January 14, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
The two disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and the other disciple, have a very powerful personal encounter with Jesus. It is so powerful that it changes their allegiance from following John to following the one who is the Lamb of God, Jesus himself.
I liken this personal encounter with the Lord of Love to one’s encounter with a future spouse. Such a life-changing encounter causes one to ask the question, “What am I looking for?” “Have I found what I am looking for in this person standing before me?”
When we meet someone with whom we fall head over heels in love, we want to know where they are staying, where their heart resides. We want to know everything about them—what makes them tick, what impels them to act and live as they do. That is the desire of all disciples of Jesus—to find out where he stays, to know him in a uniquely personal way.
Thus, the invitation of Jesus to those desiring to know him, to know where he stays, is “Come and you will see.” This “seeing” is more than simply discovering who Jesus is. It is coming to see God and others as Jesus sees them. It is seeing as Jesus sees—which is the deepest kind of intimacy, the deepest kind of knowing.
Jesus invites us to see God His Father as Jesus sees the Father. Seeing the Father through Jesus eyes means knowing that God never gives up on loving us or seeking us out.
Look at the call of Samuel through Jesus’ eyes and see the God who persists in calling Samuel, who keeps on calling until Samuel finally understands it is God who is calling. God persists, God perseveres, and does not give up after one try or two or three. See how this persistent love of God manifests itself in the life of Jesus. Jesus sees in Simon the potential to be the foundation of His Church, the rock on which can be built a living structure of believers. So, Simon is given a new name—Cephas—translated Peter, which means “rock.”
Even though Simon at times does not live up to his calling, for he crumbles and fails because of pride or fear, Jesus persists in loving him and continuing to call him. “Remember, Simon, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
See the church through Jesus’ eyes as a group of redeemed sinners, who though imperfect, carry his saving message into the world. Andrew, who experiences the redeeming love of Jesus, who knows Jesus as the promised Messiah, is the one who brings his brother Simon to Jesus. Simon, who becomes Peter, the leader of the early Christian community, comes to know the Christ through his brother, Andrew.
God continues to use imperfect, sinful human beings to bring other imperfect, sinful humans beings to knowledge of His Son.
Through the eyes of Jesus, see how the God of mercy works with a sinful people to continue His saving work. See how God can even use each one of us, with all our weaknesses and warts, and yes, even our sins, to bring others to know His love.
Come and see through Jesus’ eyes the power of the Sacraments at work in the world. See through Jesus’ eyes how God’s presence manifests itself in the Sacraments.
See in the “never go away love” of a wife for her husband the enduring presence of God. See in the “I will always be there” love of a husband for his wife the faithful presence of God. See in the life-giving love of a man and a woman the power of God’s life-giving love.
If you want proof of God’s faithful love for his people, look no farther than the faithful love of a husband and wife which endures and grows through thick and thin, through times of great joy and crushing sorrow, in sickness and in health. See the Risen Jesus at the center of their lives, the One who holds them together and draws them deeper into the mystery of God’s love for His people. See with the eyes of Jesus His powerful presence in a small piece of unleavened bread. See the Risen Jesus present in a small sip of wine, pouring his very life into us. See what Jesus sees when he says, “Take and eat, this is my body”; “Take, and drink, this is my blood;” that He is inviting us to share in divine life, calling those who feel separated from God to enter into communion with God.
If we see what Jesus sees in the Sacraments of the Church, what we end up really seeing is the Risen Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit transforming these lowly bodies of ours into the temple of God. Beginning with baptism, the Holy Spirit has been poured into us, so that these earthen vessels become containers of the living God, temples of God’s Spirit.
The Sacraments of the Church not only remind us of our God-given dignity but also make us dignified to be a dwelling place for the Holy Trinity, where the Father, Son, and Spirit choose to dwell. As temples of the living God, these bodies of ours deserve the deepest respect and honor, as do the bodies of others.
Jesus invites us each and every day— “Come and you will see.” Ultimately, what Jesus wants us to see through his eyes is the radical dignity of every human person made in God’s image. Looking at others through his eyes means going beyond physical appearance, beyond the color of skin or the shape of the face or the body, to see the imprint of God’s image permanently imbedded in the other person.
When we stay with Jesus, we see every human being as made in the image of God and are empowered to honor and respect and love that person, no matter their race or language or past misdeeds.
Staying with Jesus means how we see others will never ever be the same again.
January 7, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
The billions of people walking the face of the earth can be divided into 3 groups. That’s right, three groups.
There are those who are seeking God and who find God. Group #1. Group 2 are those who are seeking God but who have not yet found God. Finally, the 3rd group of people are those who are not seeking God at all and do not find Him.
Those in Group #2 eventually find God and move into Group #1, but the 3rd group of people wander the face of the earth, forgetting why they are here, that they have come from God and are meant to return to God, and all of life is meant to be a journey home.
The Magi on this joy-filled Feast of the Epiphany remind us why we are here — to seek and find God. The strangers from the East, who don’t even have names, show us what life’s all about—a journey fueled by the desire of finding the King of Kings, the Light of the World, the One who brings meaning to life itself.
Though the Scriptures do not use the adjective “wise” in describing these travelers, their actions bespeak a wisdom we can all learn from. We want to be “wise” like them, so our searching will result in discovering the Son of God, so we may know him, love him, and serve Him in this world in order to gain entrance to the next.
The evangelist Matthew does not tell us how many wise men make this journey from their home country to a foreign land looking for the new-born king. We have always labeled them as the “3 Wise Men” because of the three gifts which they present to the Christ-child. However, we don’t know the exact number, but what we do know, is that there is no such thing as a “wise man” in this story, only “wise men.”
Wisdom flourishes in the company of others, while folly flowers in solitary endeavors. Those who are wise do not “go it alone” while those who are foolish act as if they can do it all alone, and end up lost, lost, lost!
The ongoing journey of faith, this adventure of seeking the Lord, can only be done fruitfully in the company of other seekers, of other folks of faith. We join others in the quest, and together we find our way forward.
When we go it alone in our faith journey, without the help of a community of faith, we not only stumble around and end up going in circles and getting nowhere, but we also find ourselves mired in the mud of discouragement.
Wisdom loves company, because wise men and wise women urge each other onward, especially when the journey is hard and difficult and the temptation is to give-up or give-in. Others carry us forward when our hearts are broken and our hopes dashed, and we carry them in return.
Together, the wise men are able to finish their journey, to reach their goal, to find their heart’s desire, the child of promise, the newborn King. Those who seek the Lord, who long to discover Him and know Him better, do so with others, never alone.
Those who are wise also are humble, which means they know what they do not know. Those who are wise are humble enough to stop and ask for directions, to ask for help. Those who are wise know they do not know it all and are unafraid to admit their ignorance and ask for what they need.
The wise men in the Epiphany story ask for directions while lost in Jerusalem. Now I know it may be hard for some of you women to believe this, but these men do not go wandering all over Israel looking for the newborn King, afraid to admit they are lost, but instead ask for directions.
This is a real journey with doubts and dangers, wrong turns, and times of feeling lost. But these wise men are wise because they do not hesitate to inquire of others who may know more than they do, to seek advice.
Their journey is meant to encourage us to persevere in our search for the King. Many of us set out on the journey of life with a great dream and a bright future, only to have it all disappear or collapse in tragedy. Things and unexpected events get in the way, like clouds hiding the sun. Some of us lose not only our way but also our self-confidence or doubts arise and we think we are losing our faith. When that happens, the truly wise seek the guidance of others. They ask for directions.
What we share when we tell this Gospel story is a message of hope that the darkness will pass, and that by having the humility to ask and seek direction, we shall come into Christ’s radiant presence. By having the wisdom to ask and seek direction, coupled with an unwavering commitment to life’s journey toward Christ, we shall come into His glorious presence.
Which brings us to the final lesson on wisdom which these Gospel travelers teach us. Those who are wise bring gifts to give to Jesus.
What gifts are we prepared to share with Jesus this year?
What gifts is He asking us to give him joyfully and generously?
December 31, 2017
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
Do not be misled by the words: “Holy Family.” For we are too often misled by those words into thinking that the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was a “perfect family” who were given a free pass from the harsh realities of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Joseph and Mary and Jesus definitely did not live a sheltered and trouble-free life.
Joseph and Mary’s firstborn child was born almost 100 miles away from the comfort of their home in rough conditions. When he was still an infant they had to flee their home country for a foreign land, Egypt, forced to run for their life by King Herod, who was determined to murder the child Jesus. When Jesus was 12 years old, Mary and Joseph lost him in Jerusalem, and it took them 3 days to find him.
These two parents surely stumbled around and made mistakes just like every parent does with their first born child. Surely there were arguments at times between Mary and Joseph. That’s part of family life, too.
They were a holy family because they were a real family. For today we celebrate how the wonder of holiness is found in the midst of humanness, and what can be more human and real than family life, where in the rubbing of lives against other lives the miracle of love can be born. This feast of the Holy Family is about how God can and has chosen to be revealed and found in the very ordinary ups and downs of family life.
What made this family “holy” is the fact that their home was open toward heaven. Their most important relationship, which enabled them to move forward through the difficulties of life with grace, was with God.
It still surprises me when I hear some people refer to Jesus as a “Christian,” for Jesus was a Jew through and through. He was born into a Jewish family who followed the 1000-year-old law of Moses, which is why 40 days after his birth they are in the temple offering sacrifice. Mary and Joseph took Jesus with them every year to Jerusalem to celebrate the most important feast of the people of Israel—Passover. Jesus grew up with a Jewish mother and father who taught him how to pray. He grew in wisdom and grace, like all children are meant to grow, subject to his father and mother’s guidance.
Jesus grew in holiness not only as part of the nuclear family of Joseph and Mary, & not only because of his interactions with cousins, aunts and uncles who lived nearby, but he also grew in holiness as he discovered his identity as a member of a faith-filled people. The “father in faith” of this faith-filled people—Abraham. Jesus & his parents found strength and encouragement from Abraham’s example of faith and followed in Abraham’s footsteps as members of the chosen family of Israel.
The most important relationship in Abraham’s life was with God, the God who had sought Abraham out and called him. Abraham left his home at the call of God, not knowing where he was to go, trusting God would be faithful to God’s promise to bless Abraham with land. Abraham reveals what faith looks like—it is a relationship with God built on trust, knowing that the God who has been faithful to his promises in the past will also be faithful in the future. This witness of Abraham gave Joseph the courage to step forward into the unknown by taking Mary as his wife, though she was pregnant and the child was not his own.
Abraham teaches that God can do the impossible— God can bring life where there was no life before. Even though Abraham was so old he was as good as dead, and Sarah was sterile, Abraham trusted that with God nothing would be impossible. Isaac was born of this trust. God can do what seems impossible. Mary knows this to be true because her cousin Elizabeth, though sterile, becomes full of new life, as well as from her own experience of becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit and giving birth to Jesus.
Then there is the act of complete surrender given by Abe to God, as he prepares to give back to God his only son on the altar of sacrifice. Such a sacrifice flows from Abraham’s relationship with God, which has grown and deepened over the years. He has found God is faithful to his promises. He has discovered that God can do what is impossible for humans to do. So, Abraham reasons that if God can bring life where there was no possibility of life, then surely God can raise the dead and bring back his son, Isaac. From a young age, because of his parents’ faith, Jesus became immersed into a larger family of faith to which he belonged, a “holy family.” Jesus would learn the stories of his ancestors in the faith from his parents. So that like Abraham, he could trust that God his Father could bring life even out of death when he surrendered his life on the altar of the cross to His Father.
Family, in the end, is about relationships, not only about the roles of parenting, providing, or home-making. So, this feast does not leave out those whose experience of family is somehow unique or different from what some would insist is the perfect and only way to be family. In the end, family is about relationships, and when those relationships point beyond themselves to God, holiness becomes possible.
What all of us have in common, I hope, is a home, and that is where this feast leads us. It leads us to look at and reflect upon our homes as places where we find God and are sanctified by what happens there. Homes are meant to be places where we are made aware of our eternal home. A home where a “holy family” lives is one that is open toward heaven, A “holy family” lives in a home which is not closed in upon itself, but is open to God by the loving service given by its members to one another and to others outside the home, by the prayers offered in the home, and by the sacrifices made in love. The forgiveness shared in home makes it a temple where God’s forgiveness is found.
Our Catholic Church has always believed that the home is the first and fundamental church, the first community of love, of which holiness is born.
December 24, 2017
Deacon Paul Lewis
Recently I came across a quote from Philaret of Moscow, who was a Russian Orthodox Metropolitan, equivalent to a bishop in the Catholic Church, during the nineteenth century.
“In the days of creation of the world, when God was uttering his living and mighty “Let there be,” the word of the Creator brought creatures into the world. But on that day, unprecedented in the history of the world, when Mary uttered her brief and obedient, “So be it,” I hardly dare say what happened then… the word of the creature brought the Creator into the world.”
The salvation of the world, the bridge to connect a fallen world to heaven, separated by the sin of our first parents, lies in the response of a fourteen year old girl.
And the world holds its breath. The “yes”, the “so be it,” the response of this lowly handmaid of the Lord, gives God permission, if you will, to come into the world.
The creature’s word echoes the Creator’s word. The created gives birth to the Creator. It is a testimony about what God thinks of humanity.
Yes, God prepared Mary for this moment. She was immaculately conceived in order to be the perfect vessel to carry the one who is the source of all life.
But, as is always the case with God, he does not force anything on anyone. In God’s great love for us, we are granted freedom… the freedom to respond, just as Mary had the freedom to respond. We’ve heard many times, and maybe even have said it ourselves, “I’m only human! What do you expect?”
Our humanity becomes an excuse. But God looks at our humanity as an opportunity.
As St. Gregory of Nyssa suggested… Humanity is the opportunity for the Invisible to be seen, the Intangible to be touched, and the Son of God to be become the Son of Man.
That opportunity was fulfilled in Mary’s “Let it be.”
However, the story does not end with this encounter between an angel and this lowly handmaid from Nazareth. It would be easy to sit back and look with mere admiration at this young girl and her response to the angel.
If we merely observe what happens in this gospel then there is is no point other than entertainment and pious admiration in standing in awe before the details of this story.
At some point, at some time, every one of us must ask the question, “What does this mean?” “How am I different because of it?”
Each one of us is a new opportunity for God. Today’s Gospel reminds us that this encounter between the angel and Mary leads us to our own encounter.
As we prepare to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord it would do us well to look beyond a child born in a stable. The coming of the Lord,
the expression of unimaginable love, is just as present now as it was on that dark night some two thousand years ago.
Today we are reminded that not only should we look for the coming of the Lord in our own lives, but also to bring Christ into our world. In a sense, we are called to be bearers of God.
This angel’s message is for all of us who may think we have been left behind,
too late in life,
or too sinful.
It is not so, proclaims today’s Gospel. With God who can accomplish all things, there will be no excuse for anything short of greatness, holiness, or goodness.
The only thing that fouls up the plan of God is fear, and the first words out of the mouth of the messenger are: Fear Not.
Courage, that great virtue of a disciple is found not in the absence of fear, but in what we do in spite of it.
The glory of Christmas came about by the willingness of an ordinary person to obey God’s claim on her life.
God does not favor people because of any quality within them. It is God’s nature to bestow God’s favor on the sinful, the weak, and undeserving. God grants favor to all who let the Gospel conceive new life in their hearts.
The scene from today’s Gospel reading reminds us that God is always announcing and entrusting God’s self to each one of us, to you and to me…
and the world holds its breath for our response.
December 17, 2017
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
St. Paul encourages us to “rejoice always”. He even says this is the will of God—to rejoice always. But how can we do this in a world where there is so much suffering, so much sadness?
By calling us to rejoice always, Paul is not saying that we will not be sad. What he is encouraging us to do is to go deeper, to go much deeper than a shallow happiness in the passing things of this world.
Paul, whether he was in prison or free, whether hungry or full, whether persecuted or praised, could rejoice always because he discovered true joy is happiness in God. That’s right—joy is rooted in happiness in God.
The prophet Isaiah, proclaiming the word of the Lord during a time when the people of Israel were returning from their exile to their homeland, which had been destroyed, their life was in ruins, says it this way: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”
Joy comes from knowing we are loved by God. Our lives are rooted in joy because God has become one of us, & one with us in Jesus. God is not distant from our lives, but with us in Jesus, in all things human. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can even rejoice in the face of death, knowing that death does not have the last word, but that everlasting life in Christ Jesus is our destiny.
Joy in the Lord is connected to two other realities: prayer and gratitude. According to St. Paul, rejoicing always only happens when we pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances. These three—joy, prayer, and gratitude—are so intertwined that where one is the other two naturally follow.
Prayer opens our eyes to see the gifts of God in our life, which leads to giving thanks, and joy naturally follows. In fact, the word “Eucharist” comes from a Greek word meaning “the proper response to receiving a gift,” which is thanksgiving. As we pray here together, our eyes are opened to see not only the many gifts in our life, but also the gift of Jesus Christ, whose love has saved us and made us whole. The proper response to such a gift is to give thanks, which leads naturally to rejoicing.
As we notice the gifts God pours into our life each day, we give thanks to God in prayer, which naturally leads to joy.
Or when we find ourselves rejoicing, we want to talk to God in prayer about the reasons for our joy. We may even join the Blessed Virgin Mary by expressing our joy in a very joy-filled way—by singing. We sing with Mary her canticle of Joy, the Magnificat, as we give thanks to God who has done great things for us.
Joy, prayer, and gratitude cannot be separated—they go together. If at times you find yourself “joy-less,” strengthen your prayer life and develop a daily attitude of gratitude, and then joy will follow.
Joy in the Lord is also rooted in the virtue of humility. Knowing who we are, and even more so, who we are not, leads to joy.
John the Baptist teaches us to know who we are by knowing who we are not. Many of the people who came to hear John preach and to be baptized by him thought he might be the long awaited Messiah, or the most powerful prophet of all, Elijah raised from the dead, or at the very least a prophet. But to each of these questions about his identity, John would reply—that’s not who I am.
He realized his role was simply to be a voice preparing people to receive the Eternal Word of God’s love, the promised Messiah. He knew he was not the bridegroom for whom they longed, only the bridegroom’s friend. John knew he was not worthy to even perform the task of a slave for the One to Come, that he was not even worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandals. John knew who he was and who he was not.
He realized he was not the Savior, that he was not going to be able to save anybody. But there was one coming who could save him, One coming who would baptize not just with water, but with water and the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist teaches us that long-lasting joy, that rejoicing always, means being rooted in the earth, in the soil of humility. He understood that he could not change people, but could only invite them to change. He knew that doing the small things with love paved the way for the Source of All Love to come into people’s lives.
One reason so many people in today’s world are joy-less is because they act like they are God, thinking the world revolves around them. Another reason so many people in today’s world are without joy is because they think they are in control, or should be in control. So when things go spinning out of control, anger and despair and resentment rise up and kill any joy they might have had.
Faith sees clearly what God has done in the past, how God has been faithful to God’s promises.
Hope trusts that the God who has been faith-full to His people will persist in that faithfulness in the future. In other words, hope believes that the God who has walked with us in the past, who has accompanied us through good times and bad times, will not abandon us in the days ahead, but lead us forward.
The bridge between the past and the future, between faith and hope, is love. Realizing that God rejoices in us, we can make the sacrifices which love demands, and as we do, go out of ourselves toward others and experience real joy.
Living lives full of faith, hope, and love lead to rejoicing always as we become instruments of joy to the world. God makes His presence known through us to a world which believes God is absent.
For joy is the surest sign of the presence of God!