DOING THE MORE IMPORTANT

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Fifteenth Sunday in ordinary Time

Throughout the Gospels we hear Jesus instructing his disciples. He commands them to love God and to love their neighbor. He tells them to forgive their enemies and to pray for their persecutors. He directs them to care for the poor and the suffering. He warns them not to let a desire for money, possessions, or power rule their lives.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 6:7-13), we hear the instructions that Jesus gives his apostles as he sends them out to preach repentance, to confront evil, and bring healing to the sick. He instructs them to take nothing with them “but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” They are, however, to wear sandals but not to take an extra tunic. He tells them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet.”

 

In contemporary language, as Jesus sends out his disciples he tells them to go forth with only the clothes on their backs, a good pair of shoes on their feet, and a walking stick in hand. They are to take no luggage, no supply of food, and no cash or credit cards. He instructs them to travel in pairs and to depend on the charity of others and to presume upon the hospitality of anyone who welcomes them.

 

Those are certainly challenging instructions – and they apply to us. For the directives of Jesus were meant not just for the disciples of his day but for all Christians. But what person today would leave home with no money, with no extra clothing, with no idea where they would stay, and with a mission more suited to starry-eyed evangelists than to realistic people.

 

We need to remember that when Jesus gave his apostles those instructions, he had mentored them for some time. They had seen his style and approach to ministry. They had witnessed him doing what he instructed them to do. He had prepared them for what he was asking.

 

If we are to follow those instructions of Jesus, we need to wisely and prudently apply them to our life situations. Standing penniless and homeless on a street corner, calling upon those walking by to repent, and trying to convince strangers to let us stay in their homes and eat at their tables, would meet with little, if any, success.

 

What Jesus is asking is that we encourage people to repent. That does not mean calling people sinners and threatening them with hell, but it means inviting them to embrace the joyful vision and understanding of life that Jesus proposed and lived – what he called the kingdom of God.

 

Jesus is asking that we not let money, possessions, and worries occupy our thoughts and drain our time and energy.

 

Jesus is asking that we not allow ourselves to be frozen by failure when people do not respond, but that we move on to the next person, just as Jesus did.

 

While we can easily disregard the instructions that Jesus gives in Sunday’s Gospel as impractical, we need to see what was behind them. Once we know that, then we will know what Jesus most wants us to do.

 

In other words, carrying a walking stick and having an empty wallet are not as important as doing our best to share the message of Jesus!

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

THICK SKIN

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Those who call us on our phones trying to sell some product or service or come to our doors soliciting our support for a charity or cause need to have a “thick skin!” They need to be able to endure rejection. A sensitive person could never deal with the criticism, insults and countless refusals that come with such work.

 

In this Sunday’s readings we hear about people who were dealing with rejection.

 

In the First Reading (Ezekiel 2:2-5), God sends the prophet Ezekiel to deliver his message to the Israelites. But God warns the prophet that he will face a hostile audience, people who are “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” People, who like their ancestors, have rebelled against God.

 

Then in our Gospel (Mark 6:1-6), Jesus encounters rejection and criticism. After preaching and healing in other places, he comes back home to Nazareth. There he is invited to teach in the synagogue. The hometown folks are astonished at his words, but that astonishment soon turns to rejection.

 

Who was Jesus to be preaching to them? What made him some kind of authority? Wasn’t he just the “carpenter, the son of Mary?” Didn’t they know all his relatives? “And they took offense at him.”

 

As Jesus concludes, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”

 

Certainly, Jesus suffered rejection many times in his ministry, but the rejection by those who knew him and knew his family may have been the most difficult to bear. Mark tells us, Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith.”

 

But despite the closed hearts and minds they encountered, despite the rejection they experienced, Ezekiel and Jesus continued to deliver God’s message.

 

They were energized by the Spirit of God. They were certain of their mission. They were convinced people needed to hear their life-giving words. They believed that being faithful to God was more important than winning the approval of their audience. All of that gave Ezekiel and Jesus the “thick skin” to continue on.

 

As followers of Christ, we have the task of sharing our faith, of inviting others to be part of the Church, of living according to the moral demands of the Gospel, and of putting our love of God into action by working for justice and peace and helping the suffering.

 

But when we do those things in a society that is increasingly hostile to religion and uncomfortable with those whose values and lifestyle align with the Gospel, we face the possibility of rejection, criticism, insult, and ridicule.

 

Because of the fear of such things, we often keep our faith and beliefs so quiet that perhaps the only time our coworkers and neighbors have any idea we are Christians is on Ash Wednesday or at Christmas.

 

If we are to fulfill the mission God has given us we need to call upon the power and strength of the Holy Spirit and we need to develop “thick skins” that can deal with rejection.

 

Whether people accept or reject us is not the important thing. As the prophet Ezekiel was told “whether they heed or resist…they shall know that a prophet has been among them.” In our case, whether they heed or resist, they shall know that Christians are among them!

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

GRACIOUS ACTION

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Thirteenth Sunday in ordinary Time

“Priests are always talking about money!” Everyone has heard that criticism at one time or another. And surprisingly it is a complaint often made by people who rarely are at Mass to hear what is being said from the pulpit.

 

But nevertheless, it is true that priests do speak about money. In speaking about money, priests are in good company. In this Sunday’s Second Reading (2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15), we hear Saint Paul talking about money. Paul is appealing to the Christians at Corinth to be generous in the special collection he is taking up to help the Church in Jerusalem.

 

The Christians of Jerusalem were suffering because of food shortages, economic difficulties, high taxation, plus the Church there was burdened as it cared for the poor and supported the work of missionaries.

 

As we read in this Sunday’s Second Reading, Paul asks the Christians of Corinth to support this collection in light of the “gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

As Paul explains, in this gracious act Jesus, though he “was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

 

Or as Paul puts it in his Letter to the Philippians, “Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, … he humbled himself.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

 

Paul tells the Christians at Corinth that as they have been saved by the humble, “gracious act” of Jesus Christ, so the Christians at Jerusalem should benefit by the Corinthians following the example of Jesus. As Paul puts it, sharing “your abundance at the present time should supply their needs.”

 

We see that gracious action of Jesus also illustrated in Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 5:21-43). In that passage we learn of Jesus healing a woman suffering from hemorrhages and coming to the aid of grieving parents whose young daughter had been taken by death.

 

Out of his compassion and generosity of spirit, Jesus healed a woman and restored life to a dead girl.

 

We ourselves have experienced the benefits of that same compassion and generosity. For the Son of God took on flesh, came among us, suffered, died, and rose so that we might be healed of sin and raised to a new relationship with God.

 

If we appreciated the care and generosity God has shown, and continues to show us, we would need no further motivation to make us generous and compassionate people.

 

The “gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ” should lead us to gracious generosity just as it led the Christians of Corinth to respond to the appeal of Saint Paul.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

A BIRTHDAY, A VOTE

SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2018

The Nativity of Saint JOHN THE BAPTIST

Only three birthdays have a place on the Church’s calendar. The birthday of Jesus on December 25, the birthday of Mary, September 8, and the birthday of John the Baptist, which we commemorate this Sunday, June 24.

 

This year the birthday of John the Baptist has added significance in light of what occurred in Ireland just one month ago. On Friday, May 25, the people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to repeal the eighth amendment to their constitution. This amendment, which became part of the Irish constitution in 1983, gave the unborn fetus an equal right to life to that of a pregnant woman. The approved change will now state that “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.”

 

The result of this vote comes as little surprise since we live in a world where abortion is regarded by more and more people as simply part of “health care.” Though how such a procedure helps the health of an unborn child is yet to be explained.

 

This Sunday’s readings dealing with the birth of John the Baptist proclaim a message that stands in sharp contrast to society’s seeming disregard for the value of unborn life.

 

In our First Reading from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 49:1-6), which the Church sees as referring to John the Baptist, we hear of the one formed as God’s servant from the womb of his mother.

 

Then in the Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 139), which follows that reading, the psalmist sings, “Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made.”

 

We read in Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 1:57-66, 80) that Elizabeth, instead of naming her baby son after Zechariah, as was expected, insists her boy be named John. For it was the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived.

 

Even in the womb, John the Baptist began to announce the coming of the Messiah. We are told that when the pregnant Mary came to visit Elizabeth who was in her sixth month, the developing John the Baptist recognized the presence of Mary’s unborn son. As Elizabeth told Mary, “For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44)

 

The conception, development, birth, and naming of John the Baptist certainly revealed that the plan of God was at work. So much so that “all who heard these things took them to heart, saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?’ For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”

That hand of the Lord is with every child. For at the moment of conception, it is God who brings a new life into existence.

 

When that developing life is terminated by abortion we need to ask ourselves a version of the question posed by the people in Sunday’s Gospel. When they saw the infant in the arms of his parents they wondered what the future would hold for that child. They wondered what role God had in mind for this child of Elizabeth and Zechariah.

 

When we consider the millions of children whose lives are ended before they can come forth into this world, we might ask ourselves, “What, then could these children have become?”

 

What blessings from God has our society so indifferently discarded? What prophets of God has our world aborted?

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

BEFORE & AFTER

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Before and after photos are often used by companies to show the effectiveness of their products.

 

There will be a picture of an obviously overweight and unhappy looking individual and then next to it there will be a picture of the same person physically fit, thinner, and self-confident.

 

We then learn that the amazing change was due to that person taking a certain supplement, using a particular piece of exercise equipment, or following a recommended diet program.

 

Of course, if you carefully read the small print below such photos you learn that such results are not necessarily typical. But those pictures attract our attention. They make us imagine such an outcome could be ours.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 4:26-34), we hear Jesus tell two parables that relate to before and after situations.

 

In the first parable we hear about a man who scatters seed and after a time it yields a tremendous harvest, though “he knows not how.”

 

Then in the second parable we learn about a mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth” that grows into “the largest of plants…so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

 

Certainly, very dramatic before and after situations. Scattered seed produces a great harvest, and the smallest of all seeds produces an immense plant.

 

While we often think of the seed as representing the word of God, we learn in Sunday’s Gospel that Jesus tells those parables to teach us about the kingdom of God. He begins by saying, “This is how it is with the kingdom of God.”

 

That kingdom grows and flourishes in a wondrous way. What it was like at its beginning is amazingly different from how it is today.

 

If we consider the kingdom of God in terms of the Church, we know that to be true. The Church began as a small, insignificant seed planted in the soil of Judea. Today it is spread throughout the world. It has grown from a handful of disciples to billions of Christians spanning some 2,000 years. Quite a before and after comparison.

 

But the kingdom of God refers not only to the Church, it also refers to the action and presence of God in our lives.

 

As Jesus tells us, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21). Or as the Revised King James translation puts it, “For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”

 

The Kingdom of God comes into our lives when we welcome the Lord into our hearts and allow ourselves to be moved by the Holy Spirit. By doing so we are slowly changed into those holy people that God calls us to be.

 

This Sunday might be a good day for us to consider our “before and after photos.” A day for us to consider our present relationship with Christ and his Church, and how different our lives would be if the Lord had not touched us, blessed us with the gift of faith, and nourished us with Word and Sacrament.

 

Sometimes, unless we see a before and after photo, we may not appreciate how much we have changed for the better, how much we have grown as Christians because God is working in our lives.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

nAMES AND LABELS

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We live at a time when many people who hold conflicting opinions, support rival political parties, arrive at different solutions to social problems, or embrace divergent philosophies of life no longer politely and respectfully discuss their differences.

 

Instead they launch personal attacks at those whose ideas diverge from their own. They call their opponents ignorant, stupid, ill-informed, close-minded, and hate-filled.

 

For example, a person who disagrees with them concerning immigration policy must be a xenophobe or a proponent of open borders. A person whose political views are not like their own is called a crazed liberal or a conservative demagogue. A person whose religious views contradict their beliefs is labeled a heretic.

 

We live at a time when many people dismiss and demonize those with different ideas.

 

We see that same attitude in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 3:20-35.) The scribes from Jerusalem who could not accept the preaching of Jesus, his forgiving of sins, his healing on the Sabbath, demonized Jesus. They claimed that Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul." They said his power was not from God but from “the prince of demons.”

 

But the religious authorities were not the only ones to criticize and attack Jesus. When his relatives saw how Jesus was conducting his ministry, they were embarrassed and upset. So much so that, as we read in Sunday’s Gospel, “they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Jesus was not behaving as they thought he should. He was angering those in authority; he was causing unwanted controversy.

 

Because the scribes and the relatives of Jesus were upset with the words and the actions of Jesus, they wrote him off and closed their minds to his message. After all, why would people who thought Jesus was “out of his mind” or in league with the “prince of demons” give him their attention.

 

Perhaps Sunday’s Gospel teaches us that we are not to be like them when it comes to dealing with people with whom we disagree.

 

We are not to call them crazy or demonize our opponents. Instead, as Jesus did, we are to continue to proclaim the truth of the Gospel and to do so with love and with respect.

 

As Jesus told us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good.”

 

In other words, love your opponents, and pray for those who attack your ideas, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on those who agree with you and those who differ with you.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

A RECEPTION FOLLOWS

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The most HOly Body and Blood of CHrist

Imagine going to church for the wedding of some dear friends, and immediately after the ceremony the invited guests simply went back to their own homes. There was no wedding reception, no dinner, no party, no nothing. We certainly would think it strange. (And I suppose, a little cheap!)

 

Wedding ceremonies are almost always followed by some type of wedding reception. Some are lavish, and some are simple, but relatives and friends expect something to follow the couple’s exchange of vows.

 

Such receptions allow the guests to congratulate and toast the newlyweds. But they also do something else.

 

Receptions allow the family and friends of the bride and groom to celebrate the new relationship they have with one another. For weddings do not just unite two individuals, they unite two families as well.

 

Those new family relationships are acknowledged and celebrated as people eat and drink, dance and talk.

 

Wedding receptions are the way we celebrate the new relationships that happen because of the marriage contract, the marriage covenant.

 

Wedding receptions can give us an insight into this Sunday’s feast of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

 

We usually understand this feast as being a reminder of the depth of God’s love for us. The Lord’s love is so great that he comes to us in consecrated bread and wine, so we might become one “holy communion” with him and our fellow Christians. We are also reminded that we are to be what we receive. We are to be the Body and Blood of Christ; we are to be the presence of Christ in the world.

 

But Sunday’s feast and the scripture readings chosen for the day also remind us of our covenant with God.

 

In Sunday’s First Reading (Exodus 24:3-8), we hear how Moses relates the expectations, “the words and ordinances of the Lord,” and the people respond by saying, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.”

 

After that exchange of “vows,” Moses takes the blood of sacrificed young bulls and sprinkles it upon the altar and upon the people. That sharing of blood symbolizes the relationship between God and the Chosen People. The words of the covenant are celebrated by that ritual.

 

In the Gospel (Mark 14:12-16, 22-26) that recounts the Last Supper, Jesus speaks of the new covenant that will come about through his blood which “will be shed for many.” In sharing the bread and wine of that Holy Meal, the disciples are drawn into a new relationship with God.

 

That new relationship with God, which is ours because of the sacrifice of Jesus, is also highlighted in the Second Reading (Hebrews 9:11-15). It proclaims Jesus to be the “mediator of a new covenant” that promises eternal life.

 

Each time we gather for Mass, we listen to the scriptures. We hear words that speak of the relationship that God has chosen to have with us. Then after hearing those words we celebrate that relationship as we share the Body and Blood of Christ at the table of the Lord.

 

We might say that just as the life-changing words spoken by the bride and groom are followed by a wedding reception, so the words that proclaim our relationship with the Lord are followed by a “reception,” the reception of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

TOUCHED BY ThE TRINITY

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Trinity Sunday

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which the Church places before us this coming Sunday, proclaims our belief that the One God we worship is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Three Divine Persons, One God.

 

We proclaim that belief each time we make the Sign of the Cross, each time we profess the Creed at Mass, each time we baptize a person using the words found in this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), and each time the Church prays “through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever.”

 

Yet an obvious question arises. How do we know that God is a Trinity of Persons? If humanity had come to a conception of God on its own, it might have conceived of the existence of a Supreme Being, a Creator, an All Sustaining Power, a Life-Force. But it would most likely never have arrived at the doctrine we proclaim this Sunday.

 

Our conviction that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not the result of our theorizing but the result of God revealing himself to us and blessing us with the gift of faith.

 

Our conviction that God is a Trinity comes from the scriptures. It comes from the words of Jesus who announced, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30) “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) It comes from the promise of Jesus who said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16)

 

Our conviction is based on the work of great theologians far more knowledgeable than ourselves and on the teachings of the Church – a Church that God promised would not be led astray, “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

 

All good reasons to believe. But perhaps there is another reason we believe. And it is this – we have personally experienced and come to know God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, calling God “Our Father,” we acknowledge ourselves as children anxious to be embraced and cared for by the God who created us.

 

When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we recognize that we are being drawn into a “holy communion” with Jesus, the one who, as Thomas proclaimed, is “Lord and God.”

 

When we create a place of silence and give ourselves to prayer, we feel the presence the Holy Spirit. We also recognize that same Holy Spirit in those thoughts and inspirations to goodness that come to our minds.

 

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a mystery that we will never fully understand. For how can the human mind comprehend the One beyond understanding, the One without beginning or end, the One who by very definition is beyond us?

 

But we have moments where the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit lovingly reaches out and touches our hearts.

 

This Sunday we are reminded to be aware of the presence and action of the Holy Trinity, for the One God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is involved in our lives!

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

FORGIVERS OF SIN

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pentecost Sunday

Certain Gospel passages are associated with certain sacraments.

 

For example, Jesus being baptized by John in the River Jordan relates to the Sacrament of Baptism.

 

Jesus changing water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana is associated with the Sacrament of Marriage.

 

Jesus feeding a crowd of thousands with five loaves and two fish recalls the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel for Pentecost (John 20:19-23), we have a passage that seems to relate to the Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We hear how the Risen Lord appears to his disciples that first Easter Sunday evening and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

 

Certainly, that association with the Sacrament of Reconciliation is correct. In fact, we might say those disciples had an experience of forgiveness and reconciliation when the Risen Lord said to them, “Peace be with you.” For they were the very same disciples, who despite their avowals of loyalty and faithfulness, had abandoned Jesus when he was arrested and later led to crucifixion. In wishing them “peace,” Jesus restored his relationship with them.

 

But we should not restrict those words in Sunday’s Gospel only to the Sacrament of Penance and only to the Church’s official ministers of reconciliation. Those words can apply to all Christians who are blessed with the Spirit given by Jesus.

 

Led by the Spirit, we are to forgive sins – the sins committed against us.  As we pray in the Our Father, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

 

We live in a society very much in need of people willing to forgive the sins, the injustices, the slights, the annoyances they experience in life. Rather than forgiveness, it seems there is an ever-increasing response of rage, anger, revenge, condemnation, insults, accusations, and vengeful behavior.

 

We see it displayed in road rage, vile rants on Twitter, hateful postings on Facebook, the silence of family members who refuse to talk to one another, political differences that deteriorate into tirades of four letter words, an inclination to think the worst of another’s motives, and a readiness to let perceived slights escalate to violence.

 

Those who show forgiveness, those who let things go, those who do not return injury with injury, are perceived as weak. Yet who was stronger than Jesus, the forgiving one? The one who blessed us with his Spirit that we might be agents of mercy in our day.

 

The words of Jesus, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained,” apply not only to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they apply to all Christians. We are all to be forgivers of sin! And perhaps it is by showing such forgiveness that we most powerfully proclaim that the Lord is risen and has blessed us with his Spirit!

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

A MOTHER'S LOVE

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

This Sunday, Mother’s Day, we lovingly honor the women who gave us birth, fed us, changed us, dressed us, raised us, comforted us in moments of sadness, encouraged us, cheered our successes, and along with our fathers were our protectors and guides as we grew to maturity.

 

Mothers also did something else for us. Mothers prayed for us and worried about us especially when we left their protective care, when we left the nest and went out into the world.

 

Mothers were concerned when we began school, went off to college, drove the family car in heavy traffic, spent a weekend away with friends, rented our first apartment, or started a job far from home.

 

And no matter their children’s ages, mothers continue to worry and pray for their sons and daughters as they make their way in the world.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 17:11-19), we hear Jesus at the Last Supper praying to his heavenly Father. Jesus prays for his disciples who will go out into the world just as he did. As he tells his heavenly Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.”

 

Like a caring mother or father, Jesus is worried about his disciples who will go into the world. He prays that they may be protected from “the evil one” and kept safe in a world where as Jesus says, “they do not belong.”

 

In his prayer, when Jesus uses the word “world,” he does not mean the material world. A world, that as we read in the Book of Genesis, God found to be “very good” when he created it.

 

Rather the “world,” as Jesus uses the word in Sunday’s reading, refers to sin and evil and to all those things opposed to the Gospel.

 

As Jesus tells his heavenly Father, “I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.”

 

The forces of the “world” opposed Jesus, and Jesus knew those same forces would oppose his disciples when they went forth from the “nest” of the Upper Room, into the mean streets of Jerusalem.

 

So, filled with concern for his disciples, and most likely worry as well, Jesus prays for his disciples. He knows that he will no longer be physically present to guide and direct them.

 

Mothers worry and pray for their children as they go forth into the world, a world of created beauty but also a world of human sin where the “evil one” can lead them away from all that is good, all that is in keeping with the Gospel.

 

On this day when we honor the women who have worried and prayed for us as we went out into the world, the Gospel reminds us that Jesus is worried and concerned about us as we go forth into the world.

 

Jesus is Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Holy One, and Messiah – all wonderful titles that tell us about Jesus. But Sunday’s Gospel and Sunday’s observance of Mother’s Day give us another appreciation of Jesus. They tell us that Jesus’ love for us is like the love of a mother concerned and worried about her children.

 


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WHAT IS YOUR GRADE?

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Students are graded by their professors. The professors are the ones who set the requirements of the course, teach the material, prepare the tests, score the examinations, and then determine what grade each student will receive.

 

But imagine if each student determined the requirements of the course, prepared the examination, checked it, and then awarded him or herself the final grade for the course.

 

Most likely the grades awarded by the students would be much higher than the grades given them by their professors. Certainly, no student would give him or herself a failing grade.

 

But students are not the only ones who would be generous and easygoing if they graded themselves. We often do the same thing when it comes to determining how we are living as followers of Jesus Christ.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (15:9-17), Jesus tells his disciples, “This I command you: love one another." Jesus tells us to be loving people.

 

If we had to evaluate how we were doing in keeping that commandment of the Lord most of us would give ourselves a passing grade. And many of us might give ourselves a far higher grade than that.

 

After all, if you or I were asked if we were loving people, our response would be affirmative. Our answer would not be a lie, for we would evaluate ourselves according to our understanding of what it means for us to be loving people. We would set the requirements, and would judge ourselves as meeting those benchmarks.

 

However, in this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus not only tells us to “love one another,” Jesus tells us what it means to love as he commands. Jesus sets the requirements we are to meet.

 

Jesus tells us that we are to love as he loved. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”

 

As followers of Jesus, we are to love just as Jesus loved the people he encountered in his life. His love was not just a matter of feelings, emotions, and kind words.

 

Jesus loved by showing mercy, compassion, forgiveness and acceptance to all people, even his enemies.

 

He loved by reaching out to the poor and powerless, the sick and the sinner.

 

He loved by standing up for what was right and good and condemning what was evil and hypocritical.

 

He loved by speaking the truth and boldly proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand, even to those who were unwilling to hear his message.

 

He loved us by laying down his life so that we might be raised up to a new relationship with God.

 

It’s easy for us as Christians to give ourselves a passing grade if we set the standards, if we determine the requirements.

 

But when we are judged by the Lord, he will use his standards, not ours. The grade that Jesus gives us will most likely not be as high as our own. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

CONSISTENT EFFORT

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

In most cases, success only comes with consistent and constant effort.

 

Musicians need to practice on a regular basis if they hope to succeed. They cannot devote just an hour a week to developing their talent and hope to become accomplished artists.

 

A person who wants to speak a foreign language must stay with it day in and day out despite the frustration that comes with trying to learn new words and grammatical constructions.

 

And of course, those who want to lose weight and better their health need to remain on a proper diet and exercise consistently. Working out once a week and eating the right foods every other day or so will not bring the desired results.

 

To succeed, we need to remain committed to whatever we hope to achieve.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 15:1-8), Jesus uses an image from agriculture to emphasize the consistent and constant effort that is required if we want to grow spiritually and strengthen our relationship with him.

 

Jesus says, “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.”

 

A branch cannot thrive if it is cut away from the vine. It needs to have a consistent connection with the life-giving vine. The same is true in our spiritual life.

 

We need to have a consistent and ongoing connection with the Lord. Such a connection happens through the Church. The Church is the way we remain connected to Jesus Christ.

 

As Pope Francis said, “We are not isolated and we are not Christians on an individual basis, each one on his or her own, no, our Christian identity is to belong! We are Christians because we belong to the Church…..There are those who believe they can maintain a personal, direct and immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside the communion and the mediation of the Church. These are dangerous and harmful temptations. These are, as the great Paul VI said, absurd dichotomies.”  (Pope Francis, General Audience, Wednesday, June 25, 2014)

 

The Church provides that connection to Jesus Christ through the celebration of the Sacraments, the proclamation of God’s Word, programs of faith formation, opportunities to engage in works of mercy and compassion, and above all through the celebration of Sunday Mass.

 

In our day, more and more people seem to be drifting away from the Church, drifting away from the place where the connection is made between Jesus, the life-giving vine, and the individual Christian. When that connection is broken, as Jesus tells us, the branch withers and dies.

 

It is strange that while people understand the necessity of consistent and constant effort to master music, to learn a foreign language, or to improve their health, many people fail to see that same necessity when it comes to remaining strong in their relationship with Christ and his Church.

 

“Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit… Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither.”

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

DIVERSITY & RELIGION

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

We live in a time in which diversity is highly valued. Laws and regulations mandate certain levels of diversity. Businesses and educational institutions try to ensure that their populations reflect the many categories of diversity proposed by society.

 

Those categories of diversity include race, color, gender, sexual orientation, place of birth, ethnic background, religion, age, disability, and socioeconomic status.

 

In this era of diversity no one group or category can be judged more highly than another. To say a certain group is superior is to expose one to charges of bias and bigotry. All are good, none are better.

 

This idea of diversity appears to have affected people’s view of religion. Whether a person is Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Mormon, or a follower of any other religion makes no difference. All beliefs are of equal value and to claim one is better is the equivalent of saying one race or ethnic group is superior to another.

 

Such an understanding of diversity when it comes to religious belief is contradicted by what we hear in this Sunday’s readings.

 

In the First Reading (Acts 4:8-12), Saint Peter tells his Jewish listeners that his cure of a crippled man was done through the power of Jesus Christ the Nazorean. Peter then boldly asserts, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved."  As Jesus himself put it, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

 

In Sunday’s Gospel Reading (John 10:11-18), Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. “I know mine and mine know me.”

 

Jesus then speaks of the day when the sheep who do not belong to his fold will hear his voice and then “there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus makes a distinction between those who are part of his flock today and those he hopes to gather to himself in the future. All the sheep are not the same.

 

Knowing Jesus Christ, believing in him, being part of his flock is critically important. If it were not, why would Jesus have sent out his disciples to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth? Why would Christians down through the ages have sought to tell others about Jesus and to bring them into a relationship with Christ and his Church? And why, in the first place, would the Son of God have taken on flesh and come among us?

 

While people may claim all religions are the same, that is not the case. There is only one religion founded on Jesus Christ, the Risen One. In him, we are brought into a new relationship with God. In him, we are healed of all those things that cripple our spirits. In him, we are assured of new and everlasting life.

 

While our society promotes diversity in all things, including religion, today’s readings proclaim Jesus Christ is the one way to salvation. “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved."

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

FUTURE ANGELS?

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Third Sunday of Easter

“When we die, do we become angels?” That was the question that recently appeared in the question and answer column of Saint Anthony Messenger, a popular Catholic magazine.

 

An interesting question. When we die and are judged worthy of a place in heaven, do we become spiritual beings? Are we transformed into angels? 

 

The answer might seem to be YES!

 

After all, when someone dies, people will often tell the grieving family members that they now have an angel in heaven to watch over them.

 

The death of a child sometimes leads people to comfort the distraught parents by saying that God wanted another angel in heaven.

 

And we often see pictures in which the deceased are depicted with wings, playing harps, and floating through the heavens.

 

This Sunday’s Gospel Reading (Luke 24:35-48) provides us with a different answer, and that answer is NO.

 

When Jesus, the one who died and rose, returned to his disciples, he did not come as an angel. He did not return as a purely spiritual being.

 

Sunday’s Gospel emphasizes the bodily nature of the Risen Lord.

 

We are told that the two disciples who met the Risen Lord as they walked home to Emmaus came to know him in the breaking of bread. They recognized him as he sat at a table to share a meal.

 

When the Lord came to his disciples, who were gathered in fear in the Upper Room, he made it clear he was no ghost, no bodiless spirit. He told them, “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have."

 

Then to emphasize his bodily nature, the Risen Lord asked for something to eat. “They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.”

 

Angels do not have flesh and bones, angels do not sit at dinner tables, angels do not eat left-over fish.

 

As we profess in the Creed, Jesus “suffered death and was buried and rose again on the third day.”

 

As Christians, we look forward “to the resurrection of the dead.” We look forward to the time when we will be raised to new life, and Christ “will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.” (Philippians 3:21) 

 

The eternal life that awaits those who are faithful to the Lord is not some angel-like existence but an eternal existence – body and spirit.

 

How this happens and what our resurrected bodies will be like is, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells, beyond our understanding. (Catechism #1000)

 

But the certainty of the resurrection of the body is seen in Jesus Christ. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also.” (Romans 8:11)

 

This Easter Season proclaims the Good News that those who are faithful to the Lord become far more than angels, on the last day, like Jesus, they are raised to new and eternal life.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

PROOF REQUIRED

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The second Sunday of Easter

If we were told that something absolutely extraordinary had happened, something that had never occurred before, we would be skeptical. We would look for some sort of proof, some confirmation before we believed what we were told. We would be like Thomas in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 20:19-31).

 

That first Easter Sunday evening when his fellow disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord," Thomas refused to believe what he was told. He demanded proof.

 

Thomas knew what everyone else knew. A person, who was crucified by skilled Roman executioners and locked away in a tomb, did not suddenly emerge and start holding conversations with people.

 

Before Thomas would believe that the crucified Jesus had risen from the dead he wanted proof. He wanted the same proof his fellow disciples received. They believed because they saw for themselves.

 

Earlier that day when Mary Magdalene had told Peter and John about the empty tomb, they ran to investigate. Peter and John did not take Mary’s word that the body of Jesus was not in the tomb.

 

Later that same day when Mary reported her encounter with the Risen Lord outside the tomb, the disciples were still skeptical. They remained behind locked doors, hiding in fear.

 

The disciples did not believe until they saw the Lord for themselves, until they had proof. Thomas required the same thing. As he said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

 

The following Sunday, the Risen Lord came to his disciples. He stood before Thomas and offered him the proof he required. "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe."

 

In response Thomas made his famous profession of faith, "My Lord and my God!"

 

Today, there are many people like Thomas. They hear the message of the Gospel that proclaims that Jesus is alive and risen, that he is Savior and Lord, but they look for proof. Like Thomas, they want to see for themselves. They don’t want to be taken in by “fake news.”

 

We are the ones who have to provide the proof they are seeking. We do that by how we live as members of the Church, by how we live as members of the Body of Christ.

 

We see an example of the early Church doing just that in Sunday’s first reading. (Acts 4: 32-35) There we read, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common….There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.”

 

The lives of those first Christians were so transformed that it was evident that something amazing had happened to bring about such a radical change.

 

They went from being self-concerned to being concerned about others. They went from being disconnected individuals to being a community of mutual love. They went from holding tight to money and possessions to letting them go to serve the needs of others.

 

Those Christians were the proof of the Resurrection. We might say they were the “nailmarks” and “side” of Christ that people could see and so come to believe in the Risen Lord.

 

If people today are skeptical about the Resurrection of Jesus, it may be our fault. We may not be giving them the proof they need.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

Easter & april Fools

Sunday, april 1, 2018

easter Sunday

This year of 2018 has some remarkable coincidences when it comes to the dates of two religious and two secular observances.

 

If you remember, Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent, fell on February 14, Valentine’s Day. That has not happened since 1945.

 

This coming Sunday, Easter Sunday, the first day of the season of Easter, falls on April 1, April Fools’ Day. That has not occurred since 1956.

 

That means that people under the age of 73 have not experienced Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday falling in the very same year on dates with secular associations. Interestingly, the same thing will happen in 2029.

 

This year’s coincidence of dates can help us better appreciate the day that started the observance of Lent and the day that begins the joy of the Easter Season.

 

On Ash Wednesday, we were marked with ashes as a sign that we would do our best to respond to the call of Lent to “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Having the date fall on Valentine’s Day served as a reminder that the ashes on our foreheads were also signs of God’s love for us.

 

God calls us to repentance because God’s heart embraces us sinners! God knows that if we turn from sin and allow him into our lives we will become those good and holy people that God wishes us to be.

 

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the Lord’s victory over evil, sin, darkness, and death. The Lord Jesus, crucified on Good Friday, walks out of the tomb on Easter Sunday.

 

The fact that Easter Sunday falls on April Fools’ Day can give us further insight into what we profess to be the most important event in human history, namely, the Resurrection of Jesus.

 

The forces of darkness conspire to do their best to play an April Fools’ Day hoax on us the whole year long. In fact, they have done that throughout human history. They tell us that our human lives have no meaning. We live but for a number of years and then we fall into nothingness.

 

The forces of darkness and death tell us to live only for the moment and only for ourselves. They tell us that God does not exist, and if God should be there, God does not care about us. Our lives are of no more significance than the flash of a lightning bug in the midst of a dark forest.

 

That is a misunderstanding of life – that is the hoax that is put forth by sin and by the forces of evil.

 

Easter Sunday proclaims the truth. The Gospel of Easter Sunday (John 20:1-9) proclaims that Jesus is risen. He is the proof that life continues, that those who do the Father’s will are brought to new and endless life beyond the grave. Jesus is our Resurrection and our Life.

 

Easter Sunday, falling on the day it does, warns us not to be taken in by the hoax put forth by a godless world. Easter Sunday tells us not to be April fools!

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

THE RIGHT QUESTION

Sunday, March 25, 2018

PALM Sunday of THE Passion of the Lord

Sometimes when we are looking for an answer, we ask the wrong question.

 

For example, if a co-worker, who obviously enjoys his or her job and is very happy at the company, suddenly leaves, we might ask, “Why did you quit?” That question assumes that quitting was something that worker wanted to do.

 

But if we asked, “Why were you let go?” that question would imply something very different. It would convey our belief that the person’s leaving was not his or her personal decision. Those in higher management positions evidently decided to terminate our co-worker’s employment.

 

This Sunday, Passion Sunday, we hear the account of the suffering and death of Jesus as recorded by Saint Mark (Mark 14:1-15:47), very likely the earliest account of the Passion found in the New Testament.

 

After hearing Sunday’s Gospel we might ask, “Why? Why did Jesus die on the cross?”

 

Asking the question that way would seem to imply that dying on the cross was something Jesus wanted to do.

 

We might think that Jesus embraced the cross since it was what the Father expected. It was the price that had to be paid to ransom humanity from sin and death and restore humanity’s relationship with God.

 

So out of love for us, out of obedience to the Father, Jesus made the decision to walk the path that lead from the Upper Room, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the courtyard of the high priest, to the palace of Pilate, and finally to Golgotha and death on the cross.

 

However, that was not a walk that Jesus sought out. As Mark tells us, Jesus “fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him.”

 

Furthermore, if we believe that Jesus chose his death to satisfy the justice of God and gain forgiveness for humanity, that contradicts the image of God found in the parable of the Prodigal Son. There the father forgives his wayward son and joyously restores him to the family. The father makes no demand for satisfaction. He requires no acts of penance.

 

Perhaps asking, “Why did Jesus die on the cross” is not the right question. Perhaps we need to ask, “Why was Jesus killed?”

 

That question implies that Jesus was the victim of evil. The cross was not his desire, nor the desire of his heavenly Father.

 

Jesus was killed, thrown on the cross by religious leaders afraid of losing their position, afraid of opening their hearts to what God was doing, afraid of what might happen if Rome felt its power was being questioned.

 

Jesus was killed because a Roman governor was afraid of a crowd and unwilling to risk a riot to save a Jewish nobody who some claimed to be a king.

 

Jesus was killed because a crowd could be easily swayed and scream for crucifixion.

 

We should not ask, “Why did Jesus die?” Rather we should ask, “Why was Jesus killed?” Asking that second question will help us to see that the Passion of Jesus was not something desired by Jesus nor required by the Father. Rather it was something that came about because sin, evil, and darkness were at work in human hearts. Or as Jesus himself put it “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” (John 3:19)

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

TO KNOW OR NOT TO KNOW?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Each one of us knows our own date of birth. We know the day, the month, the year, and some of us even know the day of the week and the exact moment when we appeared on earth.

 

We write down that date on countless forms and it serves as a means of identification. We also highlight that particular day as we annually celebrate another birthday.

 

Every person knows the date of his or her birth better than any other date on the calendar.

But I doubt few people would like to know their date of death. We might ask the Mother of God to “pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.” But we most probably do not want to know when that particular hour will arrive for each of us. We hope it will be far in the future!

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 12:20-33) we hear Jesus speaking of his approaching death. He is very aware that the hour is approaching when he will face suffering and the cross. As he tells Peter and Andrew, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

 

Sharing our humanity, Jesus felt fear and trepidation as the hour of his death drew near. As he said "I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'?” In response, “a voice came from heaven.”

 

Jesus faces the coming hour of his death strengthened by the Father and aware that his being lifted up on the cross would bring salvation and proclaim the depth of God’s love for his people. As Jesus said, “But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name."

 

In the Gospel of John, this scene is the equivalent of the Agony in the Garden described in the other three Gospels. In John’s Gospel there is no account of Jesus undergoing intense sorrow and distress as he prays, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Jesus simply goes into the Garden, and there he confronts his betrayer.

 

Jesus is ready for the hour of his death for he knows it to be the hour of his glorification. By his death he would reveal God’s love for his people and in the Resurrection God would reveal Jesus’ victory over sin and death.

 

The date each of us was born is something we know and celebrate, but the day we will die is something most of us would rather not know.

 

Yet when it does come, those who follow Jesus can face that hour knowing that it is not the end of our existence but our being drawn into new life with the Lord. As Jesus tells us, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

CONSEQUENCES

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Some decisions can have negative consequences.

 

If I decide not to study, to cut classes, and to ignore course assignments, I should not be stunned to earn a failing grade.  

 

If I decide to speed at 50 miles per hour through a residential neighborhood, I should not be shocked to be stopped by the police, issued a ticket, and perhaps have my license suspended.

 

If I decide to ignore my monthly car payments, I should not be surprised if my car is repossessed and I need to take public transportation to work.

 

Yet when it comes to my spiritual life and my relationship with God, I can mistakenly conclude that my eternal happiness is assured no matter what decisions I make.

 

After all, in Sunday’s Gospel (John 3:14-21) we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Furthermore, we are assured that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

 

Certainly, those words can give us reason to believe that our salvation is guaranteed, that what we do makes little difference. It is what Christ has done on the cross that makes all the difference.

 

Yet if we look carefully at Sunday’s readings, we find they speak about decisions and the consequences that result from those decisions.

 

In our First Reading from the Second Book of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23), we hear how the Jewish people’s decision to ignore the warning of God’s prophets resulted in the people’s removal to Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple.

 

Then in the Gospel, in addition to its words of comfort and salvation, we read that those who decide not to believe in Jesus are condemned. Those who decide for darkness remove themselves from the light. “This is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light.”

 

If decisions against God and for evil had no consequences, we would all be living in the Garden of Paradise. There would have been no need that “the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

 

This Lent we are reminded to examine the decisions we are making when it comes to our relationship with God, for like all decisions they have consequences. In fact, they have eternal consequences.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WHAT TEMPLE?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Third Sunday of Lent

Just because people hear what someone is saying does not mean they understand what is being said.

 

For example, if someone on a buffet line in the company cafeteria turns to her employer and says, “I can’t put another thing on my plate,” we might assume the person is saying that her plate is so filled with food that it does not have room for one more item.

 

However, the words, “I can’t put another thing on my plate,” might have nothing to do with food. If earlier in the day the employer had assigned that individual a large project with a looming deadline, the person might be telling her employer that she could not take on another project. She could not put another thing on her “plate.”

 

The words are the same, but the meanings are different. In one case, “plate” relates to food; in the other case, it relates to a person’s responsibilities.

 

We see the same thing in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 2:13-25) when it comes to the word “temple.”

 

In Sunday’s reading we hear how Jesus comes into the temple in Jerusalem and drives out the money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice. They were making his “Father’s house a marketplace.”

 

When the Jewish leaders demand to know by what authority Jesus acts as he does, he replies, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

 

For the Jews who heard those words, they made no sense. For how could Jesus rebuild a temple in just three days that had taken 46 years to construct? Impossible.

 

But as John tells us Jesus “was speaking about the temple of his body.” That temple would be destroyed and in three days it would be raised up.

 

For the Jews, the word “temple” was the building, for Jesus it was his body – same word, two different meanings.

 

That understanding can help us to relate Sunday’s Gospel to our own lives.

 

We sometimes apply the reading to the institutional church with its flaws, failings and sinfulness. The church, like the temple of old, needs cleansing and renewal. Every Catholic can make a list of things that he or she believes needs changing in the church.

 

But if we understand the “temple” as Jesus used the word, then the reading directs our attention not so much to the church but to us.

 

If we honestly look at ourselves, we can see that our “temples” are in need of cleansing and renewal. All too often we allow sin, especially the sins of greed, materialism, and selfishness to infiltrate our lives.

 

Just consider how much more time, effort, worry, and concern we give to our finances, our jobs, and the accumulation of wealth than we do to our spiritual lives and our relationship with God.

 

How we understand the word “temple” will determine how we see this Sunday’s Gospel. Is it an interesting incident in the life of Jesus? Is it a critique of the church? Or is it a Lenten challenge for us to examine our lives?

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

CONTEXT HELPS

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Second Sunday of Lent


When we begin reading a story, we usually open to the first page. We start at the beginning and as we read page after page we come to know the setting, the situation, and the characters involved. The story gradually comes to life as we turn the pages.

 

If we open to the middle of a book that we have never read before and start reading, we are lost. It takes us time to understand what is happening, what occurred earlier, why the characters are behaving in certain ways, and how those characters relate to one another.

 

The best way to understand a story is to read it from the beginning. In that way, we can see things in context.

 

This Sunday’s Gospel Reading (Mark 9:2-12), which relates the transfiguration of Jesus, is from the middle part of Mark’s Gospel.

 

At the moment of the transfiguration, Jesus shines with divine glory. Moses and Elijah appear with him. And a voice from the heavens declares, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

 

We can understand the transfiguration as a moment of divine revelation, but we can get a better appreciation of that event if we know what occurred earlier. Our understanding grows when we put the event in context.

 

In the preceding chapter of his Gospel, Mark tells us about the first prediction that Jesus made of his coming passion and death. Mark says that Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31)

 

On hearing this, Peter was so upset with Jesus that he "took him aside and began to rebuke." A suffering Messiah was not what Peter had in mind when he professed, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29)

 

Not only that, but after predicting his passion, Jesus spoke of the suffering that awaited his disciples. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark8:34)

 

Obviously, Peter and the other disciples must have been confused and concerned upon hearing what Jesus was saying about himself and about their future.

 

So six days later, Jesus decides to take Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. There Jesus is revealed in glory as God’s beloved Son and as the fulfillment of the law and prophets represented by Moses and Elijah.

 

In response, Peter exclaims “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”

 

Perhaps Peter spoke as he did because witnessing the transfiguration reaffirmed Peter’s faith in Jesus. It also helped him to realize that the path Jesus was taking conformed to the Father’s will. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

 

Peter needed that mountaintop experience.

 

As followers of Jesus, we also need experiences that reaffirm our faith. That is one of the reasons why we gather for Sunday Mass.

 

We gather around the altar, our holy mountain. Here we listen to the word of God. Here Jesus reveals himself to us not in a blinding light but in consecrated bread and wine. Here we are strengthened to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

 

If we truly understood and appreciated what happens at Mass, like Peter, we too would say, Lord, “it is good that we are here!”

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

REPENTING & BELIEVING

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The First Sunday of Lent

We all have had the experience of hearing something and then thinking, I’ve heard that somewhere before.

 

We may have such an experience as we listen to this Sunday’s Gospel. (Mark 1:12-15) There Jesus proclaims, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

 

Those words sound familiar for we most likely heard them if we were in church on Ash Wednesday.

 

“Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” are the words that are usually said as the foreheads of believers are marked with ashes from the burnt palm of last Passion Sunday.

 

They are also the words that Jesus addresses to us as the Gospel is proclaimed on the First Sunday of the Lent.

 

They are words we need to hear this Sunday, every day during Lent, and beyond.

 

For repenting and believing in the Gospel do not happen in a moment, nor are they actions that just happen once in a lifetime.

 

Repenting means turning away from selfishness, self-centeredness, greed, anger, jealousy, hatred, lust, pornography, self-indulgence, materialism, slander, gossip, violence, and from all the other sins that lessen our dignity as children of God. Such repenting does not happen in an instant, any more than any positive change in life happens in a moment.

 

Just as it takes continuous effort to remain healthy, to remain on a diet, or to replace a bad habit with a good one – so too with repentance.

 

While we might wish that simply saying, “Lord, I repent, I turn my life over to you,” would transform our behavior and way of thinking in an instant, and that positive change would continue unabated, that is not the case.

 

The same is true when it comes to believing in the Gospel. Such belief is far more than simply professing that the Gospel accounts are God’s inspired word. It is more than saying “I believe” to the dogmas of faith founded on those writings. Believing in the Gospel means having a relationship with the Lord Jesus, a relationship that guides our lives.

 

We need to remember that when Jesus first spoke those words, there was no written Gospel, no book for him to hold up and say, “Read this. Believe this.” His words, his life, his example were the Gospel.

 

But like any relationship, a relationship with Jesus Christ, the living Gospel, takes continuous effort, care and attention. Yes, there may be love at first sight, but such “first-sight love” dies without care, it does not last.

 

As Lent begins, Jesus tells us once again, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” The fact that we keep hearing those words shows the Lord’s desire for us to turn from sin and to deepen our relationship with him.

 

“Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Those are actions we need to take this Lent and throughout our lives.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

SCREENING FOR SIN

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

What is the number one disease in the United States?

 

If we were asked that question, we might respond cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s, chronic respiratory disease, or some other serious illness. The correct answer is heart disease.

 

However, after reading the scriptures we might conclude that the number one disease at the time of Jesus was leprosy. It was the most feared and dreaded of diseases. It destroyed the human body slowly and painfully and its diagnosis meant banishment from the community and isolation from loved ones.

 

The Gospels contain three accounts of Jesus curing men of leprosy. We hear one of those accounts in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1:40-45).

 

We also have a report of Jesus curing ten men of leprosy at one time (Luke 17:11-19). Ten were cured but only one returned to give thanks to Jesus.

 

There is no doubt that leprosy is a horrible disease. But there can be one thing said for that disease – if you have leprosy, you know it. That disease of the skin shows itself in rashes, ulcers, deformities, and nerve damage. Leprosy cannot be missed.

 

That cannot be said for many other diseases. For example, a person can have cancer and not realize it until obvious symptoms appear. By then the cancer has most likely spread and may be very difficult to treat.

 

That is why we are urged to have annual physical examinations and health screenings such as colonoscopies, mammograms, blood tests, and body scans to detect diseases whose presence can be missed.

 

Examinations and screenings are also necessary when it comes to our spiritual health. There are some sins, some spiritual diseases, that we cannot miss, such as murder, robbery, and adultery. They are like leprosy, they stand out.

 

However, sin is not always so apparent, especially in our society where sin is often excused or mistaken for something benign.

 

For example, pornography, which is ever-more violent, is considered only a form of adult entertainment. Drugs, which harm the body and numb the mind, are regarded as recreational substances. Vile, false, and reputation-destroying comments on social media are no longer slanders and slurs but only opinions. The destruction of unborn life is contorted to be a form of health care. Spending hours immersed in a digital world that blinds us to our responsibilities to others and to society is judged to be harmless.

 

Sin exists, and it negatively affects our spiritual lives whether we recognize it or not.

 

The coming season of Lent is a time for prayer, penance, and acts of charity. But perhaps more than ever this Lent needs to be a time for us to look at our lives and recognize the sins that are there, especially those sins we often fail to see.

 

It we think we are sin free, we need to examine our lives even more closely, for St. John tells us. "It we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves.",  (1 John 1:8)

 

Today the number one disease of the body is heart disease, at the time of the Gospels it was leprosy. But then and today the number one disease of the spirit remains the same. It is sin!

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

Better than Miracles

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exorcisms and miracles caught the attention of people at the time of Jesus, and they still do! A report of an exorcism or miracle will draw a crowd, become a trending topic on Twitter, and attract the interest of the local and national media.

 

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus drove out an unclean spirit from a possessed man and “his fame spread everywhere throughout the region.”

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1;29-39), Jesus’ fame continues to spread. He goes to the home of Simon and Andrew and there he raises Simon’s mother-in-law from her sick bed and restores her to health. That miracle and the exorcism of the unclean spirit led the residents of Capernaum to bring their ill and possessed to the door of Simon and Andrew’s home. In response, Mark tells us that Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases and he drove out many demons.”

 

The next day, the disciples find Jesus, who had gone off to pray, and breathlessly tell him, “Everyone is looking for you!” Obviously, those exorcisms and miracles were attracting crowds.

 

Rather than going with his disciples to capitalize on his fame as an exorcist and healer, Jesus refuses. He tells his disciples that his primary mission is to preach. “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come.”

 

Jesus came to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God, to open the eyes of people to what God was doing in the world, and to call people to turn from darkness and sin and to embrace the light of God’s mercy and love. His exorcisms and miracles were there to reinforce his message, but they were not the thrust of his ministry.

 

When Jesus gathered people, he preached. We have the Sermon on Mount, not the Miracle on the Mount. And when Jesus did the miraculous, he often ordered those who had been healed or freed of their demons to tell no one.

 

For example, he told the leper he healed, "See that you tell no one anything."  (Mark 1:44.) After giving life to the dead daughter of Jairus. Jesus "gave strict orders that no one should know this." (Mark 5:43)

 

Preaching was the primary ministry of Jesus, and it was the central ministry Jesus gave to his Church. As he told his disciples when he was about to return to his Father, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

 

While healings and exorcisms can draw the attention of people, that attention soon fades as other attractions come along. That is especially true in our day when the novel, the strange, the unexpected, the unusual all compete for attention and a fickle public keeps changing its focus.

 

People are most affected by the preaching of the Gospel, those words inspired by the Spirit of God change hearts and transform lives. We are proof of that. We are Christians not because we have witnessed miraculous healings and wondrous exorcisms but because we have been touched by the preaching of the Gospel.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WITH AUTHORITY

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

College students are often given the assignment of writing a thesis. Such an assignment requires them to formulate a thesis statement and then support that statement.

 

For example, a student might write, “During the past two years electric powered vehicles have not significantly reduced pollution in the state of California.”

 

The student would then have to provide statistics, citations from scientific studies, quotations from respected experts, and a listing of scholarly publications that support that thesis statement.

 

The thesis would be graded on how well the student proved his or her statement. The student’s statement would need confirmation from established authorities. It could not stand on its own.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1:21-28), the people in the synagogue at Capernaum are astonished at the teaching of Jesus “for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

 

When the scribes taught, they acted like students supporting their thesis statements. The scribes cited noted rabbis, recognized religious authorities, and accepted teachings from the past to validate what they were saying. They made certain to show that their statements were in accord with doctrine and precedent.

 

Jesus was different. He did not act like the scribes, he taught on his own authority.

 

Before coming to the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus had begun his teaching by proclaiming, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” We might say this was his thesis statement.

 

Then in the synagogue he proves the kingdom of God is present as he drives a demon out of a possessed man. Jesus does so simply by his words. “Quiet! Come out of him.”

 

His words are like the powerful words of God spoken in the Book of Genesis. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” Creation happened when God spoke. Jesus speaks, and things happen. Demons flee, the blind see, the lame walk, and the dead are raised to life.

 

The authority of Jesus was accepted because his words were seen as having power. As the expelled demon realