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The Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60: 1-6 + Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-13 + Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6 + Matthew 2: 1-12
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: Sunday, January 2, 2022

The summer after I graduated from college seminary and before I started my graduate studies in theology I worked as a camp counselor at Camp Santa Maria in Colorado.
This camp, funded by the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver,
was for the benefit of inner-city children from Denver.
It was located about 90 minutes southwest of Denver,
nestled in the Rocky Mountains.

The first night the campers arrived at Camp Santa Maria, the other camp counselors
and I would take them on a short hike up into the mountains.
I called it the “Star Walk.”
The campers would see something they had never seen before,
having lived their lives under the bright lights of the big city.
They would see stars for the first time.
Wonder welled up in their hearts, and awe filled their souls
as they pointed at the prickly points of light twinkling in the night sky.
Without fail, there would be a shooting star or two blazing across the sky
that would elicit cries of delight from these novice stargazers.

These kids had entered a whole new world they did not know existed.
That night, on that star walk, they were taken out of their own teeny-tiny worlds
into a much grander universe.
They also got in touch with something great and glorious,
that they were made for something bigger, that they were made by Someone Bigger and made for something more.
They got in touch with their desire for the Creator of the Stars, and His desire for them.

Sadly, not many people see stars anymore, and this is not totally due to light pollution.
Sadly, not many folks even look up to see the stars because they are looking down
all the time, looking inward, all caught up in their own little world.

The modern American dis-ease is not COVID-19, but the dis-ease of self-centeredness, of navel gazing, of being so wrapped up in one’s own small life
that one misses Life itself.
The pandemic has only sharpened, exacerbated this tendency to turn inward.
This inward-turning tendency occurs when we focus solely on taking care of me
and what is mine.
It manifests itself when we only associate with others who are just like us,
our own small group or tribe.

The invitation of Epiphany, of the manifestation of the Son of God as Savior
of the entire world and all its peoples, is to turn outward, to look beyond
our small world into the larger world at the many diverse people God has created.
A world of wonder and delight.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, by the grace flowing from the inexhaustible spring
of the Spirit, we move beyond self-centeredness and selfishness to live for others,
to love in grander and more inclusive ways.
We begin to see by the light of the Star of Grace the face of the Christ-child shining forth from those who are of a different race, language, ethnicity, or gender.

The movement continues outward as we move beyond nationalism
and recognize our interconnectedness with all the people scattered across the globe.

This movement of grace, lit by the Star-light of the Spirit of God, moves us beyond
even earth itself, beyond thinking this spinning globe is the center of the universe
to the recognition that it revolves around the sun, as our lives revolve
around the Son of God, who is the center, the source, the reason for our being.

The Star of Faith moves us into the “more” out there and helps us resist the temptation to focus inward, to remain in the small world of the self.

We need other star-seekers to help us follow the signs to the presence of Christ
in the world today.
We need those who follow a star seemingly out of reach to teach us
how to do the same.
All star-seekers experience a “manifestation” of God’s glory, an epiphany,
which changes their life. They all experience an “Ah-Hah” moment,
a radiance so bright that it captures their heart, their soul, their very life.

Sr. Helen Prejean shows us how to follow the Star of Mercy
in order to find the Merciful One.
This star led her to Death Row and to the discovery of a mercy
she didn’t know she possessed.
The mercy belonged to the Creator of the stars, but it was hers to use in ministering
to condemned criminals and to their families, finding Christ there.
This Star of Mercy also opened her eyes to the suffering of the families members
of those who experience violent crimes,
and to find the suffering Christ shining through their lives.

There was another woman who had an Epiphany that would not stop.
She saw God’s face shining forth from the faces of the poor.
This woman of deep faith spent her life not only feeding them, clothing them, and giving them shelter, but also fighting the injustices in the world that kept them poor.
The compassionate ministry that continues in Catholic Worker houses
has turned Dorothy Day into a star that keeps on shining.

Martin Luther King lived his life guided by the Star of Hope
in the face of the evil of racism and prejudice.
This star led him to see Christ present in a people who suffered
from the hateful deeds of others simply because of the color of their skin.
King’s hope was that we could all live together as brothers and sisters,
no matter what the color of our skin, and he warned if we chose not to do so,
that we would perish together as fools.
He followed this star to his death and is the patron saint
of those who find it hard to follow stars.

And then there as was a man of God from San Salvador by the name of Oscar Romero.
He followed the Star of Truth which revealed the lies
perpetuated by the powerful people in El Salvador, lies he brought into the light.
He would not be silent, but became a voice for those who had no voice,
for those being brutally oppressed by those few who held onto power.

But this only happened because Oscar had an epiphany,
recognizing the persecuted Christ in the faces of the oppressed.
He died as he followed the Star of Truth, but his star shines on in the people of Salvador.

To this list of star-seekers you can add an Oklahoma farm boy
who was murdered and martyred in Guatemala, the country next door to El Salvador,
one year after Oscar Romero suffered the same fate, because he, too, chose to follow
the Star of Truth and stand with a people oppressed.

You can also add to this list of star seekers a teenage girl from Sweden
who has traveled the world challenging us adults to live simply and take better care
of our planet so that the next generations can simply live on this earth.
She has endured ridicule from powerful leaders but that has not deterred her in her mission to protect our common home, this earth, which is God’s gift to us to care for.

When we look up and outward, we notice many stars shining in the seeming darkness
of this world.
They all light the way to the source of light and love—Christ himself.

Christ Jesus wants nothing less than the gift of our life laid down at his feet.
Can we give ourselves to Him totally and fully?

Can we allow the Light of the World to shine through us, and in doing so,
add our names to the list of the Star-seekers?

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Numbers 6: 22-27 +Galatians 4: 4-7 + Luke 2: 16-21
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: January 1, 2022

The 8 days stretching from Christmas Day through the 1st Day of the New Year
are called the “Octave of Christmas”, or the 8 days of Christmas.
The Church in her wisdom understands that the incredible story of the Incarnation,
of the Son of God taking human flesh and being born for our salvation,
cannot be celebrated in one mere day.
But rather, every day from Christmas to New Year’s is celebrated as Christmas Day,
that we might be drawn deeper into this mighty mystery of Love,
so that the child born of Mary might be born in us anew.

