We live in very uncertain times. Where are we going as a world, as a nation, as a church? Our political environment at this time is very charged, to say the least. The debates about the direction of our country have, at times, been fierce, even to the point of incivility.
There was a popular movie released several years ago called Finding Nemo. One scene in it was when Nemo, a young clown fish, ends up in someone’s aquarium. As the “new fish on the block,” he had to prove himself worthy of living in the tank with the other community of fishes. To do so, during his first night, he was awakened by the other fishes and told that he had to go through the ritual that would initiate him into the group. This ritual required him to have the strength and courage to pass through a difficult part of the tank that had a strong current and forceful air bubbles. Determined to be a member of the group, he collected himself, thrust himself forward, went through the strong waters, and successfully passed the test.
Whatever else the feast of the Epiphany may be, whatever role it plays in the life of Jesus, and whatever place of honor it holds in the calendar of the Church, every child knows its true meaning: Christmas vacation is over, and school is back. As a kid, just hearing the word “epiphany” used to make my stomach scrunch and my pulse jump, as I felt the primal nausea shared by all students when, after a long and happy break, school once again closed its claws and snatched us away from our sleds and snowballs and, more importantly, our televisions.
Christmas is a time for families to be together. We have our Christmas dinner together; exchange gifts; we come here to church to celebrate the Eucharist; we visit our friends and relatives – the list is endless. We thank God for our families; they are God’s gifts to us.
In some of your homes under your Christmas tree, you might find one example of the recent spate of novels and biographies that seek to examine the founding fathers of our nation. It all started with the biography of John Adams and has created a cottage industry of research authors. You can now find out everything you wanted to know about Ben Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. These are the names of the men we think of whenever we see the tableaux of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The year 1809 was a part of a period of history not greatly different from our own time. Military might was the dominant theme of the day. Napoleon and his armies held the upper hand and seemed destined to rule the world. Battles and victories made newspaper headlines. And most people thought that these were the truly important events of the day. This was naturally so because the armies were enormous and the battles were cataclysmic. This size and intensity fooled the world.
This Friday, December 21, 2018 at 5:23 p.m. EST, the winter solstice occurs. This is the day we have the shortest amount of sunlight and the most amount of darkness for the year. It also marks the beginning of the day to lengthen. In a poetic sense, it marks the conquest of light over darkness, the victory of good over evil, of life over death. It promises that beyond the cold of winter there will be another spring. It invites us to be people of hope, patience, and trust. It invites us to be encouraged in spite of and in the midst of everything that would rob us of hopes, dreams and the faith and the promise that all things are possible with God.
Our Gospel for today begins with a litany of names and titles. Homilists do not like lists! Proclaiming these tongue-twisting names seems unnecessary and an awkward preface to the meat of the passage. Perhaps Luke was a history buff, but is it important to anyone else? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” Luke, by setting the preparation for the advent of Jesus Christ in the context of world history and the universal purpose of God, says that the gospel belongs to all people. The gospel is for the world. This is God’s gift to God’s creation.
I have grown accustomed to waiting, which is not to say that I gladly welcome it in any sense. When I take my mom to her doctor’s appointment, visit the post office, drop off my car, or go shopping, I expect that it will take time. I am prepared; I read, play Words With Friends on my phone, or answer texts and emails.
We celebrate today the Feast of Christ the King, as the Church concludes the liturgical cycle and begins again with Advent next week. Even though we are celebrating, the readings of this Sunday offer plenty of opportunity to reflect on the more serious aspects of life. As we enjoy this Thanksgiving weekend with the familiar comfort of family, friends, food and football, we should remember to include those much less fortunate than ourselves in our thoughts and prayers.
In this day and age of mistrust in the Church, the priesthood, bishops, and even Pope Francis, in light of the recent sex abuse scandals, it is crucial for us Christians to keep up our faith, hope and love for God, also expressed in our love for our neighbors. I have heard of the saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And that main thing is our relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. Why do we need to keep up this relationship with our Lord? Because God loves us very much, even despite our sins. Like any reciprocal relationship, we honor God and give thanks to him for the countless gifts and blessings we receive.
Today’s responsorial Psalm invites us to “Praise the Lord, my soul!” And the first verse of the psalm tells us the reason for this joyous praise. It is because “the Lord keeps faith forever.” “The Lord keeps faith forever.” That’s an interesting thought – an unusual approach todescribing God’s relationship with us. Life often presents the challenge of reflecting on our faith in God.
The Responsorial Psalm for this Sunday’s readings reminds us all of the great and wonderful things that God has done for us and continues to do for us. Our response to the Lord’s works is to be a stance of joy! The first reading today from the book of the prophet Jeremiah and our Gospel reading from Mark point to the restoration and healing that God brings to us.
It seems easy to judge and target James and John, as well as the other apostles upset at them, for they all wanted the same thing: to stand out and be “on top” with a sense of success and superiority. After all, hadn’t they learned anything about discipleship and self-giving? Jesus journeyed at length with them and had just told them for the third time that in his mission, he was going up to Jerusalem where he would suffer, die and be raised on the third day. But the apostles never seemed to get it! Their energy was taken up-as it can be for any of us-in the business of comparison and climbing.
What do you think God is asking of you today? What are you willing to give to God? Are there limits to your response? Can you name them? In what ways do you hold back, ignore, or even say no? Why?
It was natural that Jewish mothers should wish their children to be blessed by a great and distinguished Rabbi. Especially, they brought their children to such a person on their first birthday. It was in this way that they brought the children to Jesus on this day.
“Would that All the People of the Lord were Prophets!” “Would that the Lord might bestow His Spirit on them All!” “Whoever is not against Us, is for Us!” These are quotes from Moses and Jesus that we hear in our readings today, and they are very powerful! They are also very applicable to our current times in the Church and the World. I am always amazed at how things said and written so many centuries ago have a message for us today! But, I believe that they do!
What is it with us human beings? What makes us tick? Why do we act the way we do? Why is it, for instance, that when we come across a truly good and holy person, we’re often fearful of that person? We may be attracted to such a person, but then we also are fearful of that person at the same time – feeling odd or uncomfortable in that person’s presence. Rather than rejoicing in that person’s goodness, why is it we often look upon his existence as a personal affront? Is it because that person’s goodness functions for us something like an external conscience? Or perhaps we see in that person what we really want ourselves to be but are not? Remember how Tim Tebow was treated when he was drafted by an NFL team? Remember how he was ridiculed because of his faith?
One thing I really wish I was better at is remembering people’s names. There is nothing more important, in my opinion, than to call someone by their name. When we call someone by their name, it shows that we are in relationship with each other and that we matter to each other. The few times I have been fortunate enough to fly business class, I get a kick out of the flight attendants welcoming me and calling me Mr. McCarthy. I know it is their job to know my name but it does feel good to be called by name.
Having recently returned to the Gospel of St. Mark, after several weeks of hearing St. John’s discourse on the Eucharist, we discovered in last week’s Gospel that Jesus is attempting to open our minds and hearts both to what defiles us from within and also defines us as children of God. If we were to take last week’s Gospel at face value, we might find ourselves quite depressed over the listing of vices that can come forth from within each of us; vices that arequite prevalent in the very world that we live in.