Fourth Sunday of Lent (March 11th, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture for today’s Mass is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Chronicles. The Book of Chronicles is one of the historical books of the Bible, detailing significant people, events, places that shaped the Israelites for good and for bad. The great overarching theme of the Book of Chronicles, indeed all the historical books of the Bible, is that God is actively involved in the lives of the Israelites- they are not the simply makers of their own destiny. Human freedom is always in relationship to God’s freedom to act in the world. It is precisely in relation to God’s freedom that the mission and purpose of the Israelites, indeed the mission and purpose of our own lives, is revealed.

This particular scripture from the Book of Chronicles recalls one of the greatest catastrophes that overtook the Israelites and nearly destroyed them forever- the invasion of the Israelite kingdom and the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in the year 587 BC.

This event was truly apocalyptic- everything that the Israelites valued was lost- their land, their wealth, their culture, their king, their temple, and for many, their relationship with God.

The Israelites would languish for years in exile, clinging to whatever hope they could muster, hoping that what had been lost might one day be restored.

This reading from the Book of Chronicles hints at that restoration, briefly describing the circumstances through which the Israelites would return to their homeland and rebuild not only their lives, but their temple, and with that temple, their relationship with God.

Why is any of this significant to us?

Well, remember, the Church does not read and re-read the texts of the Old Testaments as an appreciation course in ancient literature, or to teach us a history lesson, but because we believe that inasmuch the Church continues the story of the Israelites, these Old Testament texts illuminate for us our own mission and purpose as God’s chosen people. In other words, hidden in the histories of the Book of Chronicles and the entire Old Testament are not just stories from the past, but our own story, the story of the Church.

(In regards to all this) Today’s particular excerpt from the Book of Chronicles reveals that our relationship to God through the Church is forged in a crucible of fidelity and infidelity- our willingness to live our lives in accord with God’s will or go our own way and position of own will, our own freedom in opposition to God.

The Book of Chronicles understands that it was infidelity, the willful positioning of human freedom, of choices, of decisions against God, that led to the catastrophe of 587 BC and it was only a radical conversion back to God, fidelity replacing infidelity, that opened up the possibility of restoration.

Note that the foremost sign of infidelity, of defiance of God, in today’s scripture is idolatry- elevating a worldly concern or preoccupation to an ultimacy or significance that properly belongs only to God. The great idols need not be mythological beings, that are most often constructed out of our desires for wealth, pleasure, power and honors, idols which in our own time are embodied in our preoccupations with celebrities, politicians, ideology and economics. These are elevated to the gods that will save us- but that is the same lie that doomed the Israelites in 587 BC and in this regard, this excerpt from the Book of Chronicles is a warning.

Will we be faithful to God or not? Will it be God or our idols? We have to choose. We have to decide. The future of the Church, indeed our own future, will be forged in the crucible of our decision.

In the Church’s second scripture for today, the apostle Paul reminds us that God has intervened dramatically in history. How so? Through Jesus Christ.

The revelation of God in Jesus Christ has changed everything and given us a possibility that we did not have before his coming into the world.

This possibility is communion or relationship with God, a communion or relationship that is not constructed by ourselves, but is, instead accepted as a gift from God himself. In other words, God in Jesus Christ offers us the possibility to be his friends, and those of us who claim the name “Christian” are the ones who have accepted this communion, this relationship, this friendship with God.

Any friendship that is authentic and true will change us, and friendship with God in Christ does precisely that- changes us. Friendship with God in Christ does not affirm us as we are, but, initiates us into a new way of life- changing the way we think, the way we feel, and the manner in which we behave.

The apostle Paul conceives of this change, this transformation through friendship with God in Christ as a movement from sin to grace. By this the apostle Paul means a life lived in defiance of God and in a refusal of his offer of friendship to a life lived in relationship with God in Christ, in which we accept his friendship and the new way of life this entails. This is what it means to be “saved” and being “saved” has profound implications for our lives in the here and now and into eternity.

What does being “saved” look like? Well look at your life, what you think, what you do, what you believe and ask yourself how much of all this indicates that you are a friend of God in Christ.

Being saved is not a “get out of hell free card”. Being saved is not an expression of some faith-based form of identity politics. Being saved is being a friend of Jesus Christ. Being saved is not indicated because you think pious thoughts or because you are a generally nice person. Being saved is indicated in the manner in which you accept the way of life Christ offers to you as your own- this way of life is called the Church, and it’s through that way of life, the Church, that you share communion with God in Christ, have a relationship with him and become his friend.

In his Gospel, the Lord Jesus makes reference to a strange and miraculous event detailed in the Old Testament Book of Numbers (Numbers 21:9) in which the Israelites are afflicted by the poisonous bites of snakes and in response to their pleading, the prophet Moses creates an image of a serpent and lifts it up on a pole- all those who look upon this image are healed.

Christ is using this strange story to illuminate the meaning of his death on the cross- his cross will be for all a sign of healing and of hope. The appearance of Christ on the cross, like the serpent on the pole will be off-putting, bizarre, an apparent contradiction, but to those who look upon it in their fears, their desperation, their pain, they will find a divine source of solace and consolation.

Christ the Lord then testifies that the reason for his revelation is not condemnation, but salvation, redemption- hope.

It is not his purpose or his mission to condemn the world. He will name directly and forthrightly the world’s truth, our truth, but his purpose in doing so is not to destroy us, but to save us from those destructive lies that hold us captive and prevent us from fully flourishing.

In other words, Christ comes to offer to us all a new possibility, the best of all possible second chances, a new way of life. This is his mission. This is his purpose. This is the reason for his revelation.

In this regard, Christ the Lord is very clear. But there is more to this Gospel than that.

Christ tells us what his mission is, but he also insists that we have to make a decision, a choice, (in regards to) what he offers (to us)- and we can still refuse (what he offers).

And our refusal is not without consequences.

Christ raises the prospect that while his purpose is not to condemn us, we can, through our refusals of Christ, condemn ourselves. As I said before, being a Christian does not mean that you are the privileged recipient of a “get out of hell free card”. Our refusals of Christ matter. Hell is our refusal of Christ. And our refusals create personal hells for ourselves and for others, not just in an eternity far from our day to day experience, but here and now.

Our willingness to accept from Christ a new way of life and truly live that way matters.

Christ wants to save us, but are we going to let him?



First Sunday of Lent (February 18th, 2018)

Note: This homily was prepared to provide a basic catechesis regarding the meaning of Lent. 

Today the Church celebrates the first Sunday of Lent.

What is Lent?

Lent is a season of the Church’s year of prayer and worship, the purpose of which is to prepare Christians to appreciate and receive the great mysteries of Holy Week. Lent begins on a day called Ash Wednesday, known as such because the faithful are marked with ashes as a reminder of their willingness to undergo the penitential practices that will prepare them for Holy Week. The season of Lent includes 40 days of penitential practices.

What is Holy Week and what are the penitential practices of Lent?

Holy Week begins a week before Easter Sunday with the commemoration of Palm Sunday. At the Mass of Palm Sunday the faithful hear about Christ’s entry into the city of Jerusalem, where he is greeted with festivity, treated like royalty and surrounded by crowds bearing palm branches. Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday, because the story of Christ’s arrest, trial and execution is proclaimed to the faithful on this day. In the days that follow Palm Sunday, the faithful intensify their focus on and consideration of the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, accepting and appreciating these events not simply as historical events that happened long ago, but as revelations about God. Holy Week culminates with the solemn celebrations of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, during which the faithful acknowledge their appreciation for three great gifts that Christ gives to us- the gift of his divine life in the Blessed Sacrament, the gift of the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the transformation of death from a terrifying end, to a new kind of beginning.

Each of these gifts is revealed to us by God in an extraordinary way and this is why the Church refers to the mysteries of Holy Week, it means that God acted in Christ to do something important, extraordinary and unexpected. Our joy at receiving these gifts is displayed with exuberance at the Mass of Easter Sunday.

What are the penitential practices of Lent?

The penitential practices of Lent, as I said previously, are intended to prepare Christians for Holy Week. These practices are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

What is prayer?

Most of us are familiar with what is called petitionary prayers, that is, asking God for something, and this type of prayer is a good thing, but we shouldn’t reduce the meaning and purpose of prayer to our petitions. Prayer is a disposition, a habit of attentiveness, availability and receptivity to the Lord. Through our prayer, we place ourselves, indeed our very lives, at God’s disposal and then we patiently wait for him to answer us. The answer is always a mission. This answer may come quickly or may come slowly, but this is not the concern of our prayer- the concern is to be ready and willing when the mission is finally presented to us. Prayer like this necessitates that we withdraw from our own projects and preoccupations, giving our time and attention to the Lord, demonstrating to him that we are ready and waiting and open to receiving from him a mission. Once we have received our mission, it will be our prayer, giving time and attention to the Lord, that will sustain us and help us to accomplish what the Lord asks.

What is fasting?

Fasting is depriving our bodies of food. Why would we do this? There are several reasons. One is that the experience of fasting prepares us for mission by signaling to us that whatever mission we are given will necessarily entail hardship and sacrifice. Fasting helps us to understand what kind of sacrifice we are willing to make and what kind of hardship that we can endure. The purpose of fasting also helps us to understand that there are greater things about life than just the satisfaction of our desires and they we are far more resilient than we often expect ourselves to be when we don’t get what we want.

And finally, fasting creates empathy in us for the sufferings of the poor, even if the deprivation of the poor is not food, we know from our experience of hunger, what it is to have to settle for less or even have little or nothing at all. Having had this experience of lack ourselves we hope to be more compassionate with others who suffer from hunger or deprivation or whose options have seemed to have run out.

Finally, what is almsgiving?

The word “alms” originates in a Greek word meaning “mercy”(eleemosune, eleemon). So, literally speaking, giving alms or almsgiving means giving mercy. Mercy is a gift of compassion, compassion that is needed, but not deserved. For Christians, mercy is not an idea or a feeling, but a practice or a work.

Thus, being a Christian means accepting as your way of life the practices or works of mercy- feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, caring for the sick, burying the dead. And counseling the doubtful, comforting the afflicted, bearing wrongs patiently, praying for one another, forgiving those who have wronged us, teaching others what is true, and warning others about the consequences of living in lies. All these works, these practices are fulfilling Christ’s command that we love our neighbor.

These are works of mercy or almsgiving, not just ideas or feelings or good intentions, but actions, practices, a way of life. These actions go beyond giving away surplus cash or donating to a favorite cause. During the season of Lent Christians undertake these works or mercy with ever increasing intensity, not just because they are good things to do, but because by practicing them, doing them, we become better Christians, we become the people that God in Christ intends for us to be.

You see, your Christian faith is not like an ethnic or racial identity, something that constitutes an identity that is “just there” because you were born into it. Instead your Christian faith is a way of life, a way that must be practiced for it to mean what it truly means, to be what it is supposed to be. Practicing your Christian faith is what makes us Christians rather than hypocrites.

This is what the almsgiving or the mercy giving of Lent is all about- becoming who Christ intends by doing what he asks you to do. The alternative is to claim to be a Christian, all the while knowing that that claim is a lie.

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the practices of Lent, and we do these things so as to prepare ourselves for Holy Week. These practices help us to better appreciate and understand what Holy Week is all about- and appreciating and understanding Holy Week is what Lent is all about.


Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 28th, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy means “second law”, which is a way of saying that it is a second of two law books, the other being the Old Testament Book of Leviticus.

The Book of Deuteronomy presents the content and promulgation of the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses is more than just a collection of rules, it is a description of a culture, a unique way of life, through which the Israelites displayed to one another and to the world their relationship with God. The Law of Moses as a unique way of life made the Israelites a visible sign of God’s presence in the world.

Moses was, of course, the great savior of the Israelite people, having acted as God’s instrument to free his people from bondage to the false gods of the Egyptians. However, once freed from this bondage, the Israelites needed a way to be a people, they needed an identity and a mission, and this is what the Law of Moses gave to them.

The liberation of the Israelites from bondage to the false gods of the Egyptians is described in the Old Testament Book of Exodus and in this book God declares war on the gods of the Egyptians and in terrifying displays of his power, he defeats them. These displays of power are truly frightening and impressed upon the Israelites that God was not to be provoked and his direct intervention in their lives was not be necessity something to look forward to.

Thus, in today’s scripture, the Israelites insist that they desire that God’s power and presence would be mediated for them, that someone would stand between them and the Lord and this someone would make his will known.

Moses then announces that this is precisely how God will act. The Lord will call forth prophets, like Moses, and through these prophets, he will speak. Great and lofty will be the mission of a prophet, but lest the unworthy grasp at this vocation, great and terrifying will be the judgment that falls on false prophets.

This scripture from Deuteronomy helps us to understand the significance of prophets in the Bible. Prophets are not mere predictors of the future, but they are mediators between God and his people, communicators of his will.

The biblical prophets remind the people who God is and what God wants.

But this scripture also indicates how God desires to act in our own lives and in the world- through secondary causes rather than directly. In this way God can meet us in the midst of the events and circumstances of our lives, making his presence known in what is apparently ordinary. Remember, the one, true God is not an idea or a feeling or a cosmic force, but a living, divine person, who seeks a relationship with us, and who chooses those ways in which we relate to the world and to one another as the means of making himself known.

This preference by God, to meet us in the events and circumstances of our lives, reaches its great culmination in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God, who in his desire to share his life with us, accepts a human nature as his own and lives a real, human life. The mediation of God’s will, his presence, his power in the prophets prepares us to receive God’s will, presence and power in Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament God speaks his will through the voices of the prophets. In the New Testament God speaks his will through the human voice of Christ the Lord.

Listening to Christ we listen to God.

St. Paul speaks to us through his first Letter to the Corinthians and his words express a message that is as off putting and counter cultural today as it was two thousand years ago.

His words are for Christians, for the Church and in them he expresses that his preference is that Christians choose celibacy as an expression of their fidelity to Christ and availability for the Church’s mission.

Family life produces enough demands on the Christian and the person who accepts celibacy will be able to accept different responsibilities and dedicate themselves to important aspects of the Church’s mission that the responsibilities of a family would inhibit.

Paul insists that the commitment to celibacy should not be imposed, but that it should be freely chosen and Christians should consider as whether or not they have been chosen by God to remain unmarried so as to give a unique witness to Christ and make themselves available in extraordinary ways for the mission of the Church.

What St. Paul is saying is, as I said, no less off putting and counter cultural today as when he said it centuries ago. Remaining unmarried for the sake of Christ and the Church seems to many Christians to be so radical and extreme that it is unintelligible and perceived to be dangerous. Celibates are caricatured as sad losers or hiding some kind of pathology. For other Christians, it is merely a quaint archaism, a hold-over from another time that the Church would be well rid of, its endurance in the Church today inhibits the modernization of the Church and makes it difficult to take care of pragmatic concerns.

And yet, for centuries, it has been the willingness of men and women to choose a celibate life for the sake of Christ and the Church that has moved the Church’s mission forward and often times, take the Gospel into places that most others would not prefer to go.

Finally, in his Gospel Christ the Lord confronts the dark powers in of all places, a holy place, a place of prayer and worship, a synagogue.

Christ is not simply opposed by worldly powers, but by darker and more malevolent forces that have sought to subvert God’s plans from even before the world was created. The Gospels present Christ as actively engaged in defying these dark powers and liberating humanity from their influence. As it was then, so it is now.

The dark powers know that with the revelation of Christ in the world, their domination and influence is threatened, indeed, that it is coming to an end, and since they have been rendered powerless to harm him, they strike out against what Christ loves. Christ will protect us, but we must let him, inviting his power and presence into our lives, into our minds, into our hearts, and letting him defend us.

But what the dark powers fear most from Christ, and therefore from the Church, is the manner in which he teaches- with authority, with the truth- and not merely some worldly opinion elevated to truth, but with God’s truth- God’s word about who we are, what he wants and what will lead to human flourishing. This is the truth that Christ speaks with authority and it is the truth that Christ gives to his Church to speak on his behalf.

The dark powers prefer that the Church would contain the power of Christ’s truth, reducing it to clichés or dumbing it down and making it insipid. The dark powers would prefer that the Church would not speak with authority, but would instead reduce the truth to an idea and a feeling, a mere opinion, that has little power to change one’s life and even less power to redeem and save.

Christ will have none of this and we should have none of it too!

There is another lesson in this Gospel- one even harder to take and more frightening.

Sometimes, opposition to Christ comes, not from outside the Church but from within, from our own no to Christ, our own refusals to love and to serve. We must never forget that in each of us there lurks the potential to refuse Christ, even betray him. In this case, the dark power that opposes him is not a power outside of us, but within us. The enemy is not a demon, the enemy is ourselves.

It is our own refusals of Christ that subvert the Church more than anything else. It is our own resistance to Christ’s authority that deprives the Church of the energy needed for our mission.

Let us not forget that Christ comes into our lives to protect us from dark powers, but also, and perhaps more importantly, he comes to liberate us from our own refusals and resistance to his presence and his power.


Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (January 14th, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the First Book of Samuel, one of the historical books of the Bible.  This means that the emphasis of this book is on people and places, events and circumstances that were significant to the Israelites.  Memory of these things gave the Israelites a sense of identity and purpose and helped them, most importantly, to understand their relationship with God.

Remember, the God of the Israelites, the God of the Bible, our God, is not a concept or a feeling or some kind of cosmic force.  The God of the Israelites is a living, divine person, who seeks to be known and acts in history, in the events and circumstances of our lives.

The story of Samuel is about Samuel, but more importantly, it is about God, and how he acted at a time of great crisis.  The Israelites were at the time of Samuel’s youth governed by judges and priests who had been corrupted by worldliness and were using their offices, not to serve the needs of the people whom they governed, but for their own self-aggrandizement and material advantage. Further the disparate tribes of the Israelites were in a constant state of conflict, leaving the people vulnerable to their enemies and threatened with the loss of their homeland.  And finally, the Israelites were tempted by the customs and beliefs of their pagan neighbors with their false gods.  The promises of these false gods to give the people wealth, pleasure, power and honors challenged Israelite faith in the one, true God.

What God does in response to this situation is to raise up a man named Samuel as his servant, and it is Samuel who will be charged with the mission of bringing order out of the chaos and through his efforts, assuring the survival of the Israelites as a people.

The excerpt from the First Book of Samuel that you heard this morning concerns the quickening of Samuel’s mission.  Young Samuel, whose parents had dedicated him to God’s service when he was but a toddler, experiences an uncanny call, a divine summons, to which Samuel finally responds that he is ready, waiting and listening for God’s instructions, and what God asks of him- Samuel will do.

And the Book of Samuel will tell us precisely what God has Samuel do!

What is the perhaps the meaning of this scripture for us?

Here’s a way of thinking about it.

We live in a culture of self-invention and self-actualization.  We are convinced that we can create not only our own destiny, but impose upon ourselves, on others, on the universe, even on God, the meaning and purpose of our lives- such is our belief in the power of our own will, our own power to invent and actualize ourselves.

This is our vision of what accomplishes human flourishing- the sovereignty of the self and our will to invent our own identity and mission.

It is not a biblical vision.  The story of Samuel’s call is a singular example of the biblical vision of life and human flourishing, how we come to know who we are and what we are to do- a vision that is not self directed or self invented, but God directed and God created.

Samuel finds himself, who he really is, what he is to do, when he listens to what God wants and gives himself over to the mission he gives God gives to him.

This vision is not an archaism from a biblical past, but it is the Christian vision of life and Christian vision of what leads to human flourishing, listening, as Samuel did, to what God wants and then doing what God wants us to do.

That’s the lesson for us.

The great Apostle Paul reminds us that our body is not insignificant in terms of our relationship with God.  Our body matters to our spiritual life.

How we treat our bodies and the bodies of other people has soul impact and influences, not just our lives in the here and now, but is a matter of eternal consequence.  God cares deeply about our bodies and what we are doing with them.  In fact, God cares enough about our bodies to accept a human body as his own, and in communion with that human body, living like us a real, human life.  For this is what God does in Christ.

Why do bodies matter?

Here is an insight from the great Saint Thomas Aquinas.  Aquinas taught that the body and soul, bodies and souls do not exist in a dualistic or antagonistic relationship.  Nor, is your soul in your body, like milk in a bottle.  Instead, the soul, your soul contains your body.  So, what the soul and body are, what they represent, is the totality of who we are in relationship to God.  If you are in a relationship with God you do not get to choose which aspects of your life will be part of that relationship.  Instead, God relates to the totality of who you are and this means your mind, your will, your emotions, your soul and yes, your body.

If your body is so significant to God’s plan and purpose that he accepts a human body in Christ as his own, and meets you in that body, establishes a relationship with you in Christ’s body, then we must know and believe as Christians that our bodies matter and it is through our bodies that we will work out our salvation.

Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus is acclaimed by the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God.  What does this mean?

It does not mean that Christ is gentle and meek like a lamb.  It means that Christ’s mission will be to make of his life a sacrifice, a sacrifice that will bring God and humanity together.

That’s his mission- to offer his life as a sacrifice so that God and humanity might be in relationship with one another.

And that is what we receive in the Blessed Sacrament- his sacrifice, his offering of his life, so that through his offering, through his life, we might have a relationship with God.  That’s what the Blessed Sacrament is- it is a relationship with God.

And that’s why the Blessed Sacrament is important.  That is why the Blessed Sacrament matters.  And it is for sake of receiving and adoring the Lamb of God, the sacrifice, the Blessed Sacrament that we are here.

The Mass has become distorted in its meaning for so many in the Church.  Some perceive it to be irrelevant.  Others, in a mistaken and misguided attempt to restore its relevancy, make of it a cultural jamboree or a form of faith based entertainment.  But these are just corruptions of the meaning and purpose of the Mass.

What the Mass is, is the privileged moment that you see and receive what John the Baptist saw and received- God, who in Jesus Christ, becomes for you, and for the world, the Lamb of God.

The Epiphany of the Lord (January 7th, 2018)

Today the Church celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord Jesus.

By Epiphany is meant a “revelation”, as such today the Church celebrates a revelation of Christ and what precisely this revelation is is extraordinary and quite frankly, upsetting.

The day of the Epiphany is associated with the visit of the Magi to the Holy Child of Bethlehem, an event that is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (the Gospel for today).

The Magi are usually depicted as 3 kings, but they are not identified in the Gospel of Matthew as territorial sovereigns or rulers of nations and the Gospel of Matthew gives us no specific number as to how many Magi sought the Christ child. Further, the Gospel of Matthew describes visitors from the East by the word “Magi” (a word from which our word “magician” comes from). It would not be a stretch to say that the Magi would have been perceived to be sorcerers or wizards, men possessing esoteric knowledge and even supernatural power, a combination of astrologers and alchemists.

We know from the Gospel that the Magi who sought the Holy Child of Bethlehem were well versed in the movements of the stars and they interpreted astral phenomena as indicative of communications from the gods. In the Gospel, the Magi discern that the appearance of a star portends the birth of a king in the lands of Judea. The Magi travel from the East, likely from either Persia or Mesopotamia (lands we know today as Iran and Iraq) to Jerusalem, inquiring of King Herod, the King of the Israelite territory, as to whether there has been in his household a royal birth. This sets the stage for the drama which will follow.

The Magi hearing that no child has been born of Herod’s household are told of an ancient prophecy of the Israelite king who would be born in Bethlehem. Herod then asks them to make inquiries and return to him with information. The star leads them to the location of the Holy Child, whom they offer homage and gifts befitting royalty. The Magi, aware that Herod means to do harm to the Holy Child, return to their home in the East.

It’s one of the most memorable of all the stories in the Gospels, indeed in all the Scriptures.

But what does it mean? I mean the “epiphany” or “revelation” that the Church commemorates today is not that a well-crafted and memorable story about the adventures of Persian sorcerers, but a revelation of the Lord Jesus- so what is the revelation?

The revelation is discerned in the relationship of two kings in the story, not the three kings of the popular imagination- but the two kings are Herod and Jesus.

Herod the King, also known as Herod the Great was King of Judea from the year 36 BC until his death in 4 AD. He was by the worldly standards of the ancient world’s most successful rulers. During his reign he negotiated a settlement with the Roman Empire which enabled him as ruler to keep the Israelite territory for the most part self-governed, rather than under direct imperial control. He revitalized the economy of Judea through massive public works projects which so dazzled the emperor of Rome that he remarked that Herod had made Judea one of the great jewels of his empire. He extended the territory of the Israelites so that it encompassed the borders that had defined the ancient kingdom of David and he rebuilt the temple of Jerusalem on such a scale that it was known as one of the wonders of the ancient world.

And he was a brutal tyrant, a murderer, which was actually a necessary criteria for effective governance in the ancient world. His brutality was such that Augustus Caesar, himself not lightweight when it came to brutality, once commented that he would rather be Herod’s dog than Herod’s son. Herod brokered no opposition and had even his own children killed when it seemed that they were plotting against him.

As I said, Herod’s cruelty, his brutality, would not have been at all unusual. It was an acceptable political tactic and it was masterfully employed by Herod to his benefit and as a result of the effectiveness of his governance, there was prosperity and wealth for many in the lands of the Israelites. And he was also a master propagandist.

His great accomplishments were all calculated to present his very shaky claims to Israelite kingship as having divine approval. Herod was really a propped-up figure, who ruled because he had the backing of the Roman Empire, so he needed something more to maintain his power- and his scheme was to present himself as the promised Messiah- the savior of Biblical prophecy.

One by one, he did all the things that the promised Messiah was expected to do- the crowning achievement of which was the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Herod and his dynasty were not just successful, they were the promised kingdom of God- they were the new kingdom of David, not just restored but surpassed.

This is the man to whom the Magi make their inquiry about a new king born in the lands of Judea. Herod, hearing this news, would have been thinking treason, the undoing of his schemes. The last thing he needed was news spreading of a child born in Bethlehem, King David’s city, under the light of a star, a child who was King David’s true heir and the legitimate king of the Israelites. Herod likely clenched his fists tightly knowing that his power could slip out of his hands.

And it was literally slipping from his grasp.

Thus, his scheme to find the child and his fury when he realizes that the Magi had not cooperated with his plan.

The Holy Child in Bethlehem was truly the rightful king and David’s royal heir, but more than this, the Holy Child of Bethlehem is the King of creation itself- for he is God, who has in Christ accepted a human nature and lived a real human life.

His kingship will not be maintained by force of violence, but by love and he will not manifest his power by murder and threats of death but by giving his life so as to conquer the power of death itself.

This is the king that Herod fears, because it is the king that brings the world that men and women created out of the sinful desires and egoism to its end. Herod, and his successors hate King Jesus because he exposes their alleged successes as failures and their accomplishments as foolish tragedies.

The point of this story and its lesson, and its revelation, is that we have to choose our king- is it Herod or the Lord Jesus?

You may think that this choice is self-evident and easy, but think again.

The dark power of Herod lurks in the world to this very day- in all our politics, all our economics, all our worldly preoccupations with wealth, pleasure, power and honors and our desire to attain these things. Herod manifests himself in our preoccupations with politicians, financiers, and celebrities. And Herod echoes in each of our hearts when a decision for Christ is expected of us and our answer is no.

The Herods of the world offer us promises of success, prosperity, comfort and security and will deliver enough of these to us to give legitimacy to their scheming and distract us from their cruelty.

This is why they want to remain in the dark, rather than pay homage to Christ under the light of his star.

If we choose God in Christ as our King, then we join him in his opposition to the power of all the Herods in the world. We will not cooperate with their schemes and we work with Christ to undermine their power and seek with Christ to remake the world. We also learn how to distinguish the true Kingdom of God from its facsimile because we know who the true Messiah, the real Savior of the world truly is.

Like the Magi we will refuse to cooperate and like the Holy Family, we accept that we will suffer. But it is better to suffer ourselves in this world in opposition to Herod than it is to prosper in this world and make others suffer.

So, the great revelation, the great Epiphany of God in Christ is that the true King has come and now, in the light of this revelation, each and every one of us has to make a decision- in the choice between Herod and Jesus, who is our king?


Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 24th, 2017)

Today’s first scripture from the Second Book of Samuel concerns the desire the King David to build a temple. This temple would render glory to God as serve as the spiritual, cultural and political focal point of the Israelite nation.

David was the greatest and mightiest of the Israelite kings, the progenitor of a dynasty that would endure in power until 587 BC, when it would fall before the armies of the Babylonian empire.

David united the disparate and fractious tribes of the Israelites into a single kingdom and gave this kingdom status among the nations. Christ the Lord would be born into a family descended from the Royal House of David and it is near to impossible to understand the identity and mission of Christ with David as a reference point.

Remember, the Church does not present the scriptures of the Old Testament to us as a means of teaching us history or to impress upon us the importance of literature- the Church presents the scriptures of the Old Testament to us, which includes the story of King David as a means of helping us to understand who the Lord Jesus is and what he is all about.

In today’s scripture, David expresses his desire to build a great temple to God- a noble endeavor, one of which you would think God would be pleased to accept. However, David’s advisor, the prophet Nathan, speaks the Lord’s word of truth and that word crashes into the king’s desires.

The Lord does not want David to build him a temple. The temple will be built, but not by David. A successor of King David will do this, and the temple he will build will be one of the great wonders of the world.

Now, David’s son, Solomon will build an extraordinary temple, and it seems that this is the temple that the prophet Nathan refers too, but even this is only a pale foreshadowing of how Nathan’s prophecy will be fulfilled.

You see, God will himself be born into the family of King David and the temple he will build for himself will not be a structure of wood and stone, but of flesh and blood. The temple God will build for himself is the Body of Jesus.

Remember who precisely the Lord Jesus is- not merely a prophet or philosopher or humanitarian, but God, who accepts for himself a human nature and in doing so, lives, like us, a real human life. In Christ Jesus, God has a human body, a body through which he makes himself known and it is this body, the human body of Jesus that is the great and magnificent temple.

This revelation, the revelation of God’s body in Jesus, what Advent prepares us to appreciate and understand. This revelation of God in Jesus Christ, accepting a human nature and living a real, human life is what Christmas (or better put, the Christ Mass) is all about.

And it is the meaning of our second scripture, an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. The letter to the Romans is St. Paul’s “magnum opus” and its purpose is to present the theological and doctrinal content of the Apostolic Faith- meaning what the Apostles, the 12 chosen by Christ, those men who personally knew the Lord Jesus and were taught by him, believed about who the Lord Jesus is and what he asks of us.

The Apostle Paul speaks of the “revelation of a mystery”, a “secret”, “manifested through the words and writings of the prophets”- and what is this mystery, this secret, this prophecy? It is Christ the Lord. And who is Christ the Lord? Christ the Lord is God, who has accepted a human nature and revealed himself to the world as a man. This is what the Apostles who knew the Lord Jesus personally came to understand and believe about him. And this is what we Christians, who have come to know Jesus personally through testimony and Sacrament, understand and believe about the Lord Jesus.

Finally, the Gospel of the Lord invites us to consider the precise moment God “took flesh” in the womb of his virgin Mother- a moment that the Church recalls as the Annunciation. God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, his acceptance of a human nature, does not begin with his holy birth in Bethlehem, but with his miraculous conception in the womb of his holy mother.

Christ’s mother accepts as her mission to be God’s route of access into our world. God effects his conception in the womb of the virgin Mary so that he can reveal himself to us as a man.

This means that God enters into the world, into time, into history, into our humanity in a manner like all of us. He will experience for himself gestation and growth in the womb. He will be born into the world as we were all born. He will grow from infancy into childhood. He will experience for himself the changes of adolescence and the transition to adulthood. And when the moment comes, he will suffer and he will die. And all this is true, it is real. It is not a myth or a legend, but a fact of real flesh and real blood.

And remember: It is not simply a great man, a figure of historical importance, who knows and experiences these realities of our existence, but it is God.

You see, God is not for us Christians a distant, cosmic force or a feeling in our hearts or an idea in our minds. God is personal, a living divine person who is not only interested in us, but who loves us and desires to share his life with us.

God is the one who reveals himself in Jesus Christ by accepting for himself a human nature and living a real, human life. This is how God, the one, true God, makes himself known and invites us into a relationship with him.

And so the great revelation of Jesus Christ is not of a text, or of an ethic, or a feeling or an idea, but of a person. The revelation of Jesus Christ is the one, true God himself.

Advent directs our attention towards the revelation of God become man in Christ. Christmas celebrates this revelation and through our celebration, proclaims the wonderful surprise of Jesus Christ to the world.

In just a matter of hours, Advent will end and Christmas will begin.

In these final moments of Advent grace, let us remember who the Lord Jesus really and truly is.


The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (November 26th, 2017)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.

The visions of the prophet Ezekiel interpret one of the most catastrophic events in the history of the Israelites.

In the year 587 BC the last remnant of what was once one of the mightiest kingdoms of the ancient world was destroyed- the Kingdom of David.

In 587 BC the armies of the Babylonian empire invaded the city of Jerusalem; desecrated and destroyed the temple of Solomon, (which had been one of the wonders of the world), slaughtered the royal family, (the descendants of Israel’s greatest king, David); enslaved the Israelites (who would spend long years of painful exile in Babylon); and tore down the walls of city, leaving nothing but ruins.

Israel was no more, at least so it seemed.

Ezekiel interprets these terrifying events, and he does so theologically- that is, he asks what God is doing and why. Why has such suffering been brought upon the very people that God called his own? What would God do in response to the sufferings of the Israelites?

Today’s excerpt from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel is written as a kind of code- God speaks to Ezekiel, indicating that the rulers of his people, whom Ezekiel identifies as “shepherds”, the descendants of King David, had for the most part been a disaster and had led the people astray. The preoccupation of the cultural and political elites of the Israelites with wealth, pleasure, power and honors had poisoned the hearts and minds of the people, and the consequence of this were the horrific events of 587 BC. The rulers and elites’ preoccupation with wealth, pleasure, power and honors ultimately delivered God’s people into the hands of their enemies.

What would God do in response? Would he abandon his people?

Ezekiel counsels that God would not abandon his people, but he would rescue them from their enemies and he would himself become the shepherd of his people- that is, in coded language, Ezekiel’s way of saying that God would become their king. No longer would the people be subject to the corruptions of earthly rulers or elites, for God would make himself their king.

Ezekiel also insists that when God the king revealed himself he would set things right and bear a judgment upon all those who through their preoccupation with wealth, pleasure, power and honor, had brought such harm to the Israelites.

What does all this mean?

For us Christians, the vision of Ezekiel and the promise of God the Shepherd who reveals himself as the king, foreshadows or anticipates the revelation of Christ the Lord. Remember, we Christians believe that the Lord Jesus is not merely one of many great men of history. Christ the Lord is not merely a philosopher, social activist, political agitator, or spiritual guru. Instead Jesus the Lord is really and truly God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life- and God has done this so as to reveal himself as not only the king of the Israelites, but of all the nations, indeed of all of heaven and of earth, of the universe itself.

The Church’s second scripture is from the New Testament, an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians who lived in the ancient city of Corinth.

The apostle Paul’s purpose in this particular scripture is to give testimony- testimony to Christ- who he is and what he has accomplished and in his testimony St. Paul insists that Christ has a power that no earthly power can claim- and what is this unique power? The power to defeat death, a power that Christ manifests in his resurrection from the dead.

Remember, we Christians believe that the Lord Jesus who is God, revealed himself in real flesh and real blood- he lived, God lived, like us a real, human life and he died a real human death. But death was not the end of him, for in dying, God in Christ revealed his power to be greater than death and this is what his resurrection signifies to us. And just as his flesh and blood is real and the human life he lived is real, and the death he died is real, so also is his resurrection from the dead.

Christ’s resurrection is no mere symbol or metaphor, but a real event that happened in real space and real time and in a real place. Christ’s body rose from the dead through God’s power in his real body and because of that, St. Paul insists, the world has changed.

That’s what we Christians believe and we refuse to accept anything less than a real event in a real body when it comes to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

For St. Paul, the resurrection of Christ reveals the extent of his power, a power greater than any earthly power- a power greater than the rulers and elites of any age or any nation. St. Paul testifies that so often the rulers of world claim power over our lives, even threatening us with death if we do not yield to their claims. Earthly powers claim and exercise the power to kill, to take life, but God in Christ nullifies their claim to power because he has the power to not only give life, but to raise that life from the dead.

And while we might be enamored and pre-occupied with earthly powers- the politician, the celebrity, the financier, St. Paul insists we pay attention to Christ the Lord, for only he can give life and deliver us from death.

That’s the testimony of St. Paul to the Christians of Corinth- and his testimony to us Christians gathered here today.

Finally, the Lord Jesus presents a frightening vision in his Gospel. He evokes the end of all days, the revelation in this world of an ancient vision from the Old Testament Book of Daniel of one called the “Son of Man”. This Son of Man, who reveals in himself the power of God in the form of a man, comes into the world to set things right and this setting right means that those who have been the victims of earthly powers, whose cries for help were drowned out in the cacophony of politics, whose dignity was assaulted by the pretenses of culture, and whose lives were made miserable by the deprivations of poverty, will finally receive justice. And this justice will also mean a harsh sentence on those who preference and preoccupation with wealth, pleasure, power and honors, made them indifferent to the sufferings of those around them.

Who is this Son of Man? It is Christ the Lord himself. And when will this frightening vision of Christ who comes to set things right come to pass? Sooner than we think.

Remember Christians, it is our faith that Christ the Lord really and truly comes into our lives and into our world- personally and does so in history, in mystery and in judgement.

Christ comes in history in his revelation as God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life- and it is this revelation in history that the scriptures attest to. Thus did God in Christ reveal himself in history.

Christ also comes in mystery, really and truly, but mysteriously in the Church, which is his Body in the world, continuing his revelation in the flesh throughout space and time and through the Church he makes his presence known in the Sacraments, in the lives of the Saints and in the suffering bodies of the poor. Thus does God in Christ reveal himself in mystery.

But Christ also comes in judgement. And what is his judgement? It is the revelation of our truth, a ruthless test of our sincerity as his disciples. He has given us his Word- have we believed it? He has entrusted his with his Church- have we been willing to serve? He has given us his way of life- have we lived it? He has insisted that we love one another as he loves us- have we done what he asked us to do?

That moment of judgement is not in a future far away- it is right now. For in history Christ came into this world and in mystery he remains in world. And in our encounter with him, in history or mystery, our truth will be revealed and our sincerity tested. The Son of Man has come. The day of judgement of which Christ speaks is now.