Today, this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear in both the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Gospel of Luke about how difficult it is to be a prophet. Both Jeremiah and Jesus suffer at the hands of the people closest to them—the very Communities in which they live and preach and teach.
The Gospel of Luke today begins with the same words of Jesus that ended last week’s Gospel reading: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The story picks up with their amazement at His Words, and yet as we know, “familiarity breeds contempt” for Jesus’ neighbors: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” No one likes to hear the truth if it doesn’t match with their own vision of how things are. No matter how inspired His words and actions are they don’t want to change; people don’t want to change and admit that change is needed and necessary. They look for reasons and justifications not to change and not to listen: Jesus is just the son of the local carpenter.
The Second Reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians is about the way to live that Christ brings to us all. It is a plan, a diagram—a recipe—a recipe for living a life in Christ. Every action and all our speech must be expressed as love, since “love never fails.” This familiar reading (often read at weddings) is a blueprint for how to be like Jesus. “Love is patient, love is kind…” If we were all to follow these directions of St. Paul what a different world it would be: no polarization, no division, no greed and selfishness, no marginalization and tribalism and racism—a life lived in which you would treat others as you would expect to be treated—a life of love (respect) in action. Love is not about being first, proving others wrong, and demanding primacy—or else! It is not about violence initiated or retaliation or revenge for violence suffered. It is, at least in Christian teaching, about patience, kindness, and restraint. While love rejoices in truth and celebrates what is holy, it does not impose its view of truth by force or coerce what it regards as holy on others.
Love demands relationship. You can memorize a stack of facts and know a whole lot about someone; develop a fairly accurate profile describing and explaining their personality and predict their future behavior—and yet still not develop a real and loving relationship with that person. Making the choice to love someone forces you to see beyond your private world, beyond your words, beyond yourself altogether. Love feeds on a shared history of affection, secrets, surprises, mysteries, generosity, moments, and spontaneity. In a manner of speaking, you make history together. It is hard to envision a world where everyone would choose love in action, but one can hope (and pray).
The people of the synagogue today chose to rise up in rage at Jesus, and they drive Him from the town and lead Him to the brow of the hill in order to kill Him. Before long, we know that the Sanhedrin will also rise up and lead Jesus to Pilate, and then to the top of the hill named Calvary. We see deadly choices both times—people who do not choose for love—but who choose for evil, for their personal glory, for their own selfish perspective.
Jesus Himself ultimately makes a choice, too: He chooses death, He accepts His fate and the path for our salvation on a cross in order to save us from ourselves! By His sacrifice He chooses love to drive away hatred and evil, selfishness and sin. He chooses to be raised up so that we will also be raised on the last day—and in love asks the Father to forgive us.
We need to see each other as one of God's wonderful creatures in whom He has invested himself, for whom He has extended himself over time, and for whom He died. We do not have to dress like each other, speak the same language, or share our beliefs. Not only will we not hate others for their differences, but we would want to know and understand each other. Respect for others is neither apostasy (an abandonment of our religious beliefs) nor compromise. It is love. It is respect.
In our lives we have a choice in how we live and act. (Actually, we are our choices.) Do we choose to live the “recipe” of love? Or do we take Jesus to the brow of the hill yet again? My advice would be the same as St. Paul’s: Set Your Heart on the Higher Gifts! Remember that love never fails.
Just a Note: God loves us, no matter what…even when we fail to live the “recipe” of love. But we still need to keep trying, anyway.
We all know that there are a lot of awful things happening in the world: storms and shootings, shut-downs and furloughs, divorces and disease—along with the effects of the usual sins of selfishness and greed. It is difficult to be positive and hopeful in the face of all this… It seems to me that sometimes, somewhere along the way, we have lost the sense of our divine partnership with God. We don't feel God’s continued presence in the midst of every day; we have forgotten His promised and abiding presence. We don’t celebrate and rejoice what God has done through us and that God is present in us every moment; and that He has given us everything we need to will and to work for His good together!
In Baptism we all drank of the same Spirit (thank you, St. Paul for reminding us) and so we are all members of one body of Christ. When we lose this “God-perspective,” this sense of divine partnership with God and each other, we begin a downward and destructive spiral. Without this “God perspective” all the difficult carry-the-cross things of this world may take us down. We think that we alone have to fix things or we are a failure. We feel stressed and rushed to accomplish all our tasks at hand and we may lose any sense of genuine thankfulness. We focus only on what is wrong or what we don't have or how we are flawed, and we don't look for God's presence in our lives. We ultimately divide the world in sacred and secular—limiting God to a box and a set time each week: 5:00 Saturday, or 7:30, 9:30 or 11:30 on Sunday.
As baptized believers we are called to remember that God is at work in us and through us to bless the world, to work things out for good, and to use those who love Him for His purposes. We are asked to be His hands, His feet, His help and His hugs in this world—which is why we are endowed with many diverse gifts in order to accomplish God’s mission! Just think of all the talents there are in all the people around us. No one is just one thing; we all have many parts that form us into one body of many parts.
St. Paul tells us today that it is this very diversity of the body (that would be us!) that enables it to function—we know that each single person cannot do every thing—we need all the people contributing all of their varied gifts in order to function and accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
We should remember that God is at work in us—both in bad times and in good times. God is always looking to partner with us in His work of redemption, forgiveness, creation, compassion, and holy living—and He has given us the tools and each other’s help in the gifts we all have received in order to fulfill this mission. God is present in all of us and with all of us and through all of us.
St. Paul tells us that we are God's co-workers! He told us that it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose. Your job is to discern your gifts and to share them with the Body—to accomplish God’s mission in the here and now. Like I said last week: make your spiritual resolutions and get busy—and get sharing!
Just a Note: Here is a sweet song about gifts from God and gratitude.
In our Gospel this weekend, our Blessed Mother, Mary, shows us how to approach Jesus in our prayers of petition. When we make requests of Jesus, we are to do so in perfect faith, that is, total trust that Jesus knows what is best and that He will accomplish that. In the words of St. John of the Cross, ours is to be the prayer of the discreet lover.
To be “discreet” means to be “tactful,” “restrained,” or, “intentionally unobtrusive,” and is modeled for us in the actions of our Blessed Mother, Mary. In our Gospel this weekend, taken from John and telling of the wedding feast at Cana, we hear that:
the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.
When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
And of course, Jesus works the first of His miracles, turning water into wine. Notice what Mary said to Jesus, They have no wine. This simple sentence is an example of the prayer of the discreet lover, for by it, one “does not care to ask for what he or she lacks or desires, but only indicates [the] need that the Beloved may do what he pleases.”
And such should be our approach when we petition Jesus. Mary, our mother, help us to discreetly approach your Son with our needs and wants! Jesus, help us to know and embrace Your will for us.
David J. Conrad
I was driving through my neighborhood one evening thinking about my New Year resolutions—you know, planning where and how I could keep my good intentions. It was quiet outside, and almost everyone’s Christmas lights were gone. There was just the glow of the streetlights and the curtain-muffled glow of a television in windows. The color, the bright lights, the yard decorations, the unfamiliar cars of relatives, and the special feel of Christmas were all gone. Christmas trees were left on the berm for yard waste pick-up. Winter has arrived with a vengeance and spring is a long leap ahead. This realization left me a little melancholy.
Melancholy is such a good word for this time of year for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun mostly hides as bad weather makes repeated appearances in grey. Colds and covid and flu stalk us at work and school and on errands. Vacation opportunities seem very distant. You can call it the post-Christmas blues, the cold weather blues, or sunlight deprivation (SAD). No matter what you call it, we all need to know how to live with joy after the Christmas lights are put away and we’re left with Christmas bills, an extra five pounds, and a touch of winter melancholy—and in no great shape to keep any kind of New Year resolutions and intentions. Our passion for Jesus is still there somewhere, or maybe just in hibernation or on the wane, or exhausted. That edge of excitement may have disappeared, and that rich passion of our early faith may have lost a bit of its bloom. With no holiday excitement of sweet birth stories, miraculous conceptions, and dream motivated escapes we’re left with the “regular” stories of Jesus in Ordinary Time to sustain us.
It is a challenge is to hang on to the wonder of Jesus; it’s not easy to live in wonder at the King of Kings and Prince of Peace post-Christmas. The problem, of course, is us. Jesus is just as wonderful and His grace is just as boundless on January 16 as it was on December 25. The problem is with us and our expectations and sense of wonder and commitment. So let me issue you a challenge to hang on to Jesus past Christmas this year. Make a resolve to passionately pursue Him and a deeper and abiding awareness of His presence in your life. It may be time to make some resolutions for our souls.
Take time to pray and to reflect. Jen Pollock Michel, author of “A Habit Called Faith” and “Surprised by Paradox” suggests a journal or check over your calendar and pencil in some time to ask what is working well in life and what is not.
Plant seeds of humility. Engage with someone not of your viewpoint with the intention of learning from them.
Care for the earth in small ways. Work to be conscious of loving our neighbors by being awake and aware to our personal use and consumption. Make some changes. Small things add up.
Think about the third person. “Every time we act, our actions affect more people than we actually see. One of the hallmarks of Catholic social teaching is solidarity, recognizing that we are all connected as human beings and that our own well-being is tied up with the well-being of others.” (The Rev. Jonathan Mitchican, Catholic priest and writer.) In other words: we forget that in interacting with someone, they interact with someone else. Be positive in your encounters.
Engage with the offscreen world first. A daily dose of real-life awareness before we entangle ourselves with our tech—how about beginning the day by praising God before reaching for the phone or remote?
Seek racial justice and healing. This is about building racial and cultural awareness by forging relationships with a variety of people. There is so much we can learn and understand from how others live.
Take stock of your life every week. John Newton, the 18th-century Anglican cleric and abolitionist, had a Saturday at 6 p.m. exercise to help him get ready for Sunday. Make two lists: all the mercies, blessings and good things to be thankful for that had happened in the week, and another list of the week’s sins of omission and commission. Go to reconciliation and then re-dedicate your life to goodness and holiness.
Keep the Sabbath. One day a week to rest in God and Godly pursuits. Rest is God’s Very Good Idea (Trillia Newbell).
Encourage the people around you. Make a reSOULution to look for an opportunity every day to give encouragement to anyone in our path: whether a family member, colleague, a cashier or a child. Encouragement benefits us, too.
Pray for political leaders—especially ones you don’t like. Make your prayers those of gratitude for the things they do well, for the people whose lives they help improve, for the ways they contribute to human flourishing. If you can’t come up with anything, ask yourself if it’s because they need to change or because you need to change. (Reconciliation!)
Read the Bible. Make Matthew, Mark, Luke and John this year’s tour guides.
Resolutions for change are difficult—the deeper problem is the “triumph of hope over expectation.” Reconcile expectations. The only way to change the path of expectation is to face and dissect why any of our resolutions failed before. That road leads to many unexpected destinations far beyond simple willpower. Changing anything requires a strategic plan—maybe set in small steps. Start by sitting down and seeing what may be possible and what needs to be prioritized. Begin with just praying for the guidance to see and understand what drives us in our day to day; and then resolve to do better in this New Year.
Last weekend’s “Sing Praise” article talked about how the Feast of the Epiphany, today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and next weekend’s story of the miracle at Cana (Jesus’ first miracle) form a three-Sunday “line up” of divine manifestation or theophany. These three events were the three major theophanies of Christ: Jesus is made manifest as divine (the star, the dove and voice, the water turned to wine).
Today’s Feast of The Baptism of the Lord forms a bridge between this Christmas Season and the next season: it is both the culmination of the Christmas Season and the beginning of Ordinary Time: it is both an ending and a beginning. With the end of the Christmas Season we still sing things of Christmas, and yet we celebrate Jesus’ baptism today and remember our own baptismal promises as prophesied in Isaiah: “the victory of justice…a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind…”
Every time we end anything, something new begins—that is where we get the saying about closed doors and opened windows. As human beings we struggle and dislike any kind of change—change is always so difficult and usually uncomfortable. The start of something new means the letting go of something other. Rev. John O’Donohue (writer and poet) reminds us that in our “out-of-the-way places in our heart” any beginning is quietly forming—waiting until we are ready for it to emerge. He says with delight and courage our eyes young again, we may with energy and dreaming step on to new ground—even with an unclear destination. Does your New Year feel that way to you? Have you made resolutions that will lead you to the new? If not, I encourage you to make them now—because you can teach old dogs new tricks! (Just ask Fr. Alex).
“Though your destination is not yet clear you can trust the promise of this opening; awaken your spirit to adventure; hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk; Soon you will be home in a new rhythm, for your soul senses the world that awaits you.” Great advice from Rev. O’Donohue—and don’t forget what Jesus said more than any other thing: “Be not afraid.” Now is the time to identify what needs to be closed and the new that needs to be open. (Father Kevin spoke of this during Advent.) When wanting, needing, desiring some change I suggest you start with personal prayer, quietude and to try listening for that inner voice.
This last Sunday of the Christmas Season I would like to again take the opportunity to thank those in the Music Ministry for their dedication and service to the Parish of St. Aidan. The long rehearsals, extra rehearsals and private practice are a huge commitment and sacrifice of time, talent and treasure. Please thank any Choir/Music Ministry member today for all the time and effort spent in serving this Parish well!
Next weekend we will see changes in the liturgy reflecting the beginning of the new season of Ordinary Time: Ordinary Time means ordinal, or counted time, and we will study Jesus’ ministry—which is really anything but ordinary! Today ends the Christmas Season and we begin our liturgical ‘countdown’ that leads us to Lent and beyond. A new season begins as the other ends! May God bless you in this New Year with good health, peace and prosperity. In the meantime: Keep Singing!
The Church has a custom of blessing homes on the Feast of the Epiphany and the week following. Family and friends gather to ask God’s blessing on their homes and those who live in or visit the home. It is an invitation for Jesus to be a daily guest in our home, our comings and goings, our conversations, our work and play, our joys and sorrows, and a protection against evil.
A traditional way of doing this is to use chalk blessed during the Epiphany Liturgy and write above the entryway of the home: 20 + C + M + B + 22. The letters C, M, B have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words: Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless the house.” The “+” signs represent the Cross, and 2022 is the year. Chalk is used to inscribe the entryway of our homes because it is a product of clay, which recalls the human nature taken by the Word of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Following all the Masses this weekend, obtain your blessed chalk and the prayers of blessing in the atrium. If you eventually need to dispose of your chalk, bury it in the ground, for once it is blessed, it is a sacramental.
Let us together bring our Catholic Faith into the daily rhythm of our lives!
David J. Conrad
David J. Conrad, M.A. Theology. Our Director of Faith Formation.