the cancer present and growing within her ended her earthly life. It’s stunning, it’s shocking, that a woman we know as being so energetically alive could pass away from us so quickly. As a good and faithful spouse to Larry after James’ passing, as a loving, caring mother to David, Kristin, and Ken, as a devoted, attentive grandma to her grandkids, as a dedicated psychologist to the clients and couples she served, as someone known and loved by us, her death creates a painful absence. How strange, how jarring, how incongruous it is, to be having her funeral now – so very close to Christmas. At a time for togetherness, we’re separated. In a season celebrating heavenly peace, we’re unsettled here on earth. Christmas joy, veiled by dismay. This is not how we imagine Christmas to be. And yet… the first Christmas was troubled too.

About fifteen months before the first Christmas, when Zachariah exited the temple sanctuary after having encountered an angel, he made excited, mute gestures to the people. Some concluded that he had seen vision but Zachariah was unable to speak or hear for many months. His wife, Elizabeth, may have worried whether her beloved suffered a stroke. Would he ever speak again? Then Elizabeth herself began to be unwell. She felt nauseous every day and noticed her abdomen expanding. Could she “who was called barren” somehow be pregnant, or was something gravely wrong?

Nine months before the first Christmas, the Blessed Virgin Mary gave her “Yes” to God’s plan at the Annunciation in Nazareth. An angel told Mary she would become the mother of the Messiah, but many details about her future remained hidden from her. Would her husband. Joseph, believe her when she told him? Would he become angry or afraid and decide to leave her? Joseph came very close to erroring and divorcing Mary, either because he judged her unworthy of him or because, believing her, he thought himself unworthy of her. After a torturous time of doubt and uncertainty, an angel visited Joseph in a dream and got him back on the right track.

Joseph resolved to be the very best protector and provider to Mary and her Holy Child that he could be. So imagine his great frustration that first Christmas night, consider his distress at being unable to find a proper place for Mary’s labor and Jesus’ birth; only an unclean cave with a feed trough for a crib. The first Christmas and the events leading up to it were not easy for the people who lived them. Their times were troubled, with hardships and fears. But in the end, now looking back, the accomplishment of God’s loving plan for them was more beautiful than any of them would have imagined.

See what God did for these saints of his who suffered: St. Elizabeth was not sick and dying but with child, carrying the forerunner of the Christ. St. Zachariah would regain his voice and rejoice in their firstborn son, St. John the Baptist. St. Mary would never be abandoned, but was lovingly cared for through it all. And St. Joseph succeeded in his mission to be the best father on earth. Jesus Christ’s birth in a stable was not an accident, not a divine oversight, but according to God’s plan. Their stories are a sign for us, a lesson for our lives. The Scriptures repeatedly tell us to hope in God and the good things to come.

The author of today’s first reading laments, “My soul is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is,” yet the prophet does not despair. “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent. … Good is the Lord to one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord.” St. John tells us in our second reading: “The way we came to know love was that [Jesus] laid down his life for us.” Our Lord faced dying so bravely because he knew not even death would end God the Father’s blessings toward him.

Today we gather in this famous and beautiful cathedral to offer the Church’s greatest prayer, the Holy Mass, for Ann’s soul and our consolation. She and Larry have been parishioners here at Holy Name for years, attending Sunday Mass and sometimes weekday Masses, too. From this altar, Ann received her Lord, his Body and Blood, his Soul and Divinity, his living and entire Self, in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus says in our Gospel, “My Flesh is true food and my Blood is true drink… Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” Today, we remember and are consoled by Jesus’ promise to Ann and us: “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.

Because of Ann’s parting, this Christmas will not be as we envisioned. But we are consoled by the truth that even amid these trials God is accomplishing his loving plan for us, a plan which is more beautiful than we can now imagine.

“What Should We Do?”

December 12, 2021

3rd Sunday of Advent

Despite the complications of the heavy storm, the family still decided to come. They came to St. Paul’s Friday evening to have their children baptized: a nearly three-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. Afterwards, I asked the daughter what it was like to get baptized. She answered, “It felt like Jesus was in my heart.” Truly and beautifully, that’s what baptism does. Through simple water and simple words, new Christians are born with Christ living within them.

Large crowds came to St. John the Baptist to be baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. Now this was neither sacramental baptism nor sacramental confession but a preparation for what was next. John the Baptist preached that he was sent by God to prepare his people for the coming of the Messiah. Regular folks, and tax collectors, and soldiers all asked this forerunner of the Christ: “What should we do? Teacher, Rabbi, what should we do?” And what really strikes me about John the Baptist’s answers is what John the Baptist doesn’t say.

He does not say, “Give all your food and clothing away.” He says to the crowds, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” He does not say to servants of King Herod and Caesar, “Abandon your posts and revolt against your rulers.” He says to the tax collectors, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed,” and to the soldiers, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” The plan of God is to change the world by transforming individuals within the world.

John does not send people on a complicated, epic quest. They can begin doing what they need to do to prepare for Christ’s coming immediately where they’re at. John instructs them and us to do simple things: share with the needy as you are able, stop stealing, stop lying, and stop coveting what others have. These acts belong to basic justice: treating other people at least as well as you ought to be treated yourself.

