Baptism of the Lord
By Father Pete Iorio
A young man once described his experience of sinking into insanity. He was a very bright university student, but he had abandoned his studies in favor of nightclubs and pornography. One night he retired to a hotel room. As he lay in bed, the window appeared to expand until it reached the floor. He heard a mocking voice in his mind saying, “What if you threw yourself out of that window?” The young man wrote: “Now my life was dominated by something I had never known before: fear. It was humiliating, this strange self-conscious watchfulness. It was a humiliation I had deserved more than I knew. I had refused to pay attention to the moral laws upon which all vitality and sanity depend.” Well, this young man did begin to pay attention to the moral law. He began to put his life in order – and to experience inner peace. He eventually was baptized in the Catholic Church and went on to become one of the most famous monks of the twentieth century. His name is Thomas Merton.
The Christmas season, celebrating the Self-revelation of God through Jesus, comes to an end with the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Christmas is the feast of God’s Self-revelation to the Jews, and Epiphany celebrates God’s Self-revelation to the Gentiles. At his Baptism in the Jordan, Christ reveals himself to repentant sinners. The Baptism of the Lord Jesus is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on the feast of Epiphany because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father.
The word Baptism literally means to immerse in water. It did not originate with John the Baptist. Ritual cleansing in water was a part of the Levitical priesthood and is described in the book of Leviticus. Recall that John is of the tribe of Levi. His father Zechariah was a Levitical priest of the Temple in Jerusalem so ritual cleansing in water was part of his practice.
Baptism took on new meaning with John. He was immersing the people in the water of the Jordan River, away from the ritual of the Temple, to change their ways: to repent and to prepare for one mightier than himself. Jesus of course.
Jesus does not need the baptism of John; however, He submits to it as part of God’s plan. St. Maximus of Turin wrote that Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by his cleansing to purify the waters which he touched. … For when the Savior is washed, all water for our baptism is made clean, purified at its source for the dispensing of baptismal grace to the people of future ages. US, in other words. We are the people of future ages. Christ is the first to be baptized, then so that Christians will follow after him with confidence.
While most of us were not immersed in the water because pouring with water is allowed, there is an important symbolism with baptism: the water makes a kind of tomb. We die with Christ, and when the baptized person comes up out of the water, it symbolizes rising with Christ to new life.
Thomas Merton certainly is a Catholic Christian whose life totally changed with baptism. He died to his old life of sin and rose to a new life in Christ.
The world and all of its good things may bring about fleeting happiness which does not last. Merton realized that. A life in Christ does bring us eternal joy.
Today’s Gospel on Jesus’ baptism should challenge us to examine our lives in Christ. Can we hear God the Father proclaiming: You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased? fff
Jesus is Universal Lord
By Deacon Mike Jacobs
We have an amazing God, a God that is love, a God that wants us to call Him Abba Father, a God that wants us to be his children, one in the Body of Christ His only begotten Son. And He gave us the gift of free will, the freedom to choose, to choose self (my will be done) or God (They will be done).
Today we celebrate the appearance of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the human scene. For the Greeks, the word “Epiphany” was used to describe an appearance or manifestation of a god among human beings. The Fathers of the Church used this word for the Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Savior. Today we are celebrating the appearance of the Divine in space and time.(ex 3:12, 19:18, act 2:3-4), a God that is love, a love that is so great that He sent His only begotten Son to rescue us. Not as a royal king born in royalty, but born to a poor family in a manger, not one to be served but to serve. Jesus came to us that we may have life, opening heaven, offering us a share in His divinity, to be children of God no longer slaves but free men. “This day Christ appeared to the world as a light shining in the darkness. May we follow him in faith and be a light to others.”
The story of the Magi or wise men was included in Matthew’s Gospel to show that from the beginning God intended to call the Gentiles (non-Jews) into unity with the Chosen People. This story was probably an answer to the fundamentalists of the early Church, who opposed Paul’s work with the Gentiles on grounds that this was just a “human decision” of the Church: and that Jesus himself” never preached to non-Jews. The problem was that the Jews, like everyone else, were tempted to be nationalistic. They would say “Israel first” the same way we might say “America first.”
Isaiah’s prophecy, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, Nations shall come to your light…. The wealth of the nations shall come to you” could mean that Israel would dominate the earth with a universally respected Jewish culture. In reality, this prophecy meant that by the light which came to earth through the Jews, every human culture would be transformed without losing its identity. The entire human “wealth of the nations: both material and cultural would be shared among all without being lost to any. God’s plan from all eternity was to “gather up all things in Him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10), Jesus did not come to make one nation or culture dominant over others but instead to glorify the entire human race by bringing everything human, in all its variety and diversity, to its full potential, not only to its natural perfection, but to the glory it can have when transformed by grace.
The Jews had made known throughout the East their hope of a Messiah. The wise men knew about this expected Messiah, the King of the Jews. According to ideas widely accepted at the time, this sort of person, because of his significance in world history would have a star connected with his birth. God made use of these ideas to draw to ‘Christ these representatives of the Gentile who would later be converted. The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews, in this way the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, would be known to all. St. John Chrysostom writes: “God calls them by means of the things they are most familiar with and he shows them a large and extraordinary star so that they would be impressed by its size and beauty”. God called the wise men in the midst of their ordinary occupations, and he still calls people in that way. He called Moses when he was shepherding his flock (ex 3:1-2), Elisha the prophet plowing his land with oxen (1king 19:19-20), Amos looking after his herd (amos 7:15). Why should it surprise you that God is calling YOU where you are today, to be his witness, to be his disciples, to be the light in the darkness of this world. Josemaria Escriva writes in his book “The Way”. “What amazes you seems natural to me: that God has sought YOU out in the practice of your profession! That is how he sought the first apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John beside their nets and Matthew, sitting in custom-house, and Paul in his eagerness to destroy the seeds of Christianity.”
Jesus came that we might “have life and have it abundantly,” through the life of grace (Jn 10:10). Saint Irenaeus says, “As those who see light are in the light sharing its brilliance, so those who see God are in God sharing his glory, and that glory gives them life.” He adds that, if we persevere in love, obedience and gratitude to God, “We will receive greater glory from him, a glory which will grow ever brighter until we take on the likeness of the one who died for us.” Saint Paul spoke of building up the Body of Christ, “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (eph 3:14). The glory of God and the glory of the human race become one and the same reality in “the fullness of Christ” — head and members— and that glory is “all humanity, fully alive.” According to Saint Paul, we are called; we are called, consecrated and commissioned to bring about the glory of God, shining through a glorified human race united, with all its individual and cultural diversity, into one Body in Christ. To celebrate Epiphany is to celebrate not just the light of Christ but the revelation of that light to the whole world. To celebrate this means to rejoice in it, to “single out for grateful remembrance” that people of every race, culture and nation are called to be one Church, one assembly, one in Christ. We are called to be one with each other in faith, in hope and in love. Without suppressing diversity or differences. We are called to rejoice in the fact that our Church is Catholic (meaning universal) that is a composite of culture and nations and does not express itself in the same way all over the world. Above all, this feast calls us to reach out to others and invite them to celebrate with us the light of Christ. Epiphany reminds us that it is not catholic to want a community of people comfortable with each other, because they share the same language, customs, culture or social background, we should not be comfortable until we have invited everyone to join us as believers in Jesus.
Like the Magi we have discovered a star, a light and a guide in the sky of our souls. We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. We have had the same experience. We too noticed a new light shinning in our soul and growing increasingly brighter. It was and is a desire to live a fully Christian life, a keenness to take God seriously. When all is said and done it is simply a choice – God or self. I do not know about you but I choose God, my soul is thirsting for God. Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful enkindle in them the fire of your divine love.
By Deacon John Hackett
Today is the feast of the Epiphany, and as a prelude to my thoughts today, this is actually a very special day for me, even though the reason is sorta trivial. You see, many years ago, when I was a kid in a group of other kids listening to a much-loved priest explain to us the meaning of the Epiphany, he jokingly warned us up front that we must learn to correctly pronounce the word “Epiphany”, and not to say “Ep-i-phany”, which some of us were prone to do. We all laughed! Well, that memory has lingered with me all these years. In a way, you may want to think it was an unintentional ministry of that wonderful priest, because after he told us the correct pronunciation, I have never forgotten him and all the wonderful work he did with us kids back then
Today is the feast of the Epiphany, and as a prelude to my thoughts today, this is actually a very special day for me, even though the reason is sorta trivial. You see, many years ago, when I was a kid in a group of other kids listening to a much-loved priest explain to us the meaning of the Epiphany, he jokingly warned us up front that we must learn to correctly pronounce the word “Epiphany”, and not to say “Ep-i-phany”, which some of us were prone to do. We all laughed! Well, that memory has lingered with me all these years. In a way, you may want to think it was an unintentional ministry of that wonderful priest, because after he told us the correct pronunciation, I have never forgotten him and all the wonderful work he did with us kids back then. His gift to me…
OK, so…why are we here today on this the feast of the Epiphany? And what might it mean to us here and now as we enter a new year. And what might it mean for us as the years roll on. Is there something everlasting about this special feast?
Well, to begin with, our Gospel today tells us that the movement of humankind towards God begins with God…. God choosing an engaged involvement over a more or less detached and untouchable separateness. Apparently, in God’s wisdom, we needed this body; this touchable body, one that breathed like us, felt like us, and hurt like us.
And when we read this gospel we are reading our own story, the story of our journey to God. Like the Magi, we are often called to God from far off places…distances often of our own making. We might have to struggle through deserts and ask others to show us the way. Like the Magi, we often make our way through indifference, hostility, politics, even scandal…and then we find the one we are to worship as Savior and King.
Unfortunately, in many ways, we have tamed this story with talk of kings, crowns, and camels. I remember a Christmas pageant I once attended featuring the 3 magi wearing what appeared to be 3 paper crowns from the local Burger King. We often forget it is about real people seeking someone, seeking the light, that we all hope to find. If one word were used to sum up this gospel, it would be inclusiveness. In fact, the whole Christmas story is about inclusiveness, starting at the very beginning. Read your bible, it’s there all over the place: the master of inclusiveness.
You see, the first to come to the stable are shepherds, but not as we see them on Christmas cards today, but real shepherds who were considered the crooks at the time, looked down upon, avoided by decent folk, people you would be tempted to sic the dog on. And they are the ones chosen to be the first to hear that God has touched earth.
Then the Magi – outsiders…not even Jewish…pagans! A Jew could not even let them into his house because they were ritually impure. They were not to be trusted or encouraged to stay around.
So, as it turns out, the two groups who were invited and guided to the stable were the most despised and the most rejected. Isn’t that what the gospel is all about? Where do we find Jesus most of the time? Who is He with? The most despised and discarded. That is why our church must be attentive to people whose lives have been fractured, people who turn away from our church because they did not feel welcome, people who are told their lives are disoriented. The Eucharist that we share today is not a reward for good behavior, it is food for the journey.
So, what does all this tell us? It tells us that if we have ever felt rejected, we belong at the stable. If we have somehow not measured up to other people’s standards, we belong at the stable. If we have sinned or separated ourselves from God, we belong at the stable. It is interesting that when they had found the Lord, the Magi entered the stable, and not a word was spoken. Perhaps words could not convey all they had found. The One whom the whole universe cannot contain, now enclosed in a tiny baby…. they look, they believe. The only thing they could do was fall on their knees, and offer Him their gifts. They wanted to give Him something.
So, with that being said, as the New Year begins, I leave you with a question: As you come forward to receive Him today, what will you give Him?
A story was broadcast on public radio last year; it was about an elderly African-American woman from the Bronx. A few days after 9/11 she heard that a doctor who was helping with the survivors had injured his leg – but he kept going, using a piece of wood instead of a cane. She made her way down through intense security to lower Manhattan, to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, a center of rescue operations. For that elderly woman, it was a journey as difficult and hazardous as the Magi’s. She wanted to give a gift to the doctor who, like many others, was working around the clock. She gave him her cane to help him walk.
I do not know what motivated that simple but profound act. But I can imagine that she must surely have had her eyes open wide, searching for something or someone greater than herself. There he was, in the middle of the dead and dying, and she came and offered her simple gift of homage, and went home. All the noble people who had been working so hard there were stunned into silence by such a simple act of kindness.
In ending, please be it known, the Christ child is no longer in the stable. He grew up. You cannot go and worship Him there. But better still, you can come here and receive Him, and then offer your gift to the “other Christs”…they are sitting all around you.
By Deacon Don Griffith
All through the weekdays of Advent, Christ’s bride, in the Liturgy of the Hours, was praying Your light will come, Jerusalem; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty. And every night before sleeping, Christ’s bride prays in the words of Simeon as he held the Holy Infant: My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel. The light prayed for is our Lord Jesus, who calls Himself the Light of the world. Without this Light, we stumble in the darkness of sin and death. With the light of Christ, which the darkness cannot overcome, we are able to see not just where we are going, but also see the world as it truly as such the goodness of creation, our fallen state and separation from God, the reality of sin and a loving Father, who sent his Only Begotten Son to be our Redeemer and through Him sends to us the Holy Spirit so that we might share the lot of the saints in light. This Christ, this Light of the world, is who the magi long to adore and we can see in them the revealing of God’s plan for us that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. In the magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations (CCC 528).
In the first reading, we heard that darkness covered the earth. When we think about darkness, if a lantern is burning in front of us, even if we are far from the light, we can still see it. But if that same light at that same distance is behind us, then we have no idea that a light is burning. This is a reason that faith comes from hearing. The God of love and mercy called those who followed Him through the proclamation of His gospel, and hearing that they turned toward Christ our Light. This Pilgrim Church founded by Christ has continued through the centuries to our day. When we were lost in the darkness of sin and death far from and turned away from the God who created us, perhaps we didn’t know a light is shining. The God of love and mercy constantly calls our name through the proclamation of the gospel. The words pierce our heart as only the words of the One who loves us can do: I love you, I created you, I have died for you, and I desire eternal life for you. And in hearing, we turn. As we turn, we begin to see the light, a light like a city set on a hill, which has no light but the light of Christ, and by believing we no longer walk in darkness. Here we see how important it is that each Christian take on their role in the mission of the Church. When our Lord calls to someone lost in the darkness it may just be that it’s through you that the Light of Christ shines upon them. In these troubled times, it may seem as though Christ’s light is growing dim. This is not the case. It may be the case that the Light of Christ which is reflected by the Church has gotten a bit dimmer, as it has at various points in the past, because the Church has been tarnished. In this great feast of the Epiphany, let us follow Christ our Light, renew our commitment to living the Christian life in virtue and holiness, pray for the victims of abuse, and work for justice. May we do penance so that the tarnish is polished away that’s Christ’s light may shine brighter than ever before and may we, like the magi, seek out the living God bringing Him our gifts and fall down in adoration. And as we travel toward our heavenly homeland, let us go by another way-the way of holiness, and not by the way we came, which was the way of sin.
Bob May and Rudolph/Kindred Misfits with Hope
By Father Pete Iorio
This is a true story: A man named Robert L. May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer.
Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?”
Bob’s jaw tightened, and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life. Life always had to be different for Bob. Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember.
From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at a department store called Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression.
Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums.
Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938. Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn’t buy a gift, he was determined to make one – a storybook!
Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal’s story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again, Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling.
The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form.
The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose.
Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day.
[For all the years as a kid, and even as an adult that I watched the TV classic of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, I never knew the rest of the story.]
And it truly is a story that has Gospel messages. Never give up hope. Persevere in life. Trust in God to always be with you. We know that there certainly are imperfections in this world. Misfits abound. Maybe you feel like you are one. Do not be discouraged to the point of despair.
We could say that John the Baptist was certainly a misfit in the Jewish society in and around Jerusalem. His father was a temple priest and he could have/should have followed in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he lived in the desert region around the Jordan River. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey. This was not the typical clothing and food of a first century Jew. He was criticized. Even Jesus said that “John came neither eating nor drinking, and people said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ “ There is a message here to anyone who feels like you do not fit in. USE the gifts that God has given you in generosity and selflessness and great results will come about.
While Bob May could not pay for a Christmas gift for his daughter, he could write stories. And millions of people have received inspiration and joy from this Christmas classic.
Rudolph had what we might call a birth defect, and God gave him an ability to be generous in using it to guide Santa on Christmas Eve.
John the Baptist was able to preach powerfully about God and the need to repent. John basically said: Do the right thing. Share all your extra clothes and food with those who have none. Give up your profiteering and false accusations. Oh yeah, and quit complaining about your salary.
The message must have found receptive ears and hearts because not just a few people came, but crowds of people repented. And they received this as good news and changed their ways.
Today is called GAUDETE or REJOICE Sunday. The first two readings emphasize this message of Rejoicing. The second reading says: Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: rejoice. Your kindness should be known to all. My cause for rejoicing is absolutely believing and knowing the Lord Jesus is within me and in our midst. When troubles and anxieties swirl around, I choose to return to this joy within. Something that is a worry for us as a parish is some of what Bob May had – financial woes. Our offertory income is already declining and last Sunday without a full Sunday collection, we are really hurting. Last Sunday during the snowstorm, I wish we had Rudolph and flying reindeer to go around to your homes and bring you safely to Mass. For our three Sunday Masses, 146 people total were here. The rest of you are not in sin for missing Mass. I dispensed you for good reason. I know you are like me and receive emails and messages every day to be generous with your end of the year giving. I am asking you to put our parish St. Mary’s on that list. We sure could use a little financial joy right now.
Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.
Listen to Nature and Our Response
By Father Pete Iorio
Faith and reason are not in opposition to each other. Our religion and science have much to contribute to each other. Science gives light to the wonderful workings of our world and even through the ingenuity of humans has brought forth better ways for us to live and sustain life. Antibiotics is one example. Our religion offers moral guidelines to help us. Just because we have the capability to do and make things does not mean that we should do it.
Jesus used the laws of nature to teach about God and the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel today, He tells the disciples to Learn a lesson from the fig tree.
We too can learn a lesson from nature. Scientists speak to us about what they learn and determine in the physical world and the majority of scientists today agree that there is a dangerous phenomenon called climate change. Pope Francis and his two predecessors John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were concerned about climate change.
In his first Encyclical called Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Mankind), Saint Pope John Paul II warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption”. JP II would call for a global ecological conversion. At the same time, he noted that little effort had been made to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology”. The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement. Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies”. Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system”. In other words, he is saying that we need each other.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI proposed “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment”. (This is the morality piece that I noted… just because we can grow an individual economy does not mean that we should.) He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since “the book of nature is one and indivisible”, and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that “the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”. Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behavior. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”. With paternal concern, Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed “where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves”.
And of course, Pope Francis issued the encyclical on our common home, the environment in 2015, three years ago. Laudato Si (from Canticle of St. Francis of Assisi) is its name and it calls attention to this moral crisis that is facing our world. It is addressed not only to Catholics but to everyone who lives on Earth. There is an urgency in the message and I highly encourage you to read it.
The popes gave their teachings based on the Scriptures. They knew that before Jesus began his public ministry, He went into the desert, a barren place on earth and was tempted to fall into the trap of three things that this world offers: Greed, power and prestige. Jesus successfully resisted the temptations against greed, the accumulation of money and possessions; against power which displays an indifference or lack of dependence on God; and against prestige – which exalts a person or nation and makes them better than anyone else on the planet. And then by his words and actions, He cautioned us to do the same. Have we resisted greed, the accumulation of money and goods, not just personally, but also in regard to our nation? Have we resisted power that relies on our own selfish ways of doing things? And have we resisted prestige that makes us as individuals or as a nation better than all the rest?
We Christians are called to live as followers of Christ who emptied himself in sacrificial love; who proclaimed the poor blessed and always opted to associate Himself with the poor and the outcast; and who lowered Himself by becoming flesh and by submitting to death on the Cross so that God’s love and glory would by divine essence make itself known.
Christians should always strive for holiness and to bring holiness into the whole of Creation. Jesus brought hope to a weary world when he was born. Jesus brought hope to a divided and destructive world when he died and rose to new life. The New Evangelization ushered in by Pope Saint John Paul II inspires us to bring hope to a world that may feel like being “unsurpassed in distress” as it says in the first reading from the Book of Daniel.
The poor, the immigrants and even our land and rivers are being brazenly attacked by the purveyors of greed, fear and racial and class hatred. All that saps and drains our energy and can leave us on the verge of despair. In this context, it is imperative that we hold up hope, that we walk on the path of beauty, and cultivate joy.
The passage from the Book of Daniel speaks of a time unsurpassed in distress. It is in that context that the prophet conveys the vision of hope. In a similar vein, the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews refers to a life-threatening, interpersonal conflict and then paints a vision of God’s victory. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus, too, offers a radical hope in the context of anxiety and insecurity.
There is great hope when we work together to solve our problems. We are at our best when brothers and sisters live in unity. It is like oil flowing down the beard, according to the psalmist. We are at our worst when we go it alone.
Even now we are journeying towards eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all. In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly banquet. In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God. Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope in Jesus Christ.
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Father Pete Iorio
For those of you who are visiting or new to the parish or maybe those who just have been away for the summer or folks who just aren’t paying attention why is there a huge tent in front of the school? No, it’s not a set of extra classrooms. It was the site last night of the reception for the celebration of my 25th anniversary of ordination as a priest. I’m so grateful to God for this gift because in serving you all as priest, I give myself in love and the amazing divine alchemy is receiving your abundant love in return.
You can just imagine how many people were necessary to bring about such an event. Many of you were part of the giving teams and ministries. I am forever grateful. And can you believe that 600 to 700 people at a huge mass and a big dinner reception put all of that on without any problems grumbling or complaining or conflict? If you believe that, I have a piece of property I want to sell you in the North Pole. Of course, there was lots of grumbling and complaining and problems along the way. We are human beings.
In the first reading today, the Israelites are on a journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Moses is their leader and did not take them on the most direct route. It was long and it was hard. They were free from the Egyptians; however, one of the things that they faced was hunger in the desert. They complained that they had it better in Egypt even in slavery because there, they had bread to eat. Scripture says that God hears their grumbling and provides for them quail and bread from heaven to eat. This is bread from heaven is called manna. In receiving this gift, the Israelites are satisfied and transformed in attitude. They keep going on their journey to the Promised Land. It took them 40 years of “wandering in the desert” and God sustained them along the way.
In our lives as Christians, we use the image of a journey. We are people on the move towards the Promised Land of Heaven. One of the symbolic ways in which we recall that is through ritual procession. We have a procession at the beginning of Mass as the cross leads the ministers and God’s holy people to the holy of holies/the sanctuary. We are together as a people of faith singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. There is a procession with the Book of the Gospels. During communion you walk in procession to receive the bread from heaven, the holy Eucharist. At the end of mass, there is a procession out into the world as we have been fed with the bread from heaven and the holy word of God and are strengthened to live the challenges of our daily lives.
I want to reflect with you my spiritual experience that I had in preparation for my Jubilee. You know I’ve been gone for three weeks on vacation. I went to my roots. The first week I spent in New Jersey with my family for a reunion. This was where I was born and grew up and my family made many special memories. My family keeps me real and grounded. Then I went to Ireland where I feel that God solidified my yes to his call to be a priest. I hiked up a few mountains while I was on the Emerald Isle. One time I was on my own and especially reflecting on 25 years of priesthood.
On my own up a mountain- praying. Reflecting brought me not what I expected which was happy highlights from the last 25 years: Special Masses, sacramental celebrations, pastoral “successes” NO!
God brought to my mind the challenges and difficulties including conflicts other priests, bishops, my own family, diocesan and parish staffs.
I recalled the very painful experiences of ministering to victims of emotional, physical spiritual and sexual abuse…even from priests.
I thought about the time I left active ministry and did a lot of soul searching.
I remembered the times I had to surrender my will to the will and the desire of three different bishops who gave me assignments I either did not want or did not feel qualified for.
I thought about painful experiences of having to fire parish staff members as a pastor.
Security and peanut allergies. Threats of lawsuits.
I recalled the unexpected death of my mother 13 months ago.
I was falsely accused and denounced.
God said to me as he said throughout my life: “Be not afraid. By your trust in me through all of these trials, you have not been disfigured but transfigured.” And then I said a prayer of thanksgiving that Bishop O’Connell ordained me a priest of the Diocese of Knoxville on Friday. August 6, 1993, the feast of the Transfiguration. The place was my home parish at the time on Signal Mountain.
My life as a priest and the celebration of my 25th anniversary of ordination is not just about me. It is about me and you in some kind of relationship…even if you’ve never met me before. We are connected by blood, by family, by friendship, by parish connections, by the Eucharist, by ministry, and in so many ways.
Human relationships are so important…so vital to thriving human life. God so loved the world that he sent his son Jesus….to be in relationship with humanity, to show us how to thrive in our humanity…
He showed us that to live and relate in this world means that we make mistakes. When we do make mistakes and when others make mistakes and hurt us, and when we hurt others, thriving human relationships require something called forgiveness. Forgiveness is essential to learning growth and change. And sometimes the invitation is to forgive ourselves for what we have done wrong.
As a priest of Jesus Christ for 25 years now, God has given me a particular way of relating in human relationships. One of my principal responsibilities is to celebrate the sacraments-to make Jesus Christ present to others. In the Gospel, John chapter 6, Jesus calls himself “The bread of life.” Bread, in order to fulfill its purpose, must be eaten to nourish the person who consumes it. This eaten bread gives and sustains life. A priest is in the person of Christ/in persona Christi. He confects the Eucharist. He not only gives the faithful (who sometimes grumble) the bread from heaven, he becomes the bread from heaven. A priest must allow himself to be eaten by others like Christ is eaten. During the mountain hike, God was showing me how I was eaten by my life’s trials.
Jesus says: whoever comes to me will never be hungry; whoever believes in me will never thirst. I wonder why he doesn’t say whoever eats this bread and is satisfied will never grumble? Probably, because it will never be true.
Spiritual maturity really demands that we move beyond the grumbling to a deeper reflection on the presence of God with us and among us as a community. As I reflected on my journey and realize God’s presence, God’s power working through the challenges of life, so I invite you to do the same. Our growth in the Lord is to become more like him who is love, compassion, mercy, patience and is able to love even our enemies.
May Jesus the bread of life be our sustenance for life’s journey and our companion. A life’s journey is never a solo trip as a Christian but one in which we break bread together and pour out our lives in love as Christ has done for us on the cross and as he does now in us.
Eucharist come from the Greek word for Thanksgiving. The first person singular is Eucharisteo which means: I give thanks… To God to all of you who are God’s holy people. I want you to make the connection that we are a Eucharistic people. For most of us Catholics that means a connection to holy communion/the body and blood/soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we are a Eucharistic people who always give thanks to God, hopefully without grumbling, even for the challenges that are part of our life’s journey. The transfigure us to be more like Christ.