THREE POSITIVE VIRTUES

Sunday, June 9, 2024

The Tenth Sunday in ordinary Time

Self-discipline, perseverance, and personal responsibility are the positive virtues highlighted in the recent book, War on Virtue, by Bill Donohue.

 

People with self-discipline can control their impulses, feelings, and behavior. They are not swayed by outside forces.

 

People with perseverance continue to work at something despite difficulty or opposition. They are persistent.

 

People with a sense of personal responsibility hold themselves accountable. They do not blame others for their actions.

 

In this Sunday’s First Reading (Genesis 3:9-15), we see how Adam and Eve failed to live according to these vital virtues.

 

When confronted by the temptation to become like God, Adam and Eve showed no self-control. They allowed themselves to be swayed by the evil forces embodied in the serpent.

 

When God came looking for them in the Garden, they hid. Adam and Eve were no longer comfortable in God’s presence since they had not persevered in being faithful, obedient children of God.

 

When God confronted them with their disobedience, Adam and Eve took no personal responsibility. Adam blamed his wife, and she blamed the serpent.

 

But God rejected their excuses, held them accountable for their actions, and banished them from the garden of Eden.

 

The virtues that Adam and Eve found difficult to keep are also a challenge for us.

 

Today, there seems to be an absence of self-discipline. People often allow themselves to be negatively influenced by social media and a self-centered culture. They engage in behaviors that harm their physical or mental health and destroy their relationships.

 

There appears to be a shortage of perseverance. If people encounter anything that requires effort or sacrifice, they quickly give up. They look for immediate gratification and avoid any long-term commitment of time or energy.

 

And there is an evident refusal to accept personal responsibility. Individuals blame others for their bad actions and make excuses for their sins and failures. They view themselves as victims of the “-isms” of society.

 

We might conclude that the inability of Adam and Eve to act with self-discipline, perseverance, and personal responsibility has been passed down to us. We might call it an effect of their original sin.

 

However, we are not bound to follow their example. In the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the Lord has given us the power to live virtuous and holy lives. The Lord has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit offers us the knowledge to recognize what is in keeping with God’s will and what choices may lead us away from the Lord.

 

The Holy Spirit blesses us with the fortitude to remain strong in our desire to do what is right, to follow the Gospel, and to resist temptation.

 

The Holy Spirit gives us the wisdom and understanding to know ourselves and to appreciate that the mercy of God is always there, no matter our failures.

 

We live in a society that seems to disvalue self-discipline, perseverance, and personal responsibility. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be victorious in this seeming “War on Virtue.”

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

POWERFUL WORDS

Sunday, June 2, 2024

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

When Jesus speaks, things happen. His words have power and authority.

 

Jesus shouts, “Quiet! Come out of him!” and a demon releases a possessed man (Mark 1:25).

 

He yells, “Quiet! Be still!” and a raging sea suddenly becomes calm (Mark 4:39).

 

He says, “Be made clean” and a man covered with leprosy is immediately cured (Luke 5:13).

 

He orders, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk” and a crippled man does just that (John 5:8).

 

He commands, “Lazarus, come out” and a dead man walks out of a tomb (John 11:43).

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 14:12-16, 22-26), we hear other powerful words of Jesus that make things happen.

 

At the Last Supper Jesus takes bread and says to his apostles, "Take it; this is my body." He then takes a cup of wine and says, "This is my blood.” As Jesus speaks these words, bread and wine become his flesh and blood.

 

Today, these words of Jesus retain their power. When they are spoken by a priest during the celebration of Mass, bread becomes the Body of Christ, and wine becomes the Blood of Christ.

 

As we share that sacred food, we are drawn into a “holy communion” with him and our fellow Catholics. At the same time our covenant, our new relationship with God in Jesus, is renewed and strengthened.

 

Of course, it takes faith to recognize the presence of Jesus Christ in ordinary bread and wine. Likewise, it takes faith to recognize the presence of the Word made flesh in the child born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, and then in the man who went forth to preach the Gospel, was crucified in Jerusalem, and was proclaimed as risen and alive.

 

Today, some Catholics find it difficult to believe that Jesus Christ is truly present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

 

However, if we accept the effectiveness of the words spoken by Jesus in the Gospels, then we will be led to acknowledge the power of his words that have echoed down through the ages and are spoken today at every Mass: “This is my body … this is my blood.”

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

A SLOW REVEAL

Sunday, May 26, 2024

THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

 Imagine starting a new job and meeting your fellow employees. At lunchtime, a coworker comes over to you and engages you in conversation.

 

After asking you how your first day is going, that person starts telling you about himself. He tells you where he lives and where he grew up. He tells you about his wife and children and then shows you their pictures. He shares his plans for his next career move. As the conversation ends, he invites you to join him for drinks after work and mentions you should come to his house for dinner the following week.

 

When you returned to your desk, you would likely think “too much, too soon,” and you would invent an excuse to avoid meeting that person after work. You would feel uncomfortable with someone who so quickly revealed so much personal information.

 

Most people gradually tell others about themselves over the course of time as relationships deepen.

 

God follows the same process when it comes to us. Over the course of time, God has disclosed himself to his people.

 

God first revealed himself as the Creator, the Holy One who simply by his words brought the universe into existence.

 

God then revealed himself as the God of Israel who cared for his Chosen People. As Moses asked the people in our First Reading (Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40), “Did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation … which the LORD, your God, did for you in Egypt?”

 

God’s self-revelation continued as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, took on flesh and came among us. In him, we came to know the mercy and compassion of God. He taught us to call God “Our Father” and to recognize ourselves as his children. He showed us the amazing depth of God’s love as he hung upon the Cross.

 

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, came down upon the Church so that we might continue the work of Jesus. As he told us in our Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

 

Over time, the One God revealed himself to be a Trinity of Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

Our understanding of that Divine Mystery is something the Church has continued to grasp with the help of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus told us, “When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13).

 

God did not begin his relationship with humanity by immediately telling us everything about himself. As in any relationship, God gradually told us about himself until we finally came to know the one God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

Our personal appreciation of that Divine Relationship increases during our lives as we spend time with the Lord and as we grow in our faith.

 

People do not reveal themselves all at once, and neither did Almighty God!

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

THE COACH

SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2024

Pentecost Sunday

Every professional sport has a team that comes out on top at the end of the season.

In baseball, it’s the team that wins the World Series.

 

In football, it’s the team that prevails at the Super Bowl.

 

In ice hockey, it’s the team that is awarded the Stanley Cup.

 

These championship teams have extremely talented players. In fact, teams employ scouts whose job it is to discover and recruit skilled athletes.

 

Besides outstanding athletes, winning teams have something else. They have great coaches. Without such coaches, a group of talented players will not become a winning team.

 

Coaches help players develop their natural abilities, overcome their flaws, and show them how to work together as a unit.

 

Coaches motivate, encourage, teach, and promote team spirit. They help teams to learn from losses, appreciate their victories, and keep focused on the prize.

 

Championship teams all have outstanding coaches.

 

This Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, the final day of this Easter Season, the Church focuses our attention on another kind of coach.

 

In our First Reading (Acts 2:1-11), we are told that the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles as a strong driving wind and in the form of tongues of fire. Inspired by the Spirit, the disciples began to boldly speak in various languages of the mighty acts of God made present in Jesus, the Risen Lord.

 

In our Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13), we are told that the Holy Spirit enables people to profess “Jesus is Lord,” unites believers as the Body of Christ, and gives them gifts for the benefit of the Church.

 

In the Gospel (John 15:26-27, 16:12-15), Jesus described the Holy Spirit as the source of truth who testifies to him and his message and guides the Church.

