Solemnity of the Holy FamilyBy Bishop John Mack
Joseph got up and took the child and his mother and left that night for Egypt. – Matthew 2
One proud grandma was showing off pictures of her grandchildren to a neighbor. "How old are they?" the neighbor asked. "The lawyer is two, and the doctor is four," the grandma replied. We all have great ideals for our children. It is not that they need to become a lawyer or doctor to make us happy, but we do want them to grow up into the finest people they can be, using their potential, being happy in their lives.
If this is what we really want for our children, then like Joseph and Mary in the Temple, we must dedicate our treasures to the Lord. For our children to fulfill their potential they must find the reflection of God they were created to bring into the world. Children must find the Lord not just in the Temple or the Church, they must find the Lord primarily in their families. This is the Solemnity of the Holy Family. It is a day when we consider the spiritual life of our families. We ask ourselves today, "Can all the members of our family find the Lord in our homes? Or are our homes merely houses?"
In the face of the allurements of our culture, we have to fight to have a home, and to have a family. So often homes are just filling stations and stopping off places. Many families count themselves blessed if they can have three meals together a week. This is not good. Children have to contribute to the family by being present just as parents have to contribute by supporting their children. It is important for children to develop their talents through sports, arts, etc; but it is more important for children to develop their love for God within their family. Parents also have to get out of the mindset of making the fulfillment of their wants their priority. It is one thing for a person to go bowling an evening a week or to have a night out with the boys or girls – everyone still need some independence. It is another thing for a person to be home only a coupla’ evenings a week. Many families have broken up due to this mindset. The mindset would go like this: my wife or husband or the children fulfill my need to have a family, but they are only a part of a whole variety of desires that I have. This is not acceptable for a Christian. It leads to the situation of the spouse that wants his or her family or wife or husband, but also wants a private life and perhaps even someone on the side. That's just plain selfishness. Perhaps, when this person is present all seems loving and beautiful, but that is not family love. That is using others merely to fulfill one's own needs. I am sorry to say that we have in our society today -- many absent parents living under the same roof as their families.
There are families in our society today that have suffered separation or divorce. I remember when I was growing up (eons ago) that there wasn’t 1 divorced family on my block – but today it is the norm. Yet -- these can still be valid, strong, and Christian families. Some of these are much stronger than the families where both parents are present but hostile towards each other. The family with the single parent may not be ideal, but no family can be perfect. Just as the Holy Family had to find its way to reflect God in a hypocritical religious society, every family has to find its way to God in the situations life has occasioned. The only thing that matters is that your house, your apartment, is a Christian home.
Simeon predicted that a sword would pierce Mary's heart. A situation beyond the control of the Holy Family would bring pain to the family. That situation was the evil in the world that Jesus had come to destroy. Every family in the world has pain that has come into it which resulted from the basic evil of society. A child dies, alcohol or other drugs devastate relationships, a spouse is unfaithful to their marriage vows --- all sorts of terrible things take place that pierce the heart of the family with a sword. The Holy Family survived because the God was present, not just God the Son who was the child, but God the Father around whom the life of the Holy Family revolved. All Christian families survive the same way. A family cannot be spiritual for only a couple of hours on Sunday. The family must revolve around God who formed it. I have copied and made available the year’s plan from our Future Directions Committee. We continue with the overall theme of Discipleship – but add new emphasis and meaning – month by month. Please take a copy and begin it in your home. The old phrase “charity begins at home” – is ever so true. Parents ARE the FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT teachers of the child.
During this year we will examine the lives of some of the early disciples and their virtue – learning from them and applying this to our daily living. We must ask ourselves – how can we improve upon our discipleship?? How can I walk more closely with Jesus – As we celebrate this solemnity of the Holy Family --- let us take the time and the effort to make our own family MORE HOLY!
It doesn’t happen “all at once” but in small baby steps – one after another. May this path lead us to greater discipleship in our own lives and in that of our families as well. Will your family be more like the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph this year? It’s all up to you to decide and to live out each and every day accordingly --- AMEN
The Humble ShepherdsBy Bishop John Mack
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen ----
Words taken from the Gospel of St. Luke --- My Dear Ones in Christ --- Today we celebrate the Feast of the Humble Shepherds --- It is a feast that is unique to the PNCC --- instituted by Bishop Hodur back in the early years of the church. Why a Feast to honor the Shepherds --- well we just heard in the Gospel we know that the shepherds were the first eye-witnesses to the birth of Jesus Christ.
Some might ask --- why the shepherds???? Couldn’t someone else or some other group of people more important than the shepherds be contacted? Of course – we know through the Advent readings about all the prophets and the foretelling of the birth of Christ --- how for hundreds of years, God had hinted about the eventual Incarnation of Jesus Christ, his son. SO – we can’t say that God didn’t really try to let other important people know --- it was just that they wouldn’t listen to the voice of the messenger, the angels, or the prophets themselves. We also know that this God of ours isn’t “too predictable” --- HE likes to work things HIS WAY – in HIS TIME and in HIS MANNER. Sometimes this leaves us feeling a bit left out or even somewhat mad about how we thought the ending of the story should have happened.
So --- the shepherds!! Just think about it --- here were the original homeless people of the world. They were the original HAVE NOTS!! They simply lived their lives out in a nomadic fashion – wandering with their flocks to where there was fresh pasture or a source of cool water. So they went from place to place ----wherever the needs of the flock would take them. In the eyes of the people of Jesus’ time – the shepherds were the lower class people. Even in one of the Christmas hymns we sing “unto lowly shepherds.” And yet – God had a special plan for them that holy night. What do we notice about the shepherds that made them a good choice?
First of all they were in the right place at the right time --- they were doing what they always did – they were watching over their flocks by night. They were being faithful to their chosen calling. No biggie!! You might say!!
And then the angels came with the message. Once received – what did the shepherds do – just roll over in their sleeping bags and say – It must have been a dream They did nothing of the sort – they said one to another – let’s go to Bethlehem and see this event that the Lord has made known to us. And they went in HASTE – not taking their good ol’ time --- they were on a mission – they had a purpose to fulfill ---
And they came and found Mary and Joseph and the baby in the manger – and these lowly shepherds, as we call them --- they UNDERSTOOD what had been told them concerning the child --- Imagine that --- shepherds! With no education or training --- simple shepherds UNDERSTOOD the greatest miracle of all times. And then they returned – glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.
How many times in our short or long lives have we been ecstatic about something that God has revealed to us?? How many times have we been thrilled just to come to church --- to hear God’s Word – to hear the homily of the pastor – and to have a new understanding of God’s will for our lives. For most of us it may happen a few times in our lifetime. For those truly blessed and in tune with God – it happens every Sunday they come to church --- it happens every time we turn to our blessed Savior in prayer. What the shepherds were really doing as they returned was giving witness to what they had seen with their own eyes. They were able to convey and transmit to others the new-found belief they had in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior!!! How often do we exhibit that same enthusiasm about our own faith, our parish, our pastor – who is our shepherd!! How often do we go out into the streets and share Jesus with a total stranger??? How often do we look for opportunities to share our faith with others who are SO DESPERATELY looking for answers to life’s problems and situations??? As we think about the lives of those first humble shepherds – we turn our attention to our modern-day shepherds, our priests and pastors.
On this Feast day of the Humble Shepherds – we bring to mind the needs of our church with regards to shepherds. We certainly are experiencing a severe shortage of vocations in our church. We are certainly not alone as a denomination with regards to this. Other denominations are having the same problems. Does knowing that make us feel better????
There may be a variety of factors that contribute to this problem The question remains – why do we have so few vocations from within our parishes??
Maybe we just don’t encourage vocations from within. Perhaps what we do and what we say in front of one another away from the church – or even in FRONT of our families – our children – our sons has a detrimental effect on them. We therefore have to make a commitment to stop that kind of talk and replace with an honor and respect for the priesthood that will provide an environment where God’s seed can be planted and where the call to vocation can flourish.
Therefore – on this Feast of the Humble Shepherds --- let us re-examine our commitment to Christ- -- to this newborn babe in the manger --- Let us pray for the same humbleness of spirit that the shepherds had. Let us look for the simplicity of life that they had – which will allow us to see beyond the things of the world; Let us not analyze or scrutinize the message of the angels – let us take it as it was and as it is today – the message of hope and redemption for all mankind. May we also make haste --- glorifying and praising God for all that we have heard and seen of this Beloved Savior This Babe in the Manger --- It’s time that we stop giving Jesus mere “lip service” and truly begin to build His Kingdom on earth through our WITNESS to the WORLD. My friends – it is time that - WE BECOME GOD’S SHEPHERDS IN THE WORLD TODAY -- Amen
The Season of LoveBy Bishop John Mack
As we enter into this most festive season of the year the word “love” is used quite freely. We hear phrases such as: Love came down at Christmas, God so loved the world and others that fill the lyrics of both sacred and secular carols. I would present to you an analogy between the love that the Father had for mankind in sending the Savior of the world to earth and the parable of the Good Samaritan. Seem odd to you? Not really. I was recently reading a commentary on the parables of Jesus and some very distinct similarities seemed to jump off the page and strike me.
The portion before the story of the Samaritan is an exchange between Jesus and an “expert in the law.” He is an expert in Jewish religious law, not in Roman civil law. Simply put, he is a theologian. His ulterior motive is to test Jesus. He is an adversary, looking for that chink in the armor, that wrongly answered question. He represents the religious establishment, and more than anything else, he is seeking to justify himself and the religious practices of his life. Yet, he believes that eternal life is obtained by doing a set number of meritorious acts. Jesus turns the tables and asks him: What is written in the Law – how do you read it? He quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. He then combines this with Leviticus 19:18 – Love your neighbor as yourself. Then he proceeds to ask: “And who is my neighbor.” This question is really an evasion and represents a serious moral problem. If there is a neighbor I must love, is there also a non-neighbor I do not need to love? Do I have to love everyone? Where do I draw the line? Leviticus 19 uses the term neighbor as a synonym for brother or people and so the rabbis taught that one’s neighbor was a fellow Israelite. Other interpretations set even further limits. It’s easy to be critical of this type of attitude, but it is far more common than we care to admit. Our newspapers are full of stories of people whose plight is ignored by passers-by. We live in a world drowning in human needs – the hurting, the homeless, the hungry. What are the limits to my love? How far does my responsibility go? Who isn’t my neighbor? Who don’t I have to love? Jesus therefore, shared the story of the Good Samaritan.
It is in this parable that the Lord shocks his audience with the emerging hero, the Samaritan. It is not so much his nationality that sets him apart, but his compassion. He didn’t see anything in the fallen victim that the priest and Levite didn’t see, but he feels something they didn’t feel. “He took pity on him.” Our Lord Jesus also had great compassion. He took pity on us, the fallen victims of sin and He came down to earth in human likeness to rescue us, broken and bleeding from our self-inflicted wounds. The next similarity is that the Samaritan showed care. He dealt with the victim’s immediate needs by bandaging up his wounds and pouring on oil and wine. The bandages were most likely provided by tearing up his own garments into strips. Then, he places this man on his own donkey and leads him down the hot, dusty road to the inn. Jesus showed that same care in dying on the cross for our salvation. He dealt with our needs by pouring out blood and water from his side as he hung on the cross at Calvary. His garments were torn to shreds and “by His stripes, we were healed.” He placed the weight of our sins upon His back in the form of a cross and carried this instrument of torture down the hot, dusty road to Calvary.
Lastly the Samaritan showed commitment as he promises the innkeeper, “when I return I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have,” Jesus likewise promises us that he will keep us in His care forever. “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you” and “Lo, am I with you always to the end of the age.” Jesus has also promised us that one day He will come again to claim His Kingdom in power and glory. Are we prepared for that day? Are we eagerly anticipating His coming by the manner in which we conduct our lives and affairs? Although we do not believe that we can attain the kingdom of heaven by simply “doing good works” we also cannot turn our back on humanity. “Faith without works is dead.” Playing on the word expense, I’m sure one of the questions on the eternity final exam will be, “how have you expended yourself in serving those around you?” What will you answer be? What will you have to show for the years that you spent here on earth?
My neighbor is not simply someone of my community, of my race or economic level. My neighbor is that person who is in need, whose need I can see, whose need I can meet. My neighbor may be, on natural terms my most bitter enemy. My neighbor may be my religious or political opponent. Ultimately, the question becomes this: Our need isn’t to define who our neighbor is, but to care for them, or not so much who is my neighbor, but what is my duty?” Lastly, in reading verse 36, Jesus is not so much concerned about “who is my neighbor, but rather, “which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robber.
Throughout this Season of Love, many opportunities will present themselves for us to act upon. There will be opportunities for caring, kindness, compassion, healing, grace, forgiveness and of course, love. They will arrive, right at our doorsteps on some occasions and we will see them if we begin to see with the eyes of faith. Divisions between nations, peoples, neighbors, friends and families are oftentimes healed, if only for a short while during this season of our Lord’s birth. Let us pledge not to take them up again once these holy days pass. The good Samaritan acted with love and compassion. Jesus chose the same course, living out the word love in all that He said and did. My prayer for you is that you may do likewise in this Christmas season as well as in all the days of the coming year. May these coming days truly be for you “The Season of Love.”
3rd Sunday in AdventBy Bishop John Mack
We are well into the third week of the Advent season. Advent is a season of waiting, expectation, and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. But who is this Messiah? Do we have any preconceived idea how we would like this Messiah to be? John the Baptist seems to have certain ideas.
In today’s Gospel, after hearing what Jesus did, John sends his question to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? ”It seems John may have doubts about the identity of Jesus. But in the Gospel of Luke, we know that John the Baptist jumped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb before both he and Jesus were born when the two mothers met. (Luke 1:41)
In last week’s Gospel, John introduces Jesus as, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt 3:11)John the Baptist knows perfectly well who Jesus is. So, why is he questioning? Well, remember, John is in prison! Has his imprisonment has caused him to doubt Jesus? The Messiah is not saving John from prison, and the one who is supposed to take away the sin from the world is not taking away the sin away from Herod. Would you blame John the Baptist or anybody to doubt in such situation? After hearing the question, as usual, Jesus does not answer directly but tells John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11:4-6)We see that the doubt of John the Baptist gets his disciples to be mindful of what Jesus does. The doubt of John the Baptist is pointing people to pay attention to see and hear Jesus.
Uncertain, scary, and helpless times can shake one up and cause doubts in one’s faith. Today’s Gospel is a good reflection of our spiritual journey. We can be like John the Baptist. When we are moved by the Holy Spirit, we vow to follow God. It is very clear and true. Or when we receive blessings, we are sure Jesus is our Savior. When we face adversity and disasters, we question if Jesus really is the Savior. We question why bad things happen, why God is not there for us, and doubt even if God really exists. We tend to think God only exists when we are in good times. That is our preconceived idea of our Savior and why we are in doubt when things do not go our way. We are wrapped up in our own world and cannot hear or see God’s presence. Nevertheless, being in doubt may get us closer to God. John the Baptist may be in doubt but his questioning points people to question God also.
Then people pay attention to hear and see, find God’s grace and bring back the good news of Jesus to the doubter. Doubting is part of our spiritual journey. However, the process may seem unbearable. We need to point each other to hear and see God’s grace to keep our faith. Sometimes we do have to wait in uncertain, and anxious moments before the truth comes out. Advent is a season of waiting, expectation, and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. We are blessed that we know the certainty of the birth of Jesus. Yet, we are still waiting for the second coming of the Messiah. This time of waiting can be anxious and fearful time.
There is chaos in different parts of the world. We have our fair share of chaos causing disappointment, anxiety, fear, and anger in our own country right now. Enough people question the presence of God. Will we be able to not be distracted by our own self-centeredness, and anxiety or our own pre-conception about God but look for God, and go and tell people what we see and hear about the presence of God? As Christians, during Advent we are to slow down, reflect, and pray while waiting for the coming or our Lord. We need to reflect on what it means to be followers of Jesus our Lord, and our seeing and hearing of our Lord. In a sense, we all have experienced what Jesus said: The blind receive their sight. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. The poor have good news brought to them. If we are baptized, haven’t we experienced these things? Through baptism, weren’t we once blind and deaf, but now can see and hear God’s good news? Weren’t we once crooked but now could stand straight? Weren’t we once uncleaned, but now cleansed by God’s Holy Spirit? Didn’t we die to our previous life and now live a new life? Didn’t we, the once poor in spirit, receive good news?
Truly, if we keep our eyes and ears open, we will hear and see plenty of God’s mighty work literally and metaphorically even in bad times. We will be able to go and tell. It is time for us to share the good news and hope with others especially with those who are in doubt. Today Isaiah says: “They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!’ And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. ”Yes, the Lord shall return. Traditionally the third week of Advent is joy. When we can see and hear God’s presence – Emmanuel, in good times and bad times, and know God is coming again, isn’t that joyful? Amen.
Second Sunday in AdventBy Fr. Gary Spencer
John the Baptist was a unique person in the Gospels. Now, I’m not talking just about his appearance and eating habits. An obviously scruffy looking fellow wearing scratchy, camelhair clothing, and eating locusts, which, in case you don’t know, are very much like large grasshoppers. He preached in the desert, and addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees as a brood of vipers. This man, John, even acted uniquely while in his mother’s womb, for when Mary visited John’s mother, Elizabeth, while both women were pregnant, John leaped in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
So, here’s this special, holy man, shouting the message of repentance and the coming of God’s kingdom, preparing the way of the Lord, the sprout of the stump of Jesse, and making straight His paths, in the middle of nowhere, baptizing hordes of people from all over Judea, gaining followers, and making enemies as well. Making enemies not because of his appearance and his locust breath, but because he was telling it like it is, much the same as Jesus did. The difference was that Jesus went to the villages, towns, and cities instead of preaching in the wilderness, and Jesus, in addition to being fully man, was fully God.
Much of their message was the same as well. Both Jesus and John the Baptist preached the coming of God’s Kingdom, the conversion of heart, in Greek known as the metanoia, and the need to bear fruit through good works.
If you have ever wondered why John the Baptizer is highlighted during Advent it is because in addition to preaching the message as Jesus, John is charged with preparing the way of the Lord. John is a model for us to emulate during Advent. We, like John the Baptist, are to prepare the way of the Lord.
In addition to meaning the Season before Christmas, Advent also means the Coming, and also the Second Coming of Christ. While John could not have prepared the way for Christ’s birth, because he wasn’t born yet, he could prepare the way of the Lord’s ministry on earth. John warned people to repent, and to bear good fruit. This is especially evident in his encounter with the Sadducees and Pharisees.
The lesson for these Jewish religious sects, and for us through the Gospel, is: don’t think that just because you’re part of a certain religious denomination, you automatically get a free pass into heaven. John the Baptizer tells the Pharisees and Sadducees that the ax is laid at the root of the tree, and that every tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Jesus teaches the same thing in the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel when He says, “I Am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered and thrown into the fire and burned.” Jesus is the vine, and the branches are people who believe in Him and follow Him. Yet, if followers (Christians) do not bear fruit, that is, do good works, we are cut off from Him and thrown into the fire. Jesus also tells us not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Also in the 16th chapter of St. Matthews Gospel it states, “For the Son of Man will come with His angels in His Father’s glory, and then He will repay everyone according to his conduct. So you see, Jesus tells us that not only do we have to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, but we have to do what He teaches as well. We must love God and our neighbors, repent of our sins, and we must feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the imprisoned. These are goods works my friends, and they are a part of our salvation.
So as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, we must also prepare for the Kingdom of Heaven. We are saved by the Grace of God, and by the grace of God alone, but we can give up our salvation by not doing God’s work. This Advent season we must do as much good work as we possibly can. We need to check our resources and figure out what we can do. Can we buy another gift or two for the giving tree, toys for tots, or some other charitable organization that gives gifts to poor children? Can we give some money to a shelter or charity? Can we give a little of our time to help out at a shelter or charity? Can we visit a shut-in, someone who is sick, or someone who is lonely?
Today, when Jesus abides in us, and we abide in Him through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we must ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the way we can most efficiently and effectively do good works and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. In doing this not only will our paths will be made straight and the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven will be opened for us, but we can help make the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child a wondrous and joyful time for those who need help and love this Christmas as well.