Can Jesus Christ call us from this to more advanced discipleship? To sacrifice for the Kingdom of God? To suffer for the sake of righteousness? To embrace poverty, or celibacy, or radical obedience? To take solemn vows like the retired religious whose special collection is this weekend? Certainly! The Old Covenant teaches lessons for walking in justice while Christ’s New Covenant goes further, as with the Beatitudes. However, we must walk with the Lord before we can run with the Lord.

Do you grumble, discontent with what you have? Do you deceive, not always speaking what is true? Do you take what is not yours to take, or keep what is not yours to keep? Do you fail to share what is your surplus with others in need? Then you know what you should do this Advent to prepare for the Christmas coming of Christ. Convert more space in your heart for Jesus that he may fully live in you and you may fully live in him.

Anno Domini

December 13, 2020

3rd Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday

Nearly two thousand years ago, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus Christ proclaimed the words of the Prophet Isaiah as being fulfilled in himself, “fulfilled in your hearing”:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me… to announce a year of favor from the Lord
and a day of vindication by our God.

The Earth orbits the Sun year after year. Our planet’s spinning makes days and nights, and its tilted-axis causes the seasons. When Earth’s northern hemisphere is most towards the Sun, our sunrises come earlier, our sunsets come later, and we experience summer warmth. Six months later, when the top of the Earth is tilted away from the Sun our daytimes are shorter, bringing the winter’s cold. Because of this yearly cycling of the seasons—summer, fall, winter, spring—even simple, ancient peasants possessed the concept of “years.” Their civilizations would mark time by counting years from some event of shared cultural significance (such as the Founding of Rome), or by referring to their leader’s reign (like saying, “in the fifth year of Ramses II”).

What year is it now for us? It’s 2020 A.D. — but why? “A.D.” stands for “Anno Domini,” a Latin phrase which means, “In the Year of the Lord.” Some 2,020 years ago, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, was born to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Now we live in his Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, during this the 2,020th year of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since Jesus is God, the Lord is present to all things at all times, but he foresaw how his visible departure through his Ascension could affect us thereafter. Year after year, his saving acts, his words and deeds, would fade and fall further and further into the past. Who he is and what he has done for us would seem ever more distant. So Jesus established his Church to preach his word and do his works, to perform his sacraments and do good deeds together with him all around the world until he comes again. Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” and “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

One of the great things his Church gives us is her liturgical year. Our feasts and seasons throughout each year celebrate what Christ has done, show us who he is, and remind us of who we are to him. It’s very important to remember who we are – the truth about who we are in the eyes of Truth himself – but it’s something easy to forget.

St. John the Baptist on today’s Gospel knows both who he is and who he is not. They ask him in today’s Gospel, “Who are you,” and John answers the question on their minds, “I am not the Christ.” So they ask him, “Are you Elijah?” “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet (the Prophet of whom Moses foretold)?” “No.” “So who are you?” “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’ [for] the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” Untying a sandal strap is something a slave might do for his master, but John the Baptist saw that the gap between his Lord and himself was far more vast than that. God the Father and Christ his Son are all-holy, all-good, and justly entitled to our everything; our time, our bodies, our wealth, our love. His servant must remember that “God is God, and I am not.

True humility is living in the truth about who God is and who you are. The word humility comes from the Latin word for ground. Humility doesn’t mean thinking you are dirt; it’s being well-grounded in the truth, the reality of things. With perfect humility the Blessed Virgin Mary can make this extraordinary proclamation, “From this day all generations will call me blessed. (And she was right!) The Almighty has done great things for me [his lowly servant].” Likewise, acknowledge the great things that God has done in you and praise him for them all, for this is humility.

Though each of us is in need of ongoing conversion in Christ, if you did not take God very seriously I doubt that you would be reading this. A common misperception among sincere Christians is that they do not see themselves as they really are. You are not yet perfect, but that doesn’t mean you’re trash. Let me show you this in some ways that others have found helpful.

Think of your greatest desire. What is it? Perhaps it’s for you and others to be blessed and someday reach Heaven? Now think of the greatest desire of a saint. In as much these two answers align, you have the desires of a saint and so you’re on the right track. Now imagine meeting someone, another person who is just like you in every way, having all of your strengths and weaknesses. What would you think of this person? Would you like them? Could you be their friend? If you would have more kindness or compassion toward him or her than you do on yourself, then try loving yourself like your neighbor for a change. If you, who are imperfect, can like and love that other person, then surely God can like and love you too. If I were a demon, an enemy of your soul, I would try to keep you stuck in lies about yourself to make you despair or limit the good you would do. However, I suspect the truth is that you are doing far better than you fear and are far more loved by God than you can imagine.

The holy seasons and feasts of Christ’s Church present to us year after year anew what God has done, and who he is for us, and who we are to him. Let us live this Advent in the truth about who we are, realizing and rejoicing that this is a year of favor from the Lord and today is a day of salvation.

The Fire of God

December 6, 2020

2nd Sunday of Advent

Eighteen years ago, when I applied to become a seminarian for our diocese, one part of the process was taking the MMPI, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Test — 567 True-False questions that help to detect psychological disorders. Of all of those written questions this one is for me the most memorable: “True or False: I am fascinated by fire.” How would you answer that question on a psych exam? I recall thinking at the time, “Yes, yes I am fascinated by fire, but I don’t want them to think I’m a pyromaniac. And I’m not a pyromaniac so maybe I should answer ‘False.’” But then I considered that wouldn’t be honest, so I reluctantly filled in the bubble for “True.” In the end, the diocesan psychologist did not diagnose me as crazy, so they sent me to seminary, eventually ordained me, and here I am today. But upon later reflection, I think this question is something of a trick.