 

The Holy Spirit is described as wind and fire and as the source of unity and truth. But the Holy Spirit can also be described in a way related to the sports imagery that began this reflection. The Holy Spirit might be seen as the coach that Jesus has given to the Church.

 

Like a good coach, the Holy Spirit helps Christians to recognize and develop the gifts they have been given to build up the Church—to build up the “team.”

 

Like a good coach, the Holy Spirit motivates Christians to work together to overcome the forces of sin and evil that are arrayed against them.

 

Like a good coach, the Holy Spirit keeps us fired up. The Holy Spirit inspires Christians to keep striving and never give up despite the world’s seeming indifference to the Gospel.

 

Like a good coach, the Holy Spirit sends us onto the playing field of life, convinced that despite every setback, we will win. Ultimately, God’s kingdom will come!

 

This Pentecost Sunday, we rejoice that the Lord Jesus has given his Church, his team of disciples, the best of all coaches: He has given us the Holy Spirit!

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

WHEN AND WHERE

SUNDAy, MAY 12, 2024

The ascension of the Lord

If someone wanted to write the story of your life, that person would gather information about your childhood, your family, the schools you attended, the jobs you held, your successes, your failures, and significant moments in your life.

 

The writer would then arrange that material in some logical order, likely according to when and where important events occurred.

 

The Gospel writers took that same approach as they recounted the life of Jesus.

 

For example, Luke tells us Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the time of Caesar Augustus. He tells us that Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord and then to Nazareth where he “grew and became strong.”

 

Luke recounts that at the age of 12, Jesus was “lost” in the temple for three days. When he was 30, Jesus was baptized at the Jordan River and began his public ministry. He preached the Gospel, healed the sick, and drove out demons as he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.

 

Jesus was given a triumphant welcome when he came to Jerusalem. There he cleared the Temple of buyers and sellers.

 

Matthew tells us that in Jerusalem, Jesus shared his final meal with his disciples, was arrested, questioned by the Sanhedrin, and condemned to death by Pilate.

 

Matthew recounts how Jesus was crucified on a Friday in a place called Golgotha. His body was laid in a tomb and three days later that tomb was found to be empty.

 

In his Gospel, John tells us that later that Sunday morning, the Risen Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene. In the afternoon, according to Luke, two disciples encountered him on the road to Emmaus.

 

John reports that evening the Risen Lord appeared to his disciples gathered behind locked doors in Jerusalem. The following Sunday, he appeared again and challenged Thomas to believe.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 16:15- 20), Mark tells us that after commissioning his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to every creature, the Risen Lord “was taken into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.”

 

With the Ascension, a person might think that reports of when and where Jesus acted would come to an end. But that is not the case. For as Jesus promised, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

 

The Church tells us that the Risen Lord is still active today. He is with us when we gather for the celebration of Mass. We encounter his “real presence” when we receive Holy Communion and pray before the tabernacle.

 

We experience his healing touch in sacraments. We hear him speak when the scriptures are proclaimed in the assembly. He is with us in moments of private and communal prayer, for as he told us, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

 

The Gospel writers recounted when and where Jesus was present during his 33 years on earth. The feast of the Ascension reminds us that the Risen Lord who is at the right hand of the Father is also with us right here, right now!  

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

HIS FRIENDS

Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Sixth sunday of Easter

One of the greatest gifts in life is a faithful friend.

 

Such a friend is more than an acquaintance, a neighbor, a co-worker, a classmate, colleague, fellow sports fan, or individual with whom we share a common interest.

 

A faithful friend is someone who loves and cares about you, thinks the best of you, encourages your efforts, celebrates your successes, lifts you up when you fail, helps you whenever needed, never forgets important occasions, brings you joy, and stands by your side.

 

As we read in the scriptures, “Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth” (Sirach 6:14-15).

 

We can think of Jesus as the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World, the Word made flesh, the Savior, the Redeemer, and the Lord. But we also can think of Jesus as that perfect, faithful friend who always stands by us. He is the friend who even lays down his life so that we might be freed from sin and death and brought into an everlasting relationship with God.

 

But Jesus can also think of us in the same way we think of him, namely, as his friends. We learn that in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 15:9-17).

 

In that Gospel, Jesus says the people who are his friends are those who love others in the same way that he loved. He tells us, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you…You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

 

Jesus says the people he considers his friends are those to whom he has addressed the words that the God the Father sent him to proclaim. “I have called you friends because I have told you everything that I heard from my Father.”

 

You and I think of ourselves as Christians, as followers of Christ—and we are. We recognize him as our Savior and Lord who speaks to us in the Scriptures and who touches us with his life-giving presence in the Sacraments.

 

But Sunday’s Gospel reminds us that the Lord thinks of us not just as his followers but also as his friends. We are the friends of Jesus Christ, and the Church is the place where his friends come together to grow closer to him and closer to one another.

 

What a friend we have in Jesus, and what friends Jesus has in us!

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

A NEW EPIDEMIC

Sunday, April 28, 2024

The fifth sunday of easter

Our world recently experienced the COVID pandemic whose debilitating effects are still being felt.

 

But there is a new epidemic spreading in our country, one for which there is no vaccine. There is an epidemic of loneliness.

 

Last year, the US Surgeon General stated, “In recent years, about one-in-two adults in America reported experiencing loneliness…Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling—it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.” (The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community 2023)

 

As humans, we need to be connected with other people; it is part of our DNA. In the first pages of the Bible, we are told that God looked at the man he created and said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

 

We were made to be connected to other people. That is why we marry, make friends, join clubs and organizations, participate in group sports, interact through social media, etc.

 

But we were also made to be connected to God. That is why God made man in his image and likeness. That is why God walked in the Garden with the man and woman he had created (Genesis 3:8). That is why God sent his Son to invite humanity to have an everlasting relationship with him.

 

Jesus emphasizes that connection in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 15:1-8). There Jesus speaks of himself as “the true vine” that the Father planted in this world. To be spiritually alive, we need to be connected to that vine.

 

As Jesus says, “Remain in me…I am the vine, you are the branches.” Without a connection to him, our spirits begin to shrivel. As Jesus warns us, “Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither.”

 

We remain in Jesus by participating in Mass and receiving Holy Communion. As Jesus tells us, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:56).

 

We remain in Jesus by taking his word to heart and following his commandments. As he tells us, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love” (John 15:10).

 

We remain in Jesus by being part of the Church, the living Body of Christ. As Paul tells us, “We, though many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5).

 

When we remain connected to Jesus in these ways, our lives “bear much fruit.” Fruit that Saint Paul describes as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

 

Perhaps today’s epidemic of social loneliness is more severe and damaging than ever since it comes at a time when so many people are spiritually lonely and disconnected from Jesus, the true vine.

 

We need to be connected to one another and connected to the Lord.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

HIS PRIORITY

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The fourth Sunday OF EASTER

During this never-ending election season, candidates have one top priority: They want to win.

 

That priority drives candidates to publish position papers, make speeches, run television and radio ads, establish a social media presence, interact with voters, engage in debates, etc. Candidates are driven to expend all their time, energy, and resources to succeed.

 

But it is not only political candidates that are driven by their top priority. We all are. Whatever we make our top priority, that priority guides our decisions, affects how we live, influences our relationships, and determines where we allot our time, attention, and money.

 

Jesus also had a central priority that influenced his life and ministry—it was to carry out the will of his heavenly Father. As Jesus said, “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (John 6:38).

 

Doing the will of the Father led Jesus to proclaim the kingdom of God, to preach the Gospel, to forgive sinners, to heal the sick, to embrace the outcast, and to call people to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind and to love their neighbor.

 

That priority motivated Jesus to be concerned for all the people he was sent to serve. For as he said, “This is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me” (John 6:39).

 

In Sunday’s Gospel (John 10:11-18), Jesus chose the image of the “good shepherd” to describe himself—the good shepherd concerned for all the sheep that the Father had placed in his care.

 

Jesus was the shepherd who was willing to lay down his life for the sake of his sheep. He was not like “a hired man, who … sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away … because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.”

 

On the cross, Jesus demonstrated his absolute concern for his sheep. He laid down his life so they might be saved from the “wolf” of sin and death that had been attacking humanity from the time of Adam.

 

This Sunday, the Gospel presents us with the beautiful image of Jesus as the good shepherd who watches over his sheep and whose love for them is so great that he laid down his life to save them.

 

But Sunday’s Gospel suggests another image: we are the sheep whose eternal welfare is the priority of the Good Shepherd.

 

As we watch political candidates making every effort to win election, we can be reminded of the efforts that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, made and continues to make through his Church to win our salvation. We are his priority.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

WHAT IS IT LIKE?

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Third Sunday of Easter

What is eternal life? What is it like?

 

These two questions can bring a variety of responses.

 

Some people think the questions are foolish since they do not believe in eternal life.

 

Other people suppose that eternal life is some kind of ghostly existence.

 

Still others think that eternal life is where the good are rewarded and the evil are punished.

 

Other people see eternal life as a place of blissful reunion where the dead are reunited with their deceased loved ones.

 

Still others picture eternal life as joining the heavenly hosts in endlessly proclaiming God’s praises.

 

No one can be certain what eternal life is like. But at each Sunday Mass, we profess our belief in eternal life as we say, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” (Nicene Creed).

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 24:35-48), we are given some understanding of eternal life. We are told that on the first Easter Sunday evening, the Risen Lord appeared to his startled disciples. At first “they thought they were seeing a ghost.” But he invited them to touch him and see he was no apparition, for “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” He then offered them further proof of his bodily nature as he ate a piece of baked fish.

 

But the Risen Lord was more than just a body restored to life. He was able to mysteriously appear to his gathered disciples. Earlier in the day, two disciples had spoken with him on the road to Emmaus. His words touched their hearts, but they did not realize it was him until he broke bread with them. Then “he vanished from their sight.”

 

In his Resurrection, the Lord could be recognized by his disciples, but he could remain hidden if he wished. The body he had when he walked the earth was the body that he still had in his resurrection, but it had been wonderfully transformed in some way.

 

This Sunday’s Gospel, and the others of this Easter Season, testify to the Resurrection of Jesus and they give us some indication of what awaits those judged worthy of eternal life.

 

In that life, we will not be disembodied souls, but like the Risen Lord we will be body and soul, changed and glorified. After all, when God created human beings, God made them body and soul and found that creation very good. Why would God now find that human body, which he himself took on in the Incarnation, something to discard?

 

In eternal life, we will be recognizable to those we knew on earth just as Jesus was recognized by his disciples. The loving relationship that he had with them was not ended by death—it was intensified. The Risen Lord sought them out, wished them peace, blessed them with his spirit, and entrusted them with his mission.

 

No one knows for certain what eternal life is like. But Sunday’s Gospel indicates that it is where loving relationships are deepened, and life marvelously continues body and soul.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

THE FOURTH WALL

Sunday, April 7, 2024

The Second Sunday of Easter

Actors in a play relate to one another in a world defined by the back and two side walls of a stage. There is an imaginary fourth wall that separates the world onstage from the audience. The audience can see through that fourth wall, but it is assumed that the actors cannot.

 

On a rare occasion, actors may break through that imaginary fourth wall and speak directly to the audience. In that moment, actors step out of the world created onstage and acknowledge the presence of the audience.

 

The same thing can happen in a work of literature. As we read a novel, we may unexpectedly encounter a comment that is not directly related to the story, but rather addressed to us. When that happens, our attention is drawn away from what we are reading. The author breaks through the imagery fourth wall that exists between us and the story.

 

The breaking of an imaginary fourth wall occurs in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 20:19-31).

 

In that passage, Saint John relates the dramatic events of the first Easter Sunday evening. He tells us how the Risen Lord passed through locked doors and appeared before his startled disciples. The Lord wished them peace, showed them his wounded hands and side, blessed them with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then empowered them to forgive sin.

 

John then goes on to relate what happened the following Sunday evening when the Risen Lord returned and challenged Thomas to move beyond his doubts and to believe. Thomas responded by making a profound profession of faith: “My Lord and my God."

 

John, the author of those Gospel stories, then breaks through the fourth wall and speaks directly to us. He says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”

 

John tells us he has not been writing an account of events for historians, but one designed to bring us to have faith in the Risen Lord so that like Thomas we can say of Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”

 

What John did is what we are challenged to do. We are not simply to tell people about Jesus in a dispassionate way. We are to step forward and tell them we want to speak to them about Jesus so that they may have a relationship with him and “may have life in his name.”

 

Like John, we have to take the risk and break down that “fourth wall” that keeps us from speaking directly to people about Jesus, the one who has brought joy and meaning to our lives.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

May you deeply experience the Peace and Presence of the Risen Lord

during this Easter Season!

 

TWO SUNDAYS

March 31, 2024

EASTER SUNDAY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD

“Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that the light was good. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came, and morning followed—the first day” (Genesis 1:3-5).

 

It may seem odd that a reflection for Easter Sunday begins with a passage from the Book of Genesis. We would expect verses from this Sunday’s Gospel (John 20:1-9) that recount how Mary Magdalene discovered that the stone that had closed the tomb of Jesus was removed. She reported that news to Peter and John who ran to investigate. When they entered the tomb, they found only the burial cloths that had covered the body of the now Risen Lord.

 

But what happened that first Easter Sunday mirrors what happened at the start of creation.

 

On the first day of creation, the first Sunday, God created light. That light broke the darkness of chaos and nothingness. From there, God continued to create day by day until he made all things including human beings. “God looked at everything he had made and found it very good” (Genesis 1:31).

 

After those six days of creation, God rested on the seventh day, the first Sabbath, the first Saturday.

 

But as we know, things did not remain “very good.” The first humans chose to ignore God and sin entered the world, bringing with it the gloom of evil and the darkness of death.

 

But God did not leave mankind in the enveloping darkness. God reached out to his people again and again, calling them to live in the light of his love. God’s efforts are chronicled throughout the Old Testament.

 

Eventually, God decided to come among his people. Through Jesus, the love and mercy of God was made flesh. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).

 

Just as those first persons created in the image and likeness of God rejected him, so did their descendants. They rejected God’s Son. Jesus was scorned, rebuffed, killed, and thrown into the darkness of a tomb that first Good Friday.

 

Three days later on a Sunday, the start of a new week, Jesus was raised to life. In the Resurrection, Jesus conquered the darkness of sin and death.

 

God, who had created light on the first day of creation, raised up the Light of the World on the first Easter Sunday to begin a “new creation.” The world was born again!

 

As followers of the Risen Lord, we are part of that new creation. As Saint Paul tells us in Easter Sunday’s Second Reading (Colossians 3:1-4), “Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”

 

We are people raised to new life in Christ!

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

May you deeply experience the Peace and Presence of the Risen Lord

during this Easter Season!

 

COURAGE

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Compassionate, loving, humble, holy, prayerful, generous, caring, faithful, trusting, forgiving, obedient, virtuous, innocent. These are some of the adjectives that can be used to describe Jesus.

 

In light of the Passion of our Lord that is proclaimed this Sunday (Mark 14:1-15:47), there is another adjective that can be added to that list: courageous. The courage of Jesus is apparent throughout Mark’s account of the Lord’s suffering and death.

 

During his Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus permitted Judas to remain at the table even though he knew what Judas was about to do. Jesus had the courage to allow that disciple’s act of treachery to advance.

 

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that “the hour might pass him by” and he might escape what was coming. But Jesus added that he was ready to endure whatever was in accord with God’s will. He then courageously confronted the armed mob that came to arrest him. Jesus did not run away in fear as did his disciples.

 

When he was questioned by the chief priest and members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus unflinchingly remained silent as they hurled their false accusations against him. When directly asked, “Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?” Jesus courageously responded, “I am,” even though he knew those words would lead to his being accused of blasphemy.

 

When Jesus was brought before Pilate, the one with the power to execute him or set him free, Jesus demonstrated that same courage and boldness. When Pilate asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You say so,” even though that reply made him a threat to the power of Rome.

 

When Jesus was mocked as “King of the Jews” by the soldiers of Pilate, Jesus courageously endured their taunts and derision.

 

When he was brought to the place of crucifixion, Jesus refused the wine drugged with myrrh given him by the soldiers. He bravely suffered the pain of crucifixion without his senses being dulled.

 

As his life drained away on the wood of the cross, Jesus was reviled and mocked by his executioners, the chief priests, the scribes, the spectators, and even by those crucified along with him. In his final moments, Jesus endured the pain of feeling abandoned by God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

The courage shown by Jesus during his last moments led the Roman centurion supervising the crucifixion to say, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

 

The courage displayed by Jesus during his passion was the result of his absolute faith and trust in God. Jesus knew that God the Father was with him even in the midst of his suffering and pain.

 

We need to grow in our relationship with God so that with faith and trust in him, we can imitate that courage of Jesus.

 

Courageous Christians are especially needed in our day, for we live in a society that is increasingly hostile to the message of Gospel, dismisses the relevance of Jesus, and labels believers as misguided bigots.

 

The courage shown by Jesus during his Passion challenges us to be courageous in living out our faith.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

May this coming Holy Week inspire you to grow in holiness!

TIME REQUIRED

SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2024

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

To appreciate a great painting, you cannot simply glance at it as you walk through an art gallery. You need to stop and notice its composition, the use of colors, the interplay of light and shadow, and the technique of the artist.

 

To appreciate a celebrated novel, you need to do more than quickly skim through its pages. You need to spend time with the text and pay attention to the movement of the plot, the development of the characters, and the skill of the author.

 

To appreciate a famous piece of music, you cannot just have it playing in the background as you concentrate on something else. You need to carefully listen to the melody, the rhythm, the lyrics, and the instrumentation, and notice the way the piece affects you emotionally.

 

To truly appreciate something, you need to spend time with it. This also applies to the scripture readings proclaimed at Sunday Mass. To appreciate these readings, we need to do more than just listen to them as they are read. We need to spend time with them.

 

The readings this Sunday contain words that may be particularly worth our time and attention.

 

In the Gospel (John 12:20-33), Jesus tells Philip and Andrew, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

 

With these words Jesus refers to his coming passion and death that would lead to his resurrection and our salvation. His death would bear fruit.

 

If we spend time with these words, we may come to understand they may also refer to our need to die to sin so that we might produce the fruit of holiness.

 

A further appreciation can bring us to recognize ourselves as the fruit to which Jesus refers: We are the fruit that has blossomed from the wood of the cross that, in the resurrection of Jesus, became the tree of life.

 

If we spend time reflecting on our First Reading (Jeremiah 31:33-34), we may come to appreciate that through Jesus, we are the people of that new covenant that God promised to make with his people. As we are reminded at every Mass during the consecration, “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant.”

 

That reading also speaks of God’s promise to place his law in the hearts of his people. God has done just that through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who directs us in the ways of holiness. As Jesus tells us, “When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13).

 

The more we spend time with the scripture readings, the more we appreciate their message, the more we appreciate what the Lord has done for us, and the more we appreciate the dignity that is ours as children of God.

 

It takes time to truly appreciate the Word of God!

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

INVESTED IN US!

Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

Shark Tank is a very popular television program. During each episode, aspiring entrepreneurs enter the “tank” to stand before a panel of famous, financially successful investors referred to as “sharks”.

 

The entrepreneurs tell the sharks about a product or service they have developed. They then offer the sharks an opportunity to invest a certain amount of money for a share in the company they formed to market that product or service.

 

The sharks evaluate the potential of each entrepreneur’s company to become a financial success. They then decide to accept, modify, or reject the proposed offer.

 

Entrepreneurs who succeed in getting one or more of the sharks to invest receive financial backing and validation of the product or service they have created.

 

Those budding capitalists also gain something else: they receive affirmation from highly successful people that they merit an investment.

 

This Sunday’s readings are about people whom God finds deserving of an investment.

 

In our First Reading (2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23), we hear about the Chosen People who had turned away from God. Their sinfulness had led to the destruction of Jerusalem and their being sent into exile in Babylon. But in his mercy, God did not abandon them. Instead, God continued to invest in them, he continued to show them love and mercy. God prompted King Cyrus to allow the Jewish people to return home and to rebuild the Temple.

 

Then in our Gospel (John 3:14-21), we hear of the greatest investment that God ever made in the people he created.

 

As Saint John tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

 

God’s love led him to invest his Son in us so that we might be saved from sin and brought into a new and everlasting relationship with him.

 

Then in our Second Reading (Ephesians 2:4-10), Saint Paul emphasizes the action of God on our behalf. Paul tells us that we are freed from the hold of sin not through our efforts but because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. As Paul says, “by grace you have been saved …. and this is not from you, it is the gift of God.”

 

Obviously, God sees our potential to become good and holy people. If he did not, why would God have invested his mercy, his love, and his Son in us?

 

As we know from watching Shark Tank, investors only put their resources where they see a good opportunity for success.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

LENTEN IMPROVEMENT

Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Third Sunday of Lent

Do you want to be a better person?

 

All of us would answer yes. Each of us wants to improve certain aspects of our lives.

 

We might want to be a better husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, friend, or a more successful member of society.

 

We might want to be more patient, understanding, forgiving, creative, or more willing to try new things.

 

We might want to be healthier, more centered and at peace, and more in control of our lives.

 

We all want to make improvements to be better people.  

 

This desire has given birth to an entire industry devoted to self-improvement. There are books, videos, seminars, podcasts, and courses designed to show us what we can do to reach our goals. There are self-proclaimed experts ready and willing to show us the way to self-improvement.

 

This season of Lent is also focused on improvement. It is about becoming a better Christian and growing in our relationship with God. However, such spiritual improvement does not come about because of what we do. Rather it comes about because of what the Lord does. We learn that from this Sunday’s Gospel (John 2:13-25).

 

In that reading, we are told that Jesus came to the temple in Jerusalem. There he saw vendors selling sheep and oxen certified as acceptable for sacrifice. He witnessed persons exchanging money minted with images into coinage approved for use in the temple.

 

Profit was being made. A sacred place dedicated to God was being used by merchants as a marketplace. Angered by what he saw, Jesus “made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area.”

 

The temple was cleansed because of what Jesus did. There would never have been any “self-improvement” in the temple: The vendors would not have stopped selling and the money changers would not have ceased their operation on their own. Things were made better because of what Jesus did.

 

The same is true in our spiritual lives. When Jesus comes into our “temples,” into our lives, we begin to grow in holiness and turn from sin. That happens not because of what we do but rather because of what Jesus does.

 

We see examples of Jesus cleansing human temples throughout the scriptures. He drives out demons from those who are possessed. He offers mercy to those lost in sin. He opens the eyes of those who are blind to the value of their lives and reveals they are beloved children of God. He softens those whose hearts have been hardened by the false values of society. He announces the coming of God’s kingdom to those who see nothing beyond the grave.

 

If we hope to improve spiritually and become the holy people God wants us to be, then we need Jesus to come into our lives.

 

That happens when we speak to him in prayer, listen to his words in the scriptures, experience his presence in the Church, become one with him in the Eucharist, and meet him in the poor and suffering.

 

We become holy not because of what we do, but because of what the Lord does.

 

Lent is not about increasing our efforts at self-improvement but about asking the Lord to come more fully into our lives and to drive out all that is sinful.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

WHAT'S THE WORD?

February 25, 2024

The Second Sunday of Lent

What is your favorite color?

 

What is your favorite food?

 

What is your favorite song?

 

Questions like these are often used as conversation starters or “icebreakers” when a group of strangers gathers for a meeting.

 

Such non-threatening questions get people talking and help them to become more comfortable with one another.

 

Imagine if the question was, “What is your favorite word?” That question would prompt a variety of answers.

 

Some people might respond with a word that sparks a warm, emotional feeling, such as love, hope, mom, dad, son, or daughter.

 

Others might respond by saying their first name or perhaps their nickname. Most people like hearing their name, it means that they are known and recognized.

 

Other individuals might pick a word that sounds funny to them or that they enjoy saying such as persnickety, mellifluous, or discombobulated.

 

Imagine if God were asked, “What is your favorite word?”

 

There is no way of being certain how God would reply, but God’s favorite word might be yes.

 

That was the response that God wanted from Adam and Eve when he instructed them to avoid eating from a certain tree in the Garden. Rather than obeying and saying yes, those first humans ate from the tree. With their no, sin entered the world and succeeding generations followed their example.

 

In Sunday’s First Reading (Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18), we learn about a person who utters a dramatic yes to God. Abraham is instructed by God to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, the one through whom God’s promises were to be fulfilled.

 

Unsure, uncertain, but trusting God, Abraham was ready to say yes to what God asked of him. With that yes, Abraham passed God’s test and was told “because you acted as you did…I will bless you abundantly…all this because you obeyed my command."

 

Unfortunately, the descendants of Abraham did not imitate his yes to God. They repeatedly answered no to God and sin flourished.

 

In response, God sent his Son, who spoke the perfect yes that God had hoped to hear from those he had created in his image and likeness. As Jesus explained, “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (John 6:38). Jesus said yes to all that God the Father asked of him.

 

Saint Paul highlighted that yes of Jesus when he wrote, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not “yes” and “no,” but “yes” has been in him” (2 Corinthians 1:19).

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 9:2-10), we are told to imitate that yes of Jesus. In the reading, Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John. Jesus shone with divine glory and the voice of God proclaimed his identity: "This is my beloved Son.”

 

The voice from the heavens then told the apostles, “Listen to him.” They were to listen to the yes that Jesus communicated by fulfilling the Father’s will. They were to listen and learn from the words and actions of Jesus.

 

This season of Lent is the time for us to ask ourselves if we are listening to Jesus and imitating his yes to God.

 

Yes is the word that God wants to hear from us. It may be God’s favorite word!

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

KEEPING RESOLUTIONS

SUNDAY, February 18, 2024

The First Sunday of Lent

We are now seven weeks into the year 2024. At the beginning of the year, many of us made New Year’s resolutions. We might have resolved to better our physical health, strengthen our relationships, work on developing a particular skill, lessen our time on social media, or do something else that would improve our lives and the lives of others.

 

Such resolutions are easy to make but hard to keep. How many of us may have already broken the resolutions we made in January? In fact, some of us make the same resolutions every year because those resolutions never move beyond good intentions.

 

The individuals who succeed in keeping their resolutions are those who make it a point to recall them each day. Perhaps the most successful are those who tell a friend about their resolutions and ask that friend to check on them, to encourage them, and to hold them to account.

 

The start of Lent is a time for Christians to make resolutions. On Ash Wednesday, we were marked with ashes and told, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” We hear those same words in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark1:12-15). After his baptism and time of testing in the desert, Jesus began his public ministry by proclaiming, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."

 

In response to that call to “repent,” we are encouraged to resolve to do something specific during Lent to help us move away from sin and grow in our spiritual life.

 

Those Lenten resolutions can include allocating a certain amount of time each day to prayer or scripture reading, attending an extra Mass or two each week, spending more quality time with our family, becoming involved in some charitable activity, making an effort to overcome a particular sin or negative habit, being more patient and forgiving, avoiding a favorite food or activity as a sacrifice for our sins, etc.

 

We will likely keep our Lenten resolutions during the first weeks of Lent but by the fourth or fifth week of Lent we may find those resolutions being forgotten just like those we made in January.

 

If we want to remain faithful to our Lenten resolutions, we should follow the example of those who succeed in keeping their New Year’s promises.

 

We should write out what we have resolved to do for Lent and put that paper in a place that will catch our attention each day. We might make reading that paper part of our daily prayer. We might even recall our resolutions during the Penitential Rite at Mass as we thank God for our successes and seek his mercy for “what I have failed to do.”

 

Most importantly, we might tell a family member, friend, or even our parish priest what we have resolved to do for Lent and ask that person to check on our progress. We all do better when we are held to account.

 

Finally, we should ask God’s help in keeping our Lenten promises. In Sunday’s Gospel, we hear that during the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert “the angels ministered to him.” We might ask the Lord to “minister” to us during these 40 days of Lent as we seek to “repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

 

Like the start of a new year, the start of Lent is a time for making resolutions, but even more importantly, Lent is a time for keeping those resolutions and growing in holiness.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

JUDGED "UNCLEAN"

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Unclean, unclean.” According to this Sunday’s First Reading (Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46), these are the words that individuals afflicted with skin diseases had to cry out when people were nearby.

 

Those diseases, often referred to in the scriptures with the term “leprosy,” were seen not only as contagious physical ailments but also indications that the afflicted person was in the grip of sin and evil.

 

Those judged to be “lepers” had to warn the public of their presence, for if others came too close they too would become unclean and unable to participate in the community’s life and worship.

 

“Lepers” were shunned and avoided. Requiring them to shout “unclean” not only announced their presence, it was also a constant reminder to them that they were no longer a father or mother, a son or daughter, a neighbor or friend. They were simply the “unclean.”

 

Thankfully, we do not live in a society where people with certain diseases are required to announce their ailments. There are privacy laws that prohibit the disclosure of an individual’s medical condition. Those who are ill must give explicit permission for information about their health to be shared with others, even family members.

 

While our society does not demand that people with certain diseases cry out “unclean, unclean,” it has no problem declaring that certain persons are “unclean.”

 

At the time of Jesus, it was the Jewish priests who determined which individuals had to announce they were unclean.

 

In our day, it is the influencers of the moment, the anointed celebrities of social media, the cultural trend setters, and the politically powerful who decide which people are unclean.

 

The unclean are those persons whom they judge to be “infected” with beliefs, opinions, morals, and convictions that do not fit the prevailing culture and values of the day. The unclean are to be pushed aside, ignored, and shunned as were the lepers at the time of Jesus.

 

Those judged as unclean in our day can include persons who:

 

- believe in the existence of God and recognize people as creations of God subject to his commandments;

 

- recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as the one who reveals the truth and the way to everlasting life;

 

- appreciate human life as a precious gift to be safeguarded from the moment of conception to the moment of  

   natural death;

 

- believe in the sanctity of marriage and see its basis in the Book of Genesis, “a man leaves his father and mother and

   clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body”;

 

- profess that individuals are endowed with unalienable rights that come from God and not from the state;

 

- base their opinions on the Word of God and not on the politically correct belief of the moment; and recognize they

   are ultimately answerable to God and not to themselves or the culture.

 

We live in a society that is more than ready to call such persons, such Christians, “unclean” and willing to do all it can to silence and isolate them as dangerous “lepers.”

 

If we remember that, like the leper of Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1:40-45), God has touched us with his grace made present in Jesus, then society’s shouts of “unclean” will mean nothing.

 

If fact, we might say the label and shouts indicate that we are doing what Paul advises in Sunday’s Second Reading (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1), “Do everything for the glory of God…be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

UNEXPECTED QUOTATIONS

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2024

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Most churches have outdoor signs that display the Mass schedule and sometimes include a biblical quotation.

 

Imagine seeing a church sign that displays the following scripture quote: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” Or seeing another sign with the words “I have been assigned months of misery.” Or noticing a third outdoor sign with the quotation “I shall not see happiness again.”

 

We might wonder why a parish would choose to put such words on its signage. Yet those are among the words chosen by the Church to be proclaimed at Mass this weekend.

 

These quotations are from Sunday’s First Reading from the Book of Job (Job 7:1-4, 6-7). There Job expresses how he feels after enduring unbearable sufferings. Despite his righteousness and fidelity to God, everything went wrong in Job’s life.

 

His children died. He lost all his wealth, property, and social status. He was afflicted with horrible physical ailments. He was scorned by his wife and thought a sinner by his friends since such evils had come upon him.

 

For Job, life had become a drudgery, a series of months filled with misery, hopelessness, and troubled nights. He felt abandoned by God who seemed to ignore his prayers and pleadings.

 

Though we will not endure all the suffering that came upon Job, our lives do have their periods of drudgery, sickness, worry, and anxiety.

 

We may endure the loss of employment, the end of a relationship, or the death of loved ones. We have moments when happiness and God seem far away. In addition, we live in a world filled with misery, war, violence, suffering, turmoil, polarization, and distrust. We can feel beaten down like Job.

 

Despite his pain, suffering, and humiliation, Job did not lose faith in God. In the end, Job was healed and rewarded for his faithfulness. God eventually made all things right. “Thus the Lord blessed the later days of Job more than his earlier ones” (Job 42:12).

 

Certainly, Job would have preferred that God acted immediately as happened in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1: 29-39). In that reading, when Jesus entered the home of Peter and Andrew, he was told that Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering from a fever, and Jesus immediately responded. “He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her.” God acts when and how God chooses.

 

We might not be attracted by church signs with biblical citations about drudgery, misery, and unhappiness. But as we learn from the story of Job and from human experience, suffering is part of life. It comes, at one time or another, to everyone, even the innocent. Certainly, the cross of Jesus is proof of that.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

WITH AUTHORITY

SUNDAy, JANUARY 28, 2024

The fourth Sunday in ordinary Time

Police officers, military leaders, government officials, judges, employers, and parents all have something in common. They all have authority and can require people to act in certain ways.

 

For example, a police officer can compel a driver to pull over, an employer can order an employee to complete a job by a deadline, and a mother can tell her children to turn off the TV and do their homework.

 

Doctors, professors, lawyers, and scientists also have authority. Their authority comes from having a recognized level of knowledge and expertise beyond that of most people. For example, when we are looking for information concerning cancer treatment, we seek advice from an authority in the field of oncology and do not rely on medical websites.

 

Overall, people with authority are individuals with knowledge or power.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1:21-28), we see Jesus exercising authority.

 

On a sabbath day, he comes into the synagogue at Capernaum and there he teaches the people. Jesus does not imitate the scribes who based their sermons on what had been taught by experts who had come before them. Jesus teaches on his own authority.

 

We are told, “the people were astonished…for he taught as one having authority and not as the scribes.” Jesus was the light of the world. He did not need others to verify his words and endorse his teaching.

 

The authority of Jesus was even acknowledged by the unclean spirit that was possessing a man in the synagogue. The demon recognized Jesus to be “the Holy One of God” with power over him. Simply by his words, Jesus drove out that demon and left the people amazed. “What is this? A new teaching with authority: he commands even unclean spirits and they obey him.”

 

What the people came to understand in that synagogue 2,000 years ago is something we need to remember. We live in a society filled with all kinds of people offering their vision of life, proclaiming their understanding of the truth, selling their personal philosophies, promoting their codes of morality, and endorsing ever-stranger ideas. In such a world, it is easy to become confused, lost, and uncertain of how to live and what to believe. Like the people in the synagogue at Capernaum, we need to recognize the authority of Jesus.

 

His words and his teachings reveal the truth and have the power to free us from the “unclean spirits” that seek to possess us.

 

That authority of Jesus is even recognized by a society that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. If our society did not recognize the authority of Jesus, it would not be fighting so hard to silence his words and negate his influence.

 

The people in the synagogue recognized the amazing authority of Jesus. Today, we might ask ourselves if Jesus truly is the authority we look to and recognize in our lives.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

SPECIAL NOTICE

Father Iwanowski has co-authored a new book of Lenten Reflections called

OPEN OUR HEARTS, published by Renew International.

It is available at   https://store.renewintl.org/

WHERE IS IT?

Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Where is the kingdom of God?

 

That question could inspire the following responses:

 

The kingdom of God is in heaven, the place that awaits all those who live according to the commandments of God.

 

The kingdom of God is the society that comes about when all people obey the will of God and turn from sin. As we pray in the Our Father, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

 

The kingdom of God is the world that will blossom forth when Jesus Christ returns in glory at the end of time.  

 

The kingdom of God is the “peaceable kingdom” illustrated on Christmas cards and sung about by choirs, where all people live together in love, justice, and peace.

 

However, this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1:14-20) may lead us to think of the kingdom of God in another way. In that Gospel Jesus does not speak of the kingdom of God as something that we wait for, work for, wish for, or hope for. Instead, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as a present reality.

 

Saint Mark tells us that after the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus began proclaiming, "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”

 

Jesus could say that the kingdom of God was at hand because he was the kingdom of God made visible in the world. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, “There is a growing tendency to hold that Christ uses these words to refer to Himself: He, who is in our midst is the Kingdom of God…Through Jesus’ presence and action, God has here and now entered actively into history in a wholly new way.” (page 60)

 

The presence of the kingdom in our world that began when Jesus took flesh and came among us continues today. We encounter Jesus Christ in his Church, in the reception of Holy Communion, in the celebration of the Sacraments, in the proclamation of the Word, and in the action of the Holy Spirit.

 

In Jesus Christ, we come in contact with God and are invited to have a relationship with him and are drawn into his kingdom.

 

In Sunday’s Gospel, we learn that after proclaiming the presence of the kingdom, Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to join him. They immediately left their nets and followed him. How could they refuse an invitation from the One who embodied the kingdom and was the very presence of God?

 

We can view the kingdom of God as something yet to come and something to be hoped for, or we can view it as a present reality made visible in Jesus. As he himself tells us, "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”

 

Like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, may we recognize the presence of Jesus and follow him. In doing so, we will find the pearl of great price, we will find the treasure in the field, we will find the kingdom of God!

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

SPECIAL NOTICE

Father Iwanowski has co-authored a new book of Lenten Reflections called

OPEN OUR HEARTS, published by Renew International. 

It is available at   https://store.renewintl.org/

MY BODY?

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

If a woman wants to terminate her pregnancy at any time, she should be able to obtain an abortion. “My body, my choice.”

 

If people want to “rent out” their bodies to satisfy the sexual desires of others, they should be free to do so. “My body, my choice.”

 

If a boy comes to believe that he is really a girl, or a girl concludes that she is a boy, they should be able to alter their bodies to match their thinking. “My body, my choice.”

 

If people want to use heroin, fentanyl, marijuana, or any other chemical substance, they should be allowed to take such drugs without legal jeopardy. “My body, my choice.”

 

If individuals are overwhelmed with problems, no longer find meaning in their lives, or suffer from physical or psychological pain, they should have the liberty to bring their lives to an end. “My body, my choice.”

 

Such attitudes are prevalent in our society that increasingly denies the existence of God, elevates egoism, deifies choice, and views the human body as simply a personal possession to be used as desired. “My body, my choice.”

 

However, Saint Paul would reject such thinking. He would refute the idea that the human body is ours to use as we please.

 

This is certainly apparent from his words in this Sunday’s Second Reading (1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20). There Paul tells us, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”

 

In the waters of baptism, we not only became children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, we were also made dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. As Christians we have a moral responsibility to care for our bodies, our “physical temples.”

 

Furthermore, our bodies not only house the Spirit, they are also the way we give glory and praise to God and demonstrate our love for him and our neighbor. As Paul reminds us, “Glorify God in your body.”

 

Our bodies are also the way we make Christ present in our world. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” As members of the Church, as part of the living Body of Christ, we are to take care not to weaken the body of Christ by behavior not in keeping with the Gospel. “Avoid immorality.”

 

In Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm, we will proclaim, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” One way we do the will of the Lord is by using the body that God has given us in accord with God’s law.

 

“My body, my choice” may be the cry of today’s society but those words are a lie. Our bodies are not our creations to treat as we choose. Our bodies are gifts given us by God to use to glorify him and to become the good and holy people God made us to be.

 

As Saint Paul told the Corinthians, and as he tells us, “The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord … Therefore glorify God in your body.”

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

SPECIAL NOTICE

Father Iwanowski has co-authored a new book of Lenten Reflections called

OPEN OUR HEARTS, published by Renew International. 

It is available at   https://store.renewintl.org/

 

THERE FROM THE START

January 7, 2024

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD

During this Christmas Season, almost every Catholic parish has a nativity scene on display inside its church and sometimes outside the building as well.

 

The scene was set up sometime in Advent and remains in place throughout the Christmas Season that concludes with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

 

The nativity display contains the figures associated with the Gospels of Christmas. Following tradition, the figure of the Christ Child was most likely put in place during the first Mass of Christmas Eve.

 

Often the figures of the magi are not added to the creche until the Epiphany of the Lord that is observed this coming Sunday. The Gospel for that day (Matthew 2:1-12) describes how magi from the east were led by a star to Jerusalem. From there they were directed to Bethlehem where they found “the newborn king of the Jews.”

 

Some parishes place the figures of the magi in the church from the start, but they are located at a distance from the creche. The figures are gradually moved toward the nativity scene a little each day until the magi are finally placed before the statue of the Christ Child on the Epiphany of the Lord. This movement symbolizes the quest of the magi to find the one whose birth was announced by a shining star.

 

Even though the actual figures of the magi may not be added to the nativity scene until this Sunday, the “magi” really were there from the moment the display was placed in the church—because we are those magi. 

 

The magi spoken about in Matthew’s Gospel were Gentiles, non-Jews, who were led by the heavens to Bethlehem. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized that the child with Mary and Joseph was not just another infant. They were given the same insight that the Jewish shepherds received that first Christmas night when they were told by angels that “in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

 

The gifts that the magi offered to the infant showed they knew who the child was. Incense implied his divinity, gold indicated his royalty, and myrrh hinted at his future sacrificial death.

 

Like those magi, we know who Jesus is, for God has blessed us with the gift of faith and revealed him as our Savior and Lord.

 

As we look at the manger scene, we need to realize that there are not just Gentile magi and Jewish shepherds gazing upon the Christ Child. We are also looking upon the Lord who revealed himself to us in the Sacrament of Baptism and who continues to reveal himself to us as his Word is proclaimed, his Sacraments are celebrated, and his Church gathers at his Altar.

 

The Epiphany of the Lord continues as Jesus Christ continues to reveal himself to us, the “magi” of today.

 

© 2024 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski


May God Bless You in This New Year!

May You Spread the Love, Mercy, and Peace of the Lord!

HOLINESS RECOGNITION

Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Facial recognition software is one of the newest methods used to identify people. It maps facial features from an image, video, or in real time, and then compares the information with a database of known faces to find a match. Just as we have fingerprints, we now have faceprints.

 

Facial recognition software is used by businesses, schools, police departments, security firms, and government agencies to confirm a person’s identity. It is also used by individuals to unlock their smartphones or other digital devices.

 

However, facial recognition is not new. Humans have been using it since people began to populate the earth. We can look at a large crowd and we can identify the faces of our relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and people we have met.

 

We may not remember the names of all the people we have encountered, but we usually remember their faces. 

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-40), we hear how Simeon and Anna recognized that there was something special about a certain couple who came to the Temple to present their child to the Lord.

 

When Mary and Joseph carried the infant Jesus into the Temple, Simeon recognized God had fulfilled his promise “that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.”

 

We might say the Holy Spirit had given Simeon the data needed to identify the face of the one who would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

 

The prophetess Anna, who after she had become a widow “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer,” was also given the grace to recognize the child Jesus. When she saw him, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”

 

Simeon and Anna recognized the Holy Family from among all the families who came into the Temple that day and all the days and years before that moment.

 

They saw the faces of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph radiant with the presence of God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, they identified who this family was.

 

The ability to identify holy people is not limited to individuals like Simeon and Anna. We all recognize holy people. Their faces convey peace, gentleness, and kindness. Their eyes shine with an inner light and their lips give praise and thanks to God and speak words that build others up rather than pull them down. We also see such people pass on their faith to their children, just as Mary and Joseph did.

 

This Sunday’s Feast of the Holy Family would be a perfect time to identify the holy families we know.

 

Like Simeon and Anna, we can praise God for them and perhaps like Simeon and Anna, we can let those families know that we appreciate the goodness we see in them.

 

Just as facial recognition helps us identify who people are, holiness recognition helps us to identify people striving to do what Paul advises in Sunday’s Second Reading (Colossians 3:12-17): “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.”

 

© 2023 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

Best Wishes for Happy and Holy Christmas Season,

Filled with the Peace and Presence of Christ the Lord.

ARE WE SAYING YES?

Sunday, December 24, 2023

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Paul Harvey was a well-known radio personality who had a popular program that was on the air for about 30 years. During each broadcast, he would tell a short story that revealed surprising but largely unknown facts about famous contemporary or historical figures.

 

During one program, he spoke about the Virgin Mary. He told the story of the annunciation that is found in the Gospel for this coming Fourth Sunday of Advent (Luke 1:26-38).

 

He mentioned how the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced she had been chosen to give birth to Jesus. This would happen through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Mary responded to this amazing announcement by saying, “May it be done to me according to your word.”

 

Paul Harvey ended his commentary by asking, “I wonder how many women God asked to give birth to his Son before one finally said YES.”

 

For us Catholics, that question would make no sense. God never sent the angel Gabriel to ask other women to give birth to the Savior.

 

Mary had been chosen to give birth to the Messiah even before she was born. We celebrated that belief on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

 

On that day the Church prayed, “Almighty and eternal God … you preserved the most Blessed Virgin Mary from all stain of original sin, so that in her, endowed with the rich fullness of your grace, you might prepare a worthy Mother for your Son” (Preface for the Immaculate Conception).

 

That is why the angel Gabriel could call Mary “full of grace” and say she had “found favor with God.” With such grace and favor, Mary responded without hesitation to what God asked of her and the incarnation took place. God was born among us. We will celebrate this event on Christmas Eve just hours after this Gospel is proclaimed on the morning of the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

 

The question asked by Paul Harvey was not theologically correct, but it does raise an interesting question, not about Mary, but about us.

 

How do we respond to what God asks of us?

 

God asks his people to live as his faithful children and to follow the example of his Son. We are to make God’s kingdom visible in our world by working for justice and peace, caring for the hungry and the hurting, and acknowledging all we have is a gift from God.

 

God asks some people to live in a particular way by serving him as priests, deacons, religious, and lay ministers in his Church.

 

Yet how many of us ignore those divine challenges and invitations that come to us not through messages delivered by angels but through what we may hear at Mass, by inspirations that cross our minds in prayerful moments, by what we may hear or see in the media, or by an unexpected comment from a friend or even a stranger.

 

How many times do we respond NO to God, or perhaps ignore the question, or think that someone else will step forward. This may explain the current vocation crisis in our Church. God is still asking, but individuals are saying NO.

 

When we were baptized, God favored us with his grace so that we might be strengthened to live as his people and to say YES to what he asks of us.

 

Today, a Paul Harvey might ask, “I wonder how many people God has to keep asking to live as his faithful children before enough finally say YES, and God’s kingdom comes into this world?”

 

© 2023 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

Best Wishes for Happy and Holy Christmas Season,

Filled with the Peace and Presence of Christ the Lord.

Q & A

Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Third Sunday of Advent

Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Many people would have difficulty answering these questions.

 

They find little purpose or meaning in their lives. They think their existence on earth makes no difference to anyone.

 

In this Sunday’s readings, we meet people who did find and realize their purpose in life.

 

In our First Reading (Isaiah 6:1-2a, 10-11), we learn that the Prophet Isaiah knew the reason he was on this earth. He says, “The Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”

 

Isaiah was aware that God had commissioned him to proclaim a message of hope and salvation to the people of Israel. 

 

In fact, Jesus quoted those very words of Isaiah when he spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth. Then Jesus added, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). With those words, Jesus explained his purpose and mission in life.

 

In Sunday’s Gospel Reading (John 1:6-8, 19-28), John the Baptist tells the priests and Levites who questioned his identity that he was not the Christ, or Elijah, or the Prophet. He was “the voice of one crying out in the desert. Make straight the way of the Lord.” John knew his purpose.

 

John the Gospel writer highlighted that mission of John the Baptist by saying that he came “to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”

 

Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus would have no difficulty answering, Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?

 

In light of our readings, this Third Sunday of Advent might be a good time to ask ourselves those two questions.

 

A good answer might be found in the Baltimore Catechism, a well-known catechetical text that many older Catholics might remember.

 

That Catechism contained a series of questions and answers. One of the first questions was, “Why did God make me?” The answer was, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”

 

Those few words tell us that our existence is no accident. We were created for a purpose.

 

God made us so that we might know him, not as a distant, impersonal force, but rather as a merciful and loving Father who desires a personal relationship with the people he formed in his image and likeness.

 

God made us so that we might love him, so that we might invite him into our hearts. We do that when we speak to him in prayer, listen as he speaks to us in the scriptures and through the Church, and when we share his life-giving Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

 

God made us so that we might serve him in this world. We do that by following the example of his Son, by caring for those in need, and by striving to make God’s kingdom of love, justice, and peace present in our world.

 

God made us so that by knowing, loving, and serving him we might find purpose in our lives today, and find joy and happiness in the eternity of tomorrows.

 

QUESTION Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?

 

ANSWER God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.

 

© 2023 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

PART OF A PLAN

Sunday, December 10, 2023

The second Sunday of Advent

Some people are careful planners; other people are wildly spontaneous.

 

When planners arrange a party, nothing is left to chance. The date is chosen well in advance so as not to conflict with other events. The guest list is carefully considered. A comfortable and impressive venue is booked. The menu items are selected in light of the occasion and the diet restrictions that guests may have. Planners even contemplate unforeseen circumstances they might face.

 

Spontaneous people are very different. They suddenly think that it would be great to have a party. So, they text their friends and tell them to meet at a certain location that evening. They tell those invited to come with their favorite drinks and to feel free to bring other people. They arrange for food to be delivered. They hang up a few decorations, set up a Bose Sound Machine, and the party is on!

 

The world is made of planners and spontaneous people. Thankfully, the planners are the ones usually in positions of authority. We would not want spontaneous people making decisions without forethought and consideration of possible consequences.

 

This Advent Season reminds us that God is a planner. God’s actions to save us from the power of sin and death and to bring us into a loving relationship with him were divinely planned. We see that illustrated in the scripture readings for this Sunday.

 

In the First Reading (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11), the prophet Isaiah speaks of the deliverance God arranged for his chosen people. The God who had led his people out of slavery in Egypt would bring them out of exile in Babylon and back to Jerusalem. As Isaiah proclaimed, “Here comes with power the Lord God… Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”

 

In the Gospel (Mark 1:1-8), Mark begins his account of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” by introducing John the Baptist, the one sent by God to proclaim “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” and to announce “one mightier than I is coming after me.” John was to ready the way for the arrival of Jesus, whose coming had been planned and foretold.

 

In our Second Reading (2 Peter 3:8-14), Peter tells us not to lose hope as we cope with this sinful world for in the future “there will be new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” But that will happen according to God’s plan and timetable, for as Peter reminds us, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.”

 

These readings, and the ones we will hear on the Third and Fourth Sundays of Advent, show God’s plan of salvation being worked out. God did not suddenly decide to send his Son into this world. God had a plan in mind that included Isaiah, John the Baptist, Peter, and all who would follow after them – that includes each one of us. We are not the result of a spontaneous decision; we are part of God’s plan of salvation.

 

© 2023 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

A PREMATURE QUESTION?

Sunday, December 3, 2023

The First Sunday of Advent

What’s your New Year’s Resolution? If someone asks us that question this coming weekend, we will think the question is a little premature. New Year’s Day is still four weeks away. Our minds are on the coming celebration of Christmas, not on January 1. After December 25, we might start thinking about what resolutions we might make to improve our lives in 2024.

 

However, the question is not as strange as it might seem. This Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, is the first day of the liturgical year of 2024. In the Church’s calendar, this coming Sunday is New Year’s Day. On this day, we begin the season of Advent that focuses our attention on how the world waited in hope for the coming of the Messiah and on our waiting for Christ to come again in glory.

 

We then enter the Christmas Season during which we recall how the Son of God was born as the child of Mary and how his coming into the world was recognized by Jewish shepherds and Gentile kings.

 

During the 40 days of Lent, we hear the Lord’s call to turn away from sin and we see how Jesus faithfully embraced the will of his Father.  

 

During the 50 days that make up the Easter Season, we celebrate the victory of Jesus over sin and death. We rejoice that through him, we are freed from the power of sin and death and given the promise of life everlasting.

 

In the intervening weeks between those four special seasons, we listen to the scriptures of “Ordinary Time.” We hear of the life and ministry of Jesus, and we are challenged to love one another as Jesus loved us.

 

We might think this New Year’s Day is nothing more than the start of just another cycle of seasons and feasts that we have gone through before, some of us 20, 40, 60 or even 80 or more times, but it is not.

 

Each liturgical year is different because we evolve and change. We are not in the same place in our spiritual lives as we were 365 days ago. We recognize the continuing change in other areas of our lives: our health improves or declines, our appearance changes as we age, we grow closer to some people and apart from others, our opinions and outlook on life do not remain static, etc.

 

In light of these changes, we often make resolutions as January 1 approaches and resolve to do better in certain aspects of our lives.

 

As the new liturgical year begins, we might resolve to improve our spiritual lives as we move through this liturgical cycle, recognizing that each cycle spirals us forward to the day when we meet the Lord.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 13:33-37), Jesus gives us a perfect resolution to consider. In the reading, Jesus tells us to “Be watchful! Be alert!” Then twice more he repeats that command as he says, “Watch!”

 

What better resolution could we make at the start of the liturgical year of 2024 than to be watchful? To watch for the ways that Jesus Christ is touching our lives through word and sacrament and through the people and events in our lives. We might resolve to take time each day to be alert to opportunities God has given us to grow in holiness and in our relationship with him.

 

What’s your New Year’s Resolution?

 

© 2023 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski