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Monthly Archives: November 2020

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

November 29, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

Be watchful. Stay alert. This “at the ready” attitude proclaimed by Jesus at the end of his ministry in Mark’s Gospel is not an attitude marked by anxiety. Rather, if we go back to the beginning of Mark we remember how to watch as we listen to the first words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel.

“This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

Because the Kingdom of God is close enough to touch in Jesus, we enter into a hope-filled watching for how close he is to us now. Because history is fulfilled with the coming of the Son of God into time, we spend each day, each waking hour in a joy-filled alertness, knowing that he is still coming to us in mystery at this very minute.

Advent, located in-between the coming of the Son of God into the world as the Son of Mary and his return in glory, is a time to fine tune our Christian attitude of hope-filled alertness, of joyful watching for the millions of different ways he breaks into our world now.

The reason we do not recognize his mysterious comings into the world today is that sin shrouds our vision. All of us in one way or another have wandered away from the Lord. All of us have hardened our hearts toward the Lord or toward others.

That is why we are invited to repent in order to believe in the Good News of God’s presence among us in the coming of His Son. But wonder of wonders, mercy of mercies, the very recognition that we have wandered away from the Lord is his gift to us. The very “seeing” how we have turned to other things in our life and made them more important than our relationship with Him is a powerful way the Lord comes to us. For He comes as light in our darkness, so that the deeds done which have led us away from his side are brought into the light of his mercy.

Simultaneously, in the clear-sighted vision that we are sinners that we also see the Lord of the Mercy ever ready to welcome us home from our wandering ways. When we finally see how part of heart has hardened toward Him, it is already being softened by the waters of his merciful love.

When we acknowledge the ways we have held onto hurt toward others, allowed resentment to root deeply into our heart, it is He who is already at work, coming to set us free.

Sin is not the only thing that blinds us to the Lord’s Advent into our lives. Our expectations of how He will come also prevent us from seeing Him coming to us. We think that He has to come in power and might, that only if he rends the heavens and comes down will we see Him.

But when the heavens were opened 2000 years ago to angels singing praises at his birth, the only ones who noticed were the shepherds tending their sheep in the fields. Born in lowliness and humility, away from the limelight of Jerusalem, not in a palace but a place populated by animals, he comes into the world under the radar. And he keeps on doing so!

That is why we live to watch for his coming each day. That is why we are ever on the alert for the small and hidden ways where love is being born, because there the source of love is breaking into our world.

We notice the Lord of humble love coming into the world through parents who care for challenging adult children and through adult children caring for their aging parents.

We watch and see the Lord of healing and all hopefulness break into the world through doctors and nurses who risk their lives to care for COVID-19 patients.

We are alert to His Faithful Presence in the never-go-away love of a spouse for their ill partner, for in sickness and in health He is with us, never abandoning us.

And in all those seemingly small acts of caring for a neighbor— cutting and carting away their storm damaged tree limbs, bringing food on Thanksgiving Day, praying for them or for their loved one— the one who is Compassion in the flesh visits this world.

In the gathering of supplies for the homeless, in the transporting of those supplies to them, by being present to them and recognizing their God-given dignity— in all these ways of providing what is necessary we witness to the inbreaking of the God of all providential love providing what is needed.

As we are alert for an opportunity to be of service to others, even in the smallest of ways, the Lord Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for others, comes into the world through us.

As we daily remain attentive to how the Lord Jesus is coming into the world, his Father and ours does something wonderful with our lives. As we stay on the watch for the various visits of the Lord, our heavenly Father fashions something beautiful out of our lives.

For God is the potter, and we are the clay, the work of His hands. The God of hope-filled Isaiah, the God of persistent Paul, the God of the evangelist Mark, daily shaped and formed them into a more powerful reflection of His Son’s image.

We who are nourished on their hope-filled examples of faith, are also being molded by the divine potter, as he takes the clay of our lives and fashions us into something beyond what we make of our lives on our own power. For He is making us into the vessels by which His Son is born into the world today.

Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 22, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

We have reached the end of another liturgical year with this celebration of Christ as King of the Universe. This will be the last Sunday on which we will hear from the evangelist Matthew until we return to Matthew in our Church’s cycle of readings 2 years from now.

Matthew begins his Gospel with the angel announcing to Joseph in a dream that Mary will bear a son who he is to name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. The angel then reveals that the Son of Mary will fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, being born of a virgin and called “Emmanuel,” meaning “God-with-us” (Matthew 1: 18-23).

Matthew ends his Gospel with the Risen Jesus, before he ascends to the right hand of the Father in heaven, assuring his fearful disciples that he will be with them always, even until the end of the age (Mt. 28: 20). Emmanuel, God-with-us.

The Son of God, who became one with humankind forever as the Son of Mary, teaches us today how He is Emmanuel. By propelling us forward to our judgment day, he reveals how He is God-with-us in a very surprising way. Not in power and might, but in weakness and in great need. Not in success and glory, but in suffering and struggle. He says: Whatever you did to the least of my brothers (and we would add sisters today), you did to me. This is how the King of the Universe remains with us on earth, in the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the ill and those in prison.

With this powerful teaching, the Son of God shows us in no uncertain way that He does not approach us indirectly, but has abolished all distance between himself and his beloved creatures. In his person, Christ Jesus has abolished all distance between God and man, with the result that, in the manner in which we treat one another, so too are we treating not just one another but God himself.

This truth is conveyed in how one little preposition is translated in this judgment day passage. It is not enough to say, “as you did it for one of these least ones…you did for me” as we hear in our translation from the New American Bible. Rather, the more correct and literal translation from the original Greek, as found in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is “as you did it to one of these least ones…you did it to me.”

Now you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” Well, the word “to” abolishes all distance between the subject and the object, between the one doing the deed of mercy and the one receiving the deed of mercy. If I were to say: “I am giving this gift to you for your mother,” I would certainly be doing something for the sake of your mother. However, I may never meet her or come into contact with her, as I am already doing with you, the person to whom I am physically giving the gift.

In the same way, God in Christ has not approached us indirectly, conveying benefits to us through a 3rd party, but approaches us directly in those who are in need. He identifies himself completely with them, so that whatever we do TO them, we do TO HIM. (The above exegesis on why “TO” is the better translation of the text can be found in Erasmo Merikakis’ book “The Heart of Mercy: Volume III” pp. 836-837.)

Thus, when St. Francis kissed the leper, he can emphatically state that he kissed Christ. Or, after St. Martin of Tours tore his cloak in half to clothe a beggar, in his dream Christ Jesus himself appeared wearing Martin’s cloak. When St. Lawrence the Deacon, as the treasurer for the Church, was commanded by the Emperor of Rome to bring him these priceless treasures, Lawrence showed up with the blind and the lame and the crippled and said to the Emperor: “Here is the treasure of the Church. Here is the body of Christ!”

So, this powerful scene of our judgment day is not a moral exhortation by the King of Kings to do good to others or to be charitable.

No, it is something much, much more. What we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to him.

This complete identification with the least ones is matched by one other saying of Christ Jesus.

At the Last Supper, as he takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, he gives it to his disciples saying, “This is my Body.” We encounter Christ’s broken body not only in the great Sacrament of the Eucharist but also in his broken and suffering body walking this earth, in the least of our brothers and sisters.

As we prepare to begin a new liturgical year with next Sunday’s celebration of Advent, we do not do so pretending that the Son of God has not come into our world, for he already has. Advent prepare us as individuals and as a Church to receive the Son of God as he comes to us in mystery today. Like a child hidden away in the womb of his mother, he comes in mystery now in the suffering need of another human being.

So, as we sing that popular Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” we realize from the perspective of the Last Judgment that God is with us whenever we encounter any fellow human being in need.

The Son of God keeps coming and coming and coming, asking us to love Him.

The Savior of the World saves us not by power and might, but by commanding us to give ourselves away in love of the other, especially the brother in need, the sister who is suffering.

Thus, salvation is not so much something we “get” as something we “give away”.

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 15, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

In these last days of this year, as the sunlight decreases and the darkness increases, we are instructed by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel how to live as children of the light. In these last days of Ordinary Time, as we listen to the end-time discourses of Jesus in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we learn how to live in preparation for the end of our life and our judgment day.

The key which unlocks this Sunday’s end-time parable is the correct understanding of what a “talent” is. That word causes us to think about an inborn trait or our own particular gifts or unique abilities. Such as, she has a talent for music or he a talent with numbers or she a gift for bringing people together or he a knack for fixing things. Understanding the word “talent” in this way, we think we will be welcomed by the Master to share His joy when we discover our talents and use them.

But that is not what the word “talent” refers to in this Scripture passage. A “talent” in Jesus’ day was a form of currency that equaled 20-years worth of wages. The servant who received 5 talents received a gift of 100 years worth of wages, or millions of dollars in today’s terms.

Thus, as some Scripture commentators point out, the “talent” which the Master, Jesus, shares with his servants could refer to the incredibly costly gifts of his love and mercy. Jesus’ possessions, what he has to give away and does give away throughout his life, are love and mercy. He lavishes love on every person he encounters. Jesus multiplies mercy by setting people free from whatever separates them from God, so they can go and do the same.

As the Risen Lord, Jesus breathes on his followers the gift of His Spirit, the Spirit of love, so they can love others as He loves them.

The love of Christ Jesus, given to us, multiplies when it is given away. The mercy of Jesus Christ, poured into our lives, increases when shared.

The worthy wife described in the last verses of the Book of Proverbs is like the servants in today’s Gospel who doubled their “talents” by using them, multiplying mercy and increasing love by sharing them. This woman is worth more than the value of many pearls, because she does not hoard the life-giving love and compassion she has received from God. She generously gives away what she has been given, both to her family and to anyone in need.

The divine gifts she has received broaden her own heartfelt concern beyond the walls of her own home to those who have no home. The loving mercy of God compels her to feed not only her own family but with great resourcefulness to reach out and feed the poor at her door.

In a very practical way, this valiant woman shows us how to use the “talents” God has given us. She anticipates the future free from anxiety because she has a holy fear of the Lord, knowing that everything she has comes from the Lord. She knows that the love of God will sustain her in good times and bad, so she shares that generous, self-giving love with others. She is not focused on herself but on others.

Her shining example calls to mind the words of Pope Francis about how we are born to help each other and how Nature reveals this truth.

Rivers do not drink their own water. Trees do not eat their own fruit. The sun does not shine on itself. And flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves.

Living for others is a rule of nature. We are born to help each other. No matter how difficult it is…. Life is good when you are happy; But much better when others are happy because of you.

This is the way to enter into the joy of the Master.

In 2017 Pope Francis designated the 3rd Sunday in November as the “World Day of Prayer for the Poor.” Today, on this 4th World Day of Prayer for the Poor, we receive those who are poor as God’s gift to us, because they call forth from us in a special way these divine talents of love and mercy.

Our own Blessed Stanley Rother taught us that those who are poor are God’s gift to us. He taught us this truth by his life and by his death— that those who are forgotten by the world, invisible to the people in power, who live on the margins—are God’s gift to us.

By lovingly and mercifully sharing our gifts with those who are impoverished, we remember the One from whom all gifts flow into our lives.

And miracle of miracles, whatever gifts we share with the least of our brothers and sisters, we are really giving to the Lord and Master of the Universe.

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints

November 1, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

During the past 5 Sundays in Matthew’s Gospel, we have been with Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem as he confronts the religious leaders of Israel. They try to trap him and to discredit him. He speaks the truth to power with great humility in the hope they will turn away from their self-righteous, judgmental ways and turn back to the Living God.

This great and joyful solemnity of All Saints breaks the pattern of these consecutive Gospel passages from Matthew and takes us all the way back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s Gospel. There he lays out his vision for the Kingdom of God in the Beatitudes, inviting his disciples to live as He lives and to love as He loves. The Beatitudes are Jesus’ plan for the never-ending adventure of holiness. as he teaches us his disciples what being a saint looks like.

We celebrate All Saints Day every year not only to honor and rejoice in the holy men and women whom the Church has declared are definitely enjoying the fullness of life in heaven. We also remember our vocation, for we who are baptized into Christ Jesus are all called to be saints.

We are all adopted children of God by baptism, joined to the Son of God. This union with Him is meant to transform the way we live in this world, as we live out of this deepest identity of ours as beloved sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. United to Christ Jesus, holiness is possible, as all the saints teach us. Apart from him, nothing of lasting value is possible, for we become like dead branches cut off from the living vine, dead limbs severed from the tree of life.

When we live out the Beatitudes with Jesus, we fulfil his 2 great commandments to love. The Beatitudes are the way Jesus loves the Father with His total being and how he loves others. So, they are our way to love as Jesus loves and so love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

For the Beatitudes shape our love of God the Father after the pattern of Christ’s self-sacrificing love. Living out the Beatitudes means our way of loving becomes “Agape love,” loving as Jesus loves. For the Beatitudes stand in direct opposition to the attitudes of a world separated from God, propelling us along the way of the Cross with Jesus.

So this blueprint for holiness, this way to deeper Communion with Jesus, looks like foolishness to the world, but the Beatitudes are God’s folly of love. What looks like absolute foolishness to the world is the wisdom of the way God loves.

When we wrap our lives around the Beatitudes, we will be persecuted as Jesus was. That is why the 8th and 9th beatitudes speak about the blessing of being persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for as we live out the Beatitudes, we are united to the suffering Christ in a very special way.

In a world scarred by resentment and vengeance, blessed are those who are merciful. In a world where many hunger and thirst for more money or more power, blessed are those who thirst to right inequities, who hunger for justice. In a world wounded by violence and division, blessed are those who work for peace and love their enemies with Christ’s help.

The Saints learned that all of the Beatitudes spring from the first Beatitude, and it is first because it gives life and meaning to all the ones that follow. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” could be literally translated as “How fortunate those who beg for their life’s very breath!” Indeed, these are the fortunate ones, who recognize that their very existence is wholly dependent upon God’s mercy and providence.

We human beings depend on God in the very same way that our lungs depend on air which comes from outside of us. Our life each day, our very existence on this earth, does not come from us, but from outside of us, from God. So we cry out, “Have Mercy on us, O God!” Self-forgetfulness—living for others—characterize those who are poor in spirit. An interior emptiness is another mark of this Beatitude, in direct contrast to those who are so full of themselves, puffed up and proud and self-righteous.

Those who are poor in spirit are naturally meek, knowing themselves to be always and everywhere loved by God. Because they embrace their identity as a beloved child of God, the meek reject the way of aggression. They have no need to have power over others but bend their knee in adoration of God by serving others. The meek are strong in transmitting God’s goodness and mercy, because they are disposed to receive everything as a gift. They expect nothing from the world and desire only to GIVE to the world!

Those who are poor ins spirit are also pure of heart, focusing their gaze only on God and turning away from everything else. This purity of heart means one’s heart is undivided, that one is solely interested in doing the will of God and giving oneself completely to God. Then all the other “loves” of one’s life will fall into their correct order beneath this all-consuming love.

Notice that the Beatitudes do not include what some religious people would think would be essential. Jesus does not say: “Blessed are those who pray, who fast, who give alms.” These good works mean nothing if done with pride instead of poverty of spirit.

Francis and Clare, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, Therese of Liseux and Ignatius of Loyola, Stanley Rother and Michael McGivney, all made Jesus and his teaching the most important thing in their life. The Gospel was their guidebook and the Beatitudes their signposts to help them find their way home with the Lord Jesus to their heavenly home. May they be ours as well.