Why do people pay more to have a fireplace in their home when a central heating system is sufficient to keep everyone comfortable? When people sit around a campfire, what does everybody look at for hours into the night? I strongly suspect this question (are you fascinated by fire) isn’t looking for pyromania so much as it is checking to see whether people will lie, because everyone is fascinated by fire. Fire is beautiful, it’s mesmerizing, dynamic and powerful; it’s well-known to us and yet surprising, an incredible blessing yet dangerous to the unwary.

The Sacred Scriptures often speak about fire. In today’s in gospel, we hear the preaching of St. John the Baptist. In the parallel passages of Matthew and Luke, St. John similarly cries out:

I am baptizing you with water… but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Fire is also mentioned in today’s second reading. The Second Letter of St. Peter tells us:

The day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire…
the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.”

The coming and presence of the Lord is associated with fire in the Old Testament as well. God first spoke to Moses through a burning bush. And during the Exodus the Lord went before his people, leading them in a pillar of cloud and fire. The appearance of God’s glory was like a devouring fire atop Mt. Sinai. The mountain was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended upon it in fire. Smoke rose up from it into the sky and the whole mountain greatly trembled. The Lord commanded Moses to warn the people not to approach, not to climb up the mountain, lest they be struck down in their unholiness. Listen to this vision of God the Prophet Daniel had in a dream one night:

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

Is the fire of God of which John the Baptist, Peter, Moses, and Daniel speak something for us to fear? Scripture says the punishment of God’s judgment is fire, but it also speaks of fire as God’s means of purifying his own. In regards to judgment, the Prophet Isaiah writes, “the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.” At the Last Judgment, Jesus Christ the King will turn to the goats on his left and say “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And the Book of Revelation says anyone whose name is not found written in the book of life will be thrown into a lake of fire: “[A]s for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, & all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” This is a fire to dread and to earnestly avoid.

Yet God’s prophets also speak of God’s purifying fire which perfects his people. Psalm 66 says “you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried;” and a verse from the Book of Proverbs says, “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” Ancient gold and silversmiths would melt their precious metals with fire to separate out and burn away any impurities which they contained. Likewise, through the Prophet Zechariah, God says, “[I will put my people] into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” This is why Jesus exclaims, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!

Jesus would separate and burn away in us everything impure, false, and worthless. This purification can happen for God’s faithful friends in this life on earth or afterwards in Purgatory. St. Peter writes to the Church in his First Letter, “Now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” And St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day [of the Lord] will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” Is this a fire we should fear and dread? No, as illustrated by this story from the Book of Daniel:

In the days of the Babylonian Empire, King Nebuchadnezzar had three servants named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the king set up a tall, golden statue and commanded that all bow down and worship it, these three faithful Jewish men refused. Enraged, the king commanded that they be bound with rope and cast into a white-hot furnace. Once this had been done, the king looked inside the furnace. He became startled and rose in haste, asking his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Certainly, O king,” they answered. “But, I see four men unbound and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.” Then Nebuchadnezzar came to the opening of the furnace and called: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out,” and the trio came out of the fire.

The fire had had no power over their bodies; not a hair of their heads had been singed, nor were their garments altered; there was not even a smell of fire about them. Yet notice, all of the ropes which had bound them were burned away and gone. Recall that the burning bush at Mt. Sinai was not destroyed by God’s fire. And when the Holy Spirit came down as tongues of fire at Pentecost, the disciples touched by the Holy Flame were not tormented by pain but rather filled with rejoicing. The process of conversion may entail some pains because change is often hard, whether on earth or in Purgatory, but I urge you not to fear it. God’s purifying fire would take away what binds you, it will not destroy what is good in you, and its fruit will be joy.

The Book of Wisdom tells us:

Chastised a little, [the souls of the just] shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;”
They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever.

So just souls become as sparks of fire and rule over the nations. They will rule like God their King and they will share in God’s fire. The New and Old Testaments agree, as the Books of Hebrews and Deuteronomy say, that “our God is a consuming fire.” The Lord your God is a consuming fire – beautiful, dynamic and powerful; well-known to us and yet surprising, an incredible blessing yet dangerous to the unwary. There is no approaching God without encountering his fire. Perhaps the delights of the saints and pains of damned have the same source – the unveiled presence of God. In this life, many people dismiss God while others long to see Him. But beyond the veil of this life the Holy One can no longer be ignored. Either we will eagerly run toward him or desperately desire to flee. The same Holy Fire is loved or despised according to our openness to love and honor and serve like him.

The call of Prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord is addressed to us this Advent. In the wasteland of your imperfect soul prepare a straight and smooth highway for our God. Repent and confess your sins for forgiveness. When St. John the Baptist appeared in the desert, people from the whole Judean countryside and the city of Jerusalem were going out to him and being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins aloud. They would devote an entire day to walk or ride an animal out to where John was baptizing; wait in a single, very long line; and then confess their sinfulness in front of everybody in the mere hope of being forgiven by God. Jesus Christ makes it so much easier for us in the Sacrament of Confession. His minsters are not just one, but many, and his churches are not far away. We get to confess our sins privately in the quiet of the confessional, and with every good confession our forgiveness is assured.

St. Peter tells us “the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” that is, by surprise; we know not when. “(Then) the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” Since this is the case, St. Peter asks, “what sort of persons ought you to be?” Conduct yourselves in holiness and devotion. Do not delay your repentance and conversion. Jesus says, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.” If this would be the case with precious limbs, how much more surely should we now cast off our worthless sins?

To give you that opportunity, for the forgiveness of your sins and a new infusion of God’s graces, I will be hearing confessions all day this Wednesday, December 9th at St. Paul’s. This Wednesday, from 10 AM to 8 PM, at the top of every hour, I will come to St. Paul’s main sacristy to hear the confessions of all penitents, either face-to-face or anonymously, masked and socially-distanced until all are heard. I sincerely hope you will come, and bring your family too, for the purifying fire of God is far sweeter than his fire which will punish unrepentance.

An Identity and a Mission

April 1, 2020

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

When St. John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him he declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Why did John say that? How is Jesus like a lamb? Under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices were offered for sins. The symbolism was that the living animal, often an unblemished male sheep, was dying in place of the sinner who offered it. This prefigured what was to come. Jesus Christ, like a flawless, obedient sheep, hears and follows his master’s voice, He does the Father’s will, and takes our place in the sacrifice which actually forgives sins. This is why Jesus is rightly called the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

John the Baptist goes on to say, “He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” Indeed, Jesus, as the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, existed before the universe itself. Through Him all things were made, and the things that came to be pointed to and culminated in Him. For this reason, it is not so much that Jesus resembles the lambs of Old Covenant sacrifices, but rather that God establishes the ritual of lamb sacrifice for sins in order to point to Jesus and his ultimate sacrifice.

The story of the life of Jesus appears in the New Testament, but the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets about Him throughout the Old Testament. For example, our first reading from the Book of Isaiah written several centuries before Christ, is one of hundreds of passages which speak of Him. But before we return to that passage again, let’s review a little historical background.

We read in the Book of Genesis that Jacob was Abraham’s grandson. Jacob was renamed “Israel” by God and fathered twelve sons. From these twelve sons the “twelve tribes of Israel” descended. This is why the names “Jacob” and “Israel” are usually interchangeable, and may refer to one person or to many. In Isaiah, the prophet writes, “The Lord said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb…” To whom is God speaking in these lines? Who is the servant whom God formed from their beginning; the prophet himself, God’s faithful people, or Jesus Christ? There is truth in each of these interpretations, but this reading’s relevance to Jesus particularly shines forth. The prophesy continues:

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.”

Jesus is the one who brings light and salvation not only for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but for all the nations on earth, to non-Jewish Gentiles like you and me through His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Another foreshadowing of Christ is seen in today’s psalm, written by King David one thousand years before Christ. Hear these words as if spoken from Jesus’ lips:

[Mere] sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. [More of the former] burnt-offerings or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, “Behold I come.”

In the written scroll it is prescribed [that is, it is foretold in the Scriptures.] For me to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!

I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know. I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry. And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God.

I fully suspect the 40th Psalm had an original, personal meaning for King David when he authored it, and these words have been prayed by God’s faithful people in a personal way ever since, but these words especially apply to the person and mission of Christ. After preaching God’s word to vast assemblies, obedience to his mission led Jesus to His Passion. After crying out for His Father to save Him, and waiting, waiting three days in the tomb, Jesus’ resurrection has put a new song in his mouth, a new hymn of praise to the Father in which we all have a part.

As I mentioned in my homily last week, by baptism you are baptized into Christ. And by remaining connected to Jesus Christ through his sacraments, He remains in you. The prophecies of Scripture refer not only to the human authors, like Isaiah or David, and they refer not only to Jesus, these passages’ fullest fulfillment, but also to us, His Bride and His Body, the Church in her members, the New Israel which comes to us through the twelve Apostles of Jesus. Hear those words of the Lord from Isaiah again:

You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Now the Lord has spoken… that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him.”

Israel had been scattered, whole tribes of Jacob were lost due to sin and its consequences, but God Ever-Faithful used Israel, perfected in his Son, to gather his people Israel back to Himself. He says to us:

You are my servant, O Church of God, through whom I show my glory. Now the Lord has spoken… that the People of God may be brought back to him and the Church gathered to him.

God has purpose for your life. A purpose found in Christ. A mission to be faithful and fruitful in Christ. Jesus is still working to save souls today and he desires to work though each of us in His Body, the Church.

The Holy Stream — Baptism of the Lord—Year A

January 13, 2020

When you think of the River Jordan, maybe you imagine something broad, vast, and impressive, like the mighty Mississippi or even the Chippewa River. But the Jordan River is a lot more like Duncan Creek. Ever heard of Duncan Creek? It’s not far from here. Duncan Creek flows out of the south end of Lake Como in Bloomer. You know the bridge between Dairy Queen and the post office? That bridge crosses over Duncan Creek. In terms of size and color, the Jordan River is much like Duncan Creek; small and muddy with shrubs and trees growing along its banks. But unlike the rivers around here in Wisconsin, which are numerous and flow though green and lush countryside, the Jordan is among the few rivers passing through its region’s mostly arid lands. This is the body of water Jesus chose to be baptized in. A humble river of life flowing through a desert. Joshua led God’s Old Covenant people into the earthly Promised Land through this river. And Jesus, the new Joshua, leads God’s New Covenant people to the true Promised Land through holy baptism.

Jesus did not need John’s baptism for himself. John the Baptist sensed this and tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus insists, so John relents, but what is the purpose of his baptism? Jesus is baptized not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, so that this most plentiful substance on the face of the earth could serve as the material for Christ’s gateway sacrament all throughout the world.

Jesus is baptized to allow us, through baptism, to be united to himself. His baptism foreshadows what comes in Christian baptism, what happened for you and me when we were baptized. The water, the decent of the Spirit, and the voice of the Father all signify effects of our first sacrament. Through baptism our souls were cleansed, the grace of the Holy Spirit was imparted to us, and we were acknowledged as a beloved children of God. We might take these things for granted: that sins can be forgiven, that the divine can dwell with us, that we can be more than mere servants, or slaves, or distant acquaintances to the transcendent God of the universe. That we can be treasured sons and daughters of God our Father. We need to remember and appreciate these things, for what goes unappreciated can be neglected to our loss.

The Jordan River flows about one hundred and fifty miles on the eastern border of Israel, south from the Sea of Galilee into the Dead Sea. These physical bodies of water contain a spiritual allegory. The Sea of Galilee is a large lake. Its fresh water, full of fish, pours out as the Jordan River. And this river, flowing through the arid desert, blesses its shores with life. But once these waters descent seven hundred vertical feet down into the Dead Sea, to the lowest place on earth, the water has no place else to go. So there the water sits, evaporating away in the heat, leaving its trace amounts of salt behind, causing the Dead Sea today to be an intensely salty sea in which no plants, nor fish, nor any other visible life lives.

The pure waters from above, received from the holy stream, bear no life in this recipient. Likewise, the sacraments offer grace from Heaven above, through Jesus Christ the stream of living water, but in the unrepentant soul they bear no life. Even a priest, baptized, confirmed, and ordained, saying the Mass every day, can be spiritually dead, causing spiritual harm to many, if he does not turn away from mortal sin. If you are in mortal sin, for God’s sake, for your sake, and for the sake of those around you, repent and be reconciled to God through his Sacrament of Confession. Jesus desires us to flow with his graces as a great blessing to others in this spiritually-arid world.

The words of Isaiah in our first reading point to Jesus, but because of your baptism you are in Christ. So Isaiah’s inspired words are spoken to every soul in a state of grace:

Thus says the Lord:
“You are my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit;
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you… a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement [and darkness.]”

You might not be called to cry out or shout, making your voice heard in the streets, breaking this and crushing that. But Jesus wants to use you as his powerful instrument to do transforming good in this world. Jesus is still quietly saving souls through his faithful ones, who receive his graces and pour them forth for others. Let this be you, for Him, and for many.

A Life for Christ — 2nd Sunday of Advent—Year C

December 8, 2019

This weekend the Catholic Church Jesus Christ established joyfully celebrates and remembers one of her martyrs. Moved by the Holy Spirit, he answered God’s calling. He renounced his possessions, left his home and family behind, and lived in a different land. He lived differently, he dressed differently, and lived a celibate life for the love of God and the service of God’s people. His life was a prophetic sign for others, pointing them to Christ and his Kingdom. He was humble but brave in doing what was right. And for this faithfulness, the wicked had him killed. Today we celebrate him as one of those blessed in the Kingdom of Heaven. This description sounds a lot like St. John the Baptist, featured in today’s Gospel, but I speak of another: Brother James Miller, born in our diocese, a native son of Stevens Point, who became a Christian Brother and a missionary. He was martyred in Guatemala and, in a Mass celebrated there yesterday (December 7, 2019) was beatified by the Catholic Church, that is, declared one of the blessed in Heaven.

James Miller was born in Stevens Point in 1944, grew up on a dairy farm, and graduated from Pacelli High School. Discerning his religious vocation, he entered the novitiate of the Christian Brothers in 1962, and taught for them in St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition to teaching religion, Brother James taught English and Spanish, coached football, and worked in the maintenance of the school building. In fact, his skill and pleasure in doing such repairs would win him the nickname “Brother Fix-it.” After taking final vows in 1969, Brother James was sent abroad. He worked as a teacher, an administrator, and even a builder of schools in both Nicaragua and Guatemala, serving the poor with Christ’s love.

It was a time of great violence in Latin America, of war and terrorism between the region’s dictatorial governments and communist rebels. In these conflicts, Catholic priests and religious could be marked for death by either side. The Sandinista rebels put Brother James on a list of people to be “dealt with,” viewing him as an ally of the Nicaraguan government, but it may have been his religious community’s resistance to the Guatemalan government’s wrongdoing which led to his martyrdom.

Despite the students at Brother James’ school in Guatemala being exempt from being drafted, four men abducted a local youth from the city marketplace and forced him into military service. The Christian Brothers went to the authorities objecting to this breach and demanding their young man’s release. Soon after, on February 13, 1982, the 37-years-old Brother James Miller was up on a ladder outside, repairing a wall of the school building. There, he was shot, point-blank, multiple times, by three still-unknown gunmen. It is suggested that Brother James died before his body hit the ground.

When I read the story of St. John the Baptist’s martyrdom — of how his objection to the king’s sin landed him in a prison, of how the dancing of Herod’s daughter, the rash vows of the king, and the scheming of his vengeful queen, resulted in an executioner being dispatched to the dungeon with orders to bring back John’s head on a platter — I wonder if John the Baptist knew what was coming. Did he have any awareness of the events at the party leading to his death? I think quite likely not. I can easily imagine the sword-bearing henchman entering John’s dark cell, giving a curt command for him to bend down, and ending his holy life without any warning or explanation.

This reflection comes to mind because when Brother James was getting into the car to depart for dangerous Guatemala and, though they did not know it, he would never return, his biological brother Ralph told him to “be careful.” Brother James replied, “I’m no martyr.” And yet Brother James Miller and John the Baptist did become martyrs. They may not have expected the day or hour, but they had already made the decision to live for Christ and even die for Christ years before. Whether to love and serve Christ the King is a decision, a resolution, we each have to make and constantly renew. There is no hedging – not making the choice is making a choice; and everything follows from the choice we make.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, has a famous prayer reflection: “The Meditation on Two Standards.” (The word “Standard” in this case means a military or ceremonial flag carried on a pole.) St. Ignatius asks us to imagine a great field near Jerusalem, the holy city, where the supreme commander-in-chief of the good is Christ our Lord; and another field in the region of Babylon, the city of sin, where the chief of the enemy is Lucifer.

Imagine that chief of all the enemy seated in that field of Babylon in a great throne of fire and smoke, horrible and terrifying in shape. Consider how he issues a summons to innumerable demons and how he scatters them, some to one city and others to another, and so through all the world not one province, place, state, nor particular person is omitted. Consider how he instructs them to cast out nets and chains; to tempt human beings to a longing for riches, to a desire for the vain honor of this world, and to vast pride, thereby leading them to all other sins besides.

And then, on the contrary, imagine the supreme and true captain, who is Christ our Lord. Consider how Christ our Lord puts himself in a great field near Jerusalem, in a humble place, beautiful and welcoming. Consider how the Lord of all the world chooses so many persons – apostles, disciples, and others – and sends them through all the world spreading his holy teaching to people of all conditions and states of life. Consider the discourse which Christ our Lord gives to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this expedition, counseling them to poverty rather than riches; to contempt for worldly honor, and to humility against pride, leading them to all other virtues besides.

Whose side, whose standard will you rally to today? John the Baptist appears in our Gospel crying out to us: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Blessed James Miller and St. John the Baptist gloriously rejoice today with their Lord, Jesus Christ the King. Now, which side do you choose? With whom and for whom will you live and die?

The Old Covenant’s (Surprising) Last Seven Prophets

May 6, 2016

A prophet is someone enlightened by God to reveal his message. Each Sunday, we familiarly proclaim that the Holy Spirit has “spoken through the prophets,” but the identities of the seven last Old Covenant prophets (as seen in the Bible) may well surprise you.

#7 :  The Author of 2nd Maccabees

Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament, yet the Bible’s books do not always appear in chronological order. Our separated Protestant brethren would identify Malachi as the last prophetic book in the Old Testament, but the Church’s Bible includes seven books which they exclude. The last of these is 2nd Maccabees, written during the 1st century BC.

The author of 2nd Maccabees, who chronicles the Jews’ successful rebellion against their Greek persecutors, does not seem to know he writes by divine inspiration. In his closing remarks he adds, “If [this story] is well written and to the point, that is what I wanted; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that is the best I could do.” (15:38) However, neither does St. Paul appear to grasp that his letters to the churches would be revered on the level of Genesis, Joshua, or Daniel. This shows that God can use us in amazing ways, in perfect accord with his will, even if we fail to recognize it at the time.

#6 & #5 :  St. Zachariah & St. Elizabeth

The Visitation by BlocZachariah and his wife, Elizabeth, are old and childless. But the Archangel Gabriel appears to Zachariah in the Temple and says that they shall have a son. Although he knows that God has blessed with children elderly and barren couples of old, Zachariah disbelieves the message. In response, he is put on a forty-week silent retreat. Zachariah becomes mute and apparently deaf as well (since his neighbors and relatives will later resort to making gestures to ask him the name of his newborn son.) Though he cannot tell his pregnant wife of their unborn son’s great mission, Elizabeth receives insights from the Holy Spirit.

When she hears the greeting of her visiting relative, Elizabeth is “filled with the holy Spirit” and cries out in a loud voice, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The Blessed Virgin’s belly has not yet begun to grow, but Elizabeth prophesies and confirms to Mary that she is indeed pregnant with a boy who is “the Lord.” (Luke 1)

The Holy Spirit also seems to reveal to Elizabeth the name of her child: “John,” a name unfamiliar to her family. At the naming ceremony, Zechariah regains his voice, confirms her word, and “filled with the holy Spirit, prophesie[s]” through the canticle which bears his name. This holy, prophetic couple would ready their son for the great mission prepared for him by God.

#4 :  The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Philadelphia, 1898.The Archangel Gabriel declared unto Mary that she would conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. But is Mary a prophetess? Unlike Elizabeth and Zachariah, Luke’s Gospel does not say Mary, “filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied,” or “filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice.” However, as Fr. Raymond Brown observed, the Annunciation to Mary shares the biblical form of a prophetic calling (like those of Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel before her):

(1) An Encounter with God or His Angel
(2) An Introductory Word
(3) A Call or Commission
(4) Objection(s) to the Message
(5) Reassurance by God or His Angel
(6) A Sign is Given

In her later canticle, Blessed Mary speaks a prophesy which remains fulfilled in our midst: “Behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” Mary is a prophetess, filled with the Holy Spirit, who bears God’s Word.

Simeon Holding the Baby Jesus in the Temple as His Parents Look On#3 & #2 :  St. Simeon & St. Anna

When the baby Jesus’ parents brought him to the Temple for the first time, they were met by Simeon and Anna; she was “a prophetess” and  “[t]he holy Spirit was upon him.” Simeon “came in the Spirit into the temple,” took Jesus in his arms, and declared him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Anna likewise came forward at that very time and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2)

Simeon may have been advanced in years, but “it had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.” Anna, for her part, was an eighty-four-year-old widow who “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” Anna and Simeon show us how the old can bless the young through sharing the word of the Lord they have personally come to know.

#1 :  St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist PreachingWe do not know exactly how many Old Covenant prophets God inspired after the author of 2nd Maccabees. (A case might be made for the Bethlehem shepherds and the Magi as well.)  But we do know that John the Baptist represents the last Old Covenant prophet, the forerunner to the New Covenant Christ. He is “more than a prophet,” Jesus says. “All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. … Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11)

At baptism, each Christian is entrusted with a prophetic mission. As those enlightened with God’s ultimate revelation, we are to share this Word. As great as it is to proclaim Christ’s coming, to proclaim his triumph is still greater.

Prepare the Way — 2nd Sunday of Advent—Year C

March 3, 2013

The message of John the Baptist is “prepare the way of the Lord. Fill the valleys, lower the hills, straighten the roads, and smooth the paths.” What is he talking about? John is speaking like the heralds or messengers who, in ancient times, were sent ahead to announce to villagers how they were to prepare for the king’s arrival. They would gather everyone together and say, “Pay heed! Your king is coming to visit you soon, but this road on which he will come is full of potholes and has too many twists and turns. Smooth and straighten this road, otherwise when the king comes he will feel unwelcome.”

John the Baptist words are not only spoken to the past. He speaks to us today about the state our lives. Advent prepares not only for the coming of Christ at Christmas but for the coming of Jesus as our Lord and judge on the Last Day. There are sacred works for us to do in preparation.

Note that in the fifteenth year of Caesar Tiberius, the word of God did not come to the emperor in Rome. The word of God did not come to the governor or kings of the Holy Land. This word did not come to the chief priests in Jerusalem. This word came upon John in the wilderness, John the poor, John the stranger, John the seemingly insignificant. The word of God comes to little ones, like John and us. Popes, bishops and presidents do important things, but if we rely solely on them to prepare and advance the kingdom of God on earth we will be greatly disappointed. The Lord also will be disappointed, because he wants to do great things through us. We cooperate with the Lord in the Gospel cause.

What holy works does God want you to do? I do not know, but the Holy Spirit knows. He is always there with you; at home, at work, when you are praying. He has a word for you. The Lord wants to do great things through you. Listen, listen, and prepare their part of the way of the Lord in your life and those around you.

San Juan el Bautista dice, “Preparen el camino del Señor; rellenen los valles, rebajen las montañas, alanen los caminos!” Juan habla como antiguos heraldos y mensajeros que se enviaron por delante para anunciar a los aldeanos cómo debían prepararse para la llegada del rey. “Preparen el camino del Rey, para que cuando él venga, estará encantado con ustedes.”

Estas no son palabras dichas sólo para el pasado. Se hablan hoy a nosotros. Adviento prepara no sólo para la venida de Cristo en Navidad. Adviento prepara para la venida de Jesús como nuestro Señor y juez en el último día.  Hay obras sagradas para nosotros que hacer en preparación.

Observe que en el año décimo quinto del César Tibero, no vino la palabra de Dios al emperador en Roma. La palabra de Dios no vino al gobernador o reyes de la Tierra Santa. Esta palabra no vino a los sumos sacerdotes en Jerusalén. Esta palabra vino sobre Juan en el desierto; Juan el pobre, Juan el desconocido, Juan el aparentemente insignificante. La palabra de Dios vino a los pequeños, como Juan, y nosotros. Papas, obispos y presidentes hacen cosas importantes. Pero si dependemos exclusivamente de ellos para preparar y avanzar el reino de Dios en la tierra, vamos a estar decepcionado. El Señor también se sentirán decepcionados, porque quiere hacer grandes cosas a través de nosotros. Tenemos colaborar con el Señor en la causa del Evangelio.

¿Qué santas obras qué Dios desea que hagas? No sé, pero el Espíritu Santo sabe. Él siempre está allí con usted en su casa, en su trabajo, o cuando se está rezando. Él tiene una palabra para ti. El Señor quiere hacer grandes cosas a través de usted. Escucha, escucha, y preparar su parte del camino del Señor en la viva a su alrededor.

Recognizing God’s Child — Monday Before Epiphany

January 3, 2011

If you saw Jesus clean-shaven, in slacks and a shirt, would you recognize Him? Probably not — John the Baptist only knew Him as God’s Son after he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Him at His Baptism. The world did not recognize Jesus as God’s Son, nor does it recognize us as God’s children, yet so we are! Sometimes we treat others as if they were obstacles, distractions, or not even there. Instead, let us think of how Jesus would treat us if He anonymously encountered you or I, and then follow His example.

Let Advent Be Advent — 2nd Sunday of Advent—Year A

December 5, 2010

John the Baptist was living quite differently compared to people in his day. What he wore was different, what he ate was different, and what came from his lips was also different. Yet, John shared something in common with us today. Like Christians in this season of Advent, John knew that the Christ, or Messiah, had already been born, years before in the past. Like us, what John was preparing for was the coming of Christ anew.

That’s the reason why in Advent, in this season of awaiting the Messiah’s arrival, John the Baptist is so prominently featured in our Sunday Gospel readings, like today’s. By looking at John we can learn how to prepare ourselves for Christ’s arrival. As I mentioned before, John was rather different from his neighbors in his day. Today I suggest that we in the Church need to be a bit more different from everybody else if we want to prepare better for Christ’s coming this year.

What did John do with all that time alone in the desert, when he wasn’t out preaching or baptizing? Surely, John was praying, asking for grace and contemplating the one who was coming. The desert is a quiet place, free of distractions, and conducive to prayer. The world can make this month before Christmas a very stressful time. This Advent, you must find a desert, a quiet place, free from distractions, where you can pray each day. Create a daily desert space for your own family as well and prayer together as one. You cannot prepare well for Christ’s coming without daily prayer and the peace it gives.

What did John eat in the desert? He ate locusts, or grasshoppers, and wild honey. The wild honey may sound pretty sweet, until you realize that it was guarded by wild bees. John ate simply. Our meals in Advent should be simple too. You know how it is at Easter, when you enjoy what you gave up for Lent again for the first time? You find yourself enjoying what you denied yourself more than ever before. Then just think of how much greater your Christmas feasting will be if you eat more simply in Advent. (Besides, if you fast or diet now, there will less pounds to lose next year.)

John dressed differently than other people in his day. He wore a garment made of camel’s hair and tied a leather belt around his waist. He dressed like the Old Testament prophet Elijah because he wanted people to know that these were special days. You can also dress in ways that witness to the world that these are special days. One way to do this is to dress liturgically. As you can see, the main color of Advent is purple. If you have purple outfits or ties, now is their season.

By the way, this Wednesday, December 8th, is a holy day of obligation and Christ is asking you to attend the worldwide feast in honor of His immaculately conceived mother. On such a day, intentionally wearing blue or white would honor her. Try dressing liturgically and you’ll find that it reminds you and others of what makes these days special.

What came from the lips of John was different, and despite the large crowds, whatever he spoke was not for himself but for Christ. This year, wish people “merry Christmas” instead of “seasons greetings,” and instead of “happy holidays,” say “happy holy days,” for by this you give witness to the true reason for the season.

John knew that he must decrease and that Christ must increase, for John himself was not the light but had come to give testimony to the light. In the world, the Christmas songs have already begun on the radio and the Christmas trees are all up and lit in the malls, but the day after Christmas their songs will stop and their decorations will be taken down. But as the world is packing Christ away for another year, the Church is just beginning its celebration. You know the “twelve days of Christmas?” On Christmas day, the twelve day begin, not end. Like Easter, the Church celebrates not just one day, but for weeks after.

This year, let Advent be Advent, and save Christmas for Christmas. Sing Advent songs for Advent, and (as much as possible) save Christmas carols for their time. I suggest leaving your Christmas lights, on your tree and on your house, unlit during Advent. Then, when you plug-in at last on Christmas Eve, you shall enjoy a joyful sign that the light of the world has come.

St. John the Baptist calls to you through the Scriptures. I encourage you here, before you. And I hope the Holy Spirit is now prompting you, in your hearts and minds, to keep Advent as Advent this year, and to prayerfully prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas more profoundly than you ever have before.

Across the Waters — Tuesday, 18th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

August 3, 2010

Today’s gospel follows from yesterday’s. In yesterday’s gospel, Jesus hears that his relative and friend, John the Baptist, has been murdered—for that is what it is to intentionally kill the innocent, even when kings and governments do it. Jesus tries to go to a deserted place, but insistent crowds meet his boat. John’s death turns Jesus’ thoughts to the events ahead of Him. He has the people sit, takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to His disciples, that they may share this miraculous bread with the people.

When evening comes, He sends off the Twelve ahead of Him in the boat and He dismisses the crowds on their way. Jesus climbs the mountain and communes with His Father in that solitude He longed for. Imagine if you were there with Jesus, giving Him silent company on that hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, as He contemplated the things that were before Him.

Perhaps Jesus would turn to you, and ask, “Do you see that boat captained by Peter, the likeness of my Church? Shall I walk through the darkness across the waters of this world’s chaos and death? Should I face the headwinds of spiritual evil for you and them?” Of course, Jesus knows what He is going to do, but He wants to hear you answer. Let Him hear how precious His sacrifice is, for you and all His own.

St. John the Baptist Parish Patronal Feast Vespers

July 1, 2010

John answered and said… “You yourselves can testify that I said (that) I am not the Messiah, 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)

Have you ever realized that Jesus could have done His saving work without involving anybody else, but didn’t? He included others, like John the Baptist, to prepare His way. John taught the Gospel, ministered in love, and suffered with Christ. Of him Jesus said, “…Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet,” He added,”the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)

John was priviledged to share in the saving work of Christ, and so are we.

Our parish can be ranked among the greatest in our diocese.  It is both one of the largest and most beautiful. Yet, like our namesake, this Church’s greatness is not for the sake of our own glory, but for Christ’s, the Bridegroom, who loves us as His bride.

As St. John the Baptist’s parish, let us live up to our name. Let us rejoice greatly not in ourselves, but that the Bridegroom is among us, in the Eucharist and in our souls. We hear His voice, in the Scriptures and in our prayers. Let us rejoice in His increase and that He has given us the priviledge to share in His work of salvation.