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Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord

January 3, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

The Epiphany story is a favorite of just about everyone, what with the star of wonder and the mysterious visitors from the East and their gleaming gifts. But beneath the glory of this story is the reality of the magi being faithful to something others did not see. They had a vision which guided them through unknown and dangerous territory. They saw something which others dismissed as unimportant.

Surely as they struck out on their journey they would have been ridiculed by others. Following a vision that few others share is a very hard thing. Surely others who did not see what the magi saw mocked them, thinking the magi to be silly or worse, just plain stupid. Remaining faithful to the vision is a difficult decision. The journey is long and full of challenges.

If it would have been easy and obvious, there would have been more than just a few wise men making the journey. If the vision would have been so readily believable, then all the folks in Jerusalem would have been going with the wise men on the short trek down to Bethlehem. But the magi saw something others did not see, in the darkness a light to guide them, a star speaking to them of something of great importance happening in the world.

It had to have been a hard decision to remain true to their vision, to remain faithful to what they felt called to do, especially when no one else saw what they saw.

Being faithful to your life, following the path onto which you have put your feet with fidelity and confidence, is a very hard thing. To set out on a journey that does not make much sense to many others is difficult. To respond to a call that no one else hears is challenging.

Being in church every time the community assembles to make your commitment to its mission and life is a very hard thing. To do so during a pandemic is even more challenging. It is even challenging for those who because of health issues or advancing age, choose to join Sunday Mass by way of livestream. There are so many other more “productive” or “fun” things to be doing with our valuable time on a Sunday morning.

Remaining faithful to the vision is a hard decision.

It can be hard to choose marriage in a culture which mocks commitment. Or, after earning a college degree, and then answering the call to work with the poor in a 3rd world country, one can be looked upon as crazy. Or, you want to be a priest—are you out of your mind? To choose a lower-paying job that gives one more time with one’s family—loco! In a culture which views children as a burden rather than as a blessing, to decide to have more children or to adopt a child is looked upon with disbelief. Or when a nurse or doctor chooses to come out of your retirement during the middle of a pandemic others look upon them as if they have lost their mind.

Remaining faithful to the vision is an ongoing hard decision.

Holding on to the vision of the kingdom of God that our Church proclaims and wanting to share that vision is a hard thing, too. To choose mercy over vengeance, to choose forgiveness over resentment, to choose peace instead of violence is challenging in today’s world. To choose to respect and honor all life from conception to a natural death— that’s a difficult journey of faith.

What keeps us going on the journey, following the star of faith? What keeps us faithful to the One who is calling us to walk to the beat of his drum? How do we keep our head up and focused on the light instead of being swallowed by the darkness?

Having the support of other “wise” sojourners makes all the difference. Notice that there were several “Wise Men” who followed the star. If there was only one, then the Scripture text would have read, “behold a magos from the east” but instead the text reads,”Behold magi from the east appeared in Jerusalem.”

The wise men had each other’s support and encouragement to remain faithful to the vision, to keep putting one foot in front of the other on the long journey. Remember they had to journey at night, in the dark, in order to see the star. They did this together, as lights to each other in the midst of the darkness.

Really, there is no such thing as a “wise man” or a “wise woman” because as human beings we are only wise together. We can only see the way ahead and find the strength to keep moving toward our goal with the help of others who are wise in the ways of faith, hope and love.

To make important decisions and keep them, we need the support of other people of faith.

Together we accept and respond to the calling of a star which others tell us is folly, impractical, or old fashioned. When we are tempted to give up on what we have seen and hope for, others are there to encourage us to overcome the temptation. And we are called to support them, to urge them on, to hold them to their commitments which seem like foolishness to a secular world.

Because together we are called to bear God’s glory to the world. One light shining in the darkness is not much. But when we join the light of our lives to others’ light we shine like the sun, bringing the Son of God’s love to the world.

Do you see what I see? A star, a star shining in the night. Do you see what I see? The child of promise, the child of hope, the source of love, the source of all light laying in a manger. Do you see what I see? The king of kings nailed to a tree. The Lord of Life coming to share his life with us in this sacred meal!

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

January 1, 2021

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

The Scripture readings for this 8th day of Christmas begin with a blessing prayer from the Book of Numbers, acknowledging the truth that God is always blessing his people, whether they are aware of it or not. On this Solemnity of Mary as Mother of God, Mary teaches us how to recognize and receive God’s blessings.

A quick glance at Mary’s life would seem to reveal not blessings from God, but trials. She goes through an unexpected pregnancy like none other. She lives under occupation. She is poor. Her beloved Joseph dies. Then her only son suffers terrible torture and dies a horrific death. Blessings? She would appear to be cursed by God.

But because Mary ponders what is said about her son, she sees blessings in the midst of trying times. Because Mary reflects on all that her son says and keeps these things safely guarded in her heart, she receives God’s blessings even in times of suffering.

For her unexpected pregnancy is a blessing, bringing her a child like none other. She lives under Roman occupation but experiences the blessing of profound freedom because of her faith. She is materially poor, but rich in God’s love shown her by Joseph and Jesus. Even Joseph’s death bring blessings back to light, as she recalls how he provided for her in Bethlehem a place to give birth, protected Jesus and her from King Herod’s murderous wrath, and provided and protected for their family as refugees in Egypt.

Because Mary pondered and treasured all that her Son said and did, because she meditated on his life and held him in her heart just as surely as she had held him in her womb, she was even able to trust that God would bring blessings from his death. Though even Mary could not have imagined the great gift of Jesus’ resurrection.

As Mother of the Church, as our mother, Mary teaches us how to recognize and receive the blessings of God. As mother of gratitude, she teaches us how to be grateful for all God has done for us.

In order to move into 2021 with hope, we need first of all to give thanks to God for the blessings of 2020. Many people would like to take the Year 2020 and toss it in the trash can. However, Mary teaches us that we need to ponder what God has done for us in and through Christ in this past year, even to take a second or third look below the struggles to the blessings hidden there. She teaches us that even from the sorrow of the loss of a loved one we can experience anew the blessings of God that flowed into our life through them.

As we worship today, we are enjoying one of God’s blessings from 2020— the gift of this holy place raised up for the glory of God. God provided this building in a nick of time, or what faith-filled people would call “Kairos” time—the fullness of time.

We began celebrating Mass in this building at the end of May a week or so after the Catholic Church in Oklahoma had reopened for communal worship in the celebration of the Eucharist. We could not ask for a better place to worship safely during a pandemic— a large, airy building with plenty of space for physical distancing that can seat almost 300 people. It would have taken three Masses in the old church building to allow for all the people who come to one of our Sunday morning Masses to safely distance. In addition, the blessing of having the newest technology to livestream our Masses to people who could not attend for fear of their safety, and to be able to do it in high quality, to make it the best experience possible to connect those not physically here with us.

If we join Mary in meditating on the blessings of God, we will begin to see many of these blessings hidden underneath the struggles of 2020, such as creatively finding new ways to connect with others, new ways to reach out and share the love of God. We now recognize as daily blessings all those whose work is essential to our life together, people who we most likely took for granted before the pandemic. But it takes time in solitude in silence, time alone with our Blessed Mother, to recognize and receive these blessings from God.

Gratitude expressed to God propels us into 2021 as a hope-filled people. Instead of making resolutions for this New Year, we can instead dare to dream with Jesus about God’s Kingdom. Mary, as Mother of God and our mother, also teaches us how to first receive Jesus as God’s dream in order for us to dream with him about the transformation of our world.

Pope Francis says it this way in his post-synodal exhortation to young people in 2019 entitled, “Christ is Alive:”

“Jesus can bring all the young people of the Church together in a single dream, a dream whose name is Jesus, planted by the Father in the confidence that it would grow and live in every heart. A concrete dream who is a person, running through our veins, thrilling our hearts and making them dance” (#157).

These very words could have been spoken by Mary, the one who gave birth to the dream of the Father, the one who experienced Jesus thrilling her heart and making her heart dance for joy.

These words of Pope Francis, directed to young people, are actually directed to all of us who are spiritually young enough to remain open to imagining a future full of hope. So, we reflect with Mary upon the words of actions of her Son which reveal his dream of the Kingdom of God. Joined to Mary’s Son and filled with the Holy Spirit at baptism, we now dare to call God, “Abba, Father” and to rejoice in the truth that we are adopted sons and daughters of God. By baptism, we are now as close to God the Father as God the Father is to his very own Son whom he sent into the world. By baptism, we are able to see how all people on the face of the Earth are brothers and sisters to each other, with one Father.

With Mary’s help, we can enter more profoundly into the dreaming of her Son, which moves us into a life lived in relationship to others, not to things or to “screens.” Turning away from the “passive” watching of TV together, couples can spend more time talking and listening to each other, especially sharing their dreams and acting on them. Parishioners can share their dreams for our parish, rooted in Jesus’ dream of God’s kingdom. Citizens can move away from spending way too much time in social media “echo chambers” and instead participate in ways to make their communities better.

By dreaming in Jesus and with Jesus, we can move from the virtual to the real, to real encounters with Him living in those who are on the margins, who are different from us.

We can dream with Mary, His Mother, about a world transformed, where God lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things.

Homily for the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Day)

December 25, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

Words make a difference. Words have power!

The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is actually not true. Words have the power to hurt, especially when they come from the mouth of a loved one. Words have the power to diminish and demean, especially when spoken with hatred. Words have the power to wound, as gossip does so easily.

But words also have the power to heal— “I forgive you.” Words have the power to bind one to another in a lasting promise— “I will be true to you until death do us part.” Words have the power to create new worlds—talented novelists do this all the time.

Words spoken at the right time and in the right way bring us together. Words inspire us to step out of our small, self-centered world into the larger, more beautiful world of self-giving service.

Words can lead us to forsake selfishness, to sacrifice for others, and to do this together. Words challenge us to ask not what my country can do for me but what I can do for this country of mine. The right words remind us that the gift of our freedom is not given so we can do whatever we want to do but rather what we ought to do!

Because of the power of words, John’s Gospel gives the Son of God the title: “THE WORD.” John is clear—the eternal Son of God is not just any word, but THE WORD. THE WORD is God, and through God’s Son, life comes to be.

God the Father creates everything in the universe through HIS WORD, with His Son. Not just life on this round blue sphere circling round the sun, but everything in the cosmos.

John’s Gospel is the last of the 4 gospels to be composed. Unlike Mark’s Gospel, which is the first written and focuses more on the humanity of Jesus, John’s gospel focuses more on Jesus’ divinity. Unlike Matthew and Luke, who begin their story on earth with the birth of the babe Jesus, John begins in heaven, before time begins. John wants to emphasize the seriousness of the Incarnation, to move our focus beyond just a baby in a manger to the eternal desire of God to become one with God’s creation.

John’s Gospel may seem less than warm and fuzzy but that’s because this evangelist does not want us to limit Christmas to simply the celebration of Jesus’ birth. When Christians only celebrate the birth of this child, nothing changes in our world. It’s easy to do this for one day and then get on with the rest of our lives.

John, whose words take us on the wings of an eagle to soar above the earth, gives us a different perspective on Christmas. The gospel of John proclaimed today reveals why the Church celebrates this feast for more than one day but every day for eight days as if each of the eight days were Christmas Day.

John’s majestic words which open his gospel remind us that this babe in a manger is the Eternal Son of God, THE WORD OF GOD spoken to all humanity. Through Him all life came to be and in him all life is sustained in being.

That’s why when John says, “THE WORD BECAME FLESH” it’s like an earthquake, an earth-shattering, history-changing event. The eternal Word of God, through whom every-thing has been created, humbles himself to become part of His Creation. The one who is limitless now forever limits Himself to a human body and the frailty of the human condition.

When human beings turned their back on God, God could have simply snapped God’s almighty fingers and said “Saved” and been done with that. But God did not desire to save wayward men and women from afar, but wanted to have a human finger to reach out and wipe away the tears of those who weep.

The Son of God, the eternal word of love spoken by the Father, takes our flesh in order to come as close as possible to us, to save us from inside the human experience of joy and sorrow, suffering and delight.

Yes, God could have said the word, “Saved” and saved us from sin and everlasting death, but instead the Word of God became flesh in order to be our SAVIOR.

To taste the salt in our tears and have his heart broken like ours. To be tempted as we are tempted and still remain faithful to His Father. To suffer and to plunge into the abyss of death.

To experience every-thing human in order to redeem humanity.

The Son of God, the eternal Word of God, becomes flesh in order to speak these words to us: I LOVE YOU! This is not love in a general sense, as in “God loves the world” but in a very specific sense: God loves you, irrepeatable, one in a hundred million billion YOU!

This is not the sentimental, syrupy, sappy love of some Christmas songs or movies but the strong, relentless, stubborn love of the divine Son of God for you.

God loves you and burns with an infinite desire to be with you in everything you do and everywhere you go.

For the Son of God became human so that we could become one with God.

Homily for the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Eve)

December 24, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

In Bethlehem, the Roman soldiers stationed there for security for the census do not pay much attention to the Jewish man and his young wife, pregnant with child. All they see is a couple who are not a threat to them or to the Roman Empire.

The innkeeper looks at this couple as a nuisance, for because of the census bringing so many visitors from out of town, he has no place to put them. They are but a problem he has no way of solving, and so he slams the door in their face.

The owner of the humble little shelter for the animals sees a couple in dire need for a place to be out of the elements, so the woman can give birth to her child. He gives them a place to lay their heads.

Only the lowly shepherds, the smelly outcasts of society, see a bit deeper, beneath the appearances to the reality that this newborn child is the Promised One, the Christ. Of course, they have the help of the angels. How appropriate that shepherds are the first to receive and believe the news of Christ’s birth, because the child of Promise is a direct descendant of the shepherd-King, David.

With the eyes of faith, we see that this humble carpenter searching frantically for a place for his wife to give birth has royal blood running through his veins. Joseph, a direct descendant of King David, would be king if the Romans were not ruling Israel.

With the insight of faith, we notice something more than a pregnant teen giving birth, for we see Mary as Mother of God and future Queen of Heaven!

Through the sharply focused eyes of faith, we see in this child, who comes into the world like any other child in a rush of blood and water, the Savior of the World and the King of the Universe. He is God dwelling among us in the flesh!

When we “prettify” the birth of the Son of God, we forget that the Son of God came in the flesh into our world at a very difficult time: a time when His people suffered from Roman oppression, a time when His earthly parents were far from home, a time when the only place available for Him to come was a place where animals lived.

Just as He came in a time of discomfort and challenge for Joseph and Mary, so he comes today into our world of turmoil and struggle.

Into this broken world, Jesus the Christ comes: a world where many cannot gather with family or attend Mass, or are experiencing income loss, or whose loved ones are sick with COVID-19, or are mourning the death of loved ones.

In this land of gloom a light shines which pierces the storms of sorrow and drives away the shadows of fear. Christ is born today and the whole world rejoices!

What can we do to sharpen our sight, to enable us to see and welcome Him now?

By staying immersed in the Word of God on a daily basis and at the celebration of Mass, our eyes are opened to see the Word made Flesh in our midst and to hear His Voice. Our hope grows as we hear how our ancestors in faith persevered through much tougher times than ours, and how God remained faithful to His promises to them. Listening and drinking in the stories of salvation history, our hope strengthens that God will remain faithful to us, too. Sunday after Sunday we are nourished by the stories of how God never tires in searching for his people, who are often lost and need to be found by his love. But in order to hear this saving word of love, we need to cease listening to all the hateful and divisive words on social media, which drown out His Word.

The Eucharist strengthens our trust that “God-is-with-us, Emmanuel.” Being fully human, Jesus understands the temptation to doubt God’s presence and care, especially in tough times. That is why he left us the Eucharist as a solid reminder that He is God with us. As He joins his life to ours in this sacred meal, we see how He is always coming to bring us abundant life here on earth and the promise of life eternal.

The joyful reception of the Living Word of God and the Living Bread come down from Heaven happens most powerfully in the midst of a Community of believers. We need one another, especially in tough times, to be Christ to and for each other. The Church exists because we need others to love us with the heart of Christ and to challenge us to expand the circle of the ones we love. Our brothers and sisters in Christ help free us from slavery to a rugged individualism, reminding us we are only going to make it through this pandemic together, and that we always need others to help us on our journey of faith.

We are a little over 9 months into this pandemic with the celebration of Christmas. 9 months in, and now, more than ever before, we need to give birth to the Christ who lives in us by faith. He is the Hope of the World, the Love of God enfleshed, the Source of our Faith!

With 20-20 vision, we see Him as he comes to save us today from ourselves. With the sharp insight of faith, we see Him as he comes to save us from our isolation from one another and from God. With the eyes of our faith renewed by this celebration of His birth, we see Him coming to set us free from our sin and from the consequences of sin, eternal death.

Jesus Christ, son of Mary, son of God, is the source of our Joy! In Him and with Him and through Him, we rejoice in God’s goodness and Love!!

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 20, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

How humble is God! God asks for a human body in order to save the human race, and then waits for Mary’s response.

How humble is God! While nothing is impossible with God, it would have been impossible without Mary. God will not force her consent, but asks and waits for her reply, and the whole world holds its breath.

Salvation is from above, the gift of heaven, yet it springs from human soil, from a particular human being cooperating with God, being open and receptive to God’s plan.

Mary freely chooses to exchange her limited imagination for the promises of God. She chooses to trust that God can do more for her and for the world through her than she can even imagine.

God the Father longs for His Son to be born by faith in us today by the power of the Holy Spirit. God longs to come more fully to life in us and asks for our bodies to do His saving work.

Imagine for one moment the trust God places in each one of us to do this. God keeps asking for our consent and waiting for our reply, humbly and with great patience.

For the way Christ Jesus comes into the world today is through particular human persons, through specific human bodies.

Too many Christians tend to think of God’s plan in a general way— that God has a plan for the earth and the people of the earth and is working out that plan out there somewhere.

But the Incarnation, God taking human flesh, reveals the “scandal of particularity.” There is nothing “general” about it.

God chooses a particular time (in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy) and a particular place (tiny Nazareth in the back country of Israel) and a particular person (Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph).

So, God chooses you at this time (Dec. 20, 2020) in this particular place (Mustang, which is kind of like Nazareth, an out of the way place) to continue his saving work. God has a plan for you to bring his Son into the world to people and places where no one else can do so—only you can. But God will not force this mission upon you, or me, but daily, with great humility, waits for our “Yes”.

From the beginning of salvation history, God has been a “traveling” God, a “companion” to people of faith who surrender to Him in love. The God of Israel, the God of Jesus Christ, cannot be relegated to this or that “holy” place, to a house of worship, but desires to dwell with his people in their houses.

God goes with Abraham and Sarah on their long journey of faith. God accompanies Moses and the rag-tag bunch of freed Hebrew slaves, picking up and going with the people day-by-day on their travels through the desert to the Promised Land.

When David wants to build a “house” for God, God reminds David that God cannot be contained in a house, locked away in a holy place. God reminds David how God had been with David tending the sheep, helped him slay the giant Goliath, accompanied David on his many forays into the field of battle, and been with him as he ruled Israel day by day.

We come to this place to renew and deepen our relationship with the God who walks with us in our daily life. This beautiful place is a waystation along the journey, a place to be fed by Word and Sacrament and Community in order to be strengthened for our mission. For we are to bring the Lord we encounter and receive here into the many nooks and crannies of our daily life. So that the Lord who feeds us with his love on Sunday morning can feed others with his love through us on Monday thru Saturday.

The way the God of King David, the God of the Virgin Mary breaks into our world anew is through each one of us. But the God of power and might can only do this with our consent, with our YES! As Mary’s “Yes” changed the world forever, so the world will be forever changed by our “Yes.”

Can we say YES:
To living simply
To giving generously
To caring deeply
To speaking boldly
To walking by faith and not by sight
To saying courageously with Mary:
“May it be done to me according to your word.”

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent

December 13, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

Rejoice always. We hear those words from St. Paul and immediately disregard them as being unrealistic. As the end of 2020 draws near, we struggle to rejoice for a minute or two each day, much less always. How can we rejoice as more people in our country are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 than ever before? How can we rejoice when so many people are losing jobs or have lost them? How can a doctor or nurse rejoice when they are worn out by hospitals overflowing with patients gasping for their next breath?

Then there are those other realities of 2020 which cause sadness, like not being able to physically touch or be touched by vulnerable family members. Or because of the vital importance of wearing a face covering, not seeing a smile on the face of another which might stir up some joy in our heart.

Before this pandemic began, we would have had a hard time putting Paul’s command to “rejoice always” into practice, but now it seems absolutely impossible.

But we should not discard the living word of God coming to us from St. Paul today that quickly.

One reason we Americans struggle to rejoice always is we equate joy with happiness. Happiness is not joy. Happiness is fleeting, it is not lasting, because it depends on transitory things: our emotions, the state of our health, our material well-being. Happiness is like the calm on the surface of the ocean, easily disrupted by the wind or boat traffic. Joy is located deep below the surface that cannot be disturbed by what goes on above. Ultimately for believers, joy is found in God. That’s right, joy is rooted in who God is. Joy also flows from recognizing what God has done, is doing, and will do! This 3rd Sunday of Advent is named, “Gaudete Sunday”, and that Latin word “Gaudete” means “to rejoice.”

The quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians from which this Sunday receives its title is quite clear about the source of joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” (Philippians 4:4)

Why rejoice? Not only because the celebration of the Lord’s birth is near, but because by the power of His Spirit He is near to us right now, coming to us right now. Why rejoice? Because our trust lies in the Savior of the World, not in the passing things of this world.

Because we know how much we are loved by God the Father who has given us life, we rejoice even now in these difficult days. Because of what the Son of God has done, taking our flesh and becoming human like us in all things but sin, we know how much we are loved and rejoice in that knowledge.

Because of what God is doing even now in our midst, feeding us with the Body and Blood of His Son, strengthening us by the support and love of others, bringing us to the light of another day, we rejoice. We are filled with expectant joy because we believe the Lord Jesus by the power of the Spirit is present among us even now in ways we do not recognize, that He will come to us in surprising ways today if we are but alert and ready.

Because of what God will do in the future, faithful to his promise to bring us through death to life forever with Him, we rejoice. Because of his glorious promise to send His Son in glory to bring an end to this world and to bring about a new heavens and new earth, where there will be no more sorrow anymore, where death will be no more, we are filled with joy.

For what God has done, for what God is doing, for what God will do, our hearts overflow with joy.

Because we are aware of the suffering of others, our joy is a clear-eyed joy. Precisely because we rejoice always in the Lord, we see what causes sadness in His heart, what is not right in this world, the injustices that others suffer, and we do something about it.

Working to make right what has gone wrong deepens our joy, because we embrace the mission of the Lord Jesus, which is a mission he has entrusted to each of the baptized.

With him and in Him, we have been anointed to proclaim glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to bring liberty to captives, and release to prisoners. The Spirit given us in baptism and sealed in Confirmation empowers us for this mission to the marginalized of our world.

The world does not recognize the Lord Jesus present in the powerless, those who hearts are broken with sorrow, those who suffer discrimination and are not treated as equal, even those behind prison bars. But for we who are Christian, it is in these people and in these situations that we encounter Christ coming to them in his broken, suffering body, and so we receive Him with joy.

The other joy-filled result of allowing Christ living in us to serve Christ living in the least of our sisters and brothers is that those who are poor & powerless are often the ones most filled with joy. Why? Because every day they depend on their Heavenly Father to provide their daily bread, knowing that everything they have been given, especially the gift of another day, comes from God. Their joy is infectious gift to those who serve them.

If we want to rejoice always in the Lord, we need remember St. Paul’s instruction that joy is connected to gratitude and prayer. If we desire to welcome the Lord of Joy, we recall that prayer and gratitude give birth to joy.

Prayer, that ongoing conversation we have with the Lord, awakens gratitude, which then leads to joy. Joy leads back to prayer, causing us to lift up our minds, hearts, and voices with the Blessed Virgin Mary in praise of the God who keeps doing great things for us.

We sing with Mary, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior … who has done great things for me!”

With Mary’s help, we give birth to the Son of God by faith in our lives of joy-filled service.

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

December 6, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

The Prophet Isaiah speaks to us today of the time when the people of Israel are returning from exile in Babylon after many years away from home. The Babylonian army had leveled their beloved Jerusalem, destroyed their beautiful temple, and taken the people of Israel captive. Uprooted from their homeland, they lived as strangers in a strange land, nothing normal about their life, everything they knew and trusted in before now gone.

As the people finally return home after this long exile, the prophet reminds them it is God who has saved them, God who has set them free from their captivity, and that now it is God who is preparing the way for them to go home. Though the people had been unfaithful to God, had turned their backs on God, the God of Israel had always remained faithful to them.

Now God is leveling all the immovable obstacles which like mountains had blocked their way home. Now God is filling up the valleys of their despair with the hope of new life. The God of their ancestors who had made a way forward where there was no way by parting the waters of the Red Sea, now makes a way for them to return home. Their long captivity is at an end.

How could they not shout out for joy, proclaiming to the world all that God had done to save them! So, the prophet Isaiah urges the people to tell the whole world what God has done. “Zion, herald of glad tidings! Cry out at the top of your voice! Jerusalem, herald of good news!” (Isaiah 40:9)

The same Greek word which expressed the glad tidings and good news of Isaiah is translated by the evangelist Mark as “gospel.” In the very first verse of Mark’s proclamation we hear: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark the evangelist is the first one to tell the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and he is the first one to use that word—gospel—for such an account.

Translating the word “gospel” as good news or glad tidings, fails to capture the power of what Mark is trying to convey. Perhaps the best way to translate these first words from the first evangelist is: A Cry of Joy,” yes, “A Cry of Joy about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Mark’s passion is for us to know Jesus as he knows Jesus, and in doing so, to have our hearts erupt in a shout of joy over what God has done for us in His Son. This joy is like the cry of joy from a man saved from certain death. It is like the cry of joy from a woman giving birth to her child. It is like the cry of joy from a soldier and his family reuniting after a long separation.

Mark uses the same Greek word as Isaiah did for glad tidings and good news to connect the God of Israel with the God of Jesus Christ. The Good News Mark shares is about Jesus, who reveals the good news about who God is and that God’s reign has begun on earth. Isaiah and the people of Israel shout and dance for joy because God has set them free and made a way for them to go home. The people of Jesus’ day and ever after sing and leap for joy because in the very person of Jesus the Good News of who God is has been revealed.

In Jesus, we encounter God acting, God speaking, and the beginning of God’s reign. The Season of Advent is a time to welcome God present in our world in Jesus through the Holy Spirit, to recognize that in the person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God breaks into the world and takes root here. Everything, and I do mean everything, has changed forever, because in Jesus God shouts for Joy because of his love for all humanity.

With the coming of Jesus, time is fulfilled, for the moment all humanity has been waiting for has arrived. The rule of God can actually be seen and heard, touched and known, here and now. Jesus gives us a glimpse of heaven where there is food enough for all as he multiplies the loaves and feeds the multitudes; where disease will not destroy us as he heals the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for 12 long years, and where death has no power over us as he lifts up a 12-year old girl from her deathbed.

As we follow Jesus in the year ahead, the Year of Mark, the evangelist wants us to know without a doubt that in Jesus God’s long-awaited reign on earth has begun, continued into Mark’s day and continues into ours as well.

Mark has experienced God’s reign in Jesus’ person and writes his gospel to transfer this experience to us. It is the awesome goodness of God that beats at the heart of Jesus’ mission. It is the mercy of God which propels him into our world to embrace the world’s pain. It is in the person of Jesus Christ that the good news of God actually exists.

Those are some of the first words from the mouth of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel: “Repent and believe in the good news.” Thus, we are called by Jesus to believe in this good news, to trust in God’s goodness revealed in his very person. This trust is the foundation for true repentance, not repentance by feeling sorry for this or that bad word or deed, but repentance as a change in the way we think about God, which leads to a change in the way we live our life.

It makes no sense with God now among us in Jesus to do anything except align ourselves, our whole selves, everything we have and are, with God’s rule. To recognize that our politics are not the Gospel and that our politicians are not God!

For the goodness of God in Jesus challenges us to realign our prideful posturing. The mercy of God in Jesus challenges us to recalibrate our ethical thresholds. The love of God in Jesus challenges us to remanufacture our principled priorities.

So, this Advent spend less time with your Facebook news posts and more time reading the Gospel of Mark. Set aside your social media during Advent and pray with the account of the good news found in Mark.

The Son of God is coming to us during this Season of Advent, but we are looking in the wrong direction—toward the “bad news”. Advent invites us to turn around and welcome Him who is Good News and trust that He alone can save us, that He alone can free us from all that enslaves us.

Then as we lean into the glad tidings of God and let go, we trust that we will be caught by the Good Shepherd who will carry us home.

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

November 29, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 22, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 15, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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