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12th Sunday in Ordinary Time 

By Bishop John Mack

2020-06-25 00:00:00

This week I would like to speak with you about the call we have received to be witnesses to Christ. It takes tremendous courage to give witness to Christ. Perhaps we don’t have to be afraid of being put to death for Christ as so many of the martyrs were, or as so many Christians still are in territories ruled by radical Islam, radical Hindi, etc. But we certainly risk being seriously hurt by the most influential people we might know. Standing for the Lord, being His Witness, will trigger the worst in those who cannot fathom why we should be serious in allowing God to determine our lives. Sure, they will go to Church and give lip service to their faith, but when it comes to living that faith, they simply don’t. And they cannot stand a person who refuses to join their immoral lifestyle. The person who does not sleep around, get drunk or stoned, who is faithful to marriage, who does an honest day’s work, and so on, is an abomination to those who engage in some if not all of these.

So, what do they do? They denounce the person. They talk about him or her. “You know, she says she’s virtuous, but she isn’t,” “He didn’t come to the party because he’d rather do drugs than alcohol,” “She makes believe that she is honest, but she is the biggest liar around,” and a person’s reputation is instantly destroyed. They think they have us, these so-called friends. They think they know us, but they don’t. They know that it is natural to be concerned with what others are saying about us. But they don’t know that is not our main concern. Our main concern is being witness for Jesus Christ.

And so, like Jeremiah in today’s first reading, we trust in the Lord to protect us. Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “Fear no one.” Instead, proclaim from the housetops what you have heard. Don’t be concerned with those who can destroy your body, but not your soul. Be concerned with losing your soul, your very self, for the sake of protecting your standing with these forces of darkness. Do not be concerned if people call you names because you have the courage to live your faith. Don’t be concerned if people make stories up about you because what they really want to do is deflect attention away from their own shortcomings.

Instead, recognize this, when we stand with God we stand with the Victor. Jesus Christ will win the battle. After all, our battle as witnesses is His battle.

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. God is aware of the times we say, “No, that’s wrong.” or simply, “No, that’s not my style.” God is aware of the times that we stay away from certain people or certain places. He is also aware of how we are treated by some when we give witness to His Presence.

We are worth more than the many sparrows. Our Heavenly Father cares for us. His Son loves us. His Spirit fills us. Sure, it is a normal reaction to be concerned with what others are saying about us. Sure, we are all afraid of being the butt of other people’s jokes. We hate being mocked. But we have to recognize that good is always going to be opposed by evil. We cannot be afraid. When we stand up for that which is right and true, the Lord will win the battles for us. Maybe we might not get that promotion we want. Maybe we might not be part of the in-crowd. But it is infinitely better to be part of the in-heaven crowd than the in-crowd on earth.

Not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father’s knowledge. God is aware of our commitment to His Life. He is aware that we are His Witnesses. All we need to do is to proclaim the truth of the Lord and let God do the rest.
Amen

Corpus Christi Sunday 

By Bishop John Mack

2020-06-15 00:00:00

If anyone eats this bread – He shall live forever -- St. John

This Sunday is called the Sunday within the Octave of Corpus Christi – The readings again highlight the importance of the body and blood of Christ, instituted at the Last Supper. The solemnity, celebrated the Thursday after Trinity Sunday is relatively new in the Church. It was instituted in the thirteenth century through the influence of St. Julianna of Monte Cornellion, sometimes referred to as Julianna of Liege. She was deeply devoted to the Eucharist and wanted others to stop their lives for one day and celebrate this great gift. In 1246, she persuaded her bishop to make this a feast day for the Diocese of Liege. Pope Urban IV declared it a Feast for the entire Church in 1264. Today’s Sunday after the solemnity is meant to help us grow in the understanding of the Eucharist and in our reverence for this great sacrament. We certainly need this reminder. We have the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle behind our altar, but many times we ignore this Presence and treat the Church merely as a meeting place. We need to genuflect when we enter a pew and then spend a few moments in prayer, recognizing the One before whom we are kneeling.

There are many ways that the Lord is present. He is present in the beauties of nature, and in the smile of a baby. He is He is present where two or three are gathered together in His Name, and He is present in the Word of Scripture. But the greatest presence of the Lord possible for us on earth is the Real Presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

This is a day for us to reflect on what exactly happens at Mass. Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood of the Lord. They do not symbolically become the Lord. They become the Lord. They do not signify the Lord. They are the Lord. Communion is not just the union of the community. It is the union of the community with Jesus Christ, present in each person who receives communion and present in all of us together. During the last three months or so, our unity has been altered by the inability to gather together as church. But more importantly, it has been altered by the inability to come forward together as we always do, to receive Jesus’ most precious Body and Blood at mass. When we receive communion we are united through Christ with those present here and those present throughout the world. There is room for a little Eucharistic theology here, something far deeper than we could present to our little children when they are prepared for their First Holy Communion. At mass, the substance of the bread and wine are changed, whereas the accidents, the appearance remains the same.

Let me try to explain this mystery this way. Many of you have dogs. When you go home, your dog will jump on you, lick you, and act as though you have been away for a month. Of course, if you have a cat, your cat will just ignore you. But back to your dog. You might look at your dog and say something like, “How’s my Charlie, or Rex or cuddles – whatever your dog’s name is -----today?” Now what if your dog were to answer, “Well, I’m a bit baffled by the fourth chapter of the third book of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. I was going over it today. Or what if he or she said: I’d like your opinion on linear equations or nuclear fusion. You would look at your dog and say, Charlie – is that really you in there or you might say, “Immanuel who?” But you would realize that somehow your dog was no longer a dog, but a rationale human being in a dog’s form. The rationale human being part is the substance; the dog part is the accidents. In other words, Charlie became a human, but was still trapped in a dog’s body. 

In the Eucharist, the bread and wine looks like bread and wine, and it has all the physical qualities of bread and wine. If you were to look at a consecrated host in a microscope, you would see molecules relative to bread, not human tissue or human blood, the accidents have not changed. However, the substance has changed; it is now the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Eucharist the substance changes. The bread and wine become Jesus.

When we receive communion, we receive Jesus. When we approach the Eucharist, we need to do this in a reverential manner, focusing in on the One we are about to receive. It is important for our parents to remind their children continually that they need to receive the Lord with reverence. We need to spend time praying to the Lord within us. These prayers may consist in the communion hymn we share, but should also include quiet time of reflection, time to talk to the Lord within us. Once the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, they remain the Body and Blood of Christ. That is why we reverence the Blessed Sacrament in our tabernacles. That is why we spend time before the Blessed Sacrament when we have Eucharistic Adoration.

I am shocked and saddened when I hear about people who leave the Catholic Church and join other faiths. I do not doubt their good intentions. Nor do I doubt that they can have an experience of God’s presence in another worshiping community, but how can we, who have been called to the Eucharist, ever leave the Eucharist? Certainly, many good holy people have not been called to the Eucharist. But we have been called.

Once we have been admitted into this Presence we cannot leave it. The beliefs of those of other denominations are to be respected. The beliefs of those who do not acknowledge Christ are to be respected. However, we are not respecting others if we hedge on our own faith. No, we need to be who we are. We are Catholics. We need to exalt in that which makes us uniquely Catholic. We need to celebrate the Great, Awesome Gift of the Eucharist.

This Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi reminds us of who we are, who is present in the tabernacles of our churches, and what we are doing when we receive communion. It reminds us to cherish this gift given by God – His Son, Jesus Christ, and likewise to especially cherish the greatest gift that Jesus gave to His Church – His Body and Blood.

Thank-you Lord Jesus for this most precious gift - Amen

SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST

By Bishop John Mack

2020-05-29 00:00:00

O Most Blessed Light divine, Shine within these hearts of Thine, and our inmost being fill.

I am not sure that many people here would recognize the name Edwin Booth. But if you were living in the United States during the Civil War that name would be recognized in almost every household. Edwin Booth was recognized as one of the greatest actors that had ever lived. He was the Russell Crowe of the American stage. He did not, however, have an easy life. His father drank himself to death. His first wife died after two years of marriage. His second wife went insane. But perhaps the greatest cross that Edwin Booth had to bear was one of shame. Edwin Booth’s younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, was the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. So despite all the fame and success that Edwin Booth had in his life, he always had to deal with the embarrassment that a member of his family killed one of the greatest figures of American history.

Then, one day later in his life, while Edwin Booth was waiting for a train in Jersey City, there was a disturbance on the platform. Booth saw that a tall, young man was being shoved by the crowd onto the train tracks just as a train was approaching. Booth dropped his suitcase and ran immediately and pulled the man out of the way of the approaching train, certainly saving his life. The young man recognized who Booth was at once and said simply, “Well that was a narrow escape, Mr. Booth.” As the two men began to talk with one another, Booth found to his amazement that the young man whose life he had just saved was Robert Todd Lincoln, the eldest son of Abraham Lincoln. Now how would we explain such a remarkable connection of events, that the brother of the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln was the man who saved the life of Lincoln’s eldest son? Is that a coincidence? Those who do not have faith in God have no other explanation. Despite the odds being a million to one, people without faith would have to explain an event such as Edwin Booth saving the life of Robert Lincoln as a remarkable convergence of random events. Those, however, who believe in God, who believe in Christ Jesus, have a different explanation. For we believe that there is a force, a power, that is active in our world. That force is the Holy Spirit.

You see, believing in Christ is more than accepting a list of propositions that are outlined in the Creed. It is more than believing that a certain number of events once happened to Jesus thousands of years ago. Saying that we believe in Christ means that we believe that the power of God’s Spirit is active and moving in our world and in our lives. We believe that the Holy Spirit moves us towards reconciliation, towards life, towards salvation. Jesus in today’s Gospel breathes on the disciples, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” That is His way of saying that He will remain with us, that God’s power will remain active in our lives and in our world. The action of God’s Spirit often appears as a coincidence. Yet for believers there is no such thing as coincidence. For us what appears as coincidence is the action of God in our lives.

Think about it. Was it coincidence that Saturday night when you finally gave in to the demands of your friends and went out to a party even though you rather would have stayed at home and met that night the person you were going to marry? Was it coincidence that you met someone you had hurt by an unkind remark or action in the produce aisle at Wegman’s and found the courage to say, “I’m sorry,” and took a step towards healing and reconciliation? Any one of us can recall events in our life that look like coincidence. How we interpret them is up to us. All I can say is that on the deepest level, Christians don’t believe in coincidence because we know that the spirit of God is active, shaping and directing our lives.

But if we accept that truth of God’s active presence in our life through the Spirit, it changes us. It makes us see life differently. It makes us into different people. For people who recognize the action of God’s Spirit in their life are more humble, more optimistic, more generous. A person who knows that God is active in the world tends to be a humble person because he or she recognizes that they are not the center of the universe, that there is another power in the world working for good, building the kingdom. Although our decisions are important, we recognize that our decisions are not absolute, that God is working around us and through us. Therefore, we watch humbly for signs of God’s presence.

The person who sees the action of the Spirit in their life is an optimistic person. If God is active, there is always reason for hope. There is always reason to believe that things will turn out better than we had planned. There is always a reason to believe that as we get up each morning, something good will happen today. If God is active we can be optimistic. A person who believes in the action of God’s Spirit tends to be a generous person. Because once we see that God is active, we want to cooperate, we want to take part. Therefore, we tend to give of our time, of our resources, of our talents more freely without holding back, without counting the cost because we believe that whatever is freely given will be used by God for God’s good purposes. Those who recognize the action of the Spirit in the world tend to be a humble, optimistic, generous people. Conversely, those who look at the world and feel that whatever happens is totally up to them have a tendency to be proud, pessimistic and stingy. What kind of person do you want to be? It depends on what you believe. Therefore, choose what you believe carefully.

The great feast of Pentecost that we celebrate today proclaims to us that God is real and God is active in our world. Let us then today embrace this great truth. Let us believe in the presence of God working and directing our lives. Let that faith make us into humble, optimistic, generous people. It all depends on what you believe. Christians do not believe in coincidence. We believe in the Spirit of God. Yet, it takes more than physical eyes and ears and intuition to know where the Spirit is leading us. It takes the ability to filter out the promptings, demands, influence and dictates of the physical world in which we live and to develop deeper spiritual skills. Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit within us, spiritual discernment, and developing the strength to act on God’s promptings are attributes we all have to develop. It takes time and it takes commitment but it is absolutely possible to develop The final words from today’s 1st Lesson say: Each of us hears them speaking in their own tongue about the marvels God has accomplished. We all are capable of speaking of the marvels of God – Let us allow the Spirit to speak through us always!
Amen

Sixth Sunday of Easter 

By Bishop John Mack

2020-05-18 00:00:00

He who obeys the commandments he has from me is the man who loves me – John 14

We are living in a time in which it is imperative to follow rules. Now following these rules as the weeks pile up is no easy task. Many are impatient or are becoming impatient with complying; myself included. I would much rather have everyone back in church where we can raise our hearts and minds and voices together in praise of the Almighty Father, Son and Holy Spirit as we have just heard about in today’s readings. What have the last few weeks brought? We have listened intently, hanging on every word in the beginning weeks of the virus. Now it seems to be much of the same. Even those giving the reports seem to be tired of reading the tele-prompters; their voices have become almost monotone. This is not a criticism, it’s just that collectively we all probably want to say, I’ve had enough of this already!! Let’s get back to normal. And yet we know that this is not possible for the moment. People are still dying and new cases are being reported in certain areas. So for now – we must be patient.

As the bishops talked together in conference this past week we all agreed on many things. One of the most irritating decisions by our government is that religious expression (churches) as you may were classified as non-essential entities. Therefore, we were placed in the same category as movie theaters, barber & beauty shops and others. What they are saying is that in times of crisis: Faith (or institutions that represent faith) are not essential nor necessary. Of course in New York and across the nation – abortion clinics are open because they are deemed to be essential services. Yet, in the same breath our state leaders tell us how important it is to preserve every life during this pandemic. Hypocrisy at its worst!!

But this virus may ultimately teach us some very good things about ourselves, our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ. I believe there are a great many similarities between the guidance that Jesus gave his disciples and the rules that we are now living through with the COVID 19 virus. Their purpose is the same. That we would live safely, happily and healthily. That we would cooperate with each other to ensure that all people are given the same chance to live life in the best way possible. That we would take care of those who need a hand and accept the help of those so ready to assist. Things which are seen as restrictions are really just sensible practices at a time when factors beyond our control are impacting our lives. Jesus was wanting his followers to be able to make the best of their lives when times were difficult, not by restricting them, but by providing them with strategies for living the best lives they could manage.

It really depends if we see restrictions and disciplines as a form of punishment or as a lesson for life, as impeding our happiness or as a means to contentment. As the bishops talked, Prime Bishop commented about large groups not being able to receive communion. He asked us to see this not so much as a denial of “my right to receive Jesus,” but rather as me sacrificing my reception of the Eucharist as an act of love and charity so that others may remain healthy and virus-free.

In today's Gospel passage we hear part of the farewell discourse of Jesus during the last supper. He is about the leave them and wants to give them what seems like some last-minute instructions so that they will be prepared for what is to come next and how they will cope without his physical presence. In these last hours with the disciples, he spoke about the essentials. Many of the things he said were naturally directed towards the future, at how he wanted them to live when he was gone. One of the things he said to them was "If you love me, keep my commandments".

These days we don't feel comfortable using the word commandment. We are people who want to exercise free will and really don’t want to obey anyone. What Jesus is referring to is following his way of life, rather than a specific set of rules. What is involved here is 'Christian Discipleship' that is, making the effort to listen to his words and live by them. To see the wisdom of his words and the sensible reality of doing what he did. But let's be clear about one thing. We don't keep God's commandments so that he will love us, we keep his commandments because he loves us. This was his primary instruction to the apostles, that they should love one another as he had loved them, and that love was to be unconditional. They were to replicate his love so that they could navigate their way through what was to be a somewhat treacherous journey ahead. What initially sounded like a demanding obligation would become their greatest support. It would benefit not only them but the recipient of the love.

The greatest need each of us has is for real, unconditional love, yet we find it hard to believe that that is how God could love us. We think that it comes with conditions and a cost. We tend to believe that God only loves us when we are good. God loves us not because we are good, but because he is good. Our very existence is a sign of God's love. Our response is to try to return that love, not to God directly, but to the image of God as found in those around us. That's when it gets difficult – to love those we can see, as opposed to God whom we cannot see. It is particularly difficult when others do not return that love immediately.

To love God is to obey and to obey God is to love. The issue with obedience is that it implies that there are rules to be followed, and if we don't understand the reason behind the rules then we find it difficult to follow them. Perhaps if we saw that Jesus was offering guidelines to make the journey more fulfilling, rather than worrying about some sort of punishment for breaking the regulations, we might better understand his approach.

Perhaps most appropriate for these days of isolation, that we should not give up when times are tough, but to keep on trusting in Jesus and the promises of God the Father. Now these don't sound like rules to be followed, but rather wise counsel for navigating the hurdles and pitfalls of life. Pray for patience. Pray for a deeper understanding, especially about other people’s circumstances. Pray for those who deal daily with sickness, death and loss. I’m sure that they too “have had enough of this” yet they continue to minister, care for and love humanity. Pray through the intercession of the Blessed Mother that we would have the strength, the courage, the wisdom and insight to think of others first before we think of ourselves. Pray that the Holy Spirit may come to us as the Spirit came to the apostles at Pentecost. This is the only way that we’ll get through these harrowing times Amen