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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

BUILDING TRUST
by Father Peter Iorio

The first African-American Protestant bishop to earn a Ph.D. (sociology) was Methodist Bishop Willis King (1886-1976). After his graduation, King says he spent some time at home with his parents. While there, he decided to go to the bank and borrow money to buy his first car. His father said he would go with his son to cosign the loan, but the young King declined his father’s offer saying he could take care of it himself. After all, he now had a degree.
The loan officer said, “Tell me, what do you have for collateral? If you’re going to get $500 from this bank, you’ve got to have something of equal value.” King proudly announced he had a degree. The loan officer said to King that he was sorry but a college degree was worthless as collateral. The young King was embarrassed, and as he turned to leave, there stood his father who announced he had come to cosign the note. King said, “Dad, you can’t even write. All you can do is make an ‘X’.”
Overhearing this the loan officer said, “It may be true that your dad can’t write and all he can do is make an ‘X.’, but it’s that ‘X’ that got the loan for you get into school. It’s that ‘X’ that got the loan to get you out of school. And if you are going to get a loan from this bank to buy a car, it’s that same ‘X’ that’s going to get the loan for you.”
Humbly, the younger King accepted his father’s offer to cosign. We shall return to that in a moment.
In the first reading, Moses was about to die. The Chosen People were terrified because they were about to lose the person who had been successfully leading them through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. They were also going to lose a leader whom they trusted and a prophet who had been keeping them informed of God’s will. The assurance from Moses is that God would send another prophet like Moses. Trust is a needed virtue in our country today, so I highlight this virtue.
Trust is a basic human virtue that is necessary for good relationships, not just leaders and followers, but also in the family, at school and at work. One definition of trust as a verb is to believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone. With trust many wonderful things follow. Without trust, chaos can reign. The story of the loan officer and the illiterate father is one example. The bank officer had developed a relationship of trust with the father over time. The father had proven his trust in the past and thus was worthy of being trusted again with another loan.
Trust may be the most important factor in successful relationships. A person trusts another when they feel that they can be vulnerable and know that everything will be alright. As Christians we are called to be trustworthy. Building trust requires making a commitment to trustworthy behavior. Remember that Moses received the 10 Commandments with most saying THOU SHALL NOT.
To highlight the development of the virtue of trust in you and me and among us, I give you qualities or commandments in the affirmative.
THOU SHALL BE Honest. Speak the truth and do what you say you will do. Even if it is a small thing, canceling or failing to follow through will create hairline fractures in your trustworthiness.
THOU SHALL BE Reliable: Trust requires that people believe you will be dependable in the long-term, over time. Thus, when you make someone a promise, you must keep it.
THOU SHALL BE Humble: We are human and we all make mistakes. When you make a mistake, humbly tell the truth. Your trustworthiness goes down the tubes when you make excuses or blame others.
THOU SHALL BE a person of integrity: Keep confidential those things that are told to you that are supposed to be kept confidential. As a person of integrity, also try to keep your feelings under control. If you learn to manage your emotions, the people in your life will feel that they can predict how you will act. They will view you as emotionally reliable, further deepening trust.
Our Bishop Stika’s motto is “Jesus, I trust in you.” Today in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has just called His first disciples from their work as fishermen and now He begins his public ministry. He teaches with authority AND He also drives away an unclean spirit. He is building trust with the people who listen to Him and interact with Him. Over the period of three years of Jesus’ public ministry, the disciples grow in an intimate trusting relationship with Him whom they will call LORD. He will not let them down. It is important to remember that Mark’s Gospel has often been described as a passion narrative with an extended introduction. This is not an exaggeration. The entire Gospel is oriented toward the passion and resurrection of Jesus. In this year of Mark, it is good to recall this trajectory to help shape our proclamation of the passion and resurrection. It is not easy to continue to trust when the going gets rough, when we have “crosses” in our lives, but with faith and perseverance, we can always pray and say: Jesus, I trust in you because you are the fulfilment of the Father’s promise. You are always faithful and you love me without conditions and I know that I can be totally vulnerable with You. Jesus, when I get down, I trust you to lift me up and carry me.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Responding to a Call from God/ a Vocation
by Father Pete Iorio

Three very important commemorations converge this week: the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior who was a leader for civil rights and who was martyred/slain 50 years ago come April; the 45th anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in every state of the nation and the subsequent annual March for Life to affirm the dignity of every life in the womb; and the week of prayer for Christian unity.
Is there a common thread to these events and to the message of the Scripture readings today? I think that there is. The simple answer is a “call from God.”
Starting with Jonah, “the word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying…” God was calling Jonah to be a prophet. He heard the words and knew that they were from God and what was Jonah’s response? NO. It is too hard. I am not going to do that. I am too afraid. I am not worthy. People will hate me. So he ran away, got into a boat, got thrown in the sea, swallowed by a big fish, and then vomited up on the shore. In the third chapter of the book of Jonah, the word came a second time: (God is relentless in calling us. God always gives us chances to try again.) Set out for the great city of Nineveh and preach… Jonah’s response changed. He was obedient. He said YES to God and did what God called him to do.
In the Gospel today Jesus, the Son of God, calls after some fishermen to follow him. Do they reject the call? No, they drop their nets and follow after Him, not knowing where they will go nor how their lives will change nor what tremendous growth will take place in their souls.
Martin Luther King Jr. was motivated by the gospel. He was a preacher and his encouragement came from God. He was not merely a public organizer or a social change agent. It was the call of God/Jesus Christ that emboldened end empowered him to not only follow Christ and to bring the good news to others, but to be a prophet and call others to change. Almost all of his speeches are laden with quotes from the Holy Bible.
Why are young people and adults from the parish and across the country motivated to go to Washington, DC and March for life? Sacred Scriptures speak of God knitting us in our mother’s womb and knowing us before we were born along with the commandment not to kill but to have life and to have it to the full. We march because of the call from God’s Word.
The prayer and work of Christian Unity is based on the prayer of Jesus Himself who prayed in John chapter 17 verse 21 May all be one, Father, as I am in you and you are in me.”
Christian life is a vocation. Vocation is a call. Last week I focused on a specific and particular call to priesthood and religious life, but like the disciples in the Gospel that we heard today, Christ calls all of us to come and follow him as well.
Every person who calls herself or himself a Christian must respond to the call of Christ. It is not a gene or a birthright we are entitled to, but we are free to respond to the call or not. And to be a Christian is to always be open to change. Change is integral to life.
And Christianity is by definition a religion of change. In the Incarnation, the word becomes flesh. In the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, He ushers in the new creation. In the person of Jesus Christ, we claim a new future in God. There is a lot of language of newness when speaking about Christ.
The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart.
This is when we need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, like Jonah did inside the big fish and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.
In the moments of insecurity and crisis, it’s the deep “yeses” that carry you through. Focusing on a call from God that you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out. This is the dream that God has for you!

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Follow Christ to Love His Priests and His Priesthood
by Father Peter Iorio

High point of my day is when I lift my arms high and say “Behold the lamb of God.” I echo the words of John the Baptist in the Gospel today who says these words to his disciples when Jesus walks by. He points the way to the Messiah. John the Baptist is the bridge prophet between Old Testament and New Testament. He knows the longed for promised Messiah to the Jews is Jesus.

One of the earliest heresies that the Christian church fought was Marcionism, the conviction that Jesus should be interpreted separate from the Old Testament. But the categories that the Gospel writers used to present Jesus as the Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek were, almost exclusively, drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus will play the role of the sacrificial lambs offered in the temple, and through a sacrifice, take away the sins of the world.

According to Bishop Robert Barron, one reason that people today have such a difficult time appreciating Jesus is that we have become, effectively, Marcionites. To really understand the Christological language of John, we need to understand the great story of Israel. There is a continuity of the great Judeo Christian story up until today.

Jesus is the lamb of sacrifice and He is also the priest who offers the sacrifice.

Going back to the first reading, we encounter a priest of the temple whose name is Eli. His young student is Samuel. They are sleeping in the temple before the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant is located. We connect that Ark of the Covenant to the Tabernacle in our own Church. The Eucharist is our New Ark of the Covenant in the person of Jesus Himself.

It is in a particular religious setting, in a holy place and by a holy teacher, that Samuel is able to hear his own call to be a priest. Thinking that the old nearly blind Eli is calling to him in the middle of the night, Samuel comes to know that it is really God who is calling him directly to serve as prophet.

When I reflect back over my 24 ½ years of priesthood, I can connect to this very story from the Old Testament in asking questions about whether or not God was calling me to be a priest of His Church. I was involved in faith formation which really intensified when I was in a Catholic School… NDHS in Chattanooga.

I can connect to the New Testament story of Jesus calling the first disciples in the Gospel of John. Jesus asks everyone as He asked those first disciples, “What are you looking for?” A life which has purpose and meaning, a life which desires to know, love and serve God… this was and is my answer still today. His invitation to Come and See demands a response: To follow or not to follow. He gives us the freedom to say YES and go with Him or to say NO and go our own way.

In my YES to follow Christ and to learn and understand the greater purpose, I had to surrender my own will to His. The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a process of surrender to that moment. We must first allow ourselves to be captured by the goodness, truth, or beauty of something beyond and outside ourselves. This is the great inner dialogue we call prayer. We humans resist both the awe and, even more, the surrender. Both are vital, and so we must be deliberate about praying for discernment to do God’s will and respond to His call in our lives.

When I look back over my own life and in particular over the years of serving as a priest, I have a grateful heart. I am filled with joy because I see and understand God’s greatness working in me and in the community of faith. I also realize that I don’t get it all. God is greater than my understanding. I am thankful for my YES and for you as members of the Church affirming and loving me as your priest.

The greatest gift each and every one of you can give not to me, but to God is a love of Christ and His Church by supporting religious vocations in the Church. We need to have more holy priests serving His Holy people.

One of my priorities as pastor is formation of our Catholic youth. We have a wonderful Catholic school. I wonder why aren’t more of our Catholic families sending their children to St. Mary’s. I say, if money is one of your concerns, remove that obstacle because our finance council and school board will work with you to provide a Catholic education for your child.

We do not have a Catholic high school here, not because it has not been sought after, but because there is not enough support in TriCities…yet. St. Mary’s does have a thriving dedicated youth ministry program. This was NOT the case when I arrived here 6 ½ years ago. Thanks to our youth ministry team, young people are given regular opportunities to encounter Christ… to be in a setting like Samuel was to be open to hear the voice of God…. to have mentors to help young people understand that God is calling them and not to be afraid to say YES.

Catholic people of St. Mary’s, I know you love us your priests… (at least I think you do by the gifts and words of gratitude you give us), Do you love the priesthood by praying for more priests and religious men and women from our parish? Do you love the priesthood by supporting young people in their process of formation with your generous gift of time, talent and treasure? Yes, time. When our youth at school and youth group invite you to participate in events, do you go? When our youth at school and youth group invite you to support them with donations, do you give?

I tell this story from my youth. When I was in college, I was not in seminary. But when I returned home for one of the breaks, a parishioner asked me: Peter, how is it going in the seminary? I was embarrassed, but I responded that I was not studying for the priesthood….yet! However, his interest in me and his question all challenged me to follow Jesus even more intensely and see if that was what He was inviting me to do.

Do you support priesthood in the Church by investing your time and talent by serving in different ministries? Many times, I lament that few people come out for our parish family meetings/town halls or help when we ask for volunteers. But I do not stay stuck in that disappointment. I know that Jesus Himself had just a few and look what they were able to accomplish.

Again, my heart is so very grateful for all of those who have given of yourselves to follow Jesus with courage and trust and even risk to go into the unknown of this grand adventure with Christ.

In this my Jubilee year of ordination to priesthood, I take you with me in a special way. As I give thanks to God for 25 years, I recommit myself to sacrificing myself “in persona Christi” as the Lamb of God out of love for God’s people. I ask you to recommit yourselves to follow Christ. Young people, is God calling you to be a priest or brother or religious sister? Do not be afraid to say YES to God. Mothers and fathers/grandmothers and grandfathers, are you willing to support your children by helping them to discern God’s call? Faithful parishioners of St. Mary’s parish, are you willing to recommit yourself to Christ by saying YES to give of your time, talents and treasures to show your love and support of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and His Church?

Let us all truly say from our heart and soul, as we did in the psalm: Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.

Epiphany 2018

HAPPY NEW YEAR! A resolution for me is to honor requests to post homilies which I have not done since the death of my mother last June. Since our deacons preach once a month, I am posting theirs as well. God bless you as you go deeper into the rich Word of God.

Jesus Royal Messiahship
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. He gave us free will to choose God or self.
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. All the 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, 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 who he was shepherding his flock (ex 3:1-2), Elisha the prophet ploughing 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, 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 wonders of wonders! 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, 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 (universal) that is a composite of culture and nations and does 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 pick God, my soul is thirsting for our God. Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful enkindle in them the fire of your divine love.

The Epiphany of the Lord
By Deacon George Fredericks
Reading 1 Is 60:1-6
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.
Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

Reading 2 Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
Brothers and sisters: You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit, namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation. It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Gospel Mt 2:1-12
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany… the second definition of Epiphany in the dictionary is: …a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.
Let’s see if we can understand something about faith in Jesus in a very clear way!!!
Today we remember the Magi who came from faraway lands to worship the baby Jesus. They came guided by a star.
They were not Jews and scholars tell us they were priests of an Eastern religion who consulted the stars (Zoroastrian priests).
We can say they were followers of a pagan religion.
From our Christian viewpoint, pagans are generally characterized as those who follow any religious ceremony or practice that is not Christian.
But the journey the wise men made to Bethlehem was not the only journey they made.
They also made a journey in their hearts from paganism to worshipping Jesus.
The Magi were nature worshippers who had no scriptures but here we see something important for us to realize.
God revealed Himself to them through the means available which in this case was through their own religion.
This is important so let me repeat…. God revealed Himself to them through the means available which was through their own religion.
Through the stars they were able to learn of the birth of Jesus and find their way to him.
Clearly, God does have a relationship with people of other religions who are neither Jews nor Christians and we would do well to remember that.
There is only one God, and all who seek God with a sincere heart are led to Him, whether they call him Allah or Yahweh or some other name.
What we have in common with members of the Jewish faith, Islam and some other religions is that we all worship the same God.
All of humanity are children of the same Father.
This truth is sometimes hard for people to accept because religious people all over the world tend to believe that they have exclusive access to God and the truth.
In the Old Testament, the Jewish people wrongly believed that they were the exclusive people of God.
They divided everyone into two groups: Jews who were the people of God, and the Gentiles who were not.
Some of their prophets and those possessed of more wisdom tried to correct this belief by reminding them of the universal love of God for all humankind.
It was not until Jesus came that this revelation began to sink in.
As the second reading states, Christ made both groups, Jews and Gentiles, into one people and broke down the dividing wall of hostility separating them.
In the past, some Christians tended to make the same mistake by thinking they were the exclusive people of God.
Vatican II affirmed that God’s truth is available to people of other religions.
We believe and teach that the Catholic Church has the fullness of means of salvation.
By that we mean that we possess the sacraments and Scripture which was written under the influence of the Holy Spirit by Catholic men.
We are in possession of truth through Sacred Tradition and our Liturgy. These and other means contribute to the fullness of salvation.
Please notice this is not claiming that the Catholic Church is the only means of salvation… just that we have the comprehensiveness of those means.
We must all guard against developing a mindset which thinks this way.
It is thanks to God’s unique revelation in Christ, that we can know God’s truth more clearly and follow God’s ways more closely in our daily lives.
But we should always remember that even though we are on the better way, others who are on a not-so-better way could arrive at the goal before us.
After all, it was the Gentile Magi who recognized and accepted the savior and the Jewish religious leaders who did not.
We each are called to follow Jesus and not just when it suits us.
We each have a journey to make because none of us is yet fully converted and each of us has corners in our hearts in need of Jesus’ healing and redemption.
Like the wise men, we too are relying on the grace of God to lead us to the light of Jesus our Savior.
Through the grace of God the wise men came to faith in Jesus.
What of those who do not yet know that Jesus is the Savior?
Is it possible that those who are not Christian achieve salvation? Yes they can, and here’s why.
We can see part of the answer in the account of the wise men. By the grace of God the wise men were led to Jesus.
Listen to this quote from Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council:
“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (Lumen Gentium §16)
Even though the Magi did not know Jesus they had a desire to meet God’s anointed one.
In their own way, with their beliefs, they lived as best they could and this eventually led them to Jesus.
We too, have a journey to make in our conversion because none of us is yet fully converted and each of us has areas of our hearts in need of Jesus’ healing and redemption.
Let us pray that God may lead us, like the Magi, ever closer to his Son.
Let us pray that all nations may come to know that Jesus is the one Savior, that all nations may fall prostrate before Jesus.
This does not imply that we do not have to spread the Gospel and can just sit back and wait for God to intervene.
The Church’s mission is to help people make the journey to Jesus.
And that mission is for everyone, not just the clergy.
Jesus’ last command before his ascension was for his followers to baptize all nations.
Therefore we have the duty to preach the Gospel to those who have not yet heard the Good News.
Let us preach the Gospel with our lives as our beloved Pope Francis has championed.
He said: “Today’s world stands in great need of witnesses, not so much of teachers but rather of witnesses. It’s not so much about speaking, but speaking with our whole lives.”
We should all look closely at our lives and do our best to move closer to this ideal.
And my wife shared this important observation: Are our lives showing this witness or are we just speaking it?

EPIPHANY
By Deacon John Hackett

On a summer’s day in 1879, an amateur archeologist named Marcelino de Satuola went into a cave in Altamira, Spain, looking for prehistoric artifacts. He’d been there several times before, and hadn’t found much of interest. But this day, he brought with him his five-year-old daughter, Maria. The two of them began to explore the cave. Marcelino was studying the ground (looking for artifacts, as usual), when he heard his little girl cry out “Mira, pa-pa’….bueyes!”….in English:… “Look, daddy, “oxen!” He couldn’t imagine what she was talking about, until he looked in her direction and saw she was pointing up to the ceiling. There, Marcelino saw the most incredible images…not only oxen, but pictures of other animals and people that had been left there over 10,000 years earlier. What his little girl spotted was later hailed as one of the greatest artistic discoveries ever. In the 1920s, Picasso visited the caves and came away awed. To this day, thousands visit Altamira every year to see what many consider to be the very beginnings of art. And it happened because a little five-year-old girl didn’t look down. She… looked up.

She brought to that adventure a sense of wonder. Just like the magi, (the wise men), in today’s gospel reading. They also looked up. And then looked forward. And then followed. They discovered something far more valuable than anything painted on the ceiling of an ancient cave. They followed a star to the savior of the world. And what led them there was more than astronomy. They were led by fascination, moved by wonder. They needed to find where that star would take them.

The biologist J.B.S. Haldane once said, “The world will not perish for want of wonders…but for want of wonder.” That word…wonder… is the great well-spring that nourishes us on this particular feast, the feast of the Epiphany. That word comes from Latin, meaning “manifestation.” (a revelation). Or, as Webster’s puts it, an “illuminating discovery.” The magi discovered the greatest illumination of all: The Christ of God.

Isaiah describes it this way: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come.” And it has. The birth of the Christ means we will finally see what was hidden. What was in shadow is bathed in light. And it begins with the infinite light of a star. But to see it, to experience it, to discover it, we need to do what the magi did. We need to have wonder. And we need to travel – to journey outside our “comfort zones” and be open to the unexpected or the unplanned.

The magi had no idea where that star was going take them. They didn’t know what their final destination would be. They couldn’t anticipate what they would find, or that it would all end up in Bethlehem. The journey to Jesus was, for them, as it is for all of us: unpredictable, uncharted, unknowable. And it left them changed.

Now, as Matthew writes: “They departed for their country by another way.” There may be a subliminal message in Matthew’s statement here there that we might easily miss. You see, after encountering Christ, the magi couldn’t travel the same road. It should be that way for all of us. After discovering Jesus, after our own epiphanies, nothing can ever be quite the same.

John Henry Newman once wrote that “To live is to change.” It’s a beautiful thought for this season, when we’re starting a new year and many of us are struggling to change old habits – or maybe lose old weight.
Living is about growing, and changing – Newman embodied that with his conversion. So did other great converts of our own day, people like Edith Stein, Thomas Merton and Avery Dulles. They understood that life isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. No matter the problems, or detours or setbacks, we continue to move forward, seeking Truth.

Some years back I heard the most remarkable story of two Anglican men, a father and son in England, who converted to Catholicism. That’s unusual enough. But then, just before Christmas both of them were ordained to the priesthood. It’s believed that’s the first time that’s ever happened. The son put it simply, but eloquently: “It was time to come home.” Well…What a homecoming!

This is a time, the holidays, when many of us have had homecomings of one kind or another. For some of us, that homecoming has also meant returning to the faith. Maybe you found yourself suddenly back in the pews for Christmas mass — trying to remember the prayers you used to know by heart, feeling a little out of place, wondering if you’ll fit in. It’s okay. The most important thing – like with the magi – is that you made the trip. The fact is: all of us, like the magi, are pilgrims…on journey. But where will the journey take us?

Remember the wise men, the journey they took, the star they followed, the epiphany they made. They traveled to places unknown, guided by wonder. And they discovered the Son of God. And remember, too, that little girl in Altamira. So often, we spend our lives looking at the ground, studying the dirt, checking out the broken remnants of life that lie at our feet. We can miss the glory that is just above us. We can miss epiphanies.

So in ending: Look up! Look forward. And follow. Follow the light, the light that is Christ. It leads us to grace. And after that, we have no choice but to live differently – just like the magi, returning to our lives “by another way.”

Fifth Sunday of Lent

When a Pure Heart Meets Misery, A New Reality is Present – MERCY

Don’t you just love it when someone gets what is coming to them? There are many scandalous financial situations that happened over past decades and I could not help feeling glee when the guilty ones were caught and tried and put in jail for their crimes. Most of all, I felt a great sadness by those victims who were scammed out of their money.
This human trait which is an attitude of justice deserves another look because of the Gospel story today. Father Ermes Ronchi was the preacher to Pope Francis and his collaborators on retreat this week and he spoke about the story of the woman caught in adultery. Fr. Ronchi made a statement that made me think of the sad state of affairs of US politics where finding fault with an opponent is the national sport.
Fr. Ronchi said: “Whoever loves to accuse, getting drunk on the shortcomings of other people, believes in saving truth while throwing stones at those who make mistakes. From that attitude, wars are born.” Pray about that.
In this passage of the Gospel of John, the scribes and the Pharisees do not only desire to accuse the woman, but they are really after Jesus Himself. They wanted to win at any cost. They did not like the way that He had influence over other people and the way He was challenging them, the religious leaders, in the practice of their Jewish faith.
So they set a trap. If Jesus allows this woman caught in the very act of adultery and was obviously guilty to go free, he will be discredited as being a teacher who does not uphold the law.
If Jesus allows her to be condemned, then he would be discredited as the teacher who has advocated for the forgiveness of sins and showing mercy to sinners.
Jesus, how do you get out of this catch 22? Notice that he does not engage the angry violent emotion. This is a wise action for anyone in a heated situation. He is sitting in the temple area writing on the ground with His finger. He defuses the situation to a degree. He focuses on the dignity of the person, giving freedom to each individual to make a moral decision. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He does not go against the law since he encourages them…Go ahead since the Law of Moses prescribes the stoning of a person guilty of adultery. He appeals to a stronger law that is prescribed upon the heart of each person of integrity. It is the law of the heart which is the Law of mercy.
At the end of the encounter, only two people are left – the woman in her misery and the man who is sinless and is the only one according to his question who has the right to stone her. He has a pure heart that goes out to her with what a heart is supposed to contain and share: LOVE. Let’s consider these two remaining people: the nameless woman embodies misery and she still might be fearing what Jesus alone will do to her after they are left alone. And the man Jesus who embodies love that comes from a pure heart. In Latin, “misery” is MISERIA and in Latin, “heart” is COR. When a pure heart comes together with misery, there exists a new and glorious reality which is MISERICORDIA in Latin or MERCY in English.
God does not wish that a sinner should die but should turn back to him and live.
The adulterous woman represents everyone and is she crushed by the Powers of death that express oppression of men against women. Pharisees of every time put sin at the center of their relationship with God. This is the tragedy of religious fundamentalism. What is always needed is wisdom that comes from the heart.
The Lord does not support hypocrites, those who go around in masks, those who have duplicitous hearts, and He does not support accusers and judges.
The genius of Christianity is the embrace of God and man. They are no longer opposed to one another. Matter and spirit embrace. The sickness that Jesus fears and fights against even more is the heart of stone, that of hypocrites. To violate a body, whether guilty or innocent, with stones or with power, is the denial of God who is living in each person. That is why we are opposed to the death penalty.
The scribes and Pharisees who judge the adulterous woman and condemn her to death are hypocrites because they have thrown a Boomerang, according to Fr. Ronchi. You know what a boomerang is? From Australia, it is a curved stick that when thrown comes back at the one who threw it. Not one of the scribes and Pharisees can throw a stone, because in doing so, they would end up flinging it against themselves.
Where there is Mercy-wrote Saint Ambrose-there is God; wherever there is rigidity and severity, perhaps there are ministers of God but God is not there. Jesus gets up before the adulterous woman, as if He were getting up in front of an important person who was waiting. He gets up to put himself closer to her and he speaks to her. No one had spoken to her before. “Her story, her intimate torment was of no interest to them.” Jesus grasps the intimacy of her soul. She is fragile and fragility is the teacher of humanity. Jesus is not interested in remorse but in sincerity of heart. His forgiveness is without conditions. Jesus puts himself in place of all those who are condemned, of all who are sinners. He breaks apart the evil chain linked to the idea of a God that condemns and is vindictive, justifying violence.
Jesus brings forth a radical revolution upsetting the traditional order with a judging and punishing God on top of everything. A naked god on the cross, who forgives, is the shocking ending of today’s story.
• Go and from now on sin no more. The words are enough to change a life. That which is behind you no longer matters. It is the future that counts. The possible good tomorrow counts more than yesterday’s evil. Forgiveness puts a person on the path of life. Forgiveness frees us from the slavery of the past. So many people live “as if they were under an interior life sentence, crushed by their sense of wrong caused by past mistakes. But Jesus opens the doors of our prisons. Jesus knows that man does not equal his sins. The Lord is not interested in the past. He is a God of the future. The words of Jesus and his gestures break apart the framework of good and bad, guilty and innocent.

Dr. A.J. Cronin was a great Christian physician in England. One night he assigned a young nurse to a little boy who had been brought to the hospital suffering from diphtheria, and given only a slight chance to live. A tube was inserted into the boy’s throat to help him breathe. It was the nurse’s job periodically to clean out the tube. As the nurse sat beside the boy’s bed, she accidentally dozed off. She awakened to find that the tube had become blocked. Instead of following instructions, she was immobilized by panic. Hysterically she called the doctor at his home. By the time he got to the boy, he was dead. Dr. Cronin was angry beyond all telling. That night Dr. Cronin went to his office and wrote his recommendation to the board demanding the immediate expulsion of the nurse. He called her in and read it, his voice trembling with anger. She stood there in pitiful silence, a tall, thin, gawky Welsh girl. She nearly fainted with shame and remorse. “Well,” asked Dr. Cronin in a harsh voice, “have you nothing to say for yourself?” There was more silence. Then she uttered this pitiful plea, “…please give me another chance.” Dr. Cronin sent her away. But he could not sleep that night. He kept hearing some words from the dark distance: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The next morning Dr. Cronin went to his desk and tore up the report. In the years that followed he watched as this slim, nervous girl became the head of a large hospital and one of the more honored nurses in England. Thank God for a second chance, and a third chance, and fourth chance! We need to hear it said to us: Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven. This happens every time we leave the sacrament of confession. Do you need to encounter God’s forgiveness?
[Go out in front of altar with a stone.]
Who is it that you are ready to throw stones at in judgment of their wrongdoing? Who is it whom you never want to see again? A politician? A spouse? A family member? A boss? Here it is. Come and take it…Let the one among you without sin be the first to throw a stone.
[Drop the stone. THUD!]

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