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Monthly Archives: August 2021

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, CYCLE B
Deut. 4: 1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15: 2-5; James 1: 17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: August 29, 2021

On the holiday of Simchat Torah (The Joy of the Torah), Jews celebrate the Torah
(what we call the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Bible), with song and dance.
That’s right, the Jews celebrate these Sacred Scriptures, these divine instructions,
with song and dance.

“Torah” is almost always translated as “law” in modern languages,
but I have never seen lawyers singing and dancing in the streets with their law books.
That alone should signal how poorly the word “law” translates the rich meaning of Torah,
how poorly the word “law” translates the gift of the foundational Scriptures of the Bible.

Of these five Scriptural books, three of them—Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy—include statutes, decrees, commandments, and above all exhortations.
This is what we hear from Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy today—an exhortation
to the people to live the Torah and so demonstrate their wisdom and intelligence.

The Torah gave structure to the communal life of the ancient Israelites,
how they were to live together in order to honor and love God.
So it touched on the “stuff” of every day life, with instructions and decrees about workdays and holidays, banking and harvesting, dietary concerns and religious purity,
and even the treatment of migrants.
Torah, as its root meaning in Hebrew implies, is a practical guide to holiness.

A central teaching of Torah is captured in today’s psalm response:
“The one who does justice (as in observing Torah) will live in the presence of the Lord.”
This justice is made concrete by the psalmist addressing money lending and bribery,
This justice is made concrete in Deuteronomy with the exhortation:
“there shall be no one of you in need” (15:4).

When Jesus is asked to summarize the Torah, he narrows all these commandments
and statutes and decrees into two: Love God and love neighbor.
But remember, in “The Parable of the Good Samaritan,”
Jesus places no limit on who one’s neighbor is.
For Jesus the neighbor most in need of love is the vulnerable or hurting person.

At the heart of doing justice in order to live in the presence of the Lord
is the command to care for the most vulnerable in society.
At the heart of the Law, at the very center of the observance of the Torah
is this constant exhortation to care for those most in need of care.
Thus, over and over again in the Torah we hear the command to care for orphans, widows, and the resident alien, a term better translated as foreigner.
This command is like a golden thread woven throughout the Torah.

This decree makes concrete what it means to love God and neighbor
because these groups of people represent those who are most in need of protection.
Orphans and widows and foreigners are those who have no power
and who are most often without the basic necessities of life.

St. James in his letter today echoes this theme from the Torah by stating:
“{R}eligion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction….” (1:27)

In our desire to live out the Torah, to live by the law of God which gives life,
we have to ask the question, “Who are the most vulnerable in our society today?”
In our desire to love God and love neighbor in the concrete circumstances of our daily life, we have to prayerfully ponder, “Who are the vulnerable ones who need our care?”
Definitely widows, orphans and migrants in our midst cry out for help and compassion, but during this pandemic there are other groups which command our attention and care.

As the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus fills up hospitals with people struggling to breathe, we know that children and those with compromised health conditions are the most vulnerable to becoming ill with Covid-19.
There is no approved vaccine for children under 12, and those who have
auto-immune diseases or whose health is compromised in other ways
can still be at risk even if they have received a vaccine.
Out of concern and care for the vulnerable ones, we need to do everything possible
to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Thus, for those who have not received the vaccine, I urge you to do so
to protect not only yourself but the vulnerable ones in our midst.
Obviously, if your personal physician has advised you not to receive the vaccine,
follow their advice, but otherwise make this small sacrifice for the good of others.
Practicing a religion which is undefiled means striving to love and care
for the most vulnerable ones among us.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus goes through a whole list of sins which come from within
that defile a person and their relationship to others and to God.
Starting with evil thoughts and ending with folly, this lists lays bare a number of sins which “infect” us, causing “dis-ease” in our relationship to self, others, and God.

That last one in the list, “folly”, is of particular concern at this time
and during this pandemic.
Folly results from mental laziness, from not trying to understand divine teachings.
Folly flows from thinking I alone know what’s best
and this self-absorption leads to foolish actions.

By refusing to take the vaccine which would curb the spread of this deadly infection,
some Catholics state they are doing so because they are following their conscience.
Now the Church has always taught the primacy of conscience,
but only the primacy of an informed conscience.

We are challenged to form our consciences by prolonged prayer and serious study.
Before making any important decision, we are to enter into an ongoing conversation
with God which is aided by the illumination of Sacred Scripture.

We are invited to study what the Church teaches, the actual documents of the Church,
not what some “Catholic” website claims the Church teaches.
The Church’s official position on the vaccine from the Pope, to your Archbishop,
to your pastor has been clear and consistent: that taking the vaccine is morally acceptable
and an act of love for our neighbor and the common good.

Formation of conscience requires not only knowledge of Church teaching on the matter
at hand, but also of the facts relevant to the issue being discerned.
Forming one’s conscience based on the facts becomes challenging amidst the noise
of social media when so many people are claiming their “opinions” to be “factual.”
Study and ponder what the professionals say about this mutating virus, and know
that their advice will change as they learn more about this new variant of the virus.

Consult your personal physician, our local health department, and the dedicated scientists at the Center for Disease Control for the best factual information, not what your friend or family member posts on Facebook.
If we want to prevent the infectious spread of “folly,”
we need to carefully and prudently form our conscience.

We live during a time of misguided individualism fueled by
an unhealthy self-centeredness.
We live during an age where a number of people think freedom means
doing whatever I want.

The Catholic understanding of freedom means the ability to do what is good,
which may not always coincide with what I want. Why?
In the Catholic moral tradition the individual is always treated
as part of a community and a network of relationships.

So, as Catholics we emphasize the principle of “what more can I do” for you
instead of “how little can I do.”
True freedom is the ability to do what is good, not only for me,
but for everyone.

We believe that where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is freedom, the freedom
to love more generously and to care for and protect the least of our sisters and brothers.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, CYCLE B
Joshua 24: 1-2a, 1-17, 18b+ Psalm 34 + Ephesians 5: 21-32 + John 6:60-69
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: August 22, 2021

Last Sunday we took a short vacation from the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel
for the celebration of the Assumption of Mary.
But for those of you who have read and prayed with the word of God in Chapter 6 of John, you know that the passage from this chapter which was not proclaimed last Sunday because of the Assumption is a very important teaching on the Eucharist. Jesus says:
“Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life within you.
(John 6:53)

These words of Jesus are so forceful and strong, so visceral and powerful because He wants to convey a very important truth about the believer’s relationship to Him.
Thus, these challenging words of Jesus are about more than physical eating and drinking.
These words of everlasting life go right to the heart of what the Holy Eucharist
is all about—transforming us into Christ’s body,
to be so intimately joined to him that He lives in us.

We become one with the Risen Christ as we eat his body and drink his blood,
which means taking all that Christ is into us.
This means putting on the mind of Christ and thinking as he does.
This means joining our hearts to the heart of Christ and loving as He does.

We begin to understand that the Eucharist is more than something to be adored.
He wants to transform us into His body, to be His presence in this world.
The Eucharist is not something but the gift of Someone—the Word of God enfleshed.

In this Sacrament we encounter and receive the Risen Lord,
and he becomes flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone.
He longs to speak through us, to love through us, to live in us,
to transform us more and more into his Body.

Which is why when the faithful come forward to receive Holy Communion,
they carry out a simple but intense gesture.
Standing before the minister of Holy Communion,
they raise their arms and open their hands to receive the eucharistic bread.
They open their hands as people about to receive a gift,
and this gesture reveals an interior attitude.
It is an act of the spirit.
To open one’s hands is the purest human gesture one can make
to represent openness to receiving a gift.
The posture of one who is standing, with arms out and hands open,
signifies not only openness to receive but also total vulnerability and inability to harm.

So, one does not grab the eucharistic bread, one doesn’t take it;
one receives it from someone who puts it into our opened hands.
Why?
Because salvation is from Christ, of whom the eucharistic bread is a sacrament,
and salvation in Christ is a freely given gift of the Father.

It is somewhat like the surrender a husband and wife make to each other daily.
They give the gift of who they are to their spouse, saying, “Here I am, I am yours.”
This openness, this vulnerability,
to receive the gift of the other is a Eucharistic action.
For as a spouse subordinates himself or herself to their beloved, they say:
This is my body given for you, take and eat,
my life poured out for you today, take and drink.
This receiving of the gift of the other is at the heart of married love and divine love.

Jesus gave his followers the great gift of the Eucharist as food for the journey of faith.
This great gift strengthens those who surrender their lives to Jesus for the journey home.

The faithful do not receive the Eucharist where they sit
but they are called to leave their places and walk toward the altar.
In this way, the liturgy invites the faithful to carry out a movement,
a walk that manifests that the Eucharist is bread for the journeying person.

The Eucharist is indeed the viaticum–the bread for the voyage,
just as the manna was for the people of Israel.
The Eucharist is bread for they journey just as the bread provided by the angel
was for prophet Elijah from the Scripture reading proclaimed here two weeks ago.

That’s why it felt so odd in the height of the pandemic this past year
for people to receive the Eucharist from the minister who came to them in their pews—
You stayed in one place and the Eucharist was brought to you as a safer way to receive.
But now we know more than ever that the Eucharist is bread for the journey,
so we come forward to receive the Bread come down from heaven.

The believer does not make his or her journey alone but only together
with brothers and sisters in faith; this is expressed in the Communion procession,
which therefore becomes a sign.
Here the liturgy teaches each one of us that this is not only my condition
but also the condition of all Christians.
The church is a people on journey toward the Kingdom..

The Communion procession is therefore the image of humanity on the way toward God, each of us in our own circumstances and states of life.
All go together toward the altar, each of us as we are,
with our own particular burdens, all compelled by the same hunger to receive
the bread of forgiveness, the bread of mercy,
the bread of eternal life that only God can give.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

You will notice that today,
Father and I are not donning the green vestments,
but rather these white vestments.
Every August 15 we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and as is usually the case…
Mary trumps a Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Today’s solemnity is closely tied to what we celebrate every December 8,
the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
While no explicitly found in the canon of scripture,
The Immaculate Conception of Mary, and her Assumption into heaven,
have been part of the Church’s tradition since the early days of the Church.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters
are critical of the Church’s emphasis on Mary…
that we as Catholics worship Mary,
and that somehow our devotion to the Blessed Mother
takes away from our worship of God,
from our focus on Jesus.
Nothing could be further from the truth.

Saint Louis-Marie de Monfort, who lived late 17th-early 18th century,
was very devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He describes Mary as “the echo of God.”
“The Echo of God.”
An echo is not the source of a sound,
but rather carries the sound.
Mary’s echo announces that salvation has come,
and it is not her, but rather she points us to Jesus.
Mary always points us to Jesus.

Many times in art work,
we find the image of Mary alongside the crescent moon.
Again, another image.
The moon itself does not emit light itself,
but merely reflects the source of light…our sun.
In the same way, Mary does not emit light herself,
but reflects the glory of her SON.
We are taken back to that beautiful Hymn of Mary in today’s Gospel…
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

Let me give you one more image of Mary…
The early Church Fathers believed Mary
to be foreshadowed in the burning bush.
Remember Moses approaches this sight…
a bush ablaze and yet the bush is not consumed by the fire.
Mary shines with the presence and power of God
but is not consumed by that power.

Some look at Mary’s Assumption into heaven,
body, and soul,
as a reward for Mary’s faithfulness.
Perhaps it’s a cultural observance.
In our culture, reward is the result of good works,
and punishment the result of bad works.
But that is not the way of God.
All goodness comes to us from God,
not as reward,
but rather, as pure gift.

I would suggest that Mary’s Assumption into heaven
began at that moment of the Immaculate Conception.
Mary was spared in the womb of her mother, Anna,
the stain of original sin for one purpose…
that this newly conceived child would become
the very mother of the Son of God.
Perhaps throughout her early life,
this identity was not fully understood
until that moment the angel announced that she,
with her consent, would,
by the power of the Holy Spirit, bear a Son and name him Jesus.

Mary’s Assumption into heaven not only speaks of her identity,
but also speaks of our identity.
We learn from her that the closer we are to God,
the more truly we are ourselves…
God elevates and enlightens me and you,
he makes us fully alive,
which is being fully ourselves.
God never forces us to be anything we’re not.
Within Mary’s womb,
in the most tangible and literal way,
Christ was alive…
yet she is not overwhelmed or suppressed by Christ’s dwelling in her,
she is made luminous and glorious,
she is made the beloved Mary she was meant to be.

All of us, the Church of Christ,
when we accept God’s Word,
God’s life takes root in us.
Here, Mary teaches us an important lesson…
that the new life Jesus promised comes only with radical trust in God.
It is at the limits of our strength,
the limits of what we can do as humans,
that is where God acts…
it’s when we open ourselves to God that the divine life breaks in
and God’s life is born in us.
We are made the beloved that God intended us to be.

Mary is the Theotokos…
Greek for “The God Bearer.”
Sometimes that is described as the “container of the uncontainable.”
We too are containers which can contain the fullness of God…
at this altar Christ gives the fullness of his being to us,
body and blood, soul and divinity…
at Baptism we are born again with the fullness of God’s Holy Spirit.
You and I are containers of the uncontainable God…
temples of the Holy Spirit…
and Mary teaches us what it means to respond to this reality
with faith and hope and love.

On this Feast of the Assumption,
the day the Church celebrates that Mary
has been taken up into heaven to live forever with her Son,
we see the destiny of our human nature.
But not as reward,
but rather from our identity.
We will be like Christ, with Mary, in glory,
crowned with grace…
this is the final destination of the pilgrim people of God
and the Assumption of Mary
is proof that Jesus is faithful to his promise
that he prepares a dwelling place for the human family
in his Father’s house.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, CYCLE B
1 Kings 19: 4-8 + Psalm 34 + Ephesians 4: 30 – 5:2 + John 6: 41-51
Holy Spirit Church: August 8, 2021

The Son of God comes from heaven to earth to teach us how to love.
Jesus shows us how to love one another AND GOD by the way he lives life on this earth.
The Son of God, as the bread come down from heaven,
is born into a world where human beings are separated from each other and from God, and so he comes to reconcile us to each other and to God.

We have to learn how to love, we need someone to teach us and show us,
and so Jesus does.
We are fed by the bread of his teaching, the words he speaks which are like manna
to our souls.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
“Blessed the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers.” Or these words, “I call you friends.”

We are fed by the bread of his life, by his deeds done which give us an image
of what love looks like.

Daily he gives his flesh for the life of the world, giving himself in his fleshy body
to feed those hungering for love:
touching the leper,
embracing children,
feeding the hungry with bread from his hands,
forgiving the adulterous woman and lifting her up freed from the weight of her sin, healing broken hearts and bodies by his words and deeds.

Which leads to the ultimate sacrifice of love, the image which teaches us more than any other what love looks like, as he gives his flesh for the life of the world on the cross.
This supreme act of love was simply a consequence of a life poured out in love of others, a life spent giving himself as bread come down from heaven to those hungering for love.

Jesus shows us what love looks like and then commands us
to love one another as he has loved us.

St. Paul fleshes out what this love of Christ looks like.
He spells out what the love of Christ looks like in the life of his followers, in Christians.

Kindness, compassion, forgiving one another—this is what love looks like.
These acts of love produce a sweet-smelling fragrance which dispels the bad odor
of bitterness and fury, shouting and reviling.

Loving in this way is a choice. It is an act of the will.
It means letting go of control, which results not in a loss of freedom, but freedom gained.

To choose to love means letting go of power—it is an act of vulnerability,
a handing of ourselves over to others, as Jesus has handed himself over to us.
But it is not a loss of self, but rather a self-revealed, a fuller self gained.

We are able to love others as Jesus loves because Jesus first loves us.
He loves us first, gives himself to us before we are ever worthy of such a gift.

As the living bread come down from heaven, Jesus Christ feeds us with his love
in a very concrete, tactile way in this holy meal.

This is the Bread which energizes us for our long journey home
back to our Heavenly Father.

The One who literally is Love Enfleshed, gives us his flesh to eat,
his very person as the Risen Lord
joining his life to ours, to strengthen us in loving others as he loves.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, CYCLE B
Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15 + Psalm 78: 3-4, 23-25, 54 + Eph. 4:17, 20-24 + John 6: 24-35
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: August 1, 2021

There is a difference between “belly food” and “soul food.”
There really is no comparison between “belly food” and “soul food.”
One satisfies for a brief instant and the other lasts forever.

While wandering hungry in the desert, the people of Israel are invited
to feast on “soul food,” to trust that God will provide for their needs.
The manna that God sends from heaven is this “soul food,” just enough for every day.
But they must trust that God will feed them, they have to rely on God’s goodness.

The Israelites are tempted to return to slavery in Egypt in order to feed their bellies,
rather than trust that God will feed them and lead them to the Promised Land.

It can be hard to trust that in the long term, God will bring good
out of tough “desert days,” when all we can see is what we are lacking.
The needs that loom before us can make us forget God’s faithfulness.
We need a sign of God’s faithfulness, a reminder that he takes care of us.

Which is why the Father who fed the Israelites in the desert with bread from heaven sends the One who is the Bread of Life come down from heaven
to feed our souls hungering for God.
Jesus is the bread of God come down from heaven who gives life to the world.
To believe in Jesus, to give ourselves in trust to Him,
means feasting on a life full of meaning.

The crowd of people following Jesus have full bellies from the loaves of bread
he has given them to eat. They look for him and find him, seeking more free food.
They come to Him thinking only of their bellies, and he wants to take them deeper,
he wants to give them soul food, he wants to give them the very gift of Himself.
But they like free food and are having hard time going any deeper.
Their bellies are full yet their minds and hearts are still empty.

Jesus wants to take them to a deeper level which goes beyond any earthly need or want. He wants to lead them into everlasting life by the gift of Himself.

To “believe in Jesus” means giving ourselves to Him, recognizing the saving truth
that only in him will our deepest hungers be satisfied, our greatest thirsts quenched.
For full bellies do not make for full lives,
but somehow a full life found in our relationship to Jesus seems to satisfy every hunger.

But this means we have to step out of a life that is steeped in ignorance and self interest and into Christ.
This is a life-long journey, an ongoing conversion, a continual turning away from shallow desires and turning toward Him who is the desire of our heart.
We are starving for a life that really matters and we find that life in Christ.
When we believe that Jesus Christ is the bread of life, that in Him
every hunger we have is satisfied, then our lives are transformed.

Life in him is different than any other kind of life,
because it is a life which death can never cut short.
It is a life we can start living now, free from anxiety and full of confidence
in Jesus’ desire to provide us what we need.

As St. Paul describes this process, we leave behind the old self
concerned only with selfish desires and put on the new self in Christ.
Which is why the Church gifts us with this Sacraments,
to draw us into this new life in Christ Jesus.
We put on this new self in Christ in Baptism, and this new self is nourished
by the bread come down from heaven in the Eucharist.

Joining our lives to the life of Jesus Christ, we become a new person.
Then we begin to understand what St. Paul means when he says we need not fear
hunger or hardship or persecution, because Christ Jesus is with us always,
feeding us with his love.

Jesus did not promise his followers contentment, ease, and plenty in this life.
In fact, when we have these things,
there is a risk of forgetting there is something else ahead.

The Son of God came down from heaven to show us how to live, by giving his life away in love of others and in love of His Heavenly Father.
This is a life that satisfies, a life given away in love,
which becomes bread for a hungry world.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi