IN NEED OF PRAYERS AND PETITIONS

Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our world is in a sorry state. Russia and Ukraine are at war, China is threatening Taiwan. The climate is changing, natural disasters are more frequent, food shortages are forecast, and infectious diseases are spreading. Crime is increasing, political polarization is growing, and inflation is rising. Moral values are eroding, family life and motherhood are being devalued, the unborn are seen as expendable, and children are being exposed to harmful ideologies. Digital interaction is replacing human engagement, organized religion is disparaged, atheism is escalating, confidence in civic and religious leaders is decreasing, and addictive behavior is becoming more prevalent. The list of our world’s ills can feel endless.

 

We can respond to this avalanche of depressing problems in a number of ways.

 

For example, we can shut out the world’s troubles and focus only on our personal lives and challenges. We can fatalistically admit that things are falling apart and there is nothing we can do about it. Or we can become involved with organizations seeking to make things better.

 

However, in today’s Second Reading (1 Timothy 2:1-8), Saint Paul tells us something that all of us can do regardless of our age, health, finances, or social status. We can pray.

 

Paul writes, “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life.”

 

Such prayer is “good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”

 

We offer such prayers and petitions to God at every Mass during the Universal Prayer also known as the General Intercession or Prayer of the Faithful.

 

During that part of the Mass, we pray that the truth of the Gospel may be proclaimed in every land. We pray for Church and civil leaders. We pray for an end to violence, war, hunger, and poverty. We pray for persons who are being oppressed, persecuted, or suffering injustice. We pray for those dealing with sickness of body, mind, or spirit. We pray for the dead and for those whose days are coming to an end.

 

We offer those petitions with hope and confidence in the Lord who hears the prayers of his people.

 

While Paul’s plea that “supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone” applies to the prayers we offer together at Mass, it applies also to our personal, private prayer. Each day we are to ask the Lord to dispel the evil, selfishness, and sin that darken our world.

 

One way to do that is by calling upon the Lord each time a problem situation comes to mind. We can lift up each problem to God by saying, “O God come to our assistance, Lord make haste to help us!”

 

Perhaps our world is in an increasingly sad state because people are praying less as they move further away from God. Without prayer, bad situations only get worse.

 

That is why Saint Paul directed us to offer “supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings …for everyone, for kings and for all in authority that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life.” Prayer changes things for the better.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

DOING THE UNEXPECTED

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary TIme

“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?”

 

That is the question that Jesus poses in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 15: 1-32) as he begins the well-known parable of the lost sheep.

 

If we give thought to that question, we will most likely conclude that no shepherd would do such a thing.

 

It would be like asking, what teacher would leave a group of 15 third graders unsupervised in a state park, as he or she went off to look for a student who was missing? No teacher who wanted to keep his or her job would do such a thing.

 

Likewise, no shepherd would leave 99 sheep alone in the desert to go in search of one that was lost. While he looks for the missing sheep, other sheep might start wandering off and they all would be in danger of being attacked by wolves or taken by robbers.

 

Furthermore, what shepherd when finding a lost sheep would put “it on his shoulders with great joy,” carry it home, and then invite his friends and neighbors to come and celebrate?

 

More than likely, he would be angry with the sheep that had wandered off, caused him to go searching for it, and put the rest of the flock in danger.

 

And why would that shepherd invite his friends and neighbors to come and rejoice with him because he found his lost sheep? The celebration would only call attention to his lack of skill as a shepherd since one of the sheep under his care had been able to run off without his noticing.

 

Jesus relates that story about a shepherd, who acts in a very unexpected, even ridiculous way, to tell us something about the way God acts in dealing with sinners.

 

The Pharisees and scribes, the religious leaders of the day, scrupulously tried to obey the law of God and to avoid any interaction with sinners. The holy and righteous were to remain apart from those who disregarded the law of God. The clean were to remain at a distance from the unclean.

 

Jesus did just the opposite; he went out looking for those who had separated themselves from God. As the Pharisees and scribes accurately noticed, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Like the shepherd in the parable, Jesus acted in a very unexpected, unconventional way in his dealing with sinners.

 

As Jesus showed us, God offers his love and mercy to all people, even to those we would deem unworthy. God does all he can to bring the “lost sheep” back home.

 

At times, that may make God seem weak and ridiculous in the eyes of the world. But as we see when we gaze upon the cross, God does whatever is necessary to bring home the sheep of his flock. When he has them back, like the shepherd in the parable, God cries out to his heavenly friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.”

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

A TRANSFORMED RELATIONSHIP

Sunday, September 4, 2022

The TWENTY-THIRD Sunday in ordinary Time

“My dear brothers and sisters in Christ.”

 

Those words are often used by bishops, priests, and deacons during the celebration of the liturgy to establish a connection with the congregation.

 

Some preachers use that phrase to call people’s attention to a particular point they are making, while others use it as a “throwaway line” to give them a moment to remember what comes next in their sermons.

 

“My dear brothers and sisters in Christ.” Those words not only sound warmhearted; they also reveal a profound relationship between the speaker and the hearer.

 

Saint Paul addresses that relationship in this Sunday’s Second Reading (Philemon 9-10, 12-17).

 

In that reading, which is from Saint Paul’s shortest and perhaps most personal letter, Paul draws out the implications of people being brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

It seems that while Paul was in prison for preaching the Gospel, he encountered Onesimus, an enslaved man who had run away from Philemon, his Christian master.

 

Because of Paul’s influence, Onesimus embraced the Christian faith, was baptized, and won a special place in Paul’s heart. Paul described him as “my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment.”

 

Paul knew that a runaway slave had to be returned to his master, so he urged Onesimus return to Philemon.

 

Paul sent Onesimus back with a letter in which he asked Philemon to recognize that something had changed because of Onesimus’ baptism.

 

Onesimus was to be regarded “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.” Through the waters of baptism, an enslaved man and his master had become “brothers in Christ.”

 

As Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:8)

 

Baptism not only brings us into a personal relationship with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it also brings us into a new relationship with our fellow Christians.

 

That relationship allows us to call them our “brothers and sisters in Christ.” More importantly, it gives us an obligation to love and serve them as we would our biological brothers and sisters.

 

Just as we feel a greater responsibility for members of our families than to outsiders, we must feel that same way toward those baptized into our family of faith.

 

As Paul told Philemon, baptism changes everything. It even transforms human relationships.

 

May the transforming power of baptism help us to see our fellow Christians as our “brothers and sisters in Christ.” But even more importantly, may it empower and challenge us to treat them as such!

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

AT THE HEAD TABLE

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

“They were all choosing the places of honor at table.” That verse in Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 14:1, 7-14) tells us what Jesus noticed when he went to dine on a sabbath day at the home of a leading Pharisee.

 

The invited guests, who were most likely other high-ranking Pharisees and people of importance, were staking out places of honor for themselves.

 

In response to what he saw happening, Jesus told a parable about a man who was invited to a wedding banquet. Upon arriving, that guest sat himself in a place of honor. However, after putting himself in the seat he felt he deserved, he was told by the host that he was sitting in the wrong place. We might say that the guest was informed that his seat was at Table 12, not Table 1.

 

Like those invited guests jostling for the best seats at the Pharisee’s dinner table, individuals who seek places of honor want to be noticed. They want people to be aware of the high rung they have reached on the ladder of success. They covet the social notoriety that comes with being considered worthy of a place at the “head of the table.”

 

This craving to be noticed, to be seen as successful by society, to be judged better than others (at least in their own minds) drives people to strive for the next promotion, the higher salary, the bigger apartment. These individuals want to possess the latest digital device, dress in the current style, and post constantly on social media. They embrace politically correct opinions, adhere to the morals of the moment, associate with successful people, send their children to the right schools, etc.

 

People who do such things tend to view their self-worth through the eyes of others and according to the level of affirmation and approval they receive from those around them.

 

As we see from our Gospel, Jesus did not view himself that way. That is why he had no need for a place of honor at the table of the Pharisee who had invited him for dinner. Jesus knew who he was. He knew his value. Whether seated at the head table or the table by the kitchen door, Jesus knew he was God’s beloved Son.

 

This Sunday we are reminded that our worth does not come from others. It is not measured by the place we have in society nor dependent on the world’s definition of success. Our worth comes from our place in the heart of God.

 

As Jesus told us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Or as Peter reminded us, we are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own" (1 Peter 2:9).

 

Those invited to dine at the home of the Pharisee were seeking places of honor. They wanted to be seen as important and worthy of praise.

 

As Christians, we already have places of honor at the most important table, the table of the Lord. We are reminded of that each time we come to Mass, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

DISCIPLINED DISCIPLES

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The TWenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Responsible parents discipline their children. They do their best to train their children to behave properly and to adhere to a moral code of conduct.

 

Parents want their children to become well-adjusted, successful, productive members of society who are a credit to the family.

 

They discipline their sons and daughters not to demonstrate their authority over them, but rather to help them learn to respect others, control their emotions, sacrifice for future goals, and form good habits.

 

At times, disciplining requires that parents correct the behavior of their children and punish them for inappropriate conduct. Without such parental discipline and correction, children can go in the wrong direction and ruin their lives. Though children may not always admit it, they benefit from the wisdom and discipline they receive from caring adults.

 

This Sunday’s Second reading (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13) focuses our attention on discipline. In fact, the word “discipline” appears five times in that relatively short passage.

 

The reading is concerned with the discipline that comes from God. Just as responsible parents discipline their children, so God disciplines his people, “for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.”

 

This discipline does not come in the form of punishments sent from above, but it comes with living in an imperfect, sinful, and unfair world. A world in which good people are victims of crime and false accusations and where corrupt people succeed and honest people fail.

 

A world where reputations are ruined by social media and where promises are broken and marriages crumble.

 

A world where children turn away from the values and faith of their parents and where drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography destroy individuals and families.

 

A world where disease causes physical and mental anguish, where prayers seem to go unanswered, and where believers are ridiculed for their faith in God.

 

We might understand these trials and sufferings as “discipline” from the Lord. As we are told, “endure your trials as ‘discipline’…for what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline.”

 

In difficult situations, God may be disciplining us. He may be teaching us what it means to trust in him even when he seems absent. God may be showing us that we are not in control of our lives. God may be demonstrating that we are dependent on others and on him.

 

God may be warning us that sin and evil are powerful forces that can possess us. God may be instructing us that obedience to his commands will require sacrifice on our part. That certainly was the case for Jesus, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

 

In the painful situations of life, God may be disciplining us to form us into disciples who realize what is required to faithfully follow Christ in today’s world.

 

It should come as no surprise that the word “disciple” is related to “discipline.” True disciples are those disciplined by the Lord!

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

WHAT'S THE ANSWER?

Sunday, August 14, 2022

THe Twentieth SUnday in Ordinary Time

What is a Christian?

 

People might answer that question in a variety of ways.

 

Christians are people who have been baptized.

 

Christians are those who have declared that Jesus is their Savior and Lord.

 

Christians are sinners who have repented and turned toward God.

 

Christians are persons who worship on Sunday.

 

Christians are men and women who belong to the Church and are part of a faith community.

 

Christians are individuals who believe the statements found in the Creed.

 

Christians are those who recognize the Bible as God’s inspired word.

 

Christians are individuals who show compassion and help those in need.

All those answers are valid, but perhaps there is a better response to the question, “What is a Christian?”

 

Christians are people who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That relationship is more important than all other relationships and it guides their actions and decisions.

 

Their relationship with Jesus determines their values and prioritizes what they hold dear.

 

That relationship gives meaning and purpose to their existence and offers them hope no matter the darkness.

 

That relationship unites them to a faith community on earth and promises that they will be part of a “great cloud of witnesses” in heaven.

 

In short, being a Christian means having a profound, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ that must come before all else.

 

As we are told in our Second Reading (Hebrews 12:1-4), as we go through life we are to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”

 

With our eyes fixed on Jesus through daily prayer, participation in Mass, the reception of the Sacraments, the study of scripture, the guidance of the Church, and sacrificial acts of charity and mercy, we will know the direction we are to go in our lives.

 

That focus on Jesus will separate us from those who reject him and the challenge of his Gospel. As Jesus tells us in Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 12:49-53), “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three.” Jesus came to confront people with a decision for or against him.

 

A relationship with Jesus Christ changes us and sets our lives on fire with God’s presence and love. As Jesus said, "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

 

Being an authentic Christian is no easy thing, it means having a personal, life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

FOLLOWING ABRAHAM

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” This definition appears in Sunday’s Second Reading (Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19).

 

These words tell us that faith is not just passively assenting to certain religious dogmas. Faith is active. Faith means taking God at his word and trusting that what God has promised will be realized and come to pass. This trust in God must guide a person’s decisions and actions even when such trust may seem foolish to others.

 

This understanding of faith as active is illustrated by Abraham in today’s reading from Hebrews.

 

At the word of God, Abraham left his home at the age of 75 to journey to a place that God said he would receive as an inheritance. Abraham went forth “not knowing where he was to go.” His faith, his absolute trust and confidence in God, motivated Abraham to act in a way that his neighbors would have judged foolish.

 

That same faith led Abraham to trust that God would fulfill his promise to give him a son from whom there would come “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and countless as the sands of the seashore.”

 

Abraham believed God even though he and his wife were well advanced in years. Common sense would have considered it ridiculous to think that Abraham could become a father at 100 and Sarah a mother at 90. But Abraham “thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” God proved true to his word and Isaac was born.

 

Even when God put Abraham to the ultimate test and asked him to sacrifice his long-awaited son, Abraham was ready to do what God required. Abraham trusted that God would not go back on his word. “He reasoned that God was able to raise even the dead.”

 

Abraham’s actions and his vision and understanding of life were guided by his absolute trust and confidence in God’s word, not by the world’s wisdom.

 

As Christians, we are to be like Abraham. We are to be people of faith who put our complete trust in God and act as directed by the word of God proclaimed by Jesus.

 

As people of faith, we are to recognize others as fellow children of God and to love them based on their worth in the eyes of God. We are to trust that God’s command to love our neighbor includes even our enemies.  

 

As people of faith, we are to trust that the kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus will come, and that one day it will dispel the sin and evil that darken our world. We are to live today as citizens of that coming kingdom.

 

As people of faith, we are to recognize that worldly power, possessions, fame, and fortune do not bring happiness or fill the hole in our hearts. As Jesus tells us, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8:36) Rather, we are to trust that Jesus is the way to fulfillment in life. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

 

As people of faith, we are to expand our vision beyond the horizon of death and to trust in God’s promise that the good we do in this life will not be forgotten and will determine our future.

 

As Abraham showed us, being a person of faith does not mean just assenting to doctrines and dogmas. Rather being a person of faith means living with absolute trust in God and doing what God asks, even when that may appear foolish in the eyes of the world.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

RETIREMENT PLANNING

Sunday, July 31, 2022

The eighteenth sunday in ordinary Time

Wise people have the foresight to prepare for their retirement. They realize that if they want a comfortable life when they stop working, they cannot depend only on Social Security or their pension.

 

They invest in their retirement: They put money away in CDs and other financial instruments. They open IRAs or contribute to 401(k) accounts. They purchase stocks and bonds or real estate. They buy gold, silver, and other commodities or even cryptocurrencies. They consult investment advisors and keep track of their personal finances. They do all they can to be certain that they will be able to provide for themselves and their loved ones when their working careers end.

 

In Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 12:13-21), Jesus relates a parable about a rich man who did all he could to make sure his future retirement was secure and well-funded.

 

When he was blessed with an amazingly large harvest, he built bigger barns to store his grain and other goods. He accumulated so much that he was able to say to himself, “You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’

 

But his anticipated future years of plenty and leisure never materialized. God notified him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you.”

 

The rich man died, and all the things that were supposed to provide him with a future of happiness went to his heirs. The man’s situation was like that spoken of in our First Reading (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23) “Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property. This also is vanity and a great misfortune.”

 

Death makes a mockery of human life, and the dead gradually fade from memory. The financial status that individuals reach, the successes they attain, the relationships they form, and the influence they have are all soon forgotten after they are gone.

 

As we are told in our First Reading, “All things are vanity    for what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?”

 

Faith in Jesus Christ changes that dreary perspective and offers us a hope-filled understanding of life. We come to see that death is not our annihilation, but rather the entrance to a new dimension of living where the good we have done has eternal consequences.

 

Since that is the case, Jesus tells us that we should not be concerned about accumulating wealth and possessions here, but rather about becoming “rich in what matters to God.”


As Saint Paul tells us in our Second Reading (Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11), since we were baptized and “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.”

 

The retirement we all need to prepare for is not the one that comes when our working career ends, but the one that comes when God brings our earthly life to an end. The “eternal retirement” that follows our death is the one that most needs our attention and spiritual investment.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

THE REQUIRED NUMBER

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

When an item is put up for bid, an auctioneer attempts to secure the highest price possible.

 

For example, the auctioneer may start the bidding for a particular item at $1,000. If an individual expresses a willingness to pay that price, the auctioneer will see if another person might pay a higher price, perhaps $1,500.

 

It someone agrees to that higher amount, the auctioneer will raise the price again and continue doing so until no one is willing to pay the next suggested higher price. The item will then go to the person who had bid the most.

 

In this Sunday’s First Reading (Genesis 18:20-32), we have what might be described as a “reverse auction.” Rather than a “price” being continually increased—it is decreased.

 

Abraham pleads with God not to exact judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, cities whose people had fallen into sin and depravity. Abraham asks God if he would spare Sodom if 50 innocent people could be found within it. God agrees.

 

But then Abraham asks if God would spare the city if 45 innocent people could be located. God accepts that lower number, but then Abraham goes lower still to 40. This process continues until the number is decreased to 10 innocent people. God then says, “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.” Because of the continuing intercession of Abraham, the “price” for sparing the city was decreased from 50 to 10.

 

Unfortunately, not even 10 innocent people could be found, so “the Lord rained down sulfur upon Sodom and Gomorrah, fire from the Lord out of heaven. He overthrew those cities” (Genesis 19:24-25).

 

As we hear what happened to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, we may wonder why the same fate has not befallen our society.

 

We live in a culture where there is escalating crime and violence, growing immorality, decreasing respect for human life, increasing rejection of God and religion, mounting attacks on traditional values, an expanding rejection of objective truth, accelerating drug abuse, swelling digital addiction, expanding acceptance of pornography, and the list could go on.

 

Things are not good. According to a June 2022 Gallup Survey, “a record-high 50% of Americans rate the overall state of moral values in the U.S. as ‘poor,’ and another 37% say it is ‘only fair.’ Just 1% think the state of moral values is ‘excellent’ and 12% ‘good.’”

 

Perhaps there is a reason that God continues to show mercy and to withhold judgment. We have someone pleading for us far greater than Abraham!

 

Saint Paul tells us that our intercessor is “Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34).

 

Jesus Christ succeeds in saving us from the fate that befell the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. He does that because of his saving death and resurrection. Perhaps there is another reason as well.

 

Unlike Abraham, Jesus Christ can show God the Father far more than 10, or 20, or 30, or 50 innocent people. He can point to millions of Christians striving to live as faithful children of God in our troubled world. He can point to me and to you.

 

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because there were not even 10 innocent people in those cities. Thankfully, there are far more innocent people in our troubled world.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

FAMOUS SISTERS

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mary and Martha, who we meet in Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 10:38-42), are the most well-known pair of sisters in the Scriptures.

 

As we learn, Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. When they arrive at Bethany, Martha spontaneously invites Jesus to her home and he accepts.

 

When Jesus and his disciples enter the house, Martha immediately rushes into the kitchen and starts preparing a meal for her unanticipated guests.

 

While Martha is playing the frantic hostess trying to pull together a dinner, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens as he teaches his disciples.

 

The more this goes on, the more frustrated Martha becomes with her sister. Unable to control her irritation, Martha blurts out, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me."

 

Jesus responds and informs Martha that by listening, Mary is accomplishing something even more important than preparing a meal: Mary is nourishing her spirit with his words.

 

That story of Mary and Martha has been used over the years to highlight two ways that people show their love for God.

 

Like Martha, some people demonstrate their love for God by what they do: they share their blessings, volunteer for service projects, and try to help their neighbor. Jesus gave us an example of such behavior in last Sunday’s parable of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to help the nameless stranger who had been attacked by robbers.

 

Other people show their love for God in a more private, contemplative way. They spend time in prayer and meditation. They study the scriptures. They come to Mass. They reflect on how God has touched their lives and ponder what God may expect of them in the future. In all these ways they are like Mary, they sit at the feet of the Lord and listen to what he is saying.

 

In considering how each sister responds, Jesus concludes that "Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."  

 

That does not mean Martha’s actions are not appreciated by Jesus. After all, he and his disciples ate what Martha prepared for them. It does mean that spending time with the Lord needs to guide and ground our good deeds.

 

If the good we do is based only on a sense of obligation or a desire to be noticed or praised, then like Martha we risk becoming frustrated, angry, and worn out.

 

Before we act like Martha, we would do well to act like Mary. The more time we spend with the Lord, the more we grow in our love for him, the more we listen to him, the more willing and able we will be to serve our neighbor.

 

This Sunday we are reminded that Christian service needs to flow from our prayerful relationship with the Lord. It requires that like Mary, we have “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.”

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

WHO ARE WE LIKE?

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Am I like the Good Samaritan or am I like the priest and Levite?

 

That question might come to mind as we listen to the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 10:25-37).

 

A man on his way to Jericho is attacked by robbers, who strip him of his clothing, beat him, and leave him half dead alongside the road. First, a priest and then a Levite see the beaten man, but both cross to the other side of the road and continue on their way.

 

They may have thought the situation was a trap designed to lure others into stopping. Or perhaps they did not want to risk possibly touching a dead body and incurring ritual impurity that would hinder them from fulfilling their religious obligations.

 

Then a despised Samaritan stops and assists the beaten stranger. Heedless of possible danger, he not only offers immediate first aid, but also takes the injured victim to a nearby inn and arranges for the man’s future care.

 

Most of the time, we are like that Good Samaritan. We try to fulfill the command found in Sunday’s Gospel to love our neighbor.

 

We volunteer our time and talent to serve our parish and local community. We assist relatives and friends who suffer a tragedy. We say “Yes” when someone personally asks for our help. Images of suffering people move us to act with compassion and to offer financial assistance.

 

However, sometimes we also act like the priest and Levite. When confronted with suffering, we may look away or just offer a quick prayer. There may be too many things going on in our lives to get involved, too many responsibilities or financial obligations. Or perhaps we think the next person “coming down the road” will do something.

 

So, we ask, Am I like the Good Samaritan or am I like the priest and Levite?

 

But perhaps there is a further question we need to ask, namely, Am I like the person attacked by robbers and left bleeding alongside the road?

 

If we ask that question, the answer is YES. We all have been attacked and injured by robbers. Not by those who steal our possessions, but by “robbers” who attack us spiritually and leave us wounded.

 

Think of the “robbers” who we encounter on the road of life.

 

We have an entertainment industry whose offerings often glamorize violence, disparage traditional values, ridicule parents, and weaken family life.

 

We have a society whose guardrails seem to have weakened, where pornography is a click away, where drug use and gambling are promoted as sources of tax revenue, and where crime is excused.

 

We live in a culture where unborn human life is deemed expendable, where the lives of the elderly and sick are disvalued, and where the innocence of young children is assaulted.

 

We exist in an age that rejects God and objective truth and proclaims that every individual is the sole judge of what is right and good.

 

In some way, we are all “victims” of such “robbers” who weaken the human family, attack our spirits, and lessen our dignity as children of God.

 

Thankfully, as in Sunday’s Gospel, there is someone who comes to our rescue. He saves us from sin and darkness and from the false ideas that rob us of our dignity as children of God. Jesus is our Savior; he is our Good Samaritan.

 

We all may not be like the Samaritan or the priest and Levite in Sunday’s Gospel, but we all are like the man attacked by robbers. We are all in need of saving!

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

A BIRTHDAY GIFT

Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We give birthday gifts to people who are important to us. Our gifts express our love and appreciation for them and indicate the special place they have in our lives.

 

When we choose birthday gifts, we try to pick items that the recipients need and will use. We do not want our gifts to be stored away and forgotten or worse yet, to be re-gifted to someone else. 

 

This Monday, July 4, the United States of America will celebrate its 246th birthday. That day will be celebrated with parades, political speeches, patriotic ceremonies, fireworks, concerts, family gatherings, and other activities.

 

That day we will remember that we live in a country whose Declaration of Independence proclaims that all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

We will call to mind that our nation’s Constitution guarantees us freedom of speech and expression, the right to elect our leaders, the free exercise of religion, and equality under the law.

 

We will recall that our country provides us with opportunities to develop our talents and to pursue the “American dream.”.

 

Suppose for a moment, we wanted to present a gift to the United States of America on its birthday to express our love and appreciation for all our country offers us.

 

What birthday gift could we give our nation, particularly this year when it is beset with problems?

 

There is increasing political polarization and more emphasis on what divides us rather than what unites us. People seem on edge, angry, disconnected, and ready to attack those with whom they disagree. There is more crime and violence on our streets, more depression and addictive behavior, more financial stress. Moral values and social structures that were once endorsed and accepted are jettisoned as outdated.

 

Perhaps the best gift we can give our nation at this time, and one that Christians are in a privileged position to present, can be discerned in this Sunday’s Gospel (10:1-12, 17-20).

There Jesus instructed his disciples to place their trust in God and go forth as agents of healing and peace. They were to announce, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”  

 

Today Jesus challenges us to be like those disciples. We are to put our trust and hope in God, not in money, power, possessions, government programs, and passing social trends.

 

We are to be sources of healing and peace by our words and actions, through our compassion and charity, and by our willingness to forgive and to move beyond past hurts.

 

We are to open our eyes and discern the ways that God is acting in our world to bring about his kingdom. We are to look beyond the darkness of self-centeredness and evil in our society and to recognize the lights of goodness. And we are to be lights of goodness by our faithfulness and obedience to God.

 

God gave the world the gift of his Son to save humanity from sin and to reveal that the fullness of life was to be found by living according to God’s will.

 

The best gift we can give our nation this year is to continue the work of the Lord by courageously giving witness to the values and truth of the Gospel. The example of faithful Christians is the gift our nation most needs to receive on its birthday.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

WINDSHIELDS & REARVIEW MIRRORS

SUNDAY, JUNE 26, 2022

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Recently a political commentator remarked that it is more critical for leaders to see where they wish to go than to see where they have been. He emphasized his point by observing that cars are made so that the attention of drivers is directed forward rather than backward. The front windshield is far larger than the rearview mirror and offers drivers an unobstructed view of the road before them.

 

All three of our scripture readings this Sunday support the idea that looking forward to what is ahead deserves more attention than looking back to what is behind.

 

In our First Reading (1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21), we hear how the Prophet Elijah is ordered by God to anoint Elisha to succeed him. When Elijah places his cloak upon him, Elisha learns that his future would be about delivering the message of God rather than plowing fields.

 

Seeing the future that awaits him, Elisha slaughters the twelve yoke of oxen that had been pulling his plow, uses his plowing equipment for fuel, and cooks a feast for his people. In doing so, Elisha puts the past behind him, moves forward into the future, and follows Elijah as his attendant. There would be no looking back,

 

In the Second Reading (Galatians 5:1, 13-18), Saint Paul warns the Christians of Galatia “not to submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Christ has sent them free. They were not to look back to the past and the demands of the Mosaic law. Rather, they were to move forward in their newfound freedom in Christ, serve one another in love, and live by the Spirit.

 

In the Gospel reading (Luke 9:51-62), we read that Jesus was moving forward, “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” His eyes were set on his destination, where he would prove himself to be God’s faithful and obedient Son and would overcome the power of sin and death.

 

When his way through a Samaritan village was blocked because the people learned he was traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus simply “journeyed to another village.” Jesus knew where he wanted to go and no one would stop him. As he explained later in the Gospel, “I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:33)

 

As we hear in Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus meets potential disciples as he goes along his way. Jesus tells them if they wish to join him, they must look to the future that awaits them as his followers and not to past relationships and obligations that may hold them back. As he says, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

 

This Sunday, we are challenged to consider where we are looking as we journey through our lives: Are we looking in the rearview mirror at our past sins, failures, mistakes, and missed opportunities?

 

Or are we looking forward and trying to see the kind of person that God wants us to become? Are we striving to discern what God desires us to do to hasten the coming of his kingdom? Are we seeking to recognize what we must leave behind to grow as followers of Christ?

 

Each time we get in our car, look through the windshield, and begin to drive, we might ask ourselves, Do I know where I am going in my spiritual life? Do I see the way to my final destination?

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

NO ONE, BUT MANY

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The MOst holy Body and blood of Christ

A man born blind is given his sight.

 

A paralyzed man is told to stand up and he walks.

 

A person who is deaf and mute is made to hear and speak.

 

A possessed boy is freed of a demon.

 

A deceased 12-year-old girl is restored to life.

 

A sick servant of a Roman centurion is healed at a distance.

 

The Gospels contain many stories about Jesus miraculously healing certain individuals.

 

However, when it comes to feeding the hungry, there is no report in the Gospels of Jesus relieving the hunger of just one person at one time. Jesus healed individuals, but Jesus never fed just one hungry individual person. He fed a group.

 

We see that illustrated in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 9:11b-17). There, Jesus wondrously feeds a crowd of five thousand with just five loaves and two fish. That miraculous feeding is reported in each of the four gospels. Food was not to be eaten alone. Food was to be shared.

 

This sharing is also seen in the life of Jesus. When Jesus eats, he does not eat alone. He eats with others. For example, he has dinner with Mary and Martha in Bethany. He feasts at the house of Matthew after calling him to be a disciple. He has dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee. He notices Zacchaeus looking down from a tree and says, “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Jesus shares his Last Supper with his disciples.

 

Even after his Resurrection, Jesus continues to eat with others. The Risen Lord eats baked fish in the presence of his disciples, breaks bread with two of them on the road to Emmaus, and serves breakfast on the beach to seven of his amazed apostles.

 

Today, the Lord continues to feed people, and he continues to eat and share with them. In fact, he specifically asks us to remember him by sharing food with others. As we hear in Sunday’s Second Reading (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

 

The Church follows that command of the Lord when Mass is celebrated. We gather as a community of faith to share at the Table of the Lord. There we receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist. In doing so, we not only remember Jesus, but we also become one with him and with one another as we share his life-giving Body and Blood. We become a “holy communion” with him and with our fellow Christians.

 

During his ministry Jesus fed hungry people and shared meals with those who had a place in his heart. This Sunday, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, we rejoice that the Lord continues to do the same today. The Lord invites us to come to him and be fed with the Bread of Life!

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

DYNAMIC AND EXPANSIVE

Sunday, June 12, 2022

THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

Sometimes people who fall in love move away from the people who are already a part of their lives.

 

For example, a man marries the woman who has captured his heart, and he gradually spends less and less time with his parents and siblings. His holiday visits to see them are reduced in length, and more time and attention are given to his in-laws.

 

A woman who has volunteered her evenings to tutor foster children since moving to a new community makes some new friends. As her relationship with them develops, she fades out of the lives of the young people who had come to count on her help, friendship, and loving concern.

 

In both cases, a new love draws individuals away from the persons who had been part of their lives. But love, true love, is never isolating and limiting. True, genuine love is expansive. It reaches out. It has room for others.

 

That understanding can help us to gain some insight into the feast that we celebrate this Sunday, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. While we will never comprehend how the One God whom we worship can be a Trinity of Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—we gain a glimmer of insight if we realize, as Saint John tells us, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

 

The Trinity is a dynamic of love and unity among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each pours out love into the others, so much so that they are not three, but one. That is why Jesus can tell us, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

 

That is why Jesus promises us in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 16:12-15), “when he comes, the Spirit of truth … He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine."

 

The One God, who is a Trinity of Persons, pours out that love beyond Itself, a love that is expansive and life-giving, not closed in on itself. A love that gives birth to the universe and brings us forth. That love shows itself in God taking on flesh and coming among us, and in God inviting us into a personal, eternal relationship with Himself.

 

While we sometimes lessen the love and attention we give to others when a new person captures our heart, that is not the case with God. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which we highlight this Sunday, proclaims that the One God is a dynamic, swirling circle of love that shows itself in creation and continues to invite humanity into a personal relationship with Itself.

 

As Jesus told his disciples, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The Holy Trinity reveals God’s ever expansive love.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Pentecost Sunday

On Easter Sunday, “Day One” of the Easter season, we celebrated the Resurrection of the Lord. We recalled that joyous day when Jesus, the Crucified One, burst forth from the tomb – alive, risen, and glorified.

 

On this Pentecost Sunday, “Day Fifty” of the Easter Season, we celebrate another resurrection, one recounted in our First Reading (Acts 2:1-11). There we hear how the disciples of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, burst forth from the place where they were gathered in prayer. The disciples appeared on the streets of Jerusalem and began boldly preaching “the mighty acts of God” made present in Jesus.

 

The great feasts of Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday celebrate not only past events, but also celebrate what continues to happen today.

 

The Risen Lord continues to make himself present in word and sacrament and through his Church. Risen and alive, he remains with us. As he promised, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

 

The Holy Spirit—who rushed upon the disciples that First Pentecost, fired them up with courage, pushed them out of the place where they were, and gave them words that all could understand—continues to do the same.

 

The Holy Spirit has impelled the followers of Jesus far beyond Jerusalem, beyond the land of Israel, beyond the Middle East, beyond every boundary, to every part of the world.

 

That same Holy Spirit has enabled the Church to preach the Gospel to all people: the Scriptures and the liturgical books of the Church have been translated into every modern language; missionaries learn different languages and then go forth to evangelize; and ordinary Christians share the Good News of the Gospel with friends and neighbors who speak as they do.

 

This Pentecost, we need to call upon the power of the Holy Spirit and ask the Spirit to push us beyond our comfort zone, to give us the strength to be willing to openly speak of our faith in a society that wants to confine talk of Jesus to church buildings.

 

We need to ask the Holy Spirit to give us tongues fired up with words that can be understood by the people of our day. We live in a culture where many people have little or no comprehension of scriptural references, no grasp of Church teaching beyond what they hear in the secular media, no grasp of religious terms like incarnation, redemption, salvation, or Trinity, and no appreciation of what being a Christian adds to human life beyond a vague hope of heaven.

 

We need the Holy Spirit to give us a language and a vocabulary of words and actions that will speak to the people of our secular, technological, self-absorbed, pleasure-seeking, nonbelieving world.

 

This Pentecost, and every day, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will give us the strength, the courage, the wisdom, and the words to go forth as the first disciples did with the message of the Gospel. A message that can bring joy and peace to human hearts and can change this troubled world into the Kingdom of God.

 

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

A STORY WITH MANY SEASONS

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Ascension of the Lord

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Peacock, and other streaming services often present stories that cannot be told in one episode. The stories evolve over a number of episodes contained in one or more seasons. Viewers often need to wait for a new season to be released to discover how the story progresses.

 

We have an example of that in the popular Netflix series, “The Crown,” centered on the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The first season was released in 2016. After four successful seasons that include 40 episodes, viewers now await seasons five and six.

 

We see that good stories, complicated stories, are difficult to squeeze into one episode. Saint Luke also found that to be the case.

 

In his Gospel, he relates the story of Jesus across many chapters or episodes. He tells us about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, his early years in Nazareth, his preaching, his calling of the apostles, his miracles, his conflict with the religious authorities, his passion, death, and resurrection.

 

Then Luke brings his gospel to a close with an event described in this Sunday’s Gospel for the Ascension of the Lord (Luke 24:46-53). During that occurrence, Jesus reminded his disciples of what they witnessed, promised them the Spirit, blessed them, and then “he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.”

 

We might say that this was the final episode of the first season of the story of Jesus written by Luke. But Luke continued with a second season found in The Acts of the Apostles. The very first episode of that season is found in this Sunday’s First Reading (Acts 1:1-11).

 

Luke begins that second season by recalling what he wrote about in his Gospel, namely, “all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up.” Luke then restates the promise of Jesus to send the Spirit and the mission given the disciples to give witness to him. Then Luke writes, “as they were looking on, Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” The final episode from season one flows into the first episode of season two.

 

The Acts of the Apostles then continues with episodes that show how the message of Jesus spread from Jerusalem across the Roman Empire, even to Rome itself, and how the disciples preached and lived the Gospel. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, those first Christians fulfilled the mission given them by Jesus to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

 

We might say that Luke wrote “two seasons” of a story that changed the world. However, that story did not end with those seasons written by Luke. The story continues to this present day as the Holy Spirit empowers the Church to give witness to the Gospel and to preach the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

 

We are now writing the current episode of a new season by how we live our faith from day to day. May the episode that we are creating draw others into the story of Jesus and his Church.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

"UNLESS"

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

 

Unless you vote the right way, you won’t be considered a loyal member of the party.

 

Unless you live according to the values of today’s secular culture, you will be labelled a bigot.

 

Unless you believe that humans are causing irreversible climate change, you will be ridiculed as a science denier.

 

We live at a time when many people criticize and condemn anyone whose behavior and ideas do not match their own. Their attitude seems to be, “unless you think like I do, unless you act like I do, you are a problem.” This “unless attitude” fuels the polarization in our society.

 

We see an example of that “unless attitude” in today’s First Reading (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29). Gentiles in the city of Antioch, who had newly converted to the Christian faith, were being told by Jewish Christians, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” The Jewish Christians preached that the way to salvation required not only faith in Christ, but also adherence to the law of Moses, including circumcision.

 

This “unless attitude” had the potential of splitting the Christian community at Antioch into two opposing factions: those who saw the Christian faith as something original and sufficient, and those who saw it as simply a new form of Judaism.

 

Therefore, it was decided that representatives “should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.”

 

The Church at Jerusalem, inspired by the Holy Spirit and motivated by love for the Jews who had accepted Christ, reached a decision that would unite Gentile and Jewish Christians alike.

 

The Church wrote to the community at Antioch, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.”

 

The decision replaced an “unless attitude” with an attitude of love and a willingness to refrain from certain practices in order not to upset those with a more sensitive conscience.

 

That decision, which preserved the unity of the Church and allowed the message of the Gospel to be more readily embraced by Gentiles, was inspired by the Spirit of God. For as Jesus promised us in our Gospel (John 14:23-29), the Holy Spirit “will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

 

At a time when polarization and an “unless attitude” seems to be thriving in our culture, in our politics, and in everyday life, the Church needs to witness to love and unity—just as it did 2,000 years ago in Antioch and Jerusalem.

 

The “unless attitude” needs to be replaced with a Christian attitude of listening, mutual respect, charity, and a willingness to stop looking at every situation in terms of who is right and who is wrong.

 

We need less of “unless.”

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

It was love at first sight.

 

That phrase is often used to describe how a relationship came to be.

 

We may read what a person has written or posted on social media; we may listen to a person’s words on a podcast. We may admire an individual’s accomplishments or learn about a person from others, but seeing that person ourselves usually makes a greater impression.

 

Seeing a person up close with our own eyes—noticing their features, observing their behavior, witnessing their involvement with others, looking into their eyes—can affect us more powerfully than simply reading or hearing about someone.

 

Relationships usually begin with seeing a person and noticing something attractive in them that motivates us to approach that individual. We might say that it’s attraction, or love, at first sight.

 

We see that dynamic in the call of the first disciples. We are told “Jesus saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea... Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ …. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John…. Then he called them” (Mark 1:16-20).

 

Seeing those four fishermen motivated Jesus to call them to follow him. Jesus must have seen something positive in them.

 

We see that same dynamic in the encounter with the rich man, who ultimately refused the call of Jesus. Mark writes, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him…‘Go, sell what you have…then come, follow me’” (Mark 10:21). Seeing the man motivated Jesus to love him and to invite him to be a disciple.

 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus sees those who are sick, hungry, hurting, shunned, or lost in sin, and he reaches out to them. Jesus sees people, he loves them, and he responds to their needs.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 13:31-33a, 34-35), Jesus tells us, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

 

If we are to love as Jesus commands us, perhaps we need to start by striving to see people as Jesus saw them.

 

Jesus saw the sins, flaws, and failings of people, but he also saw them as children of the Father. He saw them as his brothers and sisters in need of mercy, compassion, healing, and hope. He saw them as people worth saving. As Matthew tells us, “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

 

This Sunday, Jesus commands us to love one another as he loves us. If we are to fulfill that commandment, the first thing we need to do is to see other people as God sees them. After all, seeing leads to loving. It leads us to love at first sight.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

CENSORING

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

We live at a time when many people are hesitant to express what they truly think about certain issues. They are afraid of being judged on social media by self-appointed arbiters of acceptable thought. Persons who conform to the current secular culture are praised, “friended,” and “followed.” Those who do not parrot the prevailing opinion of the moment risk being ridiculed, scorned, “canceled,” or labeled as bigots

 

Since that is the case, many people self-censor. Before they express their beliefs and opinions, they consider their audience and how that audience will react to their words.

If they judge their views will be met with a hostile reaction, they remain silent. They keep their ideas to themselves. They self-censor.

 

If the disciples of Jesus had behaved in this way, the message of Jesus would have faded into the mists of history and there would be no Christians in our world.

Thankfully, the apostles and those who followed them did not self-censor. They courageously proclaimed their belief in the Risen Lord and the message of the Gospel regardless of any possible negative reaction.

 

We see an example in this Sunday’s First Reading (Acts 13:14, 43-52). Paul and Barnabas preached to the people gathered in the synagogue in Antioch and received a favorable reaction. However, the following week, that was not the case. The Jews “with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said…and stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory.”

 

Rather than being intimidated by that negative reaction, Paul and Barnabas simply “shook the dust from their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium.”

 

They did not tone down their message nor decide to remain silent. We see similar courageous responses throughout the Acts of the Apostles. The disciples proclaimed the Gospel no matter the audience before them. They did not self-censor their message in any way.

 

Today, we live in a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. Those who speak about their Christian faith in the workplace, public square, or educational settings are told to keep their beliefs to themselves. Those who espouse moral values based on the Gospel are often labelled hateful and self-righteous. Those who seek to guide public policy in light of the words of Jesus and the teachings of his Church are called dogmatic and intolerant.

 

Aware of such possible reactions, many Christians self-censor. They keep their beliefs to themselves. They hide their Christianity from public view. They are unwilling to expose themselves to possible hostility.

 

However, as followers of the Risen Lord, we are not to keep our faith to ourselves. We are called to make our faith known and share it.

 

As Jesus told us, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Matthew 10:32-33).

 

The Risen Lord does not want us to self-censor. He wants us to boldly proclaim the Good News! “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

HANDING ON HIS MINISTRY

SUNDAY, May 1, 2022

The THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

Sometimes teachers will require their students to read a story and then write an essay pointing out the main characters and describing their actions and motivations.

 

If students were given such an assignment in relationship to this Sunday’s Gospel (John 21:1-19), they would undoubtedly focus on Jesus. He is the central character in that passage and throughout the four Gospels.

 

But there is another figure in this Sunday’s reading that they might also write about, one that seems to be especially prominent. That character is Peter, also called Simon Peter or just Simon. He is mentioned by name 13 times in the passage. In addition, 29 pronouns refer to him.

 

Peter plays a key role in the story.  He is the one who suggests to the apostles that they go fishing.

 

Peter is the person who jumps out of the boat and swims to land when John says that he sees Jesus standing on the shore.

 

Peter is the one who grabs the net filled with “one hundred fifty-three large fish” and singlehandedly pulls it onto the land at the request of Jesus.

 

Peter is the only person whom Jesus engages in private conversation after they have eaten their breakfast of bread and fish.

 

During their talk, Jesus questions Peter about their relationship, he tells Peter what awaits him when he grows old, and then he repeats his initial invitation to Peter to follow him as a disciple.

 

Peter’s prominent role in this Gospel may be an indication that this passage is about more than “the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.” This passage may also be about the Risen Lord handing over his ministry to Peter before returning to his heavenly Father.

 

Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, not once but three times. When Peter professes his love, the Risen Lord tells Peter, “Feed my lambs….Tend my sheep….Feed my sheep.” Jesus the Good Shepherd puts his flock under the care of Peter.

 

Jesus also tells Peter that like him, he will have to conform his will to God’s will, which will lead him in directions that will involve suffering and a loss of control. As Jesus says, “Someone else will…lead you where you will not want to go.” Jesus was led to the cross; Peter would also be led to lay down his life.

 

The passage also highlights the leadership role of Peter, a leadership that he will exercise after the Ascension of Jesus. Peter was the one who told his fellow apostles, “I am going fishing” and they followed him. Peter was also the one who took the lead in bringing the net full of fish to Jesus when Jesus asked for fish. Peter was also the one to whom Jesus addressed his call to discipleship a second time. “Follow me.”

 

Peter had already followed Jesus as an apostle; perhaps now he was being told to follow him as the leader of the apostles and the shepherd of the Church.

 

This Sunday’s passage, which comes at the end of John’s Gospel, shows the Risen Lord handing on his ministry to Peter—a ministry that has now been handed onto Pope Francis and to the Church in our day.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

LOCKED DOORS

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Second Sunday of Easter

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, Jesus came and stood in their midst.”

 

“Now, a week later, his disciples were again inside…Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst.”

 

This Sunday's Gospel (John 20:19-31) speaks of two appearances of the Risen Lord. The first one occurred on the evening of Easter Sunday and the second happened a week later.

 

In both instances, John noted that the doors were locked where the disciples were. The Risen Lord did not bang on the doors and wait for them to be opened. He suddenly just appeared among his disciples.

 

That detail lets us know that the resurrection of Jesus was not the reanimation of a dead body. If it were, Jesus would have had to knock and wait to be admitted.

 

Peter, James, and John experienced a foreshadowing of that resurrected glory of Jesus during the Transfiguration. We heard Luke’s account of that moment on the Second Sunday of Lent (Luke 9:28b-36). “While Jesus was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white….Peter and his companions…saw his glory.” 

 

In the resurrection, Jesus was raised beyond death to a new level of existence. Glorified and risen, Jesus Christ was free of physical limitations. There was no place, no doors, that could shut him out.

 

The Risen Lord was also no longer limited by time. The religious and political powers of his day thought they could end his life by throwing him on a cross, but they did not succeed.

 

The Risen Lord appeared to his disciples after his death and resurrection and he continues to make himself known down to this very day. As he promised his disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

 

In our lives, we experience the presence of the Risen Lord as he speaks to us when the Gospel is proclaimed. After the reading, we acknowledge his words and his presence, as we declare, “Praise to you, Lord, Jesus Christ.”

 

We encounter the presence of the Risen Lord in a profound way in the celebration of the Eucharist. There he draws us into a “holy communion” with him and our fellow Catholics as he gives us his very Body and Blood. He invites us to share at his holy table.

 

We feel the presence of the Risen Lord in the love, compassion, and mercy shown us by members of the Church who form the living Body of Christ in our day.

 

We sense the presence of the Risen Lord in moments of prayer and in our acts of service and kindness to those in need. As Jesus tells us, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

 

Perhaps we might understand the presence of the Risen Lord if we consider how some scientists believe that creation took place. They theorize that from an infinitely dense single point all matter and energy burst forth in a moment and expanded to fill the universe.

 

We might say that on that first Easter Sunday, Jesus Christ “burst forth” from the tomb. He was raised up beyond human limitations, raised above the limits of space and time. His presence and love flooded all the world. There is no place, no time, no human heart in which the Risen Lord cannot be present. No doors can keep out the Risen Lord.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

May the Presence and Love of the Risen Lord

touch your lives during this Blessed Easter Season.

COUNTER CULTURAL

Sunday, April 17, 2022

EASTER SUNDAY of the Resurrection of the Lord

Easter is a celebration of spring. It heralds the rebirth of nature as flowers come into bloom, leaves appear on trees, days get warmer, and birds build their nests.

 

Easter is a time for families to gather to enjoy traditional foods, breads, and pastries. It is a time for Easter egg hunts, eating chocolates, and wearing new clothes.

 

Easter is a season of hope and renewal. Just as winter is left behind with the arrival of spring, so past mistakes and failures can be left behind with the hope of better days ahead and new opportunities. 

 

Such understandings of Easter have become more and more prevalent in today’s culture. If you have any doubt, just look at the selection of Easter cards in most stores. There are far more images of rabbits, flowers, chicks, colorful eggs, and baskets overflowing with candy and food than images related to the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

 

That is not surprising, for the true meaning of Easter contradicts today’s culture. The Christian understanding of Easter is counter cultural.

 

As Christians we believe that Easter is about the victory of Jesus Christ over the forces of sin and death. It proclaims that the tomb of Good Friday was not the “period” that put an end to the life and ministry of Jesus, but rather was only a “comma” that paused the story of Jesus for a moment.

 

The story continued with his Resurrection and continues to our day as the Risen Lord speaks to us through his word, touches us through the sacraments, and embraces us through his Church.

 

He changes our understanding of life and death and lets us know that what we do in this life has eternal implications. We are not just creatures that sparkle for a moment and then fall into the darkness of nothingness.

 

The Resurrection also affirms the teachings of Jesus. His words in the scriptures are not just words of a religious figure from the past, they are the very words of God. They proclaim divine truth to a world that says that truth is determined by each individual and that right and wrong are changeable concepts.

 

Today’s culture is threatened by the Christian understanding of Easter. It is far easier to accept a celebration of spring, chocolates, and flowers than to accept a celebration that affirms the Resurrection of Jesus and the truth of the Gospel—a truth that contradicts so many of the values of today’s society and culture.

 

As St. Peter told us in today’s First Reading (Acts 10:34a, 37-43), “They put Jesus to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day…he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead…everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

 

Today’s society is uncomfortable with our belief about Easter. That should come as no surprise, for the Christian understanding of Easter is counter cultural. But that belief gives us comfort, hope, and joy. Alleluia! Jesus Christ is Risen!

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord bless you with his presence and peace!

Happy Easter!

HIS GREATEST SERMON

Sunday, April 10, 2022

PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD

Shock, pain, sorrow, cowardice, betrayal, fear, terror, mockery, suffering, torture, injustice, humiliation, and death. Those are some of the words that might come to mind after we hear Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 22:14-23:56) about the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.

 

All those negative words aptly describe what Jesus endured that first Holy Thursday evening and Good Friday.

 

But if we consider how Jesus responded, how he acted during those two horrible days, we see that Jesus was not crushed and defeated by what he suffered. Rather, Jesus showed kindness, mercy, compassion, and consideration even in the midst of the darkness and cruelty that enveloped him. Just consider how Jesus treated those he encountered up to his last moment on the cross.

 

During his final meal with his disciples, Jesus allowed Judas to join him and his disciples at table. He did not verbally reveal Judas as the one who would betray him, nor did he call upon his disciples to restrain Judas from acting on his plans. Perhaps, even up to that final meal, Jesus hoped that the heart of Judas might be touched by his kindness.

 

When his disciples ignored his words about his coming betrayal and instead began arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, Jesus did not berate them for their ambition and insensitivity. Instead, he used the moment to teach them that the greatest was the one who served.

 

When Jesus was in prayer at the Mount of Olives, he not only prayed that he would be faithful to the will of his Father, he encouraged his disciples to also pray because he knew they would also be put to the test.

 

When one of his disciples cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest during an attempt to prevent the arrest of Jesus, Jesus ordered that disciple to put away his sword. “Stop, no more of this.” Then in an act of mercy, Jesus healed that servant who considered Jesus to be a criminal. Jesus showed love for an enemy.

 

After Peter denied knowing Jesus, not once, but three separate times, Jesus “turned and looked at Peter.” While we might imagine that look was one of anger and disappointment, perhaps it was actually a look of love and concern for a friend who had done something he would deeply regret. That look so touched the heart of Peter that he began to “weep bitterly.”

 

When Jesus was made to endure a show trial before the Sanhedrin, false accusations before Pilate, and mockery at the court of Herod, Jesus did not deny his identity. He spoke the truth as lies were told about him. He truly acted as God’s faithful and beloved Son.

 

When the women of Jerusalem wept over him as he carried his cross, Jesus told them “do not weep for me, weep instead for yourselves and your children.” Jesus directed attention away from himself and focused it on others in need. Something he did throughout his ministry.

 

As his life bled away on the cross, Jesus sought forgiveness for his executioners. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” In doing so, Jesus gave absolute proof to the words he had preached during his Sermon on the Mount, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

 

Then Jesus demonstrated God’s gracious, undeserved, unmerited mercy to the sinner. Jesus told the criminal who asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

 

During his passion and death, Jesus continued to proclaim the Gospel by his words and by his actions. We might say that Jesus preached his greatest sermon that first Holy Thursday and Good Friday. It is the sermon that we remember this Passion Sunday and each time we look upon the Cross.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

WHAT WE HEAR

Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Fifth Sunday of Lent


A 16-year-old boy asks his parents if he can go with his friends to New York City on Friday night to see a Knicks basketball game. His parents initially refuse, but after enduring constant pleading, they agree that he can go. But they also tell him that they expect him to spend Saturday and Sunday at home catching up on his school assignments and completing the history report that is due in five days.

 

That teenager clearly hears his parents when they tell him he can go to the game. But he may be a little deaf when they inform him of what they expect him to do for the rest of the weekend.

 

Like that teenager, we all are good at hearing what we desire to hear, but we can be hard of hearing when it comes to words that challenge, confront, or make us uncomfortable.

 

That may be the case when it comes to the words that we hear in this Sunday's Gospel (John 8:1-11). There we learn of a woman caught in the act of adultery. As the scribes and Pharisees drag her before Jesus, they remind him that “Moses commanded us to stone such women.”

 

In response, Jesus remains silent and simply traces on the ground with his finger. Then he challenges any person in the crowd who is without sin to begin to carry out the prescribed sentence. He invites that person to throw the first stone. Aware of their own sinfulness, the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees slink away.

 

Jesus then shows the woman mercy. He refuses to condemn her. Instead, he sends her on her way.

 

The words of mercy and forgiveness that Jesus addresses to the woman are certainly words that all of us would desire to hear. For we all are sinners deserving of condemnation. As Saint John reminds us, “If we say, ‘We have not sinned,’ we make God a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:10).

 

But we may not be so willing and ready to hear what Jesus also tells the woman. Jesus tells her she can go, but he also says, “from now on do not sin any more.”

 

Jesus pairs his words of mercy with words that instruct the sinner to change, to reform, to faithfully live according to God's commandments.  

 

This Sunday, the Gospel reminds us that God is merciful. We sinners never tire of hearing that message. But the Gospel equally reminds us that God expects us to move away from sin and to grow in holiness.

 

One way we can do what Jesus instructs us is by striving to keep away from the people, the situations, the images, the media, the social postings, and the conversations that can lead us into sin and away from God. We increase our chances of not sinning when we avoid the occasions that can lead us into sin.

 

Teenagers, and we former teenagers, tend to hear what we want to hear. But we can be far less willing to listen to words that confront and challenge us.

 

We are more than happy to hear Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you.” But we can be selectively deaf when Jesus says to you and me, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

A REASON FOR FORGIVENESS

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

No one likes being disrespected.

 

No patient appreciates arriving on time for a doctor’s appointment, then waiting almost two hours before being called into the examination room, and then waiting another 30 minutes before the doctor appears. 

 

No grandparent enjoys sending birthday presents to grandchildren, then never receiving a word of thanks or acknowledgement for the gifts lovingly selected and beautifully wrapped.

 

No homeowner relishes dealing with a contractor who guarantees a renovation project will be completed in 40 days, and then, despite payments being made, does not start the work for months.

 

No one likes feeling they have been disrespected, demeaned, or belittled.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32), we hear of a father who is disrespected by people who hold a special place in his heart—his two sons.

 

The younger son comes to his father and demands that he be given the share of the estate that would be his when his father dies. That son says he has no time to wait until death claims his father.

 

Amazingly, despite the callous request and the public humiliation of being so disrespected by his son, the father agrees. The son, his pockets overflowing with money, goes off and soon squanders “his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”

 

When that son returns, driven more by hunger than by genuine sorrow, the father does not punish or disown him as he deserves. The father takes him back. In a sense, the father humbles himself to show forgiveness.

 

The older son, who remained home and continued to work the estate, also disrespects his father. When the father asks that son to come in and join the welcome home celebration for his younger brother, he refuses. He does not obey his father.

 

In fact, he publicly talks back to his father and complains about the way he feels he has been treated. “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.”

 

There must have been a reason the father acted as he did and tolerated the disrespect shown him by both his sons. Perhaps it was because the father’s self-respect, self-image, and self-understanding were not based on how he was treated by others but rather on how he saw himself. No one could damage his understanding of himself. His sons might treat him badly, but that was their problem. They could not lessen their father’s self-worth.

 

That parable of the father and his two sons is generally seen as showing us the loving, forgiving nature of God. It is sometimes entitled “The Parable of the Forgiving Father.”

 

But that parable also shows us why God can be forgiving, why God can forgive sinners who disrespect him by ignoring his will and disobeying his commandments. God is not damaged or hurt by human sin.

 

Sin does not lessen God’s divine majesty or negatively affect God or ruin his day. Rather sin damages us.

 

None of us willingly tolerates being disrespected. Thankfully, like the father in Sunday’s parable, God overlooks the disrespect we show him by our sins. If God did not, none of would escape God’s righteous anger.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

BELIEVING GOD

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Third Sunday of Lent

Do you believe in God?

 

That is an easy question to answer. “Yes,” we obviously believe in God. If we did not believe in the existence of God, we would not be Christians, we would not be members of the Catholic Church, we would not be involved with our parishes, and we would not be reading Looking to Sunday.

 

But suppose we were asked, Do you believe God?

 

We might immediately answer “Yes” to that question as well. We most certainly believe God. After all, God does not lie. God is the source of all truth.

 

But that answer might not be “Yes” in every case. We might not believe everything God has said.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), Jesus is asked “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.” In his response, Jesus also refers to the “eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them.” He then goes on to say, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

 

Further in the same Gospel, Jesus says that the time for repentance, the time for turning from sin is limited. Jesus does so by speaking of a barren fig tree that is given one final year to bear fruit, otherwise, it would be cut down.

 

In Sunday’s Gospel, the Lord tells us that those who do not turn from sin and produce a harvest of righteousness in the time allotted them will be destroyed. We heard an echo of that message at the start of Lent. As we were marked with ashes, we were warned, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

 

But do we believe what God has told us about repentance and the consequences of failing to repent? Or do we say we believe, while our actions say something else?

 

We can place so much emphasis on the mercy of God and his love for the sinner that we close our ears to God’s words that warn of future punishment for those who persist in sin.

 

Do we believe that God expects us to respond to his call to repentance today and not tomorrow? Or do we think that if we do not make an effort this Lent, we can always do so next Lent.

 

God gives us so many chances to repent and to grow in our relationship with him that we can easily forget that those opportunities come to an end, just as they did for the fig tree.

 

We believe in God, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” We believe in the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, the God who took on flesh in Jesus Christ and walked among his people.

 

But we may not fully believe God. We may not believe all that God has told us especially when it comes to sin and its consequences.

 

This Lent we are challenged to ask ourselves, do I believe God? Do I take to heart what God has told me? “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

LEVELS OF KNOWING

Sunday, March 13, 2022

The Second Sunday of Lent

Many people know us, but those people do not know us to the same extent.

 

Some people are only aware of our names, where we live, and perhaps what we do for a living.

 

Others might know where we grew up, the schools we attended, and some of our past accomplishments.

 

Still others have met our families and know some of our friends and acquaintances.

 

And then there are those people with whom we have shared our political and religious beliefs, our likes and dislikes, what lifts our spirits, and what makes us angry or depressed.

 

But only a select number of people know our hopes and dreams, our regrets and disappointments, our fears and phobias, our understanding of ourselves, and the level of our relationship with God. They truly know us on the inside. They are aware of what we rarely disclose.

 

The people who know us on such an intimate level are those individuals to whom we have chosen to reveal ourselves. We have let them see inside of us.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 9:28b-36), Jesus goes up a mountain to spend time in prayer. As he goes, he selects Peter, James, and John to accompany him.

 

On that mountain, Jesus reveals his divine splendor and speaks with Moses and Elijah. We are told that Peter, James, and John “saw his glory and the two men standing with him.” Moreover, they heard the voice of God telling them, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

 

In that experience, Peter, James, and John came to know Jesus on a deep, intimate level. He was far more than just their teacher and rabbi. He was the fulfillment of the law and prophets represented by Moses and Elijah. He was the Messiah who would suffer in Jerusalem. He was the Son of the Father to whom they were to listen.

 

Many people knew something about Jesus, but only Peter, James, and John came to know what the others had not yet fully realized about him. Those three disciples came to truly know Jesus because Jesus chose to bring them up the mountain and to reveal himself to them. Jesus did not bring his entire group of disciples.

 

Today, many people have a certain knowledge of Jesus. To some he is just an historical figure. To many he is a religious leader from the past. To others he is a good man who tried to better the world. And to still others he is a prophet who spoke up for the poor and the oppressed.

 

But as Catholics, we know Jesus on a deeper level. We know him as Peter, James, and John came to understand him. He is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. He is our Savior and Lord. We know Jesus in that way because Jesus has chosen to reveal himself to us; he has blessed us with the gift of faith.

 

Throughout our lives, Jesus will continue to reveal more about himself if we spend time with him in prayer, in reading the scripture, in attending Mass, and in striving to live the Gospel.

 

Many people today know something about Jesus. But those who truly know him are the ones to whom Jesus has chosen to reveal himself.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

IF YOU ARE....

Sunday, March 6, 2022

The First Sunday of Lent

 “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

 

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.” Fling yourself from the parapet of the temple for the angels will surely keep you from harm.

 

Twice in this Sunday's Gospel (Luke 4:1-13), the devil tempts Jesus to prove his identity, to show his power as the Son of God.

 

But Jesus refuses to provide the proof that the devil demands. Quoting the scriptures, Jesus warns the tempter, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

 

What the devil demanded of Jesus is what some people demand of God. They require God to prove himself to them. They expect God to pass the tests they have in mind.

 

If you are the God whom believers claim exists, then show me your presence in an unmistakable way. Impress me with your almighty power!

 

If you are the God whom priests and ministers proclaim loves the people he created, then end the starvation that ravishes the lives of millions born into poverty.

 

If you are the God whom men and women address as the “Prince of Peace,” then transform the calloused hearts of those who engage in terrorism, violence, and war.

 

If you are the God who is portrayed as listening to the prayers of his children, then grant the requests of those pleading for healing and health.

 

Many people put God to the test. They ask God to prove his existence, to show his power and might, to demonstrate his love and compassion.

 

But God does not act as they require. The spectacular does not happen: people continue to starve, violence and wars go on century after century, and many who pray for healing succumb to disease.

 

God does not meet the tests that people set before him any more than Jesus, the Son of God, met the tests that the devil set before him during his time in the desert.

 

As believers, we do not put our faith in God because God passes certain tests. If that were the case, then belief in God would not require faith. It would simply be a matter of observation and common sense.

 

Jesus reminded the devil that he was in no position to put the Son of God to the test. This Sunday’s Gospel reminds us of that same fact. As creatures we are in no position to demand that God act as we require. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

 

Rather it is God who puts us to the test. This Lent, we might picture the Lord asking us, “If you are the Christian you claim to be, prove it by turning from sin and embracing the values of the Gospel.”

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

HEART HEALTH

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Eighth SUnday in Ordinary Time

Cardiologists, medical doctors who specialize in the care of the human heart, use different methods to determine the heart health of their patients.

 

Beyond checking blood pressure, pulse rate, and blood oxygen levels, cardiologists have the blood of their patients tested to determine if there may be indications of disease or potential problems. If there are, then patients may be asked to wear a heart monitor for a length of time, go for an echocardiogram, take a stress test, or undergo a CT scan.

 

Such tests and procedures allow cardiologists to evaluate how well the hearts of their patients are functioning.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 6:39-45), Jesus speaks about the ways to determine the condition of a human heart. Not the heart that pumps blood throughout the body, but the heart which holds our deepest feelings, thoughts, and emotions. The heart we give to those we love. The heart that soars to the heavens when we feel valued and cherished. The heart that swells with pride when we become a parent. The heart that breaks when a relationship ends or a loved one dies. The heart that feels empty when we are alone and friendless. The heart that seethes with anger when we are treated unfairly.

 

The condition of that heart cannot be measured by any medical device. Rather the condition of that heart is evaluated by what it produces.

 

As Jesus tells us, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

 

If our hearts are good, that will be apparent in our actions. The way we treat others, the way we conduct ourselves inside and outside our homes, the way we react to people and to situations, will be in line with the faith we claim to profess and in line with the example of Jesus.

 

If our hearts are good, that will also be heard in the words that we speak and in the words that we post, tweet, and write. Words that build people up and affirm what is right will reveal a good heart, while words that tear down, ridicule, degrade, and distort the truth will indicate a troubled heart.

 

People who let Jesus into their hearts and allow him to guide and direct their lives will have good hearts that will bring forth good fruit. As Jesus reminds us, “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.”

 

The coming season of Lent, that begins this Ash Wednesday, would be a perfect time for us to evaluate the health of our hearts. But that will not be easy, for checking our spiritual condition is far more challenging than checking that of others. As Jesus puts it, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”

 

This Lent, may we be more aware of our words and our actions. May we carefully monitor the condition of our hearts.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

UNNATURAL REACTIONS

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

If someone hits us, we will instinctively take a defensive posture and prepare to defend ourselves.

 

If a person takes something from us, we will do all we can to retrieve what was stolen.

 

If we lend money to an individual, we will expect that person to repay us, and to do so on time.

 

If there are persons who dislike or even hate us, we will avoid associating with such people and do nothing to make their lives easier.

 

In each case, our response would not be surprising. It would be the natural reaction.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 6:27-38), Jesus tells his disciples not to react in the expected way.

 

Jesus tells them if a person “strikes you on one cheek, offer them the other one as well.’

 

He instructs them that if someone “takes what is yours do not demand it back.”

 

He advises them when they lend, they should do so “expecting nothing back.”

 

And in dealing with those who hate them, with those who are enemies, Jesus tells them, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.”

 

In short Jesus tells his followers, “love your enemies and do good to them.”

 

What Jesus instructs us to do is not to react in the manner that would be naturally expected. Instead, Jesus says we are to react in a “super-natural” way, in a way above our natural instincts.

 

Jesus tells us to act in the way that God acts towards sinners. God shows us mercy, forbearance, and love. God is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” God loves us not because we deserve his love, but because God has chosen to give us a place in his heart.

 

As Saint Paul reminds us, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

 

We are people, undeservedly loved and blessed by God. When we appreciate and recognize that fact, perhaps we will be more willing to act toward others in the ways Jesus instructs us. We will be ready to let the love God has for us flow out even to the undeserving.

 

As children of God, we are to act not in the manner naturally expected. We are to react to others in the way God acts toward us. As Jesus commands us, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” We are to act “super-naturally.” We are to imitate God our Father.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

HARDLY FAIR

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Life is not fair.

 

If you have any doubt, just consider the hundreds of millions of people in our world who live in poverty. They cannot provide for themselves and their families. They cannot afford health care. They live in substandard housing. Their life expectancy is cut short.

 

Life is not fair.

 

If you have any doubt, simply think of the millions of people, young and old, who do not have enough to eat or who lack safe drinking water. Consider the millions of children whose development is stunted because of a lack of nourishment. Consider the elderly, the disabled, and the unborn whose lives are disvalued by society.

Life is not fair.

 

If you have any doubt, only recall the millions of individuals whose lives are filled with pain and sorrow. Some are dealing with physical or mental illnesses that impact their everyday activities and lessen their enjoyment of life. Others are in sorrow as they watch loved ones wasting away due to cancer or some other disease. Still others are filled with sadness as they deal with the deaths of loved ones. Others are in pain since they feel alone and abandoned and find no meaning in life.

 

Life is not fair.

 

If you have any doubt, merely envision all the people who play by the rules and then watch as those who cheat, steal, and cut corners get ahead. Consider the Christians who strive to love God and their neighbor and to follow the example of Christ and end up being persecuted and even put to death. Think of all those persons whose reputations are ruined by gossip, false accusations, or by postings on social media.

 

Life is not fair. The older we get, the more we realize the unfairness of life.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 6:17, 20-26), Jesus addresses the unfairness that we see in this world. He speaks of the suffering, the sorrow, and the pain that so many people deal with each day. He says the unfairness in this world will be set right in the kingdom of heaven.

 

In that kingdom, the poor will be given a place of honor. The hungry will be satisfied. Those in sorrow will laugh with joy. And those who were persecuted for his sake and for living according to the Gospel will rejoice.

 

At the same time, Jesus warns those who are winners in the estimation of this world—those who are rich, those whose every whim is satisfied, those who are flush with success, and those who are celebrated and idolized by society—to beware. They will be in for a rude awakening. Things will be reversed in the kingdom.

 

As Jesus tells us, “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:30)

 

We see that powerfully illustrated in the story told by Jesus about Lazarus, the poor beggar, and the rich man who ignored his plight. As Abraham told the rich man, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. (Luke 16:25)

 

Yes, life here can be unfair. But as Jesus tells us, all is made right in the kingdom of heaven.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

QUALIFIED?

Sunday, February 6, 2022

THe FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

If you were looking for a job, you would only apply for those positions for which you felt you had the necessary talents and qualifications.

 

Even if your friends were urging you to apply for a particular job, you would most likely decline their advice if you felt you could not make it pass the initial interview. And if by some stroke of luck, you were hired, you would probably turn down the job offer because you would be afraid that you would fail without the necessary skills.

 

In this Sunday’s scripture readings, we hear of people who were being recruited for positions for which they felt they did not have the necessary qualifications.

 

In our First Reading (Isaiah 6:1-2a, 6-8), after having a vision of God’s divine majesty, Isaiah declared, “I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah knew he was a sinner, he knew he was unworthy, but God recruited him to deliver his message to the people of Israel. 

 

In our Second Reading (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), Paul recognized that he was unworthy of the mission of being an apostle. As he said, “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” And yet, a persecutor was indeed recruited to preach the Gospel that he had been trying to silence.

 

Then in our Gospel (Luke 5:1-11), after Simon Peter experienced an astonishing catch of fish after doing what Jesus directed, he declared, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Nevertheless, Jesus told Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” An admitted sinner was recruited to bring people to the Lord.

 

In each case, people who admitted they were unqualified, who seemingly did not have the necessary skills nor the moral standing, were hired by God to do his work.

 

What made them qualified was not their talents or what was on their resume, but rather the grace and the action of God. A man with unclean lips, a persecutor bent on stamping out the Gospel, and a sinful fisherman were qualified by God for the positions that God gave them.

 

God continues to do the same thing today. God qualifies people, he qualifies us, for the work he has in mind. That first happened at our baptism.  There we were freed from original sin and given the promise of eternal life. We were made children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, and dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. We were made Christians and commissioned and empowered to continue the work of the Lord.

 

However, too many Christians think of themselves as unqualified to share in the work of spreading the Good News of the Gospel and building up God’s kingdom of mercy and peace in our troubled world.

 

We ourselves may be requested to serve as catechists or liturgical ministers, to volunteer in programs that assist the poor and hurting, to work with the youth or elderly, to speak up for the unborn, or to serve on parish committees, and yet we worry that we are unqualified. We feel that we do not have the time, the talent, or the skills. We forget, as we see in the scriptures, that God often chooses those who think they are unqualified in their own estimation to do his work.

 

Those God calls, God qualifies—just ask Isaiah, Paul, or Simon Peter.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

EVERY  EPISODE

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Fourth Sunday in ORdinary TIME

Most of us have had the experience of watching a riveting drama on television. A story that makes us wonder how things will be resolved. But before all the pieces can come together, a notice appears on the screen, “To Be Continued.” We suddenly realize that the drama is in two parts. We need to wait for the second episode to discover how things turn out.

 

This Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 4:21-30) might be seen as the second episode in a two-part story.

 

The first episode was in last Sunday’s Gospel. There we learned that while Jesus was in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, he read a passage from the prophet Isaiah that spoke about the coming of the anointed one of God. Afterward, Jesus said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

 

This Sunday’s Gospel begins by repeating those very words. “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” To fully understand this Sunday’s Gospel, we need to remember how Jesus had applied the words of Isaiah to himself.

 

In quoting Isaiah, Jesus had identified himself as the one anointed by the Spirit “to bring glad tidings to the poor… to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Jesus revealed himself as the one sent to bring salvation.

 

Obviously, this shocked his neighbors who asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” How could he be the Messiah?

 

In response, Jesus spoke of prophets not being accepted in their native place. He then pointed to the prophets sent beyond the people of Israel to demonstrate the saving power of God to Gentiles: Elijah saved the widow of Zarephath and her son from starvation, while Elisha saved Naaman the Syrian from the scourge of leprosy.

 

By identifying himself as the one sent to bring salvation, a salvation which, as Elijah and Elisha demonstrated, would go beyond the Chosen People, Jesus incurred the wrath of those who heard him. They rose up and drove him out of the town.

 

This Sunday’s Gospel reminds us that to fully understand any scripture reading, we need to be aware of the preceding chapters and verses. Otherwise, we are like people watching a later episode of a drama without knowing what has happened previously.

 

Sunday’s Gospel also tells us that we can be like the people of Nazareth. We can readily accept the teachings of Jesus that affirm and comfort us and we can find reasons to ignore the words of Jesus that challenge our thinking and indict our behavior.

 

To appreciate the message of Jesus, we need to “watch” every episode and we need to listen to every word in the Gospels.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

 

A SUNDAY FOR THE WORD

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

There are certain Sundays in the Church’s calendar that focus our attention on a particular idea.

 

For example, the Second Sunday of Easter is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. It centers our attention on the mercy of God. In the gospel proclaimed each year on that Sunday, we hear how the Risen Lord appeared to his amazed disciples, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.”

 

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. The gospel readings for that Sunday speak of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep, seeks them out when they stray, and willingly lays down his life to save them from harm.

 

The most recent Sunday to be given a special title is this coming Sunday. On September 30, 2019, Pope Francis announced, “I hereby declare that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God.” This means that this coming Sunday, January 23, is entitled The Sunday of the Word of God.

 

Even without this designation, the scripture passages assigned for this Sunday would focus our attention on the life-giving, life-changing power of God’s word.

 

In our First Reading (Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10), we hear how the people of Israel, who had returned from exile in Babylon, listened attentively as Ezra the priest proclaimed God’s holy word, “from daybreak till midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand.” In the reading of that word, the people were reminded of their covenant with the Lord.

 

In Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm, the power of the word is emphasized as we pray, “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”

 

In our Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12:12-30), Saint Paul speaks of the roles given to those who make up the Church, the living Body of Christ. Paul stresses the importance of apostles, prophets, and teachers. He highlights those whose mission is centered on preaching, explaining, and teaching God’s saving word.

 

Then in the Gospel (Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21), Luke tells us how Jesus himself proclaimed God’s word in the synagogue at Nazareth and how he applied the words he read from Isaiah to himself. “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus announced that the word of God he was reading could be seen in his ministry.

 

While this Sunday is entitled The Sunday of the Word of God, that is true for every Sunday. For each time we gather for Sunday Mass, God’s word, which is “spirit and life,” is proclaimed from the pulpit “in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand.”

 

That word, which is explained by the “apostles, prophets, and teachers” of our day, gives purpose and meaning to life, brings hope and consolation, reveals the light of truth in a world filled with darkness, transforms lives, and draws us ever closer to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

 

As Pope Francis told us in announcing The Sunday of the Word of God, “we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, struck as we are by so many forms of blindness.”

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

THOSE INVOLVED

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The outcome of any event is determined in large part by the people involved. The Continental Congress might not have passed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, if Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams had not been present. The Revolutionary War might not have been successful if George Washington had not led the Continental Army.

 

The people involved are a major factor in making events unfold as they do. That is also true of the events described in the Gospels.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 2:1-11), we hear about the wedding feast of Cana. During that celebration six stone water jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons, are filled with water. Then that water is transformed into choice wine.

 

That miraculous event took place because certain people were present at that wedding. We are told that “the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.” If any of those people had not been present, the wedding celebration would not have ended on a happy note, and we would not be talking about it some 2,000 years later.

 

It was Mary who first noticed that the supply of wine had run short. To save the newly married couple and their families from embarrassment, she told her son, “They have no wine.”

 

Initially Jesus was reluctant to act. As he told Mary, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”

 

Yet Mary must have been confident of her persuasive, motherly influence, for she told the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.”

 

The waiters did as Jesus instructed. Six water jars were filled to the brim, and the water within them became wine.

 

If Mary had not noticed the lack of wine and not persuaded her son to act, the miracle would not have happened.

 

If Jesus had not acceded to the request of his mother and instead chose to wait for some future “hour” to reveal his power, the miracle would not have occurred.

 

And if the disciples had not been invited to the wedding and witnessed what took place, the miracle would not have been reported, remembered, and included by John in his gospel.

 

What occurred at the Wedding Feast of Cana happened because the right people were there at the right time. If Mary, or Jesus, or his disciples had not been invited to that wedding, things would not have turned out as they did, and a wedding that took place long ago in a small village in Galilee would not be remembered.

 

If the right people are present in our lives, our days can be blessed with happiness and peace and unfold with meaning and purpose. Those people include the ones who were at the wedding feast in Cana, namely, Mary, Jesus, and his disciples.

 

Jesus saves us from the power of sin and death and reveals how to live as a child of God. Mary shows us how to faithfully respond to God’s will and reveals God’s tenderness. The disciples show us that holiness is possible, and they remind us of the Church, today’s community of disciples, who offer us support and encouragement.

 

Our lives can unfold in a wonderful way if the right people are present just ask the bride and groom of Cana.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas Iwanowski

ALWAYS OPEN

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Baptism of the Lord

When something opens, we logically assume that at some later time it closes.

 

For example, stores generally open for business in the morning hours and then close in the evening at the end of the day.

 

Schools open their doors to students in early September and then close them in June when it is time for summer recess.

 

The National Football League opens its season in the fall and then brings it to a close with the Super Bowl in February.

 

Things open and then they close.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we hear of something being opened.

 

We are told that after Jesus was baptized and was at prayer, “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”

 

It would be reasonable to assume that after the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, heaven then closed.

 

However, we are not told of heaven closing after Jesus experienced the coming of the Spirit and heard a voice from on high declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

 

We can conclude that heaven remained open. The grace and power of the Holy Spirit that came down upon Jesus at the time of his baptism continued to come down upon him throughout his ministry. Jesus lived under an open heaven, and he shared the blessings that poured down upon him from heaven with all those he encountered in his ministry.

 

He offered forgiveness to the sinner, sight to the blind, wholeness to the crippled, healing to the sick, hope to the despairing, acceptance to the rejected, and the promise of eternal life to all who believed in him. Jesus made the kingdom of heaven present in his ministry.

 

At the baptism of Jesus, heaven opened, the Spirit came down upon Jesus, and God the Father acknowledged him to be his beloved Son with whom he was well pleased.

 

The same thing happened at our own baptisms. Heaven opened, the Spirit of God came down upon us, God claimed us as his beloved children, and God was pleased to bless us with his grace and love.

 

What happened then continues to happen throughout our lives. God does not close the door of heaven. He continues to send us his grace and blessings. What we do with those gifts depends upon us. We can use them to grow in holiness and to build up God’s kingdom of love, justice, and peace in our world, or we can ignore the grace that God gives us and fail to use it. We can shut the door of heaven.

 

Jesus lived under a heaven that was always open. As his followers, we are called to do the same.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

HOLY DISOBEDIENCE

SUNDAY, JANUARY 2, 2022

The Epiphany of the Lord

When we think of the Epiphany of the Lord, we think of a shining star in the sky, magi from the east arriving in Jerusalem searching for a newborn king, Herod inquiring of the chief priests “where the Christ was to be born,” and then sending those magi on their way to Bethlehem.

 

And of course, we think of a scene depicted on countless Christmas cards of Mary and Joseph watching in amazement as the magi kneel before the infant Jesus and offer him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

However, the Epiphany may also bring to mind something else, namely, disobedience.

 

In Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12), after King Herod tells the magi that the one they are looking for would be found in Bethlehem, he instructs them to “go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”

 

As we know, the magi did not do as they were instructed by King Herod. They did not return to the king’s palace in Jerusalem, but rather “they departed for their country by another way.” Instead of obeying the king, they followed the instructions given to them in a dream sent from above.

 

By disobeying the orders of Herod, the magi allowed Joseph and Mary to escape with the infant Jesus to safety in Egypt. If the magi had done what they had been instructed to do by Herod, the story of Jesus would not have turned out as it did.

 

We might say the wondrous story of the Epiphany is also a story of “holy disobedience.” The magi disobeyed King Herod, the lawful authority of the day, and instead obeyed the instructions given them from the Lord.

 

Their example of “holy disobedience” reminds us that as believers our first responsibility is to do what God asks of us. Obedience to God comes before any obedience we owe to any human authority.

 

That is important for us to remember in our day when some leaders in positions of power advocate and champion laws that contradict the laws of God and the values of the Gospel.

 

We need to remember that the greatest gift we can give God is to walk according to his ways and obey his commandments. As Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

 

The Epiphany of the Lord reminds us of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the magi presented to the newborn king of the Jews. But perhaps their most important gift was their disobeying the command of Herod. By their “holy disobedience” they allowed Jesus to escape the evil plotted by King Herod.

 

There may be occasions in our lives when our “holy disobedience” to those in authority may be the best gift we can offer to the Lord.

 

© 2022 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

1, 12, 30

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Josph

If an author were writing a story about someone’s life, it would be logical to assume that he or she would begin by telling us something about that person’s early years.

 

The author would write about the individual’s family, place of birth, where the person grew up, and the schools he or she attended.

 

Then the writer would continue by telling us about the person’s later childhood, adolescence, early adulthood and so on. The author would include significant, life-changing events in the life of the individual and mention the people who influenced that person’s development.

 

However, this was not the approach taken by Saint Luke in his Gospel as he relates the life of Jesus.

 

In the first chapters of his Gospel, Luke writes that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would give birth to the Son of God. Luke then informs us of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem where the wondrous birth of Jesus took place.

 

Luke then goes on to relate how the infant Jesus was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem and then “grew and became strong” after returning to Nazareth.

 

The next episode that Luke shares from the life of Jesus is found in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 2:41-52). There Luke tells us that at the age of 12, Jesus remained behind in the Temple following the Passover celebration. Obviously worried, Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem. After three days of searching, they find their son in the Temple.

 

The next time we see Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is when Jesus is being baptized and beginning his public ministry. As Luke tells us that moment occurred when Jesus “was about thirty years of age.” (Luke 3:23)

 

Obviously, many more things happened in the life of Jesus between his infancy and age 30, yet Luke includes only the finding in the Temple to bridge that span of time. Evidently this story must be about more than a 12-year-old boy staying behind in the Temple without the knowledge of his parents.

 

Luke relates that incident to inform us about Jesus’ growing understanding of himself and to foreshadow his future.

 

When Mary asks Jesus, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” He replies, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In his response, Jesus revealed his understanding that his true father was not the carpenter of Nazareth but God the Father.

 

In the Temple, Jesus was found “sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Jesus was not standing as a student before his elders, but sitting, and posing questions. “All who heard him were astounded at his understanding and answers.”

 

Jesus was already acting as the teacher that he became during his public ministry and was already amazing people. As his neighbors in Nazareth would later ask, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?” (Matthew 13:54)

 

Significantly, Luke chose to highlight an incident that took place in Jerusalem – the place where Jesus would ultimately be questioned and condemned to death and where he would be three days in the tomb before his disciples would see him again.

 

Luke chose only one incident between the infancy of Jesus and the start of his ministry some 30 years later. But that incident reveals far more than we might have first imagined. Sunday’s Gospel is not just about a boy being found in the Temple; it foreshadows the future of Jesus.

 

© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Prayers and best wishes for a joyous Christmas Season

and a New Year filled with God’s presence and peace.

 

NOT TWO, BUT FOUR

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Most stories have main characters who are central to the event being described. That is also true of the accounts we find in the Gospels.

 

In the story of the Annunciation, the action revolves around two characters, namely, Mary and the angel Gabriel.

 

In the story of the Transfiguration, the principal individuals are Jesus, Peter, James, and John.

 

In the conversation at the well in Sychar, the key persons are Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

 

In John’s account of the trial of Jesus, the main actors are Jesus, Pilate, the chief priests, and the crowd.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45), we have the account of the Visitation. The story is centered on two pregnant women. Mary, the younger of the two, goes to the home of her relative, Elizabeth, who is “advanced in years.”

 

Mary visits to assist Elizabeth in the final months before the birth of her child. Mary also goes to share with her the remarkable news she has received from the angel.

 

However, there are two other individuals who are central to this story. Without them, the event described would not have taken place. Those characters are the two unborn children in the wombs of their mothers.

 

The infant boy in the womb of Elizabeth, who is in his sixth month of development, leaps for joy when Mary speaks. As Elizabeth tells her “at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

 

The unborn John the Baptist wondrously recognizes the presence of the savior still in the womb of Mary. John begins his ministry of witnessing to Jesus, the Lamb of God, even before he and Jesus are born.

 

The presence of the unborn savior is also recognized by Elizabeth. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, she cries out, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary is blessed not because of who she is but because of whom she is carrying within her.

 

This account of the visitation not only tells us about two pregnant women and about their unborn children; it also challenges us and our culture.

 

Mary and Elizabeth are strong women who cooperate with God to further God’s plan of salvation. God’s choice of them highlights the place of women and the reverence due to all women as creations of God and as sisters to Mary and Elizabeth.

 

Such reverence and respect is sadly lacking in our society where billions of dollars are spent on pornography; where women are bought, sold, and traded by human traffickers; where sex is viewed as recreational activity without commitment; where virginity and fidelity are often mocked; and where motherhood is seen by some as a demeaning state of life.

 

The two unborn infants in the wombs of their mothers challenge our culture even more profoundly. The unborn child of Mary is recognized as the promised savior while still developing in the womb of Mary his mother. The one who feels his presence is also in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. Both unborn boys, Jesus and John the Baptist, are certainly more than just developing tissue. They are creations of God, developing persons at a particular stage in the continuum we call human life that moves from conception to natural death.

 

There are actually four central figures in Sunday’s Gospel, not just Elizabeth and Mary, but also John and Jesus.

 

Those two women and two unborn children reveal the saving action of God in our world. But just as importantly, they also point out the sin and evil that are darkening our society and moving it away from God.

 

© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Lord who came as our Savior

bless you with a wonderful Christmas Season

filled with joy, happiness, and peace!

EXCITED?

Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Third Sunday of Advent

Imagine for a moment you are in a bar crowded with football fans and unexpectedly Tom Brady, the quarterback with seven Super Bowl wins to his credit, comes into the bar and starts greeting the patrons.

 

Or imagine you are having dinner in a local restaurant crowded with diners, and suddenly Beyoncé and her husband Jay Z come into the room, wave and smile at you and the other customers, and then sit down at a nearby table.

 

Or imagine you are on a pilgrimage to Rome and during your visit to the Sistine Chapel a side door opens, and unannounced, Pope Francis walks into the room and starts greeting everyone.

 

In each situation, you and everyone else would be excited, joyful, and happy to have been in the right place at the right moment. Most likely, you would be eager to tell all your friends what happened.

 

Excitement, joy, happiness.

 

Those emotions are not ones we usually associate with Sunday Mass, but perhaps we should. After all, the one we meet in church is far greater than any quarterback, any celebrity couple, or any church leader.

 

Our readings for this Third Sunday of Advent are all about the excitement, joy, and happiness that should be ours here at the altar of the Lord.

 

In our First Reading (Zephaniah 3:14-18a), the Prophet Zephaniah tells the people of Israel to “Shout for joy….Be glad and exult with all your heart…the King of Israel, the Lord is in your midst.”

 

In the Responsorial Psalm (Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6), the Prophet Isaiah urges us, “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.”

 

In our Second Reading (Philippians 4;4-7), Paul instructs us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice.”

 

Then in our Gospel (Luke 3:10-18), Luke tells us about the excitement and expectation of the people who had been told by John the Baptist that “one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”

 

Their anticipation and excitement led them to ask John what they should do to be ready to meet the one who would baptize them “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

 

The Lord whose coming John preached and whose coming brought excitement to the people; the Lord whose presence, Zephaniah said, should cause the people to shout for joy; the Lord who Isaiah proclaimed was among his people; the Lord whose nearness led Paul to command the Philippians to rejoicethat very Lord is with us at Sunday Mass.

 

The Lord comes into the church to be with us as we gather for prayer. The Lord speaks to us, offering a message of hope, consolation, and challenge as the scriptures are proclaimed. The Lord invites us to share at his holy table, unites us to himself in a “holy communion” and renews his covenant, his relationship, with us.

 

In other words, the God of the universe, who brought us into existence, who sustains us from moment to moment, who promises that he will never abandon us to the darkness of everlasting deathhe is the one who comes to us each time Mass is celebrated.

 

If we truly appreciated what happens at Mass, we would be filled with joy, happiness, and excitement.

 

Unfortunately, we can be so wrapped up in ourselves, so entranced by our digital devices, so caught up in the concerns of the moment, that we do not notice the “celebrity” who is with us at Sunday Mass.

 

© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

OUR TIME, OUR ROLE

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Second Sunday of Advent

Good directors make certain that the actors in their plays appear on stage at the right time. They do not want their actors making an entrance before the moment indicated in the script.

 

God is like a good director. God makes certain that those who have special roles to play in the coming of his kingdom appear on “stage” at the right time.

 

For example, God placed Pope John XXIII at the head of his Church in 1958 when it was time for God’s Church to examine its place in the modern world. Led by the Spirit, Pope John convened the Second Vatican Council whose teachings have profoundly influenced the Church and how it relates to society.

 

God opened the eyes of a religious sister from Albania in 1946 to see that her mission was not to educate children but to reach out with love to the poorest of the poor. God placed Mother Teresa of Calcutta on the world stage to challenge people to see the poor as their brothers and sisters and to treat them with compassion.

 

God unexpectedly brought a Polish cardinal to the attention of the world in 1978. As Pope John Paul II, God’s chosen actor, powerfully led the Church for 27 years as he traveled from nation to nation proclaiming the Gospel.

 

What God has done in recent history, God has been doing throughout the history of salvation found in the Scriptures.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 3:1-6), we read how God sent John the Baptist “throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

 

That happened, according to the details given to us by Luke around the year 27 AD during “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.” That was the moment when God wanted John to ready the people of Judah for the coming of the Messiah. John was to “prepare the way of the Lord (and) make straight his paths.”

 

This Advent Season reminds us of the ministry of John the Baptist and his challenge to us to turn from sin so that the Lord may more fully enter our hearts and direct our lives.

 

But Sunday’s Gospel also lets us know that we are the ones that God has placed on the “stage” at this moment. In the eighth year of the papacy of Francis, in the first year of the presidency of Joseph Biden, in the fourth year of Phil Murphy serving as governor of New Jersey, we are the ones that God sends out to prepare people to open their hearts to Jesus and to the message of the Gospel.

 

We do that by letting others see how we live according to Gospel values; by our treatment of others, including our enemies; by how and where we spend our money and our time; by gathering with our fellow Catholics for prayer; and by letting Jesus Christ be our guide in life, and not society.

 

It was not by accident that John the Baptist walked out of the desert when he did and began his ministry. It is no accident that God, the Divine Director, has made us part of his Church and placed us here at this time and place.

 

Like Pope John, like Mother Teresa, like Pope John Paul, and like John the Baptist, may each one of us play our part in the coming of God’s Kingdom.

 

© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

promises, PROMISES

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The First Sunday of Advent

Promises. We all hear them.

 

For example, we hear promises from politicians, contractors, advertisers, and financial advisors.

 

Politicians promise that if elected, taxes will go down and services will improve.

 

Contractors promise that the work agreed on will be finished in six weeks.

 

Advertisers promise that their supplements will improve our memories and increase our energy.

 

Financial advisors promise that if we invest with them, our rate of return will outperform the stock market.

 

But those promises are often broken.

 

Politicians get elected and things remain about the same.

 

The six-week job takes the contractor 12 weeks to finish.

 

The supplements we faithfully take do little more than upset our stomachs.

 

And rather than outperforming the stock market, our investment loses 20% of its value.

 

Promises made. Promises broken.

 

We have good reason to be skeptical when it comes to promises.

 

The readings for this First Sunday of Advent relate to promises, specifically, the promise of Jesus to come again in glory.

 

In the Gospel (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36), Jesus tells his disciples, “the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

 

At the start of the Advent season, we are reminded of the Lord’s promise to return. That promise is also brought to mind at every Mass. Following the “Our Father,” the priest asks the Lord to keep us “safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

 

Some 2,000 years have passed and the Savior’s promised coming in glory has not yet happened. While we may wonder if and when that promise will be fulfilled, we need to remember that God always keeps his promises—but God does so in his time and in his way.

 

In our First Reading (Jeremiah 33:14-16), God reminded the people that the days were coming when he would fulfill the promise he made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah to “raise up for David a just shoot” who would do “what is right and just in the land.”

 

That prophecy, which the Church sees as referring to the first coming of Jesus, was not fulfilled until 600 years later.

 

There are other prophecies that speak of a Savior that go back even further in time, perhaps even to Genesis. There God told the serpent who had led the first humans astray, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.”

 

God may take his time, but God does keep his promises.

 

God also keeps his promises in his way. While the Gospel speaks of a dramatic return of the Lord with cosmic and earthshaking happenings, perhaps his return is happening in a quieter and more gradual way, which will only manifest itself in glory when all is ready. After all, the Lord’s first coming at Bethlehem was only noticed by a handful of people.

 

On this First Sunday of Advent, we are reminded of the Lord’s promise to come again in glory. As we wait for that day, Saint Paul in our Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2) asks the Lord to make us “blameless in holiness before our God and Father.”

 

The Lord has promised to return in glory. That is one promise in which we can believe!

 

© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski