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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

During the course of the liturgical year we celebrate three birthdays:  Jesus’ birthday, December 25th; the Blessed Virgin Mary’s birthday, September 8th and John the Baptist’s birthday, today, June 24th.  Although we do not know the precise dates when Jesus or John the Baptist were actually born, the Church Fathers did have a rationale for selecting the dates we observe.  The Summer Solstice occurs around June 21st each year.  It is the longest day of the year.  The Winter Solstice occurs around December 22nd each year.  It is the shortest day of the year.  John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus “must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30).  The church fathers placed John’s birthday after the summer solstice when each day gets progressively shorter and placed Jesus’ birthday after the winter solstice when each day gets progressively longer.  So, John’s prophecy is fulfilled symbolically; John decreases and Jesus increases.  

This is interesting information but it is not the reason we commemorate the Birth of John the Baptist.  John the Baptist was extraordinary. His birth was announced by the Angel Gabriel; the same angel who announced Jesus’ birth.  His conception was a miracle.  He grew up to be a prophet and he baptized Jesus.  Jesus said of John, “among those born of women, no one is greater than John” (Luke 7:28).  John’s entire life was devoted to preparing the way for the fulfillment of Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist is our model for witnessing to the redeeming power and glory of Jesus the Christ.

There is something else in today’s readings that we should consider.  In the first reading The Prophet Isaiah tells us, “the LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name” (Is 49:1).  And the writer of Psalm 139 says “truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.  I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works.”  Just as John the Baptist’s life was a gift from God; all human life is a gift from God.   Each one of us is a work of God.  Our lives are touched by God before we are born.  On this Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist we give thanks for the life of John and we remember that all life is sacred in the eye of God. 

Prayer for Respect for all Human Life

Heavenly Father,
your cosmic gaze focused on dust
and you fashioned in your image and likeness
every man and women:
give us, we beg you, a keen eye to recognize that image
so that respect for all human life becomes our way of life. 
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Committee for Pro-Life Activities
National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Several years ago a friend sent me a fascinating link demonstrating the scale of the universe from the smallest known measurement, 0.0000000001 yoctometers, to the farthest point in the observable universe, a picture of a “deep field” from the Hubble Telescope that is 12.7 billion light years away or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 meters from us.  By the way, the largest known measurement is a yottameter .  If you want to check out the link, it is  I find these measurements staggering.  I cannot imagine a yoctometer much less a yottameter!  But in today’s world, scientists have discovered or at least theorized about the smallest of elements and calculated distances far beyond our own galaxy.  And although I cannot comprehend this level of scientific theory, I believe the scientists.  I believe that there are things the size of a yoctometer in our universe and I believe that there are galaxies that are a yottameter or more away from us. 

 In today’s gospel from Mark 4: 26 – 34, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth,” a mustard seed, that “springs up and becomes the largest of plants.”     When Jesus walked on our earth more than 2000 years ago, he spoke from what he observed and from divine inspiration.    And when he taught, he used examples that he knew his listeners would understand.  We know today that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed and we know that a mustard tree isn’t all that big.  But to a first century Palestinian farmer, the mustard seed probably was the smallest seed they ever saw and the mustard tree is a fairly substantial plant.  So, the mustard seed and mustard tree served as good examples to explain the workings of the Kingdom of God. 
In the Kingdom of God the smallest and seemingly most inconsequential things grow in magnitude - sometimes with mind boggling results.  A tiny mustard seed can grow into a huge plant.  A kind word or deed can transform a person’s life.  A handful of very ordinary first century fishermen, farmers and a tax collector could lead a movement that changed the world.   A Pharisee who assisted in killing early Christians could have a conversion experience and become the world’s greatest Christian evangelist.  And, who knows, perhaps something as small as a yoctometer can impact a galaxy 1. 3 yottameters (137 million light years) away.

 In the Kingdom of God the obscure become great, the weak become strong and the poor become rich in ways we may never see or understand. Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask “Thy Kingdom come.”   God our Father plants the seeds of the Kingdom in all of us, the seeds of faith and love and compassion and mercy.  As Christians our job is to cultivate and nurture these seeds to help them grow thus assuring that the Kingdom does come today, here in Peachtree City.   
Today is Father’s Day.  It is a day set aside for us to honor and remember our fathers if they have died and to honor and thank our fathers if they are still with us.  Fathers, like mustard trees, put out branches that shelter us and protect us.  The very first place we learn about God’s love for us is in our homes.  The very first people who demonstrate God’s compassionate love for us are our parents.  Fathers have a special responsibility to make God’s love present to their families, their communities and to our world.   And so on this day we say a special prayer for all fathers. 

God is the giver of all life, human and divine.
May he bless all fathers.
With their wives they are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith.
May they be also the best of teachers,
Bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do,
In Christ Jesus our Lord.

Monday, June 4, 2018

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

So often when I am reflecting on the readings in the Lectionary, I find a phrase I never focused on before or that jumps out at me.  It happened to me today as I considered the readings for this Sunday, the 10th Sunday year B in Ordinary time.  The phrase was in the second reading from St Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 4 verse 13.  St Paul says, “we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we too believe and therefore speak.” There are a myriad of ways to consider this phrase.  If we believe, are we compelled to speak?   What if we believe and don’t speak?  Or, what if we speak without believing?   There seems to be an assumption in here that whatever we speak will be the truth.  What if we don’t speak the truth?  And, finally, what if we don’t share that same spirit of faith? 

Some of these questions are answered in today’s first and second readings with very graphic examples.  In the first reading from Genesis 3: 9 – 15, the serpent tricked Eve with a lie.  God’s punishment was to ban the serpent “from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; on your belly shall you crawl,and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life.”  In today’s gospel, Mark 3: 20 – 35, the Pharisees spoke without believing.  They accused Jesus of being “possessed by Beelzebul." Jesus quickly refuted their claim.  Jesus’ own family spoke without believing accusing him of “being out of his mind.”  In these readings, only Jesus spoke because he believed. 

There are many risks for people who actually speak what they believe.  For the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostles and many faithful Christians, speaking up for what they believed lead to their martyrdom.  Most of us fall into the category of believing and not speaking. Given what usually happens to people who believe and speak, this stance is understandable. 

While this sounds very bleak, there is an element of good news.   Jesus told his followers, the Pharisees, his family and he tells us that “all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them.”  Except “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness but is guilty of an everlasting sin.

God our Father,

we experience within us and around us
the ongoing struggle between good and evil.
Make us recognize the evil we have done,
give us faith in your immeasurable mercy

and bring us the joy of your pardon,
for which your Son Jesus paid with his life.
Make us rise again in him,
become free again through him,
and overcome with him all evil
in ourselves and in our world.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Corpus Christi

Today we celebrate The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ; we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that, “The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life. The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.  For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch"(CCC 1324).

 All the readings today focus our attention on “the blood of the covenant.”  A covenant is a solemn agreement.   In the Old Testament God made numerous covenants with the people of Israel.  He promised to be their God, to dwell with them and to protect them. The people promised to keep His commandments.  This covenant was ritually sealed by the sacrifice of an animal.  Some of the sacrificed animal’s blood was poured on an altar and some was sprinkled on the people symbolically uniting the people with God. 

At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted a new covenant not just with the people of Israel but with all of us who believe in Him, “"This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (Mark 14: 24). We no longer have to sacrifice animals and sprinkle ourselves with their blood to be assured of salvation.  Jesus sacrificed Himself for us and for our salvation. The Letter to the Hebrews 9: 12 tells us that Christ “entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”   When we participate in the Eucharist, we are saying yes to the new covenant Jesus entered into with God His Father and with us.   We affirm our belief that Jesus Christ died, arose from the dead and that He will come again in glory.   We unite ourselves through sacrifice and prayer with Jesus, with the disciples, with the saints and with the entire Catholic Church. 

O Jesus, present in the sacrament of the altar,
teach all the nations to serve you with willing hearts,
knowing that to serve God is to reign.
May your sacrament O Jesus be light to the mind,
strength to the will, joy to the heart.
May it be support of the weak, the comfort of the suffering,
the wayfaring bread of salvation for the dying
and for all the pledge of future glory. Amen.
Pope John XXIII (1881-1963)

Trinity Sunday

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, the greatest dogma of the Christian faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the Doctrine of the Trinity also is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234).   When we speak about a mystery of faith, we are not referring to something with clues like a mystery novel by Agatha Christie or a television series like Murder She Wrote.  The word mystery comes from the Greek myst─ôrion and means an occurrence of divine revelation.  A mystery is an encounter with something sacred.   In today’s Feast of The Most Holy Trinity, the mystery we contemplate is how this God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit has loved us since the beginning of time. 

We will never understand God.  He tells us through the Prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 8 – 9).  What we can understand and what we do know is that God loves us.  He reminds us, “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you” (Jeremiah 31:3).

God loves us so much He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save us.  And Jesus loves us. St. John tells us that, “He loved his own in the world and he loved [us] to the end” (John 13: 1).  Because of his overwhelming love, Jesus asked His Father to send us the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, to be with us always (John 14: 16).  It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we have the capacity to love God and each other.  In 1 Corinthians 2: 12,   St. Paul says, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.” Love is a gift from God.  It is through our love of God and love of each other that we can enter into the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.    

God, source of all life and love,
We sing out to you today
The joy of our faith and our love.
You have loved us first
Before we could even know you.

Father, with a love as tender as that of a mother,
Our hearts recognize your greatness and your mercy.
You let Jesus become your face,
Our brother, near and approachable,
Saving us by his death and resurrection.

Your Spirit animates us with your love and strength.
Keep alive in us that love and that joy,
Let our gratitude resound all over the earth!
All blessing and praise be to you
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Pentecost Sunday

Historically, the Feast of Pentecost is an ancient Jewish agricultural festival that celebrates the first fruits of the grain harvest fifty days after Passover and the spring planting.  The significance of Pentecost took on dramatic new meaning after the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.  Now instead of thanking God for sun, rain good soil and a bountiful crop, Christians celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift given to the disciples and a gift given to each of us. We have so much to celebrate.  Not only did God give all of us the Holy Spirit “to be with [us] always,” God gave us our Church and Pentecost is the birthday of the universal church. 

What makes Pentecost so special is that it is more than an historic event that happened over 2000 years ago.  Pentecost is an infinite interaction between God and us that can touch our lives very day if we are open to the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the force that inspired Jesus in his ministry.  The same Spirit animated the disciples in the upper room and transformed them from cowering, fearful people into bold, dynamic preachers who became witnesses of Jesus throughout the world.   This same Spirit animates us. 

When we are baptized we are anointed with oil that “signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one "anointed" by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1241).  At our confirmation, the Bishop anoints us again to “confirm” and complete our baptismal anointing.  Confirmation “increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us” and “it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (CCC 1303). 

Through these two sacraments, we receive all the tools we need to become bold, dynamic witnesses of Jesus.  There is a catch, however.  We have to be willing to do it.  In our second reading today from 1 Corinthians 12: 3b – 7, St. Paul says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”  The Spirit is here.  The Spirit is with us and the Spirit is in us.  Each of us must look into our own hearts and prayerfully discern where the Spirit is leading us. 

In every generation, O God of Easter glory,
you send forth your Spirit
to breathe upon the world and make it come alive!
Fulfill the promise of these Fifty Days
with the abundant harvest of your Spirit's gifts.
May we, the community of believers in Christ,
adorned with various ministries and gifts,
be continually formed into one body
by the one Spirit which has been poured out on all of us.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who sends us the Spirit of truth from you,
and who lives and reigns with you,
God for ever and ever.

7th Sunday of Easter - Ascension and Mothers Day

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, when Jesus re-joined his Father in Heaven.  And, we celebrate Mother’s Day.  On this day we honor our mothers.  We thank them for giving us life.  We remember the women who raised us, nurtured us and love us unconditionally. 
 In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke tells us that Jesus appeared to the apostles many times during the forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension.  During this time, he spoke to them “about the kingdom of God” (Acts: 1: 3), and he told them that they were to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).  
Then, he left them. 

While the apostles were “looking intently at the sky,” two men dressed in white, presumably angles, appeared and asked, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky” (Acts 1: 11).  Clearly, the apostles could not be effective witnesses if they were standing around gazing at the sky waiting for Jesus to return.   They needed to get on with the business of bringing about the Kingdom of God here in this world, which they did.  St. Mark tells us in his Gospel that the disciples “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them” (Mark 16:20). 

The Lord works with us too when our hearts are open to the Spirit.  Today’s second reading from Ephesians 1: 17 – 23, is a prayer for all of us asking God to give us “a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.”  The prayer also asks that this same Spirit enlighten “the eyes of [our] hearts” so that we will know God’s call and respond appropriately.  If the eyes of our hearts are enlightened then we will recognize the presence of Christ in each other.  We will see Christ in the people around us who are sick, suffering, hungry, homeless and rejected.  If we are gazing at the sky, we might overlook the very people who can lead us into the Kingdom of God.

Gracious God,
We thank you for adopting us into your family through the miracle of
your grace, and for calling us to be brothers and sisters to each other.   
Today, loving God, we pray for our mothers:
Who cared for us when we were helpless
Who comforted us when we were hurt
Whose love and care we often took for granted.

Today we pray for:
Those who are grieving the loss of their mother,
Those who never knew their biological mother
and now yearn for her
Those who have experienced the wonder of an adopted mother's love
The families separated by war or conflict.
Lord, give them special blessings.
Keep us united with you and with each other, 
     so that we can be and become all that we are meant to be.