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Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 13, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


Sirach 27: 30 – 28:7 + Psalm 103: 1-4, 9-12 +  Romans 14: 7-9  +  Matt. 18: 21-35 

Holy Spirit Catholic Church:  September 13, 2020 

In chapter 18 of his Gospel, Matthew the Evangelist lays out what the Church is to be about. Members of the community of faith are responsible to each other to maintain the unity which Christ Jesus established. When hurtful words are spoken or hurtful deeds are done, it is not only the offender who bears responsibility for reconciliation but also the one offended. 

Last Sunday we in Chapter 18 we heard of a process enacted by the offended party to reconcile with the one who hurt them, to bring them back to full communion. This Sunday that responsibility toward one’s brother or sister who has done wrong is made even more concrete in the act of forgiveness, which is not a one-time gift but an ongoing gift, healing the relationships with one’s brothers and sisters in Christ.  

The offended party cannot sit back and stew in their hurt  and boil in their resentment, but instead offer forgiveness, again and again and again. 

The cross marks every Christian. The cross of Christ demands a life of sacrificial love, and forgiveness is one of the major sacrifices offered out of love for the other. Marked by the sign of God’s unbounded love for us in Christ, we do not count or meagerly measure out forgiveness, but joined to Christ Jesus, forgive those who hurt us. 

As Catholics we begin and end every prayer with the sign of the cross. We start and we conclude the great prayer of the Mass with this eternal sign of God’s forgiveness of the human race. 

The prayers of the Mass reveal to us as the Church, the community of faith coming together in the Lord’s name, what we are to be about. The Church is meant not only to be a community of forgiveness and reconciliation,  but to share those gifts with the world. But these gifts first need to be received in order to be shared. 

So we begin every celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass by crying out for the gift of the Lord’s mercy. We recognize as we begin this celebration that we hang onto hurt, we nurture anger, and we feed resentment, so we call out, “Lord, have mercy.” Then we enter into the circulation of forgiveness, which flows from the Father through the Son, and by the power of the Spirit into our lives. 

We breathe deeply of this breath of new life so to breathe it out onto others who need to know they are forgiven. Otherwise, the virus of “unforgiveness,” which can kill the spirit, infects and sickens our lives. This sickness causes hearts to shrivel up and slowly die, and results from the virus of anger hugged tight to one’s heart, and resentment that then takes root and poisons the soul. 

Medical experts during this time of a pandemic advise that the air in enclosed spaces be well circulated, otherwise the aerosol of the coronavirus can hang around in stale air to be inhaled. The fresh, life-giving air of forgiveness causes a healthy circulation, which carries away the deadly aeresols of hatred, resentment, bitterness, and revenge. Forgiveness carries away this poisonous air, so we might breathe more deeply of God’s merciful love and not be infected with the virus of unforgiveness nor infect others. 

That’s why the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, the “Our Father,” is prayed at every Mass. We go to the Father of mercy with the words of His Son, crying out, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As we recognize how God in Christ has given us a gift we cannot repay,  forgiving our sins and saving us from eternal death, we can then forgive others. 

One translation of the “Our Father” reads, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Knowing we are forgiven a debt we can never repay, we can, with the Lord’s help, forgive the “debts” of others, releasing them from the hurt they have inflicted upon us. 

Only when we forgive can we utter the words of the Our Father without hypocrisy. We have all heard the adage, “forgive and forget.”  But that is not only not possible—we always remember the hurts done to us— it is also not how forgiveness works. Rather, we are to “remember and forgive.” We are to remember who we are and to whom we belong in order to forgive. 

Baptism has made us children of the same Father and brother to the same Jesus. By the power of the Spirit poured into our lives at baptism, we are strengthened to live with all people as children of the same Father and siblings to the same Jesus. By baptism, we are the Lord’s, we belong to Him, he has authority over our lives. 

We are not directors of our own destiny nor fashioners of our own future. We are not masters of ourselves and our lives, but servants of the Risen Lord  who gave his Spirit to us, as he did to the first followers, to share forgiveness. (John 20:23) 

When we remember to whom we belong, who has set us free from the crushing burden of sin and death, then we can share, without counting the cost, the gift of forgiveness. Since we are the Lord’s, we do as he does and love as he loves, because he lives and loves through us by the gift of His Spirit. 

Otherwise, when we forget who we are and to whom we belong,  we allow the hurts done unto us to define our lives.  We live our days as the “victim”, forever imprisoned in the past. Forgiveness gifts us with a future full of hope and a present packed with possibilities. 

The paradox of faith is that if we want to keep what we have been given,  we have to give it away. 

If we want to be enlivened daily by the Lord’s forgiveness,  then we have to give that gift of forgiveness away. If we want to have abundant life, then we have to lose our lives through sacrificial love, doing what we ought for the good of the other. 

Then we can be sent forth from this miracle of God’s mercy called the Mass  to announce the Gospel of the Lord. 

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi 

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 23, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

Shebna is master of the palace in Jerusalem, and he makes his authority felt. He has far-reaching authority over the king’s household and the king’s possessions. Shebna abuses this power by taking advantage of the perks of power, like the royal chariots, for his own personal use. He even makes a beautiful carved tomb for himself (Isaiah 22: 16-18).

God lifts up Eliakim to supplant Shebna. Eliakim will exercise authority with fatherly compassion and care, not with self-promotion, domination, and greed. Eliakim imitates the way God makes use of authority by serving His people, not by lording it over them.

This small snippet from the prophet Isaiah reveals how God wants leaders to exercise their power. God does not want leaders to do so by lording their authority over others and making their importance felt but rather through self-sacrificing service. (Matthew 20: 25-26) Keys are given not to lock away the treasures of the kingdom and hoard them, but to open the gates that all might enter in and experience the riches God has in store for them.

It is with this kind of understanding of leadership that Jesus chooses Peter to lead the early church and gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven, symbol of his authority. Peter is to lead following the example of Christ Jesus, the Son of the Living God, who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

That is why Peter is called the “rock,” the foundation of the church. Instead of being “over” others, he is to be “under” them, even to kneel down and wash their feet. His position of leadership does not mean Peter is raised above others, but that he would be beneath them to support them. Jesus also chooses Peter because Jesus knows how much Peter relies on His mercy. Peter’s weakness and his sinfulness means he is constantly turning to Jesus for mercy. Like the Canaanite woman of great faith, Peter cries out constantly: “Lord, have mercy on me.”

Before his profession of faith in Jesus as the Son of the Living God, Peter sinks like a rock while walking on the water toward Jesus, crying out, “Lord, save me.” Immediately Jesus stretches out his hand to save Peter, so Peter knows he cannot save himself, he does not have that kind of power. He needs a Savior.

After Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus as the Son of the Living God, when Jesus lays out what it means to be the Christ, to be anointed and chosen by God, that it will mean suffering and death on the cross, Peter reprimands Jesus. Peter is strongly rebuked by Jesus, who says, “Get behind me, Satan, you are not thinking as God does but as human beings do.” Peter, as leader, has to figure out what that difference in thinking is by living in humility.

Of course, the most famous example of Peter’s need for the saving compassion of God in Christ is when he denies knowing Jesus, the night before Jesus before he is crucified. Peter crumbles under the interrogation of a servant girl, who rightly identifies Peter as one of Jesus’ companions. Peter three times denies knowing Jesus in order to save his skin.

Peter, aware of his own weakness, as leader of the early Church can have compassion on the weaknesses of others. Peter, painfully aware of his own sin but even more aware of the Lord’s mercy toward him, can be merciful toward the sinful people he leads.

The modern-day successor to Peter, Pope Francis, leads with this kind of authority. He does not make his importance felt but rather lives in a simple room in a hotel. He does not lord his authority over others, but kneels to wash the feet of juvenile offenders.

When he was selected as Pope some 7 years ago, he asked by a reporter, “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” His reply: “I am a sinner in need of God’s mercy.” Thus, Pope Francis associate himself with Peter, and he unites himself with the people he leads, who are all broken by sin and in need of God’s saving mercy.

In his homily at his installation Mass as the newly chosen Pope, Francis said: “Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the pope, too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the cross.”

Pope Francis’ association with sinners and the outcasts of society, like Jesus, is a threat to those who hold power and use it only for their own advancement. His servant leadership threatens those in the Vatican who are power hungry and want to hold onto power at all costs. His model of Church as a field hospital, as existing to care specifically for those wounded on the battlefield of life, threatens priests and bishops who feel their perks of power threatened, who want to remain safe and secluded from the world’s pain.

Pope Francis is a strong voice for the voiceless, speaking out on behalf of the millions and millions of people who struggle to survive on less than $1 a day, shaking up those who have and hoard so much of the world’s goods and only want to have more and more. Our pope desires a church that is poor and for the poor.

As Pope Francis gives voice to Creation, which is silently crying out because of the abuse suffered at the hands of heedless humans, he rattles those whose only concern is to plunder the earth for more and more riches.

As it is for any father who cares deeply for his children, our Holy Father continues to challenge us to do the right thing, to show by our actions that we are sons and daughters of the living God.

So he challenges those who hold power to use their power in service of the least ones.

He challenges those who are privileged, and that includes you and me, reminding us that the only reason we have privilege is not for our own use but to care for our brothers and sisters who are hurting.

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 16, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

Did you hear what I just heard? Jesus ignoring the request of a mother begging him to help her tormented child. Jesus insulting this woman by calling her a dog.

Did you hear what I just heard? This persistent mother who keeps barking until he changes his mind, moving him to do her will. Jesus paying this pagan woman a compliment which he gives to no other person in Matthew’s Gospel, calling her a woman of “great faith.”

The humanity of Jesus shines forth in this startling encounter between this Canaanite woman and him, a Jewish man. Jesus is a member of the people chosen by God; she a member of the people which the Israelites ran off the land promised to them by God.

We do not usually consider the limitations of culture when we think of the incarnation, of God fulling embracing our human condition in Jesus. We find it difficult to entertain the possibility that Jesus was ever in any way biased. That is very unfortunate, because this tends to make Jesus less than human. It also minimizes his extraordinary actions which break through the limitations of his culture.

In today’s gospel, this was accomplished through the agency of one whose gender and religious commitment made her unsuitable, according to the standards of Jesus’ culture. He was a member of the children of Israel— she and her kind were worth no more than stray dogs to the Israelites.

To be fully human is to change and to grow, and Jesus is humble enough to do so, to learn from others, especially those different from him.

The evangelist Matthew most likely included in his Gospel this shocking encounter between Jesus and this woman of great faith, because his early Christian community faced similar challenges.

The Christians to whom Matthew addresses his Gospel were almost entirely Jews who had embraced Christianity toward the end of the 1st century. But now there were pagans (Gentiles) becoming Christian who wanted to be part of their faith community, and there was a mighty struggle on how to incorporate them.

How were these Jewish Christians to welcome these foreigners? The Gentiles spoke a different language, ate different types of food, and even looked different from the Jewish Christians.

This Gospel passage presented the Matthean Community with two different responses to the Gentiles. They could choose to follow the example of the disciples, who wanted to send the woman away, who did not want to be bothered by her or with her, or they could follow the example of the founder of their faith. If Jesus could change his mind and react in mercy toward a Canaanite woman, they could do the same, and with Jesus, be blessed by the great faith of the foreigner.

The Jewish-Christian members of Matthew’s community were being invited to learn something from the “Canaanite women” in their midst. Those on the outside, like this woman, could teach something to those on the inside about faith and persistence in faith.

So, we are challenged to change and to grow, to be more and more inclusive of others, to move beyond our own small, exclusive groups toward others who are different from us. We are prodded and pushed by the word of God to leave our comfort zones to encounter people who are different from us, because we have so much to learn from them. Not so they can become just like us, for we are not seeking uniformity but rather unity.

As our image of God continues to change and grow, so does our image of others. In fact as we include others who are different from us in our world, as grace expands our heart space to treat them with mercy, we see there are many people we do not acknowledge or even notice who are worthy of our engagement.

Then we can move beyond that word “other” by adding two letters to the front of it— “b” and “r”—so that we may live together as brothers instead of perishing together as fools.

Or we can add the letter “m” onto that word “other” and recognize there are so many mothers today like the Canaanite woman, remarkable women of faith who are crying out to us, the Body of Christ, to respond to their pleas for help.

Black mothers crying out on behalf of their sons, “Have mercy.” Hispanic mothers pleading on behalf of their daughters, “Have mercy.” White mothers of police officers and soldiers, shouting out on behalf of their children: “Have mercy.”

Mothers of children in prisons, mothers whose children are starving, mothers whose children have “come out” regarding their sexual identity, all crying out on behalf of their children, “Have Mercy!”

All of us, every single one of us, have sinned and feel like we are outside of God’s care. We have turned a deaf ear to the cry of others in their need. Because of our disobedience, because we have all done our own will, instead of God’s will, we think we are outside of God’s care.

But by the obedience of one man, Jesus the Christ, we have all been brought inside God’s care.

We have been brought inside a large house of mercy where every thing and every one belongs.

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 9, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

Peter is chosen by Jesus as the leader of the apostles and leader of the early Church not because he is perfect but because he loves Jesus with all his heart. The greatest desire of Peter’s heart is to be with the Lord Jesus, wherever Jesus is. Which is why he leaves the boat in the middle of a violent storm to go to Jesus.

Only foolhardy fishermen leave the safety of their boats in a storm. But Peter does, when summoned by the Lord Jesus to come to him. Peter’s leaving of the boat to walk on the water toward Jesus symbolizes Peter leaving the life he knows for a new life with Jesus. Peter takes the risk of love by leaving a place of safety and security to go where Jesus is calling him to go.

Why? Because Peter trusts Jesus. Peter has found that with Jesus he is more alive and life is more meaningful. But, Peter also struggles to entrust himself fully to Jesus. He tries to keep his eyes fixed on Jesus but there are so many distractions, so much to fear.

Peter hears an ongoing call from Jesus to grow in trust, often in the form of the question: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”. “O you of little faith” is a term of endearment Jesus uses for Peter, not of condemnation. Jesus works with the faith Peter has, with Peter’s ability in the moment to surrender himself to Jesus. For even a little faith calls forth from Jesus compassion & salvation.

Jesus knows Peter so well, that he understands Peter is of two minds, which is literally what the word “doubt” means when Jesus asks Peter why did he doubt. Peter has one mind whose thoughts tempt him to think he is all alone in the midst of the storms of life. This “mind” panics in a thousand different directions at the slightest sense of insecurity as fear trumps trust.

Peter’s other “better” mind knows that Jesus will always love him and take care of him, and this mindset allows him to entrust his life into Jesus’ hands, to keep his eyes fixed on the Lord.

This powerful encounter between Jesus and Peter takes place neither on the shore of eternal stability nor in the shabby boat of human accomplishments. Rather, this encounter takes place over the uncertain gulf of mutual love, in the midst of a storm. Love propels Peter out of the boat and a greater love than Peter’s beckons him forward into a new life and saves him from death.

The place where Peter encounters Jesus is in the very middle of the storm, in the midst of the howling wind and the crashing waves. This is where Jesus is.

Many Christians have no problem believing that Jesus is with them during times of peace and prosperity, but struggle to believe that he is with them in the midst of sickness and disaster. But we need remember that Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us, promises to be with us always, not just at certain times.

We may pray for God to rescue us when faced with the violent storms of trials and suffering, sickness and disaster. God will do so, but perhaps not in the way we imagine. For it is often in times of darkness and pain that we break through to a new intimacy with God, a closer relationship with the Son of God. And like Peter, when we respond to the invitation to come closer to Jesus, to share more fully in the divine life he offers us, we shall never be left to drown. It may feel like it at certain stormy times in our life, but the truth is, the hand of the Lord, who is Jesus himself, always is there to save us.

Like Peter, in order to abandon ourselves totally to the Lord Jesus, we must first feel like we are drowning, because in that moment we call out, “Lord, save me” and give ourselves totally over to His power. Like Jesus Christ on the cross, in order to abandon ourselves totally into the hands of God our Father, we must first feel what appears to be utter abandonment by God.

For the God who Christ on the cross reveals is a God who protects us from nothing, but sustains us in everything. Even though we are not shielded from anything this world throws at us, the love of the Lord lifts us up and strengthens us to endure any storm.

So, the invitation in the middle of the storm of this virus crisis is to go to Jesus, keep our eyes fixed on him, to realize he is with us in this storm.

We are not to waste our time looking for him in the past of our former “normal” lives, for the Savior of the world is not present in some idealized past but only in the present moment.

He is with us in this present moment of crisis, in the middle of the wind and waves which threaten to swallow up all that we had placed our trust in and hoped for.

He keeps calling out, “Come. Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.”

The invitation of the Lord Jesus at every moment is to let go of the life we are so fearfully holding onto in order to receive the abundant life he longs to share with us.

He stretches out his hand to save us each day, so we might be empowered to reach out and lift up those who are drowning in fear.

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 19, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

For three Sundays this July we travel through the 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which is full of parables. This Parable Discourse of Jesus is the 3rd of 5 great discourses in Matthew’s Gospel. We have already heard two discourses this year: The Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7 and the discourse on Missionary Discipleship in chapter 10.

In this 3rd great discourse Jesus uses parables to reveal what God is like. He begins each parable with the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like”, a phrase used over 50 times by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. With these words, Jesus signals he is going to reveal something about the nature of God.

In this 13th Chapter of Matthew, there are 7 parables. Last Sunday we heard the first of the seven, “The Sower and the Seed,” where God’s generosity was on display in the sower who scatters seeds, no matter what the soil type. This middle Sunday we are invited into the world of 3 parables: the mustard seed, the yeast, and the wheat and the weeds.

By speaking in parables, Jesus, the divine Word of God, announces what has lain hidden since the foundation of the world, the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. The way things work in the kingdom of heaven, the way God works, is by starting small and then bringing about great growth. God takes something tiny like a mustard seed and energizes it by His divine love, bringing about great growth. A little bit of yeast leavens 50 liters of flour— something so immense can be transformed by the power of something so small.

Today’s 3rd parable of The Wheat and the Weeds is unique to Matthew’s Gospel, reminding us that God’s patience is directed toward the salvation of human beings. Jesus’ followers are to imitate this divine patience in their dealings with one another, refraining from judging or condemning others. There will be judgment, but it will be God doing the judgment at the end of the age, at the time of the final harvest. In last Sunday’s parable of “The Sower and the Seed,” the obstacles to the reception of the divine word of God were of human making: hard hearts, superficial reception, love of riches. This week’s parable it is the enemy of human nature and of God, the devil, who tries to prevent human beings from producing a harvest for the Kingdom of God.

The servants in the parable could very well represent the impatient disciples who want to rip out the ones they identify as “weeds,” but the patience of the Master overrules their hasty judgment. The Master knows that the power of the wheat to grow and thrive is greater than the power of the weeds to choke out the wheat. In Jesus’ day the weed growing in a wheat field, called “zizania”, looks like wheat in its early stage of growth, so there is no way to tell them apart until harvest. Plus, if one goes into the field to pull out what looks like a weed before the time for harvest, its roots are intertwined with the roots of the wheat and would destroy it.

So, God’s patience is directed toward salvation, allowing the time to pass for the seed to grow and then blade to push out of the earth and then the ear of wheat and finally the ripening of the grain. All this takes time, and God waits patiently to see what will develop. We see how God’s ways are not our American ways, because we are a very impatient people, wanting results right now.

By this parable, Jesus acknowledges the presence of evil in the world—there are weeds. But he challenges his disciples to not rush to judgment on who is a “weed,” because only God can judge that reality. Just as there are different types of soil in the human heart— our hearts are not 100% good soil always receptive to the living word of God— so there is a mixture of goodness and evil residing in the depths of each heart. We have to humbly admit this truth, so we do not condemn ourselves by exacting vengeance on those we consider to be weeds.

With God, nothing is impossible. God’s loving mercy and transforming grace can change weeds to wheat. For since God became human in Jesus, all things are possible, even a weed being transformed into life-giving wheat.

The Son of God even became a weed, as St. Paul states: “he became sin (weed) so that we might become God’s righteousness (wheat).” The Son of God was judged and condemned to death by the self-righteous. They thought they were the good guys killing the bad guy.

Among Jesus’ chosen followers were quite a few who were changed from weed to wheat. This transformation took place in the tax collector who wrote today’s Gospel. This amazing miracle of mercy also happened in the apostle who composed today’s 2nd reading and who wrote most of the New Testament, even though he originally persecuted and imprisoned the early Christians.

By the mercy of God, all things are possible. Hearts can change. Those who look like weeds turn out to be wheat producing an abundant harvest. Recently I heard of a prisoner feared by other prisoners and guards alike, who spent several years in solitary confinement. However, while in prison he had a life-changing encounter with the Living Lord and his merciful love. Now he is living as a free man, advancing the mission of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Catholic Church teaches and holds dear the dignity of all human life, from the life conceived in the womb to a natural death. The Church speaks out on behalf of the dignity of every human life, even the life of the prisoner on death row. In our name, the federal government executed three prisoners this past week, man taking the place of God, deciding who deserved to live and who deserved to die.

Think what would have happened if Paul had been condemned to death because of his participation in the murder of St. Stephen—we probably would not be blessed with the Christian Faith because Paul is the one who took the Good News to the Gentiles.

Our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ is not to judge and condemn, not to destroy the ones we consider to be weeds in this world. Our job is to continue the proclamation of repentance begun by the Son God— “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.”

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus commissioned the 11 apostles to continue his work, he said nothing at all about judging others, but rather gave this command: “Go and make disciples….”

Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 28, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

Throughout the present discourse in Chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel on missionary discipleship, Jesus has been striving to detach us from everything not of Him. He has been inviting us to participate in the only life that really matters—His own life. By doing so, we confront and challenge the narcissism, individualism, and secularism of our age.

So, Jesus has been challenging us to detach from every material possession, project, and person that we have made more important than our relationship with Him.

This is the context of his challenging teaching today on loving Him more than any family member. He is not saying, “Don’t love your father or mother or son or daughter.” Rather, what he is saying is love Him the most, make him #1 in our life.

What is very important to understand is how this works. We are not being invited by Jesus to bring him into our life. The Christian life is not about making room for Jesus in our life, so that He occupies a small corner of our heart. No! Rather, Jesus is opening the doors into His life and granting each of us a share in His Heart. We are being called to enter into life with him, into His life.

That’s what St. Paul is teaching about the transformative nature of baptism. Baptism means dying with Christ Jesus to everything that is not of Him and rising with him to newness of life now, to share in His life now.

This is why the life of the disciple is about more than simply going to church once a week. What we are reminded of at Mass is that the Lord Jesus desires to be part of everything we say and do every day, at every moment. So that eventually we can say with St. Paul, “I live no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The way this happens is following Him on the way to Calvary. The way we enter into life with the One who comes to give us abundant life is by taking up our cross and following Him.

Many Christians think that taking up one’s cross means to passively “suffer” whatever sorrows come our way in life. That the cross is something we have to put up with or endure. But this is not the teaching of Jesus. He uses two vigorous verbs—“take” and “follow”—to emphasize that the cross is something we choose, not something that happens to us.

With Jesus, we make sacrifices of love for others, we give ourselves away in love for others, We “forget” ourselves, we lose our very selves in order to find ourselves in Him. The way of the Christian is the Way of the Cross because that is the road to redemption.

Since we are daily dying with Him in order to rise with Him to a more generous loving of others, then we begin understand that the Cross we carry is His Cross, and he carries it with us. We are not imitating Him by carrying around our own little cross. No! There is only one Cross, and it is the cross of the Savior of the world. There is not His big cross and my little cross. No!

We are invited into vigorous, energetic, passionate participation in the carrying of the one, glorious, redemptive Cross, of which there is no other. To be ONE with Christ Jesus in this way is an invitation into deep, life-giving intimacy with Him, to plunge into His Heart from which all Love flows.

Whatever we are doing, wherever we are, as Christians we are meant to always carry the Cross of Jesus in obedience and love. What slowly dawns on us that at the center of the Way of the Cross are not so much specific actions but rather a deepening Communion with Jesus, from which all our actions then flow.

As we live for God in Christ Jesus, we begin to understand freedom differently. We have been set free by Christ to live for others, not to do whatever we want.

When we die with Christ to self-centeredness, we rise up to new life, a life lived for others. We begin to see how our choices impact the lives of others.

I may have the right to do something, but with every right comes a responsibility toward others.

Where the Lord Jesus is, there is freedom, not necessarily to do what we selfishly want to do, but the freedom to do what we ought to do.

Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 21, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

I still remember the encounter as if it happened yesterday, but it occurred a little over 8 years ago. It was the night of April 20, 2012, and the Mass of Dedication for the new church building at St. Eugene had just finished. The people were greeting me after Mass, all of them so excited to finally have a new church building after so many years of sweat and tears & sacrifice.

But then a little girl came up to me, her eyes glistening with tears. She asked me, “Father Jacobi, do you know about the bird?” I replied, “No. Tell me.” She said, a sob in her voice, “There’s a dead bird in our front yard.”

In the midst of a great celebration, in the midst of so much joy, this little one was concerned about one seemingly small thing—a bird had fallen from the sky and lay lifeless in her front yard.

I think about that little girl as I hear Jesus’ words that not one sparrow falls to the ground without our Heavenly Father’s knowledge. For that little girl gave voice to the concern of God for all of God’s creation, to the way God’s heart breaks over the broken body of a sparrow. For every single living creature, no matter how small, comes from the heart of God and receives its life from the God of all life.

You are worth more than many sparrows, so do not be afraid. Fear not! If God knows when a seemingly worthless sparrow falls to the ground, how much more will God be concerned about your well-being & be with you when you fall.

The context of this teaching of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel is the sending of his disciples out on mission: to proclaim the Gospel, to do his work, to be his presence in the world. He warns his disciples of every time and place that they will face hardship, rejection, and persecution But they are not to be afraid, because if they are cut down, the Father of Jesus will not only be aware of their plight but will raise them up to new life.

If a sparrow, which is of no worth in the eyes of the world, is worth so much to God and commands so much of God’s care and concern, then how much more are you worth in God’s eyes. Human beings are of infinite worth in the eyes of God. Not only because God has given us life and made us in God’s image. but also because God’s Son became fully human, became one of us, one with us, and gave his life for us, every human person is of infinite value in the eyes of God. Not one human being falls to the ground without the Father noticing and His heart breaking.

Sparrows are worth hardly anything in the marketplace but are priceless in God’s eyes. In our market economy, where economists even put a price on human life in order to calculate the damage done by deaths caused by the coronavirus, Jesus reminds us of the infinite value of every human life. In world where human beings are trafficked and sold, Jesus proclaims that every human person must be treated with dignity and respect.

To drive home this point Jesus uses another image— that God is so intimately involved in the life of every single person God has created that God has counted the hairs on every human head. Notice Jesus does not say His Father knows how many hairs are on your head or mine. Rather, Jesus states emphatically that His Father has counted the hairs on each of our heads. God can only do this by reaching out to touch us, to caress the hairs on our heads. After all, how is it possible to count the strands of hair on someone’s head without running your fingers through their hair?

The tender care of God is like a mother running her hand through the hairs on the head of her small child, tenderly caressing her loved one. The all-powerful God expresses His power in mercy and compassion, lifting up those who fall.

There are 3 “fear not” statements by Jesus in this instruction from Matthew’s Gospel, and there is one “Be afraid” statement. Be afraid, Jesus says, of the One who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. Fear the all-powerful God who is the source of your life and the judge of your life.

The Christian can be defined, not foolishly as the person who never fears, but rather as the person who strives to fear only what he or she ought to fear.

If God is to be feared, it is quite simply because, as the Creator of both body and soul, he has actual jurisdiction over both body and soul. The Greek text refers not so much to the brute power to destroy as to the actual power that is God’s as absolute origin of man and woman’s whole being. It’s like the psalmist sang, “He made us, we belong to him, because he is our God and we are his people.” (Psalm 94: 6f)

How can the God of Jesus Christ, who knows when a single sparrow falls and loves each of us intimately enough to have counted the hairs on our head be the source of fear to the believer? Jesus’ command here to fear God aims at awakening the disciple to the truth that human life and its deepest choices are of lasting importance. To fear God is, in fact, to choose what is of eternal consequence over that which is passing. Or better said, to fear God is to choose that which is temporary within and in the light of the eternal. Such holy fear makes us attend to the welfare of the soul—our soul— as the place where the crucial drama of life is enacted.

So that in every choice we make, we are ask the question— is this choice drawing me closer to God or pushing me away from God? Is this choice, no matter how inconsequential it may seem, empowering me to love God more and love my neighbor or is it diminishing my capacity to love? There are consequences to going against the grain of love, causing shards of self-inflicted suffering. The wisdom that acknowledges this truth is what we can call, “fear of God.”

Yet, when we fail to love God or others, we need remember Jesus’ exact words. He said be afraid of the one who CAN destroy both soul and body. He did not say WILL destroy….

For the God who falls to earth with each dying sparrow and who numbers the hairs on every head, the God who is love and has loved us into life and sustains our life by His love and offers us eternal life through His love enfleshed in His Son, burns with a passionate desire that we respond to His love by loving Him and others.

We should be fearful of wasting our lives unaware of how much we are loved. We should be afraid of turning away from such a Lover who longs for us to receive even more of His love.

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