He’s One of Ours

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

When a hometown kid makes it big, he or she becomes a local hero. Former neighbors, teachers, and distant cousins share their stories, each staking their claim to the roots of the returning celebrity’s success, each hoping for a little special attention from the hero. It’s all very exciting. But then, unless that famous hometown kid gives props to the satisfaction of the townspeople, either by attending fundraisers and making free appearances, for example, the neighborhood love train comes to a screeching halt. Soon, miffed former babysitters and soccer coaches and friends of friends grumble and complain that their local hero thinks he or she is too good for them.

In some ways, the story of Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth is like the story of the hometown kid. Except Luke positions the story at the start of Jesus’ ministry, before he hit it big, so to speak, when word of him had just begun to spread throughout the region. [LK 4:4]. Now, even if you didn’t already know how the story of Jesus turns out, you could get a general idea right here. The narrative of Jesus’ interaction with the people in his hometown foreshadows his earthly mission; it summarizes his calling and ministry, hints at his passion, and invites readers to deepen their commitment to him.

Having just emerged from 40 days of temptation in the desert, a Spirit-filled, fired-up Jesus returned to Galilee where he began to teach in the synagogues.

So impressive was the quality of Jesus’ preaching that he was praised by all. [LK 4:14]. Naturally the residents of his hometown would have been eager for Jesus to teach in their synagogue, too, and, the people weren’t disappointed; Luke’s gospel says the townspeople “spoke highly of him and were amazed by his gracious words.” [LK 4:22]. Moreover, they were eager to claim him as one of their own.

Recall that in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ rejection was the result of the townsfolks’ familiarity with his humble roots, which prevented their belief. [MK 6:1-6]. Luke’s gospel differs on this point: Jesus’ self-identification as the anointed one was not the cause of his rejection. In fact, this news was exciting precisely because Jesus was the son of Joseph. In other words, Jesus was one of them.

Jesus was aware that his townsfolk would have expectations of him; they claimed him as one of their own, they expected him to serve them first. He called them out on it,“Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” [LK 4:23].

But who could blame them? Jesus was their local celebrity. He belonged to them, and here he was saying he was the anointed one of whom Isaiah’s prophecy spoke. This was huge. Imagine how, upon hearing his words, their hearts swelled with joy and pride. But just as quickly, joy and pride were replaced with fury, because Jesus’ deeper meaning was that the Jewish people were not the sole beneficiaries of Isaiah’s prophecy. Furthermore, Jesus was going elsewhere to fulfill it.

How would you have felt? After all, the Jewish people had longed for a Messiah, who would, among other things, inaugurate a time of unparalleled universal peace and liberate Israel. Yet, the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue made no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. So, perhaps as an invitation to open their hearts, Jesus recalled two stories. First, during the three-and-a-half-year famine the Prophet Elijah was sent to one non-Jewish widow in the land of Sidon, not to the widows of Israel, and second, at a later time when so many in Israel were afflicted with leprosy, the Prophet Elisha healed only Naaman, the Syrian.

Unfortunately, Jesus’ old neighbors weren’t having any of it and tried to push him off a cliff.

We can compare, to some extent, the experience of Jesus with that of the contemporary hometown hero. But Jesus was more than some talented local kid who could put his puny town on the map. Yes, Jesus was Joseph’s son, as members of the crowd correctly stated, but readers of Luke’s gospel have the benefit of Jesus’ seventy-seven generation genealogy which goes back in time from “Joseph, son of the son of Heli,” to “son of Adam, the son of God.” [LK 3:23-38].

Suddenly we see. Jesus’ hometown encompasses the whole of the world from the beginning of time.

We can also compare, somewhat more accurately, the crowd’s rejection of the extraordinary scope of salvation that Jesus offered, with the manner in which some Christians ignore the moral imperative to extend Christian hospitality, mercy, forgiveness, and love to all of the world’s people, including those who have been separated from the church, and those whose beliefs and lifestyles differ from their own.

The sad truth is that Jesus gets rejected every day. And as mentioned above, some of the people who reject him are Christians. Christians who exclude others and make excuses for their racial prejudices, Christians who interpret Jesus’ life and teachings for their social, political and economic advantage, and Christians who remorselessly exhibit innumerable un-Christ-like behaviors on a daily basis, yet continue to call themselves Christian.

As Disciples, we have to do better. Although the angry crowd tried to hurl Jesus off a cliff, he simply “passed through the midst of them and went away.” [LK 4:30]. How closely will we follow him?

Today’s readings can be found here. 

Hey! Corinthians of yesteryear and today

How about we
stop trying to
be the greatest.

How about we
not look out for number one.

How about we
stop building walls
around the fiction of our security.

How about we
stop making rivals out of
people who
look, think, act, believe
differently
than us.

How about we
stop comparing our stuff
with that of our neighbors.

(None of which, by the way, is ours to keep,
and all of which has no value at all
if it is not used to build a better world.)

How about we
recognize that we can’t survive
without each other.
Like the parts of a body.
Like the body of Christ.

—Susan Francesconi

“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; If one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”

—1 Cor 12:12-29

Life is Eucharist and Eucharist is life!

christ-dancing_heimo-christian-haikala2

A guest post written by Fr. Joel Fortier. 

When we connect to each other in love we connect into a larger reality we call God…Christ, the ground of our being, our common ground, our God connection in the Spirit. It is The divine Presence, the mystery of Christ in us, and the Presence in which we live and move and have our being, which is within and without us! Through Christ, in the Spirit, all glory and honor be to you almighty God, Father/Mother of all life.

That is the direction of all life, assimilation into Christ, into God.

When we live in love we live in God, and God in us. It is the human connection; in fact, it is what it means to be human, to share Divine life, to live in the Spirit. Spirit and matter are one. It just keeps changing forms. Change is inevitable. It happens whether we like it or not.

So we must learn to live with it, to unite ourselves to the will and purpose of God, which is always to live in love, to die to our smaller selves in order to rise and discover our true, larger self that we are part of, in God.

When I live in love I live in God, and God in me.

The fulfillment of our lives is in coming to recognize, discover, and embrace our true and larger self. It is a matter of ultimately coming to God; of welcoming God, allowing ourselves to be caught up in the breath and love of God for us and all creation; to go with God in the Spirit, to be in the flow and river of divine love and mercy which is always creating, guiding, and directing the universe in a symphony of unending dying and rising, of coming to new forms of living and loving, always moving out of ourselves into a larger reality.

What a wonderful adventure life is! The call of discipleship, our vocation in life, is to go with it! To follow Christ, to go where he has gone, into the heart of God!

It is the loves of my life that have helped me realize this. I am eternally grateful to God for the people and opportunities God has brought into my life. They are the means and sacraments to me of Christ’s presence in my life; the joy of my life.

Life and Eucharist is a matter of sharing, it is in the sharing, in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharistic, and the bread of our lives, that we come to know, experience, and recognize Christ…and so give thanks. “Were not our hearts glowing within us!”

Life is a banquet!

Life is lived always in relationship or it isn’t lived at all! Life is intensely personal, but it is never private. It is always a shared experience, a sharing first of what God has given us, God’s own life. God has loved us into being! And we reflect the image of God in which we were created when we share, when we live in love.

Life is Eucharist and Eucharist is Life! Life is an adventure into the heart of God! Our love has infinite divine dimensions!

Let us go with Christ into the Heart of God. Through Christ, in the Spirit, all glory and honor be to you Almighty God! Amen.

___________________________________

Born in 1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL,the Pastor of St Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, anywhere and any way possible.”

Mary’s Part

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Who does not love the story of Jesus’ changing the water into wine? [Jn 2:1-11] Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana is exciting, mysterious, and intriguing. It sets the stage for the ongoing revelation of Jesus’ glory to his disciples. It is a richly symbolic multiplication story foretelling the kind of restorative mission Jesus is about to begin. It compares an abundance of the finest wine at a wedding banquet to God’s overflowing love in the Kingdom of God.

The metaphor of marriage is woven throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to describe God’s covenant relationship with human beings, and it’s no secret that it has not always been a happy union.  But here, in the telling of Jesus’ miraculous production of a copious supply of the finest wine in the midst of a wedding banquet where there was none, the gospel writer invites us to lift our glasses in celebration of a renewed union between God and humanity.

Abundance overcomes emptiness. Change cures lethargy. The permanent shift from the old to the new has been brought about by the life and passion of Jesus. This wine will not run out. The celebration will never end.

Clearly, this story is about Jesus. But, can we talk about Mary’s role?

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. ² Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. ³ When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” [Jn 2:1-3]

Let’s give Mary some props. She’s the one who recognized the need, and she’s the one who brought it to Jesus.

In those days, wedding feasts went on for several days. The gospel doesn’t say how many days of celebrating had passed when the wine ran out—it didn’t matter— Mary knew, as any good host knows, that when the wine runs out, the party is over.

So, Mary brought her concern to the one she trusted would take care of it. She turned to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.”  Now, Jesus might have said, “Oh, I’ll let the bridegroom know”, or “It’s getting late, we should probably head out soon anyways,” but Jesus knew his mother’s statement was more than a simple appeal for his help. He said “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” [Jn 2:4]

Let’s sidestep Jesus’ astonishingly fresh retort to his mother and note that Mary wisely ignored it. In doing so, she turned the entire matter over to him, telling the servers to do whatever he said.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to a few lifeless banquets, events and liturgies during which I might have said, “They have no wine.” I probably have been the host or facilitator of some of them.  To be fair, on occasion, it was my own lack of spirit that was the issue. Mary noticed a lack of wine, but her words can also be heard as an observation of the banquet’s spiritual dryness.  Mary knew something had to be done to bring the party back to life, so she turned to Jesus.

With that, Mary’s job was complete—and in more ways than one.

First, her instruction to the servers to “Do whatever he tells you” [Jn 2:5] established her awareness of Jesus’ authority.

Second, because she brought the need to Jesus, the wedding celebration was spared party paralysis (indeed, the festivities continue to this day).

Third, theologically speaking, Mary’s understanding of God’s will for her life, which led from her fiat to the foot of the cross, included putting her trust in Jesus.

Fourth, Mary’s words and actions provide us with a model for prayer: in times of spiritual dryness—our own, that of our family, community, church or even our country—we should bring our concern to Jesus, and do whatever he tells us.

Fifth, although a mother’s job never ends, Mary’s part in the miracle included both her recognition of Jesus’ hour—his readiness to fly, so to speak—and her time to let him go.

Change happens when the old ways no longer achieve their originally intended purpose. Jesus’ miracle did exactly this. The results of ritual practices, such as those for which the six water jars were designed, were temporary. The miracle at Cana produced a permanent change. Jesus himself was the miracle at Cana. And Mary played a part in it.

Now, how about some wine?

Today’s readings can be found here.

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The Journey Begins with Prayer: The Baptism of the Lord

 The Baptism of the Lord (C)

It might seem like the most obvious thing in the world to say, but, Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer.

Throughout the Gospels Jesus is found praying with and for others, as well as seeking a quiet place to pray by himself.  He prayed before meals, before and after healings and other miracles, he prayed prayers of thanksgiving and prayed for the faith of his disciples. Jesus prayed when he had decisions to make, and taught his followers how to pray. Jesus prayed on the way to the cross, and moments before he died, Jesus breathed his final prayer.

The first prayer of Jesus’ public ministry occurred immediately after his baptism.

 “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  

—Luke 3:21-22

I wonder what Jesus was praying about, was it a prayer of thanksgiving? Discernment? Guidance?

Many people admit they don’t know how to pray on their own; they say they don’t know what to say; it feels awkward, or they aren’t sure if they are speaking to God the right way, or if they are being heard. I remember one friend who told me she doesn’t know when to “sign off” so she just sort of, ends it. Thanks! Love ya!

The variations of prayer are endless. Plus, other than the Lord’s Prayer given to us by Jesus himself, there is no one right way to pray. The best form of prayer is the one that draws us closer to God. Prayers can be contemplative or centering, a meditation or a chant, a favorite prayer said before bed or upon waking, spoken before meals, or with others during a liturgy or prayer group, to name only a few. The best prayer for me occurs when I share my hopes, fears, gratitude, or anguish with God while doing everyday tasks like cooking and gardening. Regardless of how we pray, if we open ourselves to it, we might sense a holy stillness that expresses God’s presence and love for us.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism beckons us to place ourselves in the crowd of the newly baptized and witness the moment Jesus’ earthly ministry began: with prayer. I wonder what Jesus felt when the sky opened, and the Holy Spirit filled him, and he heard God’s voice.

We can do more than wonder. Have you ever felt God’s presence in times of prayer? Perhaps you have experienced the stillness pulsing in your ears, keeping time with the chant of your heart, “beloved, beloved, beloved.” Maybe you felt the heaviness of the world dropping away, along with your words. Or a sense of well-being, unlike anything ever experienced that blankets you in lightness, and it is just you and God, and nothing else matters.

If we could remain in this state, we would. Because in that moment, which might last only a second or two, God’s delight is evident, and the Holy Spirit of God fills us, like it did Jesus. But, like Jesus, we can’t remain—we can always come back to prayer—but, for now, we must act.

Imagine hearing the words “You are my beloved (son, daughter); with you I am well pleased.” How would you respond?

Christians are baptized as infants, as children and adolescents, and as adults, as in the case of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). Regardless of the age of the person receiving the sacrament baptism is a forward moving, future-oriented event. It’s not “done and over.” It’s not the first sacramental stamp on a passport to heaven. Baptism is a fiat, a yes, a birth. What comes next is life.

Do we remember to pray for the newly baptized after the day has passed? Prayers of gratitude, discernment and spiritual guidance for ourselves and others are needed, because, with baptism, we begin our lifelong journey as disciples.

With today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we bid the Christmas season adieu. Tomorrow begins Ordinary time, a new cycle of discernment, faith formation, and spiritual growth. Let’s begin by reflecting upon Jesus’ baptism, and our baptism, and pray for guidance in the coming year, and let’s strive not only to deepen our understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus but to act upon it.

“Lord Jesus, we end our Christmas season by celebrating our rebirth in baptism. We enjoy what prophets and kings longed to see. Help us during this New Year to grow more conformed to you in our thoughts, desires, words and actions. Enable us through the Scriptures as well as through the sacraments of your food and forgiveness to grow to full maturity as your disciples.” 

—Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P.,
Prayer for the Sunday after the Epiphany,
The Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings can be found here. .

What are you all about?

The Feast of the Epiphany (C)

You won’t find the story of the Magi anywhere except in Matthew’s gospel. And what a colorful tale the gospel writer weaves.

The Magi, astrologers from distant lands, observed the rising of a new star, a sign of such significance it compels them to embark upon a journey to locate and pay homage to the new king whose birth the new star announced.

Thanks to imaginative stories and songs of Christian tradition (and the Fontanini figurines in our crèche), we envision three (although there is no account of the number of Magi) brocaded and crowned, educated and worldly noblemen, each perhaps from different parts of the Orient, traveling with their well-appointed, gift-laden camels, all following the same star, their paths merging on the way to their destination.

For the Magi, an event presaged by the appearance of a great star in the sky would be known by all, so upon their arrival in Jerusalem they ask, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” [Mt 2:2]

The Magi were motivated by faith to understand the meaning of the new star. They possessed the wisdom both to forge on until they stood in the presence of the infant Jesus, and to heed the warning in their dreams to take a different route home.

Today many would call the Magi “new-agers.” Followers of organized religion generally look askance at those who come with their astrology, dreams, and visions. We want them to know that we have all that we need in the Scriptures, the teachings of the Magisterium, and Canon law. We don’t want any of their weird interpretive phooey. And yet, these “new agers” were the ones Matthew tells us saw the sign and believed.

They packed their camels, left their homes, and committed themselves to paying homage to the Greatness—regardless of personal risk. They did not have access to the words of the Prophets or organized religion to assure them they were on the right track. They didn’t know how long their journey would be, or where they were going. And yet, they found what they were looking for and stood in the presence of the manifestation of God in the person of the newborn infant, Jesus.

What are you looking for? In the gospel of John, Jesus posed this question to the two disciples of John the Baptist, who were following him. They responded, “Where are you staying?” which is better translated as “What are you all about?” [John 1:38].  Moments earlier John pointed Jesus out to his disciples, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” meaning, the one who will take away the sins of the world. As seekers, the disciples of John the Baptist recognized in Jesus something so compelling, they immediately began to follow him.

Like the Magi they were drawn by the light.

Naturally, King Herod, who actually was the appointed King of the Jews, found the Magi’s question about the whereabouts of the new King of the Jews disturbing. In contrast to John the Baptist, whose deference to Jesus—like the star that pointed to the new King of the Jews—Herod sought to destroy anything that might diminish his power and influence. The King Herods of the world believe it is better to dismiss or destroy people and ideas that threaten their certitude of how the world works, and how God works. The wisdom that newcomers bring is often deemed to be dangerous because it leads people to contemplate the questions residing deep in their hearts, and to do so in a new way.

We are not very different from the Magi, though, are we? Spiritual seekers desire the same thing: an experience of God, a profound insight into the workings of God, and some level of comprehension as to how we fit into it all. What we discover along the way is our Epiphany.

The disciples who followed Jesus asked him “Where are you staying?” (“What are you all about?”). This is what we want to know. What is Jesus all about? What is God all about? What is the Holy Spirit of God all about? Why do we continue to seek and to seek and to seek? And for the Magi, what is the meaning of this star in the sky that so forcefully compels them to follow it? What is the meaning of this helpless infant born to poor parents in a stable, a child whose crib is a feeding trough? And what are we to do with this?

Consider the epiphanies that have occurred throughout your life that might have been squashed had you been closed to them.

Be opened. Come, one and all. Seek the truth. Turn away from fear and other obstructions. Don’t be an obstacle yourself. Be small. The first to recognize Jesus’ greatness were Gentiles—pagans—who traveled from the East where the light begins. In Luke’s gospel, the first to visit the newborn Jesus were shepherds, the lowest of the low. [Luke 2:15-20]. Seek not through the eyes of certitude, but through the eyes of one who observes, who listens, and who ponders—like Mary. When newcomers arrive with information that points to the truth, and which exposes love, don’t be so quick to dismiss them. Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” [Mk 9:40].

Happy Feast Day, all you Magi!

Today’s readings can be found here.