On the first day of Christmas the focus was on the birth of the Son of God.
On this 8th day of Christmas, the focus shifts to the Mother of God,
Today’s solemnity is a perfect bookend to a week of celebrating
the impossible becoming possible, God being born of a woman like you and me.

“For it is nearly impossible to believe: God shrinking down to the size of a zygote,
implanted in the soft lining of a woman’s womb.
God growing fingers and toes in utero.
God kicking and hiccupping in the womb.
God inching down the birth canal and entering this world covered in blood.
God crying out in hunger. God reaching for his mother’s breasts.
God totally relaxed, eyes closed, his chubby little arms raised over his head
in a posture of complete trust.
God resting in his mother’s lap.” (Rachel Held Evans, p.4, Wholehearted Faith)

Only the mind graced with faith can “make sense of this stupendous storyline:
God trusted God’s very self, totally and completely and in full bodily form,
to the care of a woman.
God needed women for survival.
Before Jesus fed us with the bread and the wine, the body and the blood,
Jesus himself needed to be fed, by a woman.
He needed a woman to say: ‘This is my body, given for you.’”
(Rachel Held Evans, p.4-5, Wholehearted Faith)
Before Jesus could feed the world by laying down his life,
a woman had to offer her life for him.

A week ago we heard with the shepherds the great good news heralded
by the angel about the birth of a Savior.
Today we see the shepherds transformed into heralds themselves of this Good News,
trumpeting the great news of the Savior’s birth to the world.

Can we go with the shepherds into this New Year as heralds of the Good News?
Having received the great news of the birth of the Savior,
having allowed the Savior by grace to be born in us anew,
can we join the shepherds in trumpeting to the whole world the Gospel?
Can we join the shepherds in praising and glorifying God with our lives
for all that we have heard and seen: that God has been born of a woman,
that God is with us, that God is therefore for us and not against?

In this New Year, one way we can join the shepherds in announcing to the world
that God is with us, that God out of Love has come to save us,
is by joining the Mother of God in her song of praise.
Mary’s Magnificat is the perfect hymn of praise to sing to the world
at the beginning of this New Year.
For it is a song full of strength and passion and needs to be shouted out to the world.

We shout w/Mary in the mansions of the wealthy & on the floors of stock exchanges…
“God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
In the corridors of the West Wing and the Capitol…
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly!”
Among women who have survived assault, harassment, and rape
only to be publicly maligned by their powerful abusers…
“He has look with favor on the lowliness of his servant!
Surely, from now on all generations will called be blessed.”
Among the poor, the refugees, the victims of gun violence,
“His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”
(Rachel Held Evans, Wholehearted Faith, pp. 142-143)

“In the Magnificat, Mary isn’t merely making a birth announcement….
Instead, Mary’s holy hymn of praise, Mary’s trumpeting of the Good News,
seems breathtaking in its bravado: she declares the inauguration of a new kingdom,
one that stands in stark contrast to every other regime—past, present, and future—
that relies on violence and exploitation to achieve greatness.

Mary proclaims, as should we, that God has indeed chosen sides.

And it’s not with the powerful but with the humble.
It’s not with the rich but with the poor.
It’s not with the occupying force but with people who are occupied and oppressed, disregarded and disempowered.
It’s not with vain, narcissistic kings but with an unwed, unbelieved teenage girl
entrusted with the holy task of birthing, nursing, and nurturing God. (Evans, p. 143)

Mary’s Son is born into a world far from perfect, coming to love a people
ho are fickle and fragile.
Sadly, some miss the message of Christmas thinking when they finally have
their life together, when they have become “perfect,” then God will love them.
But Mary’s Son comes to us to love us as we are—that is the power of the Incarnation.

Like a mother, God is not going to wait until we are full-grown in our faith and
mature in our love before loving us, but instead simply loves us as we are.
God loves us because we are his, we belong to Him.

In Christ Jesus, born of Mary, we have become his adopted sons and daughters.

Can we live during this new year from this our truest identity,
of being beloved sons of daughters in Christ?

Because if we choose to do so, if we choose to live as beloved by God,
we will be able to love others as they are, with Jesus’ help.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

Christmas Midnight Mass and Christmas Day 2021

CHRISTMAS Midnight Mass and Christmas Day HOMILY 2021
Isaiah 9: 1-6, 14 + Luke 2: 1-14
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: December 25, 2021

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in a land of gloom, a light has shone. (Isaiah 9:1)

These words of the prophet Isaiah describe not only Israel’s suffering under oppression from the Babylonians and the Assyrians in the 6th century B.C., and God’s response,
but also the time of Jesus as well.
The long awaited promised One, the child of Hope, is born into a world
where his people suffer from Roman oppression.
The faithful remnant of Israel in Jesus’ day long for the light of a new day,
for the promised Messiah to set them free.

But because the word of God is ever alive and always active,
Isaiah’s words speak to us today as well.
Because we have been living for almost two years in what seems like one long night, stumbling around in deep darkness, nothing seeming to be like it was before COVID-19.
We have been dwelling in a land of gloom.
It is into this darkness that the light who is Christ shines.
It is into this gloom that the piercing light who is Christ penetrates.

The Savior is born anew into our world where we need Him now
to be our light and our salvation.
In the midst of so much bad news, so much death, so much division and conflict,
comes good news of great joy—A savior is born for us!

Do not let your hearts be troubled nor your minds muddled—
know that the child born of Mary is the Way to life, the Way who gives us Breath—
breathe deeply of the Life he brings.
That child born in Bethlehem in the dark of night is the Truth of the Father’s love for us, the Truth shining through the darkest times when we feel absolutely, utterly lost.
He is the Way through the greatest darkness of all–He is the Life that conquers death.

Bedazzled by this blazing mystery, we ponder the titles used by the prophet of old
for the Savior of the World:
He is Wonder-Counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:5)

He is “Wonder-Counselor,” for He is anointed by the Spirit and relies on Spirit’s gifts,
on a wisdom and a knowledge and an understanding flowing from the heart of God.
So, he can counsel us on the way to life, especially when we seem to have lost our way.

When life is at its darkest point, when we stumble around lost in confusion
or hurt or sadness, Jesus advises us that it is then that life is also at its brightest,
for at that low point we realize we cannot save ourselves and need a Savior.

He saves by surrendering his life to the Father out of love, so we can learn the wisdom of surrendering our lives with him to the Father.
The way to life is to lose our life in sacrificial love of others, not by holding onto it.

He is Wonder-Counselor!

He is also “God-hero.”
Jesus as Savior of the World is born and lives not as a superhero, but as God-hero.
The child born of Mary is the hero we need,
not the Marvel characters so many with whom so many are fascinated.
For in God’s wisdom, Jesus does not have any superpowers to protect him
from suffering and sadness, from hatred and persecution.

He empties himself of all divine privilege to become weak and fragile like us,
subject to hunger and heartache, to thirst and heartbreak.
This hero shows us that God stands on the side of the underdog, the forgotten ones—
the sick, the poor, the stranger, the sinner.

Even the way he dies is heroic in a godly way.
He does not do the superhero thing to break free from the cross and to kill the Roman soldiers and religious leaders who nailed him to that tree.
Rather, he suffers to transform all our suffering into glory,
and he dies to transform all our dying into life with Him.
He is “Father-forever.”
As Jesus repeats over and over again in John’s Gospel—if you have seen me,
you have seen the Father. The Father and I are one.
I can only do what I see my Father doing.

The Son of God shows us the Father’s face and that face is MERCY.
Jesus reveals a God constantly searching for His lost children.
A God who never gives up looking for us when we are lost,
and always ready to run out and welcome us home,
to throw a party when we turn back to Him.

By his parables and by the parable of his life, Jesus reveals a God
who will always be “Our Father.”

He is also “Prince of Peace.”
Into a world filled with fury he comes, a world ripped apart by violence.
Where soulless drones shoot deadly missiles at innocent civilians,
where children kill other children with guns built to kill many quickly,
where mothers consent to the killing of their children in their womb,
and where States state that killing is wrong by killing the killer.

As Prince of Peace, he comes not only into the violent world out there,
but to the violence in here, the violence which flares up in every human heart.
Hearts that harbor resentment and thirst for revenge,
hearts that condemn others without even getting to know the one begin condemned, hearts which are full of self-hatred, punishing their owners mercilessly.
As Prince of Peace he comes to these hearts, to our hearts, to reign, to rule, to save.

Toward the end of the recently released movie, “West Side Story,”
the character played by Rita Moreno, Valentina, sings the haunting song, “Somewhere.”
Valentina sings this song after the rumble between the Jets and the Sharks,
a violent encounter which leads to the death of their leaders, Riff and Bernardo,
whose violent deaths give birth to more violence by their followers.
As violence begets more violence, Valentina sings:

Somewhere. We’ll find a new way of living.
We’ll find a way of forgiving
There’s a place for us.
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there.

As Savior of the World and Prince of Peace, Jesus is hand of God stretched out
to grasp our hand to lead us into a new way of living,
a way of forgiving, a way of living in peace with each other.

He is born to save us.
He does so by becoming one of us and one with us.

Love becomes us, so we can become Love.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

2nd Sunday of Advent

Baruch 5: 1-9 + Psalm 126: 1-6 + Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11 + Luke 3: 1-6
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: Sunday, December 5, 2021

There sure is a lot of waiting in our lives.
Even though with a click of a mouse, we can buy just about anything at all
and have it delivered lickety-split, this year’s supply bottlenecks
have caused us to wait a bit longer for what we might want for another for Christmas.

For young children, the waiting for Christmas Day can seem like
a year’s worth of days packed into a month.
For expectant parents, nine months for a child to be born can feel like an eternity.
For spouses who are physically separated by distance because of military service or work that takes them far away,
the days or weeks or months apart can seem like forever.

John the Baptist knows a little bit about waiting.
He lives in the desert, where one day can look the same as the next, and the diet
can be pretty bland—after all, there is not much one can do with wild locusts and honey.
But John waits in hope for the call of the Lord.

John’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, also know something about waiting on the Lord.
Childless, they had prayed to the Lord for years on end, asking for a child,
never giving up hope even as the years slide away, one by one.

Zechariah and Elizabeth, who wait on the Lord, are a symbol of faithful Israel
who wait for the Lord to bring them home from exile in Babylon.
Their waiting in hope is tested as the days become years and the years turn into decades.
They keep hoping that one day the Lord God will make a way for them to return home.

How do John the Baptist and Elizabeth and Zechariah wait in hope?
How do God’s people, far from home, wait in hope?
How do they do it and not fall into a pit of despair, but keep on keeping on
in their trust in the Lord?
The cry of the psalmist today reveals the secret sauce that sustains them:
“The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy!”

By remembering what God has done, John and Zechariah and Elizabeth and the exiles
in Babylon all can wait in hope, knowing that God will act again, that God will come.

Those faith-filled Israelites, pining away in a foreign land far from home, look back
in their history to their ancestors enslaved in Egypt for the source of their hope.
God came to their rescue, God heard their cries, God set them free from slavery in Egypt.
So the Israelites in exile in Babylon trust God will do the same for them,
that God will come and set them free.

Elizabeth, barren and childless, remembers how God acted in the life of Sarah,
who became the mother of the child of promise, Isaac.
Elizabeth knows Sarah’s story, because it is ingrained in the history of her people.
God brought new life to the dead womb of Sarah,
even though she was far past the time of bearing a child at the age of ninety.
Remembering what God did for Sarah, Elizabeth lives in the hope
that God will do the same for her.

John the Baptist, waiting day after day for the call of the Lord in the desert,
is sustained by remembering the call of other prophets before him, remembering
how the Lord God called them at a specific time and in a specific place
with a specific message to bring the people of Israel back to God.

John and Elizabeth and Zechariah and the faith-filled people of Israel persevere in faith even though their circumstances seem to be no different day after passing day.
They persevere, they keep on keeping on, because their hope is not a passing fancy,
but rooted and grounded in God’s goodness, in the God who has acted before
and will act again, in the God who has come before and who will come again.

The prayer they repeat day after day to God is:
“Lord, I have seen your goodness. I will wait on you in confidence.”
They can be filled with joy, because the Lord has done good things for them!

That God will act there is no doubt, that God will come and set his people free
and fill them with new life is certain.
But how and when God acts are on God’s terms, for God’s ways are not our ways
nor is God’s timing our timing.

It takes a little over 200 years before the Hebrew slaves are set free by God
from their bondage in Egypt.
And how God delivers them is not exactly the way human beings would have done it.
God uses a murderer, who has been exiled from Egypt because of his dastardly deed,
to lead them out of slavery.
Moses, who fled Egypt for fear of his life because he killed an Egyptian,
returns to Egypt because God sends him back to set his people free,
even though there is a price on Moses’ head.
Moses, who most likely struggled with a speech impediment is sent by God
to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go.
When God calls him to this mission, Moses tells God that surely God
has got the wrong person for the job, and we would think so, too.
But God’s ways are not our ways….

How God frees the exiles in Babylon from captivity is even more mysterious.
When the Persian Empire conquers Babylon,
the Israelites have already spent over five decades in exile.
Then the Persian king, Cyrus, issues a decree freeing the people of Israel to return home, after sixty years in captivity.
God uses a pagan, a powerful pagan king, to set his people free. Unbelievable!

Then there was the timing with Elizabeth.
Since God chooses her to be the mother of the greatest prophet of all time,
chooses Elizabeth to give birth to a son chosen to prepare the way
for God’s only begotten Son, we would think God would have John born
at a more normal time in his mother’s life.

But Elizabeth is old and way beyond child-bearing age when John is conceived,
and there are many things working against a healthy child and a healthy childbirth.
If Elizabeth would have had her say concerning the timing of her pregnancy with John,
she would have told God to make this happen when she is younger & fitter and stronger.
But God’s timing is not our timing, nor are God’s way our ways.

God remains faithful in always doing something new, beyond our expectations,
but always for our growth into an ever more mature and responsible faith, so we may:
Believe the unbelievable! Hope in the impossible!

Much of God’s work does not happen overnight,
much of what God is about does not come about with the snap of one’s fingers.
Plus, the work of God may not be easy to spot right away either.

Most of the time we have to wait, because nothing is clear at all, but we wait with hop because “Advent Attitude” we are developing fuels our expectation
that the Lord Jesus in his goodness is breaking into our lives.
Strengthened by this hope, we stand erect and lift our heads to see the Lord Jesus coming, instead of being bowed down by the anxieties of life.

Because there is no mountain too high nor valley to low for the Lord Jesus.
He who has come and who will come again is coming right now,
leveling the obstacles in our lives to his coming,
filling in the low parts of our life with his saving love.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

Christ the King Sunday

Daniel 7: 13-14 + Psalm 93: 1-2,5 + Revelation 1: 5-8 + John 18: 33-37
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: November 21, 2021

The reason the Son of God comes into this world
is to testify to the truth of divine love.
The reason the Son of God is born of Mary, lives and dies,
is to reveal the truth of divine love over and over and over again.

Jesus’ sole reason for being is to testify to the truth that God is love
and that those who abide in love, abide in God and God in them.
Those who belong to this truth, who acknowledge this truth, are able to hear
his voice, while the Pilates of this world scoff at the notion that God is love.
By his words and his deeds, Jesus reveals that forgiveness and mercy are
the most normal and powerful ways that God loves us.

Jesus lives and dies to reveal the truest, deepest identity of every human being—that each person is a child of God, created out of love and made for love.
Therefore, Jesus comes to establish a “Kin-dom” where we all can live together
as brothers and sisters of one family rooted in God.

You heard me right when I said “Kin-dom” and not “kingdom”.
I believe we have to find new words to express more fully the radical reality
Jesus initiates by his life, death, and resurrection.
After all, our nation was formed by rejecting the whole idea of allegiance to a king. In addition, many people are like Pilate in their desire to impose on Jesus
their idea of what he should be as king and what his kingdom should look like, especially regarding who is in and who is out.
Those values are often directly opposed to the truth Jesus reveals
about God’s persistent, never-go-away love affair with humanity.

Jesus testifies to the truth that God Our Father created us out of love
and made us to receive and share love.
As the Son of God who comes to save us who have turned away from God’s love, Jesus witnesses to truth that God will even give His life for us to bring us home.
The Spirit of love uniting Father and Son has been poured out onto this world and into the hearts of believers, the Spirit whose love unites us as brothers and sisters of the Son, sons and daughters of the Father, one family in God.

In order to live always from the truth of God’s love for us, we have to acknowledge that sometimes we live by the lies of the kingdom of this World, instead of living from the truth of Jesus’ Kin-dom.
We need to expose these lies of the kingdom of the world
and embrace more fully the truths of Jesus’ Kin-dom.

Too many people today seek to have power over others, like Pilate.
Too many place all their hopes in the big lie that political power
will bring meaning to life, as one’s political party then takes the place of God
as the most important thing in life.
Then anything which challenges the values of the power of one’s party is rejected, even if those values are based in the Kin-dom of God.
Those ensnared in this lie place their value, their innate God-given value,
into the hands of their political party.

In the Kin-dom of Christ, being “over” others, being the ones in “power”,
is not the goal of life on this earth. Rather, being of service to others is.
What members of the “Kin-dom” give witness to by their lives of humble service is the truth that washing feet, loving the lowly and discarded of this world,
is the way to go deeper into God’s heart and into the heart of happiness.

The kingdom of this world pushes the lie that wealth is where it’s at,
that seeking to have more and more money and more and more things
is the way to happiness.
But for those who live by this lie, enough is never enough.
There is an insatiable hunger for more and more and more,
which can never be satisfied.

In the “Kin-dom” which Jesus establishes, the human person
is always more important than things, the God-given dignity of the human being can never be subjugated to the “almighty dollar”,
profit cannot take precedence over the person.
The dad who values things more than people will be furious with his son
who wrecked his dad’s car and will allow his anger to fester and grow, while
the dad who testifies to the truth that people are more important than things
will be more relieved than upset because his son survived the accident.

Those who serve the kingdom of this world place a high value on honor—
they seek to be liked, approved of, esteemed by others.

They place their value into the hands of others,
their value is found in what others think of them.

The truth Jesus reveals is that are identity comes not from what we do
or what others think about us, but from who we are as God’s adopted children.
So those who are citizens of the “Kin-dom” of God do not fear being hated or persecuted by others for doing the right thing, because they know who they are.

The kingdom of this world values pleasure
and promotes the vain pursuit of pleasure.
Those who seek only to “feel good” take care of their basest desires
at the expense of others.
Or worse, they use others as objects for their pleasure.
Thus, the scourge of pornography and its hold on human hearts today.

In the ‘Kin-dom” of God, sacrificial love is the way to happiness.
Any pleasure, any joy, is simply a by-product of living one’s life for others,
of giving one’s life away in love of others.
This kind of loving is not “feel good” loving but a decision to treat the other
with respect and kindness even when we do not feel like doing so.

The kingdom of this world promotes the lie that the pursuit of power, wealth, honor and pleasure will being happiness and meaning to one’s life.
For those who are members of the “Kin-dom” of God, the truth is that service, generosity, humility, and sacrificial love lead to true joy.

When we reach out to the least, the last, and the lost, we reveal God’s love strengthening the “Kin-dom”.
When we welcome the stranger, we show that Christ rules our hearts.
When we transform unjust systems, when we oppose anything which belittles
the dignity of the human person or tries to destroy human life, Christ’s rule becomes more evident.

The Holy Spirit within us and among us keeps prodding us
to enlarge the circle of love, to include more and more people within our care.
The love that we know in Christ also extends beyond human communities;
it embraces all beings on earth, our other-than-human kin.
We all share a common home which we are called to love without reserve,
to care for and protect as if our very lives depended on it, for they do.

The victory of love has already been won by Christ Jesus
from the throne of the cross.
We live in an in-between time, in the “now” of Christ’s victory
and the “not-yet” of the fullness of his reign.
But we are able to persevere in loving God, loving neighbor,
loving all God’s creatures and the earth God has created,
because we know that Christ will eventually rule over all,
that love cannot be destroyed, that life in God is what lasts.

From the throne of the cross, Jesus rules over the entire world.
He stretches out his arms to embrace all people of all places and all times,
sinners and saints, the just and the unjust,
in a never-ending embrace of love.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Daniel 12: 1-3 + Psalm 16: 5, 8-11 + Hebrews 10: 11-14, 18 + Mark 13: 24-32
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: November 14, 2021

Too many Christians take passages like this one from Mark’ Gospel
and look for signs pointing to the end of the world.
But that’s not what these words of Jesus are about at all.
In Mark, Jesus clearly states that no one knows the day nor the hour
of the end of the world—only the Father.

Too many Christians today are drowning in apathy, thinking that all the events
turning their world upside down mean the world is ending,
so they throw up their hands and do nothing.

But that is not the point of this gospel passage.
Rather, what Jesus is teaching his followers is the enduring truth
that when our own “little worlds” seem to be ending,
this is just the beginning of something new.

That is why the parable of the fig tree is the central point of this gospel passage.
Jesus encourages his disciples, in the midst of the tragedies and upheavals of life,
to look for signs of new life.
There, in those budding signs of new life, they will find Him near, coming to them.

This is not a “doom and gloom” gospel, for the focus is not on the pain that is part of life on this earth, but about what the Lord of life is doing in the midst of “death”
to bring about new life.
The focus is not on all the losses we experience in life, but on what the Lord of Light
is doing in the midst of darkness to renew our lives.

It is important to note when these words in Mark’s Gospel are spoken by Jesus.
Jesus speaks them two days before Passover,
two days from what we Christians call, “The Last Supper.”
Jesus is only 3 days from being tortured and killed on the cross,
from his world as he knows it coming to an end.
On that Good Friday the sun will be darkened, the earth will shake,
and Jesus’ followers who witness this spectacle on Calvary
will be tempted to think their world has come to an end.

But this ending is just the beginning of resurrected life for Jesus, just the beginning
for his followers who will share in new life with Jesus by the gift of His Spirit.
On the cross, Jesus makes the one perfect sacrifice of love which transforms
all sorrow into joy, all suffering into glory, all dying into new life.

On tree of the cross, Jesus experiences excruciating physical pain.
When we experience bodily pain consuming every waking minute and disturbs our sleep,
putting an end to our world as we had known it,
Jesus not only understands, he is with us in it.

Jesus also plunges into the darkness of searing emotional pain, as his heart is broken
by the betrayal of a close friend, by another close friend denying him,
and others who had been close to him scattering in fear and abandoning him.
When we taste heartbreak, when our family members and friends and others
wound our heart, when we feel like we are all alone and no one understands, Jesus does.
And he carries us through this experience of “dying” into new life.

Jesus, fully human like you and me, enters into the greatness darkness we encounter, when we feel abandoned not just by others, but by God.
On the cross in Mark’s Gospel he cries out,
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
When we feel like God has abandoned us, as if the sun has stopped shining,
the stars have fallen from the sky, the moon no longer gives forth any light—
when we feel this kind of complete darkness, it is even there that Jesus is with us, assuring us that even though we feel as he did on the cross,
that God the Father will never ever abandon his children.

By his one perfect sacrifice of love, Jesus will destroy
that which seems to end everything, death itself, doing what we cannot do for ourselves.

By his one perfect sacrifice of love, Jesus assures us that he is with us in all things,
even in the darkness of pain, distress, suffering, and even death itself.
Jesus experiences everything we fear most—
physical suffering, heartbreak, feeling God’s absence—
in order that everything which seems like the end
can be a new beginning for us with Him!

Those who know Christ’s power to bring life out of death are “fig-tree disciples.”
Those who move forward through what seems like the end with hope of a new beginning, producing fruit for the salvation of the world, are “fig-tree disciples.”

We are invited by the Crucified One now Risen to look and see the signs of new life
in the midst of what seems like death.
To use the eyes of faith to notice fig-tree disciples all around us.

When fig-tree disciples encounter physical pain and bodily suffering,
they turn to the Lord for strength.
These disciples are not crushed by tragedy, but live in hope.

These kind of disciples do not view handicaps as a hindrance to living life fully,
but rise above their limitations with Jesus’ help and seize opportunities
to enrich the lives of others.

These kind of disciples trust in God’s goodness even amidst the disappointments of life.
When their hearts are broken, they continue to take the risk of loving again
with Christ’s help.
When they feel abandoned by God, they trust with Jesus’ help that God is still with them.

Fig-tree disciples confront centuries old “isms”, like racism and sexism and other “isms,” in order to uphold the God-given dignity of every person, the sacred gift of each life.
In doing so, they usher out the old world and bring in a new world.

Fig-tree disciples move forward each day with confidence and courage
that the Lord Jesus by the power of His Spirit is with them bringing new life out of death and transforming every ending into a new beginning.
Disciples of the One who brought forth new life from the tree of the cross
do the small daily deeds of sacrificial love hidden from the headlines,
knowing that Christ can bring much fruit from these acts of love.

We who follow the Crucified and Risen Lord are active in hope, tireless in love, and persevere in faith.
Jesus was being held in the Father’s hands on the cross.
So we know this truth, that Jesus from the tree of the cross has taught us, that God our Father holds the whole world in his hands and will never let it go.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 53: 10-11 + Psalm 33: 4-5, 18-22 + Hebrews 4: 14-16 + Mark 10: 35-45
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: October 17, 2021

It certainly must have stung Jesus when two of his closest friends misunderstand him.
As James and John ask for the best seats, it must have felt like they were rubbing salt
in the wound of his loneliness, for Jesus had just told them, and the other 10,
for the third time about his upcoming passion and death in Jerusalem.

They just don’t get it, and even beyond not getting it, James and John are going
in the opposite direction of the cross—the way of the world—
seeking power and prestige, wanting others to serve them.

Of the 12 apostles, Jesus is closest to James and John, and to Peter.
These 3 go up the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus
and they accompany him to the Garden of Gethsemani.
But remember when Jesus told the 12 the first time about his upcoming passion,
that he would be nailed to a cross and give his life for others,
Peter had also misunderstood, taking Jesus aside and saying, “This shall not be so.”
Jesus had to reprimand Peter, as leader of the group, and surely Jesus’ heart
was wounded in some way by this complete misunderstanding.

But with Peter, with James and with John, Jesus shows great patience.
Even when James and John tell Jesus to do for them whatever they ask,
he responds with openness and generosity: “What do you wish me to do for you?”
It’s all part of his passion on the way to the Passion, it’s all part of the way of the cross
on the way to the Cross.
For the cross is the culmination of Jesus giving his life away every day of his life.

What James and John do not get is that the throne for Jesus is not a golden seat in
some palace, but his throne is the cross, that Jesus’ glory is revealed by the crucifixion.
Jesus’ glory is at its height when he empties himself completely from the cross
out of love for sinful humanity.
Jesus, as the Suffering Servant, reveals his glory by suffering for the sake of others
and bearing the crushing burden of their guilt.
We know who ends up being on his right and left when he reveals the glory
of his saving love from the cross—two sinners, criminals.
The only ones who have a claim on being at the side of Jesus are sinners
and those who have known failure.

That’s the problem with the disciples.
They are too impressed and concerned with their privileged place
in the company of Jesus.
They don’t get it that it’s not until you fail and hit bottom, not until you know your sin, that you can receive what Jesus offers.
Those who are keenly aware of their sin know their need for a Savior.
Those who have hit rock bottom know that only the power flowing
from the Crucified Lord can lift them up to a new life.

The twelve apostles do not know this truth when Jesus is crucified.
Otherwise they would have stepped forward when Jesus was arrested and said,
“Take me, too, for I am one of his followers.”
Otherwise, they would have been crucified on the right and left of Jesus.

Gradually, though, those closest to Jesus come to understand,
once they acknowledge their unworthiness and live with the shame of their denial
at having abandoned Jesus when he needed them most.
Then, and only then, do they stop competing for the places of honor.

When Jesus, risen from the dead, comes back for them, not to punish them
but to forgive them, to lift the burden of their blame and shame,
and gift them with His Spirit, then they go out to give their lives away.
Anointed with the power of the Spirit, given a second chance at being faithful to Jesus, they then seek only the glory of radical self-giving love.

Then they can ask others with Jesus: “What do you wish me to do for you?

Ancient cultures had a way of moving young men out of self-centered life
and into a life lived for others.
Across the world before modern times, many different cultures used initiation rites
to teach young men five universal truths, truths which confront the “lies”
of our 21st century culture.

The truths flowing from the difficult experience of these initiation rites are:
1 Life is hard
2 You are not that important
3 You are not in control
4 You are going to die
5 Life is not about you—you are about life and about serving others

These initiation rites were meant for young men, because young women, as they bore children in their own bodies & then served these children, learned these important truths.

These universal truths need to be taught today to both young men and young women.
A number of children in our country are given more than they need
and grow up believing the lie that life is supposed to be easy,
thinking they should not have to work hard or suffer in any way.
They are fed the lie that you can only be happy if you are constantly being entertained.
That’s because their phones and their I-pads become appendages of their bodies,
a central part of their lives from a very young age.

The Suffering Servant, the King of Kings who emptied himself to become one of us,
and one with us, teaches us the way to abundant life.
He challenges us to move beyond selfishness to giving ourselves away in love of others.
He invites us by the example of his life to move out of deadly trap of thinking
only about “me” and instead ask with Him of others:
“What do you wish me to do for you?”

Jesus teaches us that life is not about what we get but about what we give away.

Jesus Christ understands our human weakness, and so he persists in teaching us
the truth that we need to daily die with him to a self-centered life
in order to rise with him to a life focused on living for others.

He not only teaches this truth but also shows us what this radical self-giving looks like. We are reminded every time look at the cross or see sacrificial love in action around us.

Finally, because he understands our weakness, he helps us, if we allow him,
to live in this new way.
For through him and with him and in him are we able to live life with a Servant’s heart.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Numbers 11: 25-29 + Psalm 19 + James 5: 1-6 + Mark 9: 38-48
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: September 26, 2021

At the height of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was invited to address
a large rally of Union forces.
The emcee who introduced the president asked him to come forward and lead
the assembly in prayer that God might be on the Union side to help win the war.
When Lincoln came up to the podium, the first thing he said was,
“Sir, I am not really concerned about whether God is on our side.
I am very concerned about whether we are on God’s side.”

In his wisdom and in his humility, President Abraham Lincoln was able to see clearly
the human propensity to claim that God is on “our side,”
so that those on the other side could be demonized or dehumanized.
That’s one of the reasons why when Lincoln formed his Cabinet he chose
a couple of his political opponents to sit on this very important advisory panel.
He needed to listen to them, too.

God is not limited to “one side” or the “other”.
The Spirit of God cannot be bottled up and controlled by one group or another.
The Spirit of the Lord works in unexpected ways through unexpected people
and does not “choose” sides.
Joshua learns this truth from Moses, and John learns the same truth from Jesus.

Joshua is upset because Eldad and Medad were prophesying without being
in the specific gathering to which Moses had invited them.
John complains to Jesus that someone who does not belong to their group
is driving out demons.
Both Joshua and John are very confident they can define the parameters
for who can speak and act in God’s name, but Moses and Jesus know better.
They understand that being on God’s side is less clear, less black and white,
than some would have us believe.

What Jesus would challenge us to do is cut out of our lives those attitudes
which cut us off from others who are different from us, not part of our group.
Jesus challenges us to remove from our lives those actions where we would use our hand
to strike out at “the other” and instead extend an ear to listen and first understand.

We may disagree with the beliefs of another person,
but we should never despise the person who holds those beliefs.
We commit to approaching others with love,
attempting to identify common values based on truth.
We have to cut out labeling others as progressive or conservative
and recognize how they treat others is what matters.

Disciples of Christ are recognized
for how they serve others, especially the weakest and most vulnerable ones.
Receiving a gift of a cup of cold water from another, even such a small, simple gift,
can open our eyes to see the God-given dignity of the one giving the gift.

God’s side is always bigger than our side.
God’s side is always larger than our side.

Now it is natural and necessary to separate good from bad,
people we trust from those we do not, and making such decisions
is an important thing to do, especially for one’s children.
We use the best judgment we can to guide our lives.

But we have to acknowledge that once we have made these important choices,
grouping together all those people we deem good and trustworthy,
that the group God would draw together would be much larger than ours.

Even in the small, select group of the 12 apostles chosen by Jesus,
there was a tax collector working for Romans (Matthew),
and a zealot working to overthrow the Romans (Simon).

Jesus dies on the cross not for a certain group of “worthy” people,
but he gives his life for all people, every single person who has ever lived on this earth.
Jesus even welcomes a criminal dying next to him on a cross to be on God’s side.
Jesus even includes on “his side”, Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin,
the group that condemned him to death,
and Nicodemus responds by preparing Jesus’ body for burial.

God’s side is always larger than ours, for
God sees a goodness we do not perceive.
God knows possibilities we cannot imagine.
God’s love is not limited to only those we deem worthy.

The more we are drawn into Communion with Christ Jesus,
the easier it is to see the world from his perspective.
For Christ Jesus helps us to see what His Father, who is Our Father, sees.

We are all God the Father’s children, each and every one of us made in God’s image.
We are one human family, all sharing one common home,
this earth given to us to care for and to protect.

It requires humility and courage to see the world from God’s perspective.
We have to be humble enough to know that God’s vision
is always greater than our vision.
We have to be courageous enough to make room for that vision
even if we seem foolish and hopeless naïve to others.

It is not easy to stand on God’s side.
Perhaps that is why we are tempted to believe that God stands on ours.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20 + Psalm 54: 3-8 + James 3: 16-4:3 + Mark 9: 30-37
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: September 19, 2021

In last Sunday’s Gospel passage from Mark, we heard the first passion prediction
by Jesus, and today we hear his second passion prediction.
At the very center of Mark’s Gospel there are three “Passion” predictions by Jesus
about his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection—the first in chapter 8,
the second in chapter 9, and the third in chapter 10.

Following each of these three passion predictions, the reaction of the disciples reveals
that they are completely clueless as to what Jesus is saying.
After the first one, Peter has the gall to take Jesus aside and tell him
this is not part of God’s plan.
After the second one, they argue about who is most important.
After the third passion prediction, James and John have the audacity to ask Jesus
for seats on his right and left hand when he comes into the glory of his kingdom.
Each time, though, Jesus uses their misunderstanding as an opportune teaching moment, showing the disciples what it looks like to follow his example of self-giving,
passionate love.

After today’s second passion prediction, the disciples argue amongst themselves
about who is the greatest.
Jesus responds by teaching them what greatness looks like in the Kingdom of God.
He simply says that if you want to be great, you must be the servant of all.

But what makes one a servant? What does being a servant look like?
Jesus uses a visual image by drawing a child to himself and telling those
who would follow him that welcoming a child is the true path to greatness,
welcoming a child is what servants do.

This shocks the disciples, for in the Biblical world,
children are seldom noticed by men, much less served by men.
Jesus’ teaching turns their world upside-down.
They think greatness is about having power over others,
while Jesus shows them that greatness comes from serving the powerless.

For children are perfectly powerless.
They must ask for everything and anything they need.
The child is the symbol of the helpless, the dependent,
those shut out of privilege and power.
A child relies on others to take care of him or her.

A child is one who lacks things.
A child lacks experience, command of language, knowledge, and legal rights.

Greatness in the kingdom of God comes not from having power over others
but from serving these who are powerless.

Obviously, this means being a voice for the voiceless child in the womb
and seeking to end the evil of abortion.
Clearly one of the ways to be such a servant of the Kingdom of God
is by accompanying mothers in problem pregnancies, helping them to give birth
to their children, and then providing the necessary resources to care for their children.

But we cannot stop there, for we need to ask the question:
Who else in our midst who are like children because they are easily preyed upon
because of their dependence on others and their lack of power?
What about the homeless and the hungry?
What about the elderly and the ill?
What about the ones who are materially poor or who are victimized because of their race?

Who else needs our service because of their lack of command of language
or lack of access to legal rights?
What about the immigrant and the refugee?

But first these “little ones” need to be seen before we can serve them.
First they have to be acknowledged as children of God, and then they can be served.

This is where Catholic Charities steps in by placing in our line of vision
the “children” we are called to serve.
Catholic Charities brings to our awareness who we are called to serve.
Once we notice them, we can then lovingly assist them as Jesus commands
by supporting the good work of Catholic Charities.

Jesus concludes his challenging teaching with an incredible promise.
When we welcome the “child” in our midst, we welcome Him as the child of God.
And when we welcome Him, we welcome the One who sent Him, the Father of us all.

So, something much, much more is going on when we serve the “child” in our midst.

We are receiving into our life in these encounters with those who are like children,
the Lord of Life, the Son of God.
We are receiving the One who sent his only Son into the world
to teach us how to love each other, especially those most in need of our love.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 35: 4-7a; Psalm 146: 7-10; James 2: 1-5; Mark 7: 31-37
Holy Spirit Church: September 5, 2021

Ephphatha! What a strange sounding word.
It is an Aramaic word, the language which Jesus of Nazareth spoke. Ephphatha!
When Mark wrote his gospel in the 1st century in Greek, he retained this Aramaic word,
a word that would have actually been spoken by Jesus. Ephphatha! Be opened!

But this is not the only time Mark used the original language of Jesus in his gospel.
Remember back at the end of June when we heard proclaimed in this place the encounter
between Jesus and the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus.
Everyone thought her dead on her bed, but Jesus reaches out, takes her hand and says
to her, “Talitha koum”, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” (Mark 5:41)
And so she does, responding to the words of Jesus, “Talitha koum.”

Then there are the words spoken in anguish by Jesus on the cross in Mark’s gospel.
“Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani” which we heard proclaimed on Palm Sunday
at the end of March. (Mark 15:34)
This saying in Aramaic is translated as, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Ephphatha; Talitha koum; eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani—these Aramaic words
connect us to the historical Jesus, reminding us that he was a real person
who spoke a specific language, that he lived at a certain time and in a certain place.
He healed those whose bodies were broken, lifted up those lying
on their deathbeds, and by his own death brought the ultimate healing—
the gift of a life beyond this life where there will be no more suffering nor sorrow
nor death anymore.

Like his healing of the man who was deaf and mute, Jesus longs to speak over us
the same word today—Ephphatha—that is, “Be opened.”
The Risen Jesus, who still is with us by the power of His Spirit,
longs to touch those parts of us that are closed off to his love and open them up.

Jesus reaches out to touch the man in today’s Gospel in those specific places
which needed healing— his ears and his tongue.
In this very intimate encounter between Jesus and this man apart from the crowds,
Jesus physically touches those places in him which are closed off and need opening.
So Jesus longs to do with each one of us.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves, and he knows those places in our heart
that we have closed which need to be opened.
He knows how we compartmentalize our life by spending some time with him in prayer but then closing off the rest of our day to him
It is those parts of our life that he wants to reach out to touch with his healing power.

Jesus is very aware as well of those parts of our life from the past
which we still carry locked away because of much hurt or pain,
parts of our life that we have never opened up to anybody about, much less Him.
But he knows even these very intimate parts of our life and longs to reach out
and touch them and say, “Be opened” that his healing love might flow into them.

Throughout our life we also close ourselves off to other people.
We become “deaf” to them, deaf to their cries.
Our tongues become shackled—we do not even speak to them.
Now these can be people who have hurt us, but they also can be certain groups of people who we shut out because they are different from us.

The community to which St. James addresses his letter struggled
with being open to the poor in their midst.
For us, it may be the same, or we may close our hearts to those of a
different political persuasion, or race, or ethnicity, or gender.

The Risen Jesus speaks to us in these places of our heart that have been closed off:
Ephphatha—BE OPENED!

Being open to hear the Word of God is a life-long process, an ongoing journey of healing.
Being open to hear the Will of God involves a daily turning to Jesus to open us up
to the Father’s will and help us to accomplish it.

For most of us our journey of faith begins in the waters of baptism as a child,
so this process of being ever more open to God’s word starts there as well.
One of the rituals of baptism enacted after the giving of the candle is the
“Ephphatha Rite.” That right, you heard me right, it is the “Ephphatha Rite.”

The minister touches the child’s ears and mouth while saying:
“May the Lord Jesus, who made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak,
grant that you may soon receive his word with your ears & profess the faith
with your lips to the glory and praise of God the Father.”

May we receive the word of God spoken today by the prophet Isaiah,
“Be strong, fear not. Here is your God…he comes to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)

May we profess this faith with our lips by encouraging others
to be strong in the Lord’s saving love.

As the Lord Jesus reaches out to touch us in this sacred meal of the Eucharist,
may we be opened to his presence in others.”

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi