The Deaf and Spiritually Deaf

As we get older we expect our hearing to diminish – and the experts tell us it starts happening earlier than we think.  When I was teaching high school students, cell phones got smaller and more convenient for students to bring into the classroom and one would occasionally go off in class.  As schools started framing policies that didn’t allow them in the classroom, one of the ways that students got around this was to set the ring-tone to a very high-pitched sound that literally can’t be heard by those over 28.  Since most high school teachers were over 28, the students could secretly text and communicate with each other without the teacher knowing.

If you stop to think about it, speaking and hearing are critical for our learning, communicating and enjoyment of the world.  Most of us take it for granted.  We use our voice to soothe and comfort a fussy baby, cry sounds of alarm when danger is present and to speak words of love, caring and compassion, or of outrage and injustice.  The spoken word is powerful, and made even more so by our tone and inflection.  Being able to hear music, laughter, nature and loved ones greatly enriches our lives.

Now stop and think what it would be like to not hear – ever.  How would you be able to communicate?  How could you speak if you’d never heard how a word is pronounced?  How would you know if you were even saying it correctly if you couldn’t hear yourself say it?  How could you express and get others to understand what you need or want?  How could you learn, especially the more complicated concepts that are not easy to demonstrate visually through the use of gestures?  Today, thank God, we have hearing aids and cochlear implants that help many of the deaf to hear.  We’ve also developed sign-language, but it is not a language that everyone knows.  Most of the deaf are also taught to read lips, and so with this ability and their hearing aids, others oftentimes do not initially realize that they are deaf.  Take off the hearing aid or cochlear and they go back to total silence – they can’t even hear themselves!  Watch the video below to see the reaction of one young woman who was born deaf and is hearing with the aid of a cochlear implant:

These weren’t available in Jesus’ day, and so the plight of the deaf was one of misery and solitude.   In the gospel of Mark, the author relays the story of people who bring a deaf man to Jesus and request his healing.  Jesus performs a physical ritual and heals the man (Mark 7: 32-35).  We take so many of these Gospel stories for granted because Jesus healed so many different ailments, but in reality, they were extraordinary!  With all of our scientific knowledge, surgeries and pills, we cannot cure the deaf; we can only give them technical advancements that assist or bypass the natural deficiency.  Jesus HEALED and CURED.  This was not lost on the Jews who were expecting the Messiah, who in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing.”  (Is 35: 5-6)  The crowd’s response echoes their understanding that Jesus’ actions have made God’s kingdom present – the kingdom that the Messiah was to usher in.  You and I know that Jesus is the Messiah – but the Jews of Jesus’ day were trying to figure Him out.  His miracles proved WHO He is.

If you’ve ever known and loved someone who is deaf, you know the heartache that comes with the diagnosis.  You know the depths that you go to to help this child live in a hearing world.  The challenges are immense and the extra work and expenses that are involved are worth it if it helps this child live a more normal life.

Physical realities often point to spiritual realities as well.  While physical deafness is a challenge and heartache for the individuals and families it affects, the greater threat to our eternal destiny is spiritual deafness.  The conditions of our physical life make it much harder to “hear” God speaking to us and so we must use the devices that help us to hear Him and develop what I like to call “the ears of our hearts.”  Children seem to have a natural affinity for the spiritual, but if spirituality is not encouraged and nurtured, then we go spiritually deaf.  In our culture, this seems to happen at a fairly early age because we get caught up in wanting the “things” of this world – the next new toy, fashion, popularity and being like others and accepted by them.

In order to truly hear God in our lives, we all must “put on the ears of our hearts” in the same way that a deaf person puts on their “ears” – their hearing aid or cochlear implant receptor.  The devices that help us hear God are the Scriptures, attending Mass and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, Church documents and papal encyclicals, stories of the lives of the saints, reading about spiritual matters (whether in books or blogs; I personally like http://www.newadvent.org for the collection of blogs they link to) and prayer.  Prayer itself is powerful, but it cannot be a monologue.  When we pray, we need to also be silent and listen for the urgings and promptings of the Holy Spirit.  We need to be open to His direction and the truths He is unveiling.

For we Christians, the fruit of our spiritual hearing is demonstrated in how we live out our faith.  Since our life’s ultimate goal is to go to heaven, are we living the lives of love that Jesus is calling us to, or are we only concerned with ourselves, our families, our wealth or lack of it, or our place in this world?   Are we spending a fair amount of time in prayer so that we can hear where the Holy Spirit is leading us?  Do we respond with our time, our talent and our treasure to the needs of the community around us?  If we can’t “hear” the Holy Spirit and we don’t learn the lessons of the Gospel, we will find that being spiritually deaf also leads to misery and solitude – in this life and the next.

Remember you life is a gift to be used for the glory of God!

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The Mustard Seed and Faith

The farmers in Jesus’ day did not use some of the methods that we Westerners think are necessary for growing crops.  Their methods were different from ours and some would seem a little strange to us.  In general, they did not use irrigation methods but relied on the rains that God sent them. 

Plowing in Nazareth

The farmer would till and plow the soil to get it ready to receive the seed, but they didn’t create nice neat rows – they were more interested in breaking up the soil.  The farmer would then carry the seed in a basket or pouch that was attached to their waist.  Taking a handful of seed, he would throw or scatter the seed with a sweeping motion of the hand and arm, allowing the seeds to fall on the prepared soil.

Sowing seed in Jesus' time

He would then plow the field again, often by dragging branches or logs behind a team of oxen, to cover the seed over with soil.  Occasionally the farmer would go out to weed his field, but for the most part, he let nature take its course and he would return at harvest time.

It is with these methods as His frame of reference that Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of God, using the tiniest of seeds – the mustard seed.

A mustard seed

  By now, most of us have seen a mustard seed and know how truly small it is.  We can see how His kingdom and Church started out small in the land of Palestine and grew to a world-wide Church – a universal Church.

Yet, Jesus wasn’t just using this as an analogy for His Church.  He was also using it to teach us that this is the way that our faith and discipleship can grow within each individual as well.  God gives us grace and the sacraments to foster that faith.  We can start out small, but with each baby step we grow and become more like Christ.  The more we trust Him and nurture our spiritual growth through prayer, reception of the sacraments and learning more about our faith, the stronger it gets.  It helps us to turn away from selfishness and reach out in service to our neighbors and community.  This involvement with something that is larger than ourselves helps us understand life and love in a different way, and gives meaning and shape to our lives and faith.  These are the “fruits” of faith and discipleship that we share with others.

We find that the more we give up holding onto our selfishness, possessions and egos and start using the gifts that God gave us – our time, our personal skills, talents and abilities and our financial resources – to help others and spread the faith, God will not be outdone in generosity!  Blessings come our way with a true abiding sense of God’s presence and love for us.  Like the mustard seed grew into the largest of plants, when we cooperate with His grace and die to self, the fuller we become with God’s blessings and true peace of heart.

The mustard seed plant

Remember your life is a gift to be used for the glory of God!

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Just Say No to School on Good Friday!

When I was a child and adolescent, my saintly mother refused to let us watch television, talk or go anywhere on Good Friday, especially between the hours of noon and three o’clock.  We were to spend this time meditating on Jesus’ passion and death, and we attended all the Good Friday services at Church.  Silence was the operative word, along with offering all of this to Jesus and uniting it with His suffering for the conversion of sinners and the poor souls in Purgatory.  We attended Catholic school and we were always home on Good Friday, but back then, even the public schools started their Easter vacation on Good Friday too.  It was normal that no school was in session on Good Friday.  I continued this with my own children, who also attended Catholic elementary and high schools.

There were times, especially in high school, where I greatly resented my mother for this.  A lot of my friends’ parents didn’t make them be silent and reflect, and so they would invite me to the beach or other fun outings, and I would have to turn them down so that I could stay home and meditate.   Eventually, I appreciated my mother for her quiet witness and strong devotion which shaped and contributed to my own faith.  I know my own children resented me for this as well, even though I prayed that they would eventually understand and value the sacrifice that Jesus made for us and how our actions on this day reinforce our gratitude and witness to our understanding of the significance of His sacrifice.  I hope they now appreciate this witness and will continue it with their own children.

Over the last several decades, the public school system has gone to great lengths to separate out their holiday schedules and not talk about them in religious terms.  They now have their “winter break” at Christmas time, and “spring break” falls somewhere in the middle of the semester, and it usually doesn’t correlate at all with Holy Week or Easter.  Even Catholic colleges have gone to this system.  Therefore, it is very common for colleges and public school s to have class on Good Friday.   Several years back, one of our local high schools even scheduled their prom on Good Friday!

This secularization and making Good Friday seem like any other Friday of year has deplorably diminished our society, our Church, and our faith, in my opinion.  It seems that as a Church and a culture, we have tragically lost the understanding of the gravity and significance of this day.
In talking with a friend of mine earlier, she was lamenting that her high school son has a golf tournament on Good Friday, and his coach will retaliate (generally with not letting him compete for several games) if he doesn’t show up, even for religious reasons.  My friend hated to think that her son should be denied the ability to play his sport because he also wanted to practice his religion.  I have to agree – it is a shame.  It is also illegal!

Many Catholics (Christians, too) don’t realize that they can keep their child out of school for religious reasons, and it will not be counted as an absence if the parental note indicates that!  We have the right to practice our religion – and it should be without retaliation!

Therefore, I urge all Catholic and Christian parents to keep their children home from school this Friday!  Let’s make a statement that our faith is important to us, and Good Friday is one of the most important days in our Catholic life!  If ALL Christians did this, the schools would get the message and eventually not schedule school on this day because they’d lose too much money from non-attendance.  This is what really happened in many school districts across the country at Thanksgiving – too many children didn’t come that week because of the distances that they were traveling.  Because the schools are compensated on attendance, and they lost money because so many children were absent, many of them decided to not have any classes Thanksgiving week.  This same thing can happen for Good Friday if enough Christians hold tight to their convictions and don’t send their children to school on that day.  When schools are flooded with absence notes denoting religious reasons, believe me, they’ll get the message.  It may take a few years, but that’s okay if we all stay strong and united!

My friend is debating whether or not to send her son to school and his golf tournament this Friday.  I hope she doesn’t and that she and her son are brave enough to be witnesses to something greater – faith, suffering, possible persecution for the faith and the love that Jesus had for all of us!  What will you do this Friday?  Will you be a brave witness and “just say no” to school on Good Friday?

Remember, your life is a gift for the glory of God!

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That You May Believe

If we read the Gospel of John closely, we find that Jesus was informed about the seriousness of Lazarus’ condition and could have gone and cured him before the man died.  Jesus, instead, stayed where he was for two more days.  In our way of thinking, we have to ask “why?”  Why would Jesus intentionally not go to his friend right away?  Jesus answers this a little later, telling the disciples, “I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.”  (Jn 11:15)  Jesus not only wanted His disciples to believe that He was the promised Messiah and the Son of God, but all of the Israelites as well.  He says as much in His prayer to the Father before He calls Lazarus out of the tomb – Jesus wanted the whole crowd to believe that the Father sent Him.  This illness and miracle were “for the glory of God, and that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (Jn 11:4)

How was this miracle any different from when Jesus raised others from the dead?  After all, we have several accounts of Jesus bringing others back to life once they had died – i.e. Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son.  John’s Gospel tells us that Lazarus had been dead for four days, which actually is a very important detail, because the Jews believed that the soul would remain in the vicinity of its body for up to three days.  Since he had been dead for four, even the skeptical rabbinic authorities would have said that the soul would have passed on and decay would have definitely set in.  There also would be no mistake that Lazarus was only in a coma, but in fact, had come back from death.

Many came to believe in Jesus after this miracle.  They even went and told the Pharisees and chief priests that the Messiah was in their midst, and that they too, should believe in Jesus.  This was a normal and logical conclusion – if you are convinced that God’s promise is being fulfilled in your midst, don’t you want everyone to believe with you and celebrate God’s goodness and mercy, especially your religious leaders?  These men, especially, should have been overjoyed since they were the learned leaders of the people and their intermediaries with God.  Unfortunately, we know that this miracle made them even more determined to destroy Jesus because they felt their own power and prestige was threatened, and they could not lose their control and positions of influence.

Experts tell us that when we read the Scriptures, we should try to imagine ourselves in the story.  This is an interesting one to do that with because there are so many different emotions and points of view to consider.  One angle that I have been meditating about this Lent, and encourage you to think about too, is “how I am like those religious leaders?”  I think because we are all believers, we gravitate to those who believed in Jesus and can’t totally understand the vile hatred that seemed to come from those who “should have known” because of all their education and training.  We often ask ourselves how they could have been so blind to the signs and wonders that Jesus performed around them.  Meditating on these leaders and asking the Holy Spirit to help us understand their unbelief can often open up discoveries of the ways that we, sometimes even unconsciously, fall into the same traps that they did.  It can be unsettling, and yet it can also help us break through some of resistance and blindness that we may have in our own spiritual lives.

There isn’t much more left to Lent of 2012 – in two short weeks it will be Easter!  Make the most of the time remaining to become closer to the Son of God, the sacrificial Lamb who died for our sins.  Go to confession and/or attend one of the parish penance services in your area. Let Jesus heal you!

Remember, your life is a gift to be used for the glory of God!

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Living Faith Saves Us

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” (Eph 2: 8)  With these words, St. Paul tells us that our salvation is a gift of God and one that we cannot achieve through our own works alone.  This is true, and a fundamental Catholic belief.  With the sin of our first parents, the gates of heaven were closed to all humans.  Until Jesus’ death on the cross, no soul entered heaven and into union with God.  It is only in and through the blood of the Lamb that we have been saved.  This is why Jesus is called our Savior, for His blood paid the price for our admission into heaven, thus saving us from eternal damnation.

When we think about this and look at all the people who lived before the death of Jesus, it’s amazing to think that none of those good people went to heaven when they died!  The Old Testament is full of holy people who should have gone to heaven – Abel, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Jeremiah, Daniel, Esther and Ruth – but none did until Jesus died on the cross and opened the gates of heaven.  Jesus referred to the place of their waiting as “the bosom of Abraham” in his parable about the beggar Lazarus.  In the Catholic Church, it was often referred to as “Limbo.”

So why do so many of our Protestant brothers and sisters think that Catholic belief is that we have to “work” for our salvation?  There is even some confusion among Catholics when confronted by their Protestant friends.  Part of the answer comes from the reality of “Free Will.”  God gives the grace of faith to everyone, for He does not desire anyone’s eternal destruction.  As we read in St. Paul’s epistle, it is a gift – and one that we can choose to accept or deny.  When we are baptized, this baptism confirms our acceptance of this gift.

From the time of our baptism, then, we are working to follow God and His commands and learning to love Him on ever deeper levels.  This takes conscious, free will effort on a moment-by-moment basis.  In his epistle, St. James asks, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?…faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2: 14-17)  St. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians tells us, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in faith.  Test yourselves…we pray to God that you may not do evil…” (2Cor 13: 5-7)  Basically, these two apostles are telling us that we must live our faith – our works witness to our faith so that God may be glorified.  On the other hand, if we say we are a Christian and our actions do not attest to that faith, then we are hypocrites and our faith is really non-existent – the two go hand-in-hand.

In Catholic teaching, the development of virtues, virtuous and charitable living and our prayer life help deepen our faith.  The deeper our faith and the truer we are in living it, the better our place will be in heaven.  Jesus told us that there are many “mansions” in heaven – leaving us to believe that the more virtuous (holier) will be closer to the throne of God.  Even the apostles understood this when a couple of them asked to be seated at Jesus’ right hand.  So Catholic teaching says that it is faith that saves us, but it is works that prove that faith and determine our place in heaven.

Remember, your life is a gift to be used for the glory of God!

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How to Boil A Frog to Death…As Well as a Culture

As a former high school teacher of moral theology, I often asked students if they knew how they could boil a live frog to death.  Frogs are cold-blooded animals (humans are warm-blooded), and so their bodies adapt to the environment around them.  If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog will jump out.  If, however, you throw a frog into a pot of cool water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will sit happily in the pot and get boiled to death.  So, what you may ask, does this have to do with moral theology?

The Church has always taught that we need to be very careful with what we expose our senses and mind to.  Like the frogs, if we see/hear, etc. something that is out of the ordinary (fill in the blank with gruesome, perverted, obscene, etc.), then we will automatically recoil in horror.  However, when these things are introduced slowly over time, then we become conditioned to them little by little, much like the frog that started out in the cool water.  We start to rationalize that it isn’t so bad, wrong, perverted, obscene or gruesome and we become conditioned to it and it becomes normative.

The problem is that these things should make us recoil in horror!  We are children of God through our baptism and we have been made for a higher purpose – namely union with God.  As St. Paul stated in his letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 6: 19-20), our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” and we “have been purchased at a price” (with the blood of Jesus).

Most of us would (and should) recoil in horror if someone started playing a porno movie in church.  We intuitively know that this would be a sacrilege because it is disrespectful to the holy.  What St. Paul was saying, though, is that YOU are just like that church (that’s what is meant by “temple of the Holy Spirit”) – and so if (and when) you engage in these types of unholy actions, it is as bad as if you were to do this kind of thing in church!  Most of us don’t think this way, but this is the basic message that St. Paul was trying to get across!

A good rule of thumb, then, is to ask yourself if someone you highly respect because of their morals, character and holiness (maybe your grandmother or a holy nun) were to find out some of the things you do, see or hear, would they be proud of you?  Or would they be disappointed and counsel you in another direction?  Would you be willing to watch that movie, play that game or leaf through that magazine with them, or show them your phone or computer screen?  If not, then it’s a pretty good indication that you probably shouldn’t be doing it either!  H. Jackson Brown, Jr. said, “Our character is defined by what we choose to do when we think no one is looking.”

St. Paul counseled that “…whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him.  Avoid immorality.” (1Cor 6: 17-18)  We have been joined to the Lord through our baptism and so we are one Spirit with him!  We should do our best to avoid immoral things and do right.  As difficult as it can be, it is the only path to holiness.

Remember, your life is a gift to be used for the glory of God!

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Jonah in the Belly of the Whale

When most people hear the name “Jonah” from the Old Testament, they usually flash to the image of him in the belly of the big fish (or whale), and don’t really remember how or why he got there.  However, the how and the why are critical to understanding the deeper meaning of the story and the implications for our own journeys.

Jonah was a prophet in his native Israel.  The word of God came to Jonah and commissioned him to go to Israel’s arch-enemy, the Ninevites, and “preach against their wickedness.”  Jonah didn’t want to; he wanted them to be destroyed by God and so he fled to Tarshish on a ship.  God had other plans though, and sent a violent storm that nearly sank the ship.  In the process, Jonah landed in the ocean and was swallowed up by the huge fish so that he would not drown.  For three days Jonah prayed for deliverance and was ultimately deposited on the shores of Nineveh.  Once there, he grudgingly did as the Lord asked and was surprised at the depth and extent of their repentance.  Because of it, God spared the city the destruction He had promised.  This, however, made Jonah angry since he wanted the “enemy” destroyed.

In attempting to apply the story to our own lives, there are several parallels that we can draw and a number of questions that we can ask ourselves.  One of the first to strike me was that Jonah was a prophet; he heard God and had the special calling of being an “interpreter and mouthpiece of God.”  Yet, when God wanted to show mercy to Jonah’s enemy, Jonah rebelled and ran away.  Even “good and holy people” can refuse to do God’s will, and so we need to be careful of our own motives and logic when we don’t follow God’s commands.  We need to be aware of when we are actually “running away” from God, rather than towards Him.

Another message of the story is that it is very ”human” to want harm to come to our enemies, and if it does we somehow feel vindicated, but if it doesn’t we are really angry with God.  Even if they should repent, we tend to hang on to the hatred, be vindictive and despise them.  While this is human nature, it is that part of our nature that we have been asked to crucify to the cross with Christ so that we can love and forgive with His Love.

The big moral of this story is God’s mercy.  How often we want and expect God to be merciful to us, but we don’t want it for those we despise.  We fear God’s punishment, and rightfully so, but often forget that those punishments are meant to move us in the direction of repentance, forgiveness and right and good action.  When we experience God’s mercy, we may also come to realize our own faults and failings, and therefore, we can be more merciful with others.  God is calling each of us to His Love and Mercy, and then to extend it to others.  The question we each have to ask ourselves is, “Am I running toward or away from God’s call?”   Lent is the time to take an honest look at our selves and take corrective action so that we truly follow Christ and His will for our lives.  Which direction are you running in?

Remember, your life is a gift to be used for the glory of God!

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Jesus Taught As One Having Authority

In the Gospel of Mark, he tells us that when Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, “he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” (Mk 1:21-23)  Since Jesus was God, we know He had the authority to teach the way He did, but to the Jews of Jesus’ day, they didn’t know He was God and so His teaching surprised them.  For the Jews, the Torah (the first five books of what we call the Old Testament) was very strict as to who could teach and make judgments about the law.  Not just any person could officially teach or interpret the Scriptures – these tasks were given only to the priests or to the official judges in office.  In Deuteronomy 17: 11-12 it states, “You shall carry out the directions they give you and the verdict they pronounce for you, without turning aside…Any man who has the insolence to refuse to listen to the priest who officiates there in the ministry of the Lord, Your God, or to the judge, shall die.”

In the Gospel, Mark then follows immediately with the account of the man who was possessed and cries out to Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?…”  This general terminology of “what have you/what does this have to do with us/me” was actually a common Hebrew and Greek idiom at the time that conveyed respect, deference and authority to the one it was addressed to.  If you recall, Jesus used this type of phrase at the marriage feast of Cana when Mary asked Him to help the couple who had run out of wine.  At Cana, Jesus deferred to Mary’s request; here in the synagogue, the demons obey Jesus’ command to come out of the man.

Had the situation with the unclean spirit not happened, the Jews would have discredited Jesus’ teaching that day in the synagogue because He was not an official priest or a judge, nor did He have any formal training under a learned rabbi or scholar of the Scriptures.  They would have judged Him to be out of His place, and insolent and arrogant.

As we read in Deuteronomy 18: 15-20, God raised up certain men among the Hebrews and put His words into their mouths.  These men were known as prophets, and Deuteronomy affirmed their authority and judgment.  “Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”  When Jesus drove the demon out of the man, He did something that not even the priests and judges were able to do.  They rightly assessed that demons will only obey God Himself, and therefore Jesus was acting with God’s power, like the prophets.  This gave Jesus the authority to teach as He did, and the obligation to be listened to.

We know Jesus is more than a prophet – He is the eternal High Priest and King.  Sometimes, like with anyone we’re close to, we take Him for granted and downplay His importance.  As with a loved one though, once we realize it, we should change our attitude and actions.  How can you stop taking Jesus for granted and make Him more important in your life and the life of your family?  What “demons” can He help you drive out so you can be more closely joined to Him?

Remember, your life is a gift to be used for the glory of God!

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The Epiphany of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.  When one looks in the dictionary as to what the word epiphany means, we find that it means an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity.  However, it can also mean an intuitive perception or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something.  This insight is usually initiated by some simple or commonplace occurrence or experience, but not always.

In reflecting on today’s readings, several “epiphanies” can be discerned.  The first is in the letter to the Ephesians (3: 2-6), where St. Paul tells us that God revealed His mysteries to him for the benefit of others – the Church.  We’ve all read about Jesus appearing to Saul (or Paul) on his way back to Damascus after persecuting the early Church in Jerusalem.  This “epiphany” converted Saul to the faith, and after his conversion, Paul worked tirelessly in spreading the good news about Jesus, the Messiah.  He is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and much of the spread of Christianity among the pagans (and many of our forefathers) is due to Paul’s preaching.

The next epiphany is in Matthew’s Gospel, when the magi noted the appearance of a new star in the night sky and realized that it was not a common star, but one that signified the birth of a king.  They followed that star, risking their lives and their fortunes to do so, on a long and arduous journey.  They were ultimately rewarded for following their perceptions and insights when they were able to see that king, Jesus, face to face.  They further followed God’s will by obeying the warning in the dream (another type of epiphany) to not let King Herod know about the child and returned to their own country by another route.

Surprising as it may seem, King Herod also had an epiphany.  He had noble strangers come to him wanting to honor the newborn king of the Jews, who assumed that it must be Herod’s son.  The chief priests and the scribes confirmed the accuracy of the prophesies, and instead of acting in a noble way, Herod was threatened and sought the death of the child.  Matthew’s Gospel tells us (2: 16-18) that he ordered the massacre of all the boys who were two and under, not just in Bethlehem, but in the surrounding vicinity because he did not know which child threatened his throne.  Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem, which was one of the most populated areas because of the Temple, and there were many “suburbs” around it.  How far the killings extended we don’t really know, but these Holy Innocents and their families were the victims of a tyrant’s insecurities and lack of faith.

As we reflect on these different responses, we can see some patterns emerge.  First, God graces us with an “epiphany” to increase our personal faith, but He also wants us to share that faith with others.  It’s not “just for me!”  Next, acting on that epiphany involves risk and rejection.  When it is accepted and acted on, it also brings inexplicable joy and further manifestations of God’s grace.  Finally, if it is not received in faith and humility, it can lead to the destruction and ruin of many souls.

Remember, your life is a gift to be used for the glory of God!

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Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Happy New Year!  Have you ever noticed that the Church starts every January with the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God?  It is the Church’s way of honoring Mary’s unique contribution to salvation history because of her exclusive role as the woman who gave birth to the Redeemer of the World.  Mary is like no other woman in the whole history of humankind, and there will never be another like her!  She is the greatest saint because of her unfailing commitment and obedience to God, her sinless life and her great holiness.

So many of our Protestant brothers and sisters, however, downplay Mary’s importance in salvation history, saying that she was just like every other woman and was no better or worse.  Many condemn Catholics for their devotion to her – often confusing this devotion with worship.  Unfortunately, many Catholics don’t fully understand Catholic teaching about Mary either, but love her none-the-less.

One of the keys to understanding Catholic devotion to Mary is understanding the Christian’s status as a child of God.  This status depends on our sharing in the household and family of Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary!  For the Jews, they enter into the family of God through circumcision – the sign of the covenant with God on the foreskin of the male.  Since the male in ancient and orthodox Jewish homes is the head of the family, females in his household are brought into the family through him.   Christians, however, enter into the family of God through our baptism, where we become adopted sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.  Sacramental baptism, then, replaces the Jewish ritual of circumcision.  It is through this baptism that we become a child of God and a part of His family.

The early Fathers of the Church noted that according to Genesis 3:20, Eve is the mother of all the living.  Mary, as the mother of the Savior, is the New Eve and is the mother to all who have new life in baptism!  By nature and definition, mothers are relational – they are considered mothers only in relationship to their children.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, children are to honor their parents and so you can’t properly belong to a family without honoring your mother.  Furthermore, good mothers play an indispensable role in their children’s growth in holiness.  What is true of individual families is also true in the family of God, but to an even greater degree, and so Catholics honor their mother in a way that no other woman can be honored!

Mary is concerned with all of her children’s holiness.  Her whole mission, which continues until the end of time, is to bring Jesus to the world.  As her children, she wants all of us to love and follow her “first-born son.”  As we start our new year, let us all rededicate ourselves to growing in all our familial relationships, but especially with Jesus our brother, and Mary our mother. 

Remember, your life is a gift to be used for the glory of God!

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