“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” We say these words right at the beginning of Mass as an act of penance. They prepare us for what we are about to receive, Christ himself. Such a simple response for something so big.
You would think with all the human, sinful stuff we do all week, we would need to do a lot more to receive such a gift. How can this be enough? When I think about it, God really doesn’t ask that much of us to receive God’s self. God doesn’t ask anything. It is our free choice. We only need to be open to it. It is like a jumping in. You know that feeling of jumping in the water and being completely immersed? We just have to jump into God’s mercy, and God’s mercy is right there…where it always is. “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”
I am fascinated with mercy lately. How freely it is offered and how difficult it is for us to receive, even from each other. We all want mercy: Everything is going to be alright. You are completely wonderful just as you are. It’s OK. And God freely gives it. From Scripture, we see God giving it when people aren’t even sorry for their wrongs. Paul tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8). Yet, we hold onto our wrongs, so fearful, like a child waiting for her father to come home after misbehaving with mom. How free to love and mercy would we be if we only opened to it, jumped into it?
A few years ago, I was in a car accident that totaled our car. It was completely my fault. I was lost, let myself get flustered and went through an intersection. I quickly pulled over and got the kids out of the car to be sure everyone was safe (We were.). When I got us to the sidewalk, I said, “We’re OK, I can’t believe it, we’re OK.” A man walked by us and replied, “Of course you are! You have a loving God!” I was dumbfounded. Or maybe still in shock? I just caused an accident, put my kids at risk, and God loves me anyway? How can that be possible? But he was right. And it’s true. “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” I only had to jump into the mercy.
The mercy of God’s lake is wide and deep enough for all of us. Won’t you jump in?
Father Bob’s homily from Sunday…
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Well, it is Catholic Schools week and I thought we could celebrate it by going to school. Class, let’s get ready to really understand one phrase from this Gospel reading because it is the key phrase in the entire Gospel of Mark from which we will be hearing this year. Mark is simply the unpacking of the very first words we hear Jesus speak in the Gospel. Do you remember topic sentences? Do they still teach that? The topic sentence was to contain all the information conveyed in the paragraph. This is the topic sentence for the Gospel of Mark. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Let’s break that down. “This.” The very first word is important. It refers to a particular time and space. What is going on is…
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Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
As Jesus walks by, John the Baptist calls out “Behold the Lamb of God.” The one so obedient to God that he would follow God like a little lamb. Two of John’s disciples pick up on the cue and follow him. They ask a very reasonable question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus responds, “Come, and you will see.” That invitation echoes through the generations and lands upon our ears, challenging us to follow Christ and have the courage to go wherever he will lead.
Yet, I wonder if it is not a quaint or old fashioned invitation. Come and see. It does not seem to be the most practical way. This is the age of GPS. We don’t come and see. My friend Fred is always desperate to make a map for me with landmarks outlined on the side of the road…
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1st Reading – Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
This is a story about Jonah the prophet. God told Jonah to bring about the redemption of Ninevah, to which Jonah ran in the opposite direction toward the sea (How often do WE run away from where God may be leading us?). The sea became stormy and the sailors thought Jonah was bringing God’s wrath to them, so he sacrificed himself and was swallowed by a huge fish. After 3 days, God had mercy and Jonah eventually through twists and turns went to Ninevah to do what God had said.
This story can help us ponder how we listen to God in our own lives. Is following God’s will always placid and without ambiguity? When we pray, do we really pray to know God‘s will or do we ask God to do our will? (John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings, http://liturgy,slu.edu )
Some psychologists say that we mature not by always having everything ‘together’ and ‘successful’ – whatever that means – but we often “grow by falling apart.” Jonah’s story is sort of a parable about this ‘disintegration.’ Sometimes it is in the darkness, in the ashes, in the failures and frustrations that we journey to full maturity. In scripture this is often imaged in ‘desert or wilderness’ experiences.’ — or in Jonah’s case, the belly of a whale. Like Jonah we can find ourselves carried to some place we’d rather not go. Our successes bring us glory, while our pain, with God’s help, brings us character and compassion. Pain can mellow and enlarge our heart and our soul. The best wines are aged in cracked, old barrels. Our natural instinct, though, is to get out of the darkness and tension as quickly as possible – it is not easy to trust that God’s love can be with us in such dire circumstances. We are too often afraid to suffer, to let it do its purifying work. Yet, when we find ourselves in this ‘dark night’ we can come to know what it means to let our faith in God’s love carry us. We can care rather than cure. We can support and trust the process. We can reflect, think, pray, and talk about the situation with trusted friends and mentors. We do not need to move against the process, but find ways to relax and be comforted right in the middle of it. (Ron Rolheiser, “In Exile” http://liturgy,slu.edu )
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31
This is a very early letter of Paul’s. The expectation at this time was that Jesus was coming back very soon – that his life, death and resurrection had ushered in the ‘end-times.’ This belief empowered the early Christians including Paul to eagerly share the good news of Jesus Christ.
“The world as we know it is passing away” – Paul wanted us to think about the priorities that fill our lives and preoccupy our minds. Family, emotional connections, personal belongings are important, of course, but these must be placed squarely within the realm of the world-that-is rather than misdirect our priorities from the world-to-be . . . He was not telling Christians to abandon their marital promises – but to be keenly aware that the present order of things is not the ultimate order. Obviously, we have normal emotions of joy and sorrow; still we must live with the hope and assurance that God will wipe away every tear and fill us with lasting joy, endless peace – the fullness of life. Detachment.
The Gospel – Mark 1: 14 – 20
Joseph Fitzmyer, a New Testament scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring them to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, what fishermen do to fish is far from salutary! He points out, though, that the Greek term that Jesus used to say that they would be ‘catchers or netters’ of humanity could literally be translated as “you will be taking them alive.” The strange metaphor then comes to mean that those ‘caught’ or ‘netted’ by Peter and the others would be saved from death and gathered into God’s Kingdom. (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)
After his baptism, Jesus may have stayed around John and his followers for awhile. After John’s arrest, it seemed that Jesus began setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was a clean cut, a momentous decision. The village was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This lake was and is a large inland lake that is 680 ft. below sea level. It has quite a warm climate and is surrounded by phenomenally fertile land that was quite densely populated. It is considered to be one of the loveliest lakes in the world. “Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water – a burnished mirror set in a framework of rounded hills and rugged mountains.” In Jesus’ time it was thick with fishing boats. This is probably not the first time that these men have met Jesus. Some of them may have been disciples of John. They had known and talked with Jesus; they had heard him preach. Now these fishermen were being invited to “throw in their lot with him.” These were ordinary, sort of middle-class men – certainly not poverty stricken – nor were they men to be easily fooled or impressed. As fishermen they may have had just the qualities Jesus needed in his disciples: men of patience, perseverance, courage, cleverness, with the ability to ‘fit the bait to the right fish’, to stay out of the way, and to know how to recognize the right moment for action. (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1 77-79)
The leaving of everything to follow Jesus was the way the gospel writers expressed the need of disciples to make Jesus the priority in life. These fishermen were no longer just fishermen any more once they began to follow Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas returning to their families at night or after short intervals, even returning to fishing when necessary. Their total response to Jesus is meant to be an example to all of us as to where our priorities should lie. With Christ as the center of their lives, it was now more important to go out to ‘catch’ the suffering sea of humanity. This humanity was in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name was not just good news; it was great news! It still is and we still have the same calling. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 363,364)
Martin Luther King responded profoundly to God’s call of justice with great hope, faith, and love – even in the midst of violence and hatred: “If you lose hope, somehow you lose vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be . . . so today, I still have a dream.”
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
Baptism of the Lord B
Meaning and purpose. Meaning and purpose is what drives us; our desire for it and our need for it is the energy that moves us. The search for meaning and purpose consumes us as we deal with the most existential questions of our lives – Why do I matter? What am I do? What purpose do I serve?
The search for meaning and purpose is as elusive as it is critical. It is as if we are cast upon the sea searching for an ultimate destination, to finally arrive where we are meant to be. There are times when we run well with a consistent breeze behind us as when we begin a family or find a job or discover a vocation. We are moving toward what makes us whole. And then there are times when we face the storms and torrents of life. The…
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1st Reading – Samuel 3: 3b — 10, 19
Samuel was the last of the judges and the first of the prophets –A time of transition . . .
This is a ‘classic’ story about discerning God’s call in our lives. What steps do you see in this story about discernment? Have you ever experienced God calling? How have you experienced any “twists and turns’ in this calling?
Some people who have experienced the twists and turns of God’s calls:
Moses Jeremiah Mary Paul Francis of Assisi Mother Teresa Thomas Merton Martin Luther King all of us ?!
“Our lives have been shaped not just by one but by many calls from God, and God speaks not just with one voice but with many.” (Celebration, 2000)
From Mary Birmingham:
The Books of Samuel recall a time of transition. From the time of Joshua, Israel had been governed by a loose tribal confederacy. These books tell of the move to one central government that reached its pinnacle in the reigns of David and Solomon. The major figure during this time of political change was Samuel, a late-eleventh-century B.C. voice of the times. The books span the time from Samuel’s birth and childhood through the reign of David and his sons. David is remembered as Israel’s ‘golden age.’ Prior to David’s reign, Israel was suspicious of kings. These books reflect these suspicions. Many preferred the tribal system over the monarchy. The Books of Samuel reflect these tensions. The first king, Saul (who Samuel anointed), was a great disappointment. David came and was able to unify the tribes and to establish the city of Jerusalem as the capital: it was on the border between the north and the south and, thus, acceptable to both. The high point of these books is Yahweh’s promise to David that his reign would last forever. Israel would remember this promise as a sign of God’s protection during future difficult times. (Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 451-451)
2nd Reading – I Corinthians 6: 13c-15a, 17-20:
Paul is speaking about what was common in Greek thinking at the time, that the body is separated from the soul. Because of the separation, if one sinned, that was the body’s fault and not the soul. So sin away! Paul is telling them (and us!) that our souls are enfleshed. We are body AND soul for the Lord. How does this affect our lives today? How do you use your whole self for God’s work?
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan. 2000: Paul is trying to help us realize that we are people of Incarnation. Our God took on human flesh, and we encounter God not only – maybe not even primarily – in the hour of prayer, but in the many other hours of encounter with one another. Where we gather, Jesus is. If God is revealed to us in flesh and blood, then what happens to us in the flesh is not insignificant. Our sexuality, our stewardship of our health, our respect and care for life – especially for those who are weak, ill or voiceless – all of this has great importance.
The Gospel – John 1:35 – 42
Last Sunday’s gospel was about Jesus’ baptism: Jesus hearing God’s call. Now Jesus begins to call others –to gather others – what can we learn from all this?
The title, Lamb of God, has many overtones and shades of meaning. It obviously was an important title for Jesus for John’s community. It contains a rather compact wealth of Christological information. Ray Brown and William Barclay point out the various meanings and images connected with this phrase.
- Passover Lamb: By whose blood the Israelite slaves were saved from death (Exodus 12). This was also celebrated by the sacrifice of a lamb every morning and evening in the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Suffering Servant Lamb: In whose suffering others would find healing and strength (Isaiah 53:7).
- Triumphant Lamb: Whose mission it was to overcome evil and reign over all peoples of the earth (Revelation 7:17, plus it is used 29 times throughout the book).
As Barclay says, this title sums up “the love, the sacrifice, the suffering, and the triumph of Christ.”(Celebration, 2000, and The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, by William Barclay, p. 80-82)
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B, p. 457:
The readings for this Sunday remind us that “all of salvation history can be summarized as the process in which God is in constant search of human beings. God is the initiator. But the invitation must be accepted in faith and in freedom. It is an invitation to respond. We are told what that response involves: action. Today’s gospel is pregnant with action words – see, stay, hear, believe, come, watch. These verbs evoke the acts, which lead from one’s initial discovery of the Lord to the resolute commitment to follow him in order to be near him . . .
1st Reading – Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7
This is the first of four ‘suffering servant’ songs from the second part of the Book of Isaiah. The prophet wishes us to see that God acts through this chosen servant to nullify the power of evildoers and so to restore the harmony and peace that arises where God’s justice is acknowledged and lived. Jesus must have loved the Book of the Prophet Isaiah for he modeled his life on these words concerning what it is like to be God’s servant. From his baptism on, Jesus knew that he was called and empowered to be this servant – to bring light, and sight, and freedom to all in bondage. God’s justice was one of compassion for all. Like Jesus by our baptism we are called to do likewise – to try to reproduce God’s justice in the world: father the fatherless, mother the motherless, welcome the stranger, feed the traveler, be hospitable to the alien. By trying with intelligence and perseverance to love all who touch our lives, we can help to bring God’s steadfast love into the reality of our everyday life. (Celebration, January 2005)
The justice or righteousness used here means living in right relationship with God and with other people. This justice acknowledges the human dignity of all people, especially those who are in need. Love of God is intrinsically tied to love poured out on others. Isaiah tells us of a Suffering Servant whose justice does not proceed with force or cruelty. This servant brings forth justice carefully, caringly, gently, so gently that even bruised reeds will not break, nor will smoldering wicks be quenched. This Servant brings God’s love to the weak and fragile and needy. Jesus is the fulfillment of this idea of servant. As disciples (learners) of Jesus we, too, must become suffering servants; it is our highest dignity. In baptism we become like Jesus – priest, prophet, and king – sent to lead others to this love of Christ, to share the Good News of the love, and to offer our lives in service for others.(Celebration, January 2002, and Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 126)
2nd Reading – Acts 10: 34-380
Cornelius was a gentile – a non-Jew – yet Peter, a faithful Jew, became convinced that he too could be baptized and become a follower of Jesus.
This is echoed in a homily given by Pope Francis: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all. And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: We will meet one another there.”
“For God was with him” Do we know this? That God is with us? That God makes it possible for good to happen in (and through!) our lives if we are open to God’s presence? Just think what your life would be like if God’s love was able to flow freely in and out of you. What good would come?
The Gospel — Jesus’ Baptism – Mark 1: 7-11
Why do you think that Jesus was baptized? **If Jesus shows us what God is like, what do we see in this passage? There is a special irony in Jesus’ baptism that speaks to the central message of the redemptive mystery. Jesus enters into radical solidarity with all people, taking upon himself even the condition of our sinfulness, himself having not sinned. The “one more powerful” assumes the position of weakness. It is precisely in this that he is beloved, and it is from this that he is sent. But how could he be fully human, like us, if he did not sin? We misunderstand this, because we misunderstand our humanity as well as our sin. Jesus reveals to us not only what God is like; he also reveals to us who we are. Our sin in essence is the rejection of the truth of our humanity. Jesus’ utter acceptance of his humanity reverses our sinful rejection of our ‘creatureliness’. His baptism is at the heart of his mission to heal us. He enters into even the wounds of our self-rejection and insecurity, without making the rejection and insecurity his own. He stands with us even if that means that he is seen as a sinner. Here the Word of God is enfleshed for all to see. The Spirit hovers over him and the Voice declares to him and to all of us who share his flesh: “This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus IS God’s ancient covenant of love. In him, both halves meet: the divine and the human. (J. Kavaanaugh, S.J. “The Word Engaged”; J. Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Rding.” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
In first-century Israel there were two seasons: rainy (late September to late April) and dry (early May to early September). Most stayed inside during the wet season, so during the dry season people wanted to be out and about, a very important Mediterranean activity. When John was baptizing, it was probably the beginning of the dry period. The Jordan River would be still filled with water and it would now be warmed by the sun. Jesus’ baptism by John is one of the most certain historical events recorded in the gospels. Its significance caused the early Christians first some embarrassment and gradually great insight. Another point: in Marks’ brief account it is a ‘mouth-full’ to say that Jesus leaves his family and village to come to John for baptism. One’s family was the central social institution of his day; this step away from his family would have been seen by his culture as very risky, even shameful. When the voice from heaven claims him as a beloved son, a whole new type of family is set up. Mark expects us who are hearing this gospel to recognize that the source of Jesus’ honor is God not his family or culture. God personally acknowledges Jesus as a beloved, obedient son and servant. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Jesus’ encounter with his calling and identity at his baptism is the starting point for all that he will undertake. It is because Jesus knows who he is that he does as he does. He trusts the truth that he is God’s beloved; he refuses, even in the face of suffering and death, to believe the lie that God is distant, uncaring, or condemning. At baptism, we are also called sons and daughters of God. In fact, our baptism is our acceptance of that truth. Like Jesus, we need to let that truth fill our lives and overflow into all we do and are. We are never just consumers or spectators or travelers or workers – all of us are God’s beloved. (“Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,300 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.
My sisters and brothers, how does God love you? Think about that for a few seconds, how does God love you? Now, look for a moment at our Crèche. Yes that is how much God loves us. This is what we celebrate today, Jesus Christ, Mighty God and Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, Jesus Christ, who came in glory with salvation for his people. Our God, who is love, who makes us channels of peace, loves us so much that he gave us the gift of his love in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, our brother, our friend, our savior. What a wonderful gift we have been given.
And this Jesus Christ, God’s gift to us, loved us so much that he gave his life for us so that we might have eternal life. Jesus was born, Jesus suffered, Jesus died, and Jesus rose from the dead so that we might live, not as we do now, but live the life that we, as human beings, can only imagine. A life of no suffering or pain, a life where every tear will be wiped away, a life where all are equal. Very shortly the simple gifts of bread and wine will be placed upon this altar, this table. There they will be changed, changed into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The bread and wine are not the only gifts to be placed on this table though. As the gifts are brought forward tonight I invite each of you to add your own gift, the gift of your very life too. All your suffering and pain, your joys and your sorrows, your questions, any heaviness in your heart, all your thankfulness, where ever you are right now; place it on this table so that it too may be offered.
For all of us, my sisters and brothers are the Body of Christ and our lives too will be changed along with this bread and wine. Then as we share in this simple meal, as we receive the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ, may we feel the joy and the peace offered to us at this Christmas Mass and every Mass where we are fed with what we become. My brothers, my sisters, my friends, Christmas is also a time of giving and receiving gifts right? May I suggest giving one another and receiving from one another the best gift this year. This gift we receive in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Now may I ask you again, how does God love you? I would like to close by offering a gift to each of you. I don’t know how this gift got started, but I hope it is still given. I received this gift from my sister about 40 years ago. Then it was difficult for me to read this note not because the typing is small, but because I didn’t get to see the gift until I read the card that came with it telling me why she sent this as her gift and tears had already filled my eyes. Today I still get tears and I had to make the writing bigger. I offer this as a gift for you, but it is from our God who is love. The note says: “This is a very special gift that you can never see. The reason it’s so special it’s just for you, from me. Whenever you are lonely or ever feeling blue, you only have to hold this gift and know I think of you. You never can unwrap it, please leave the ribbons tied. Just hold the box close to your heart. It’s filled with love inside.”
My friends may Christmas joy and peace be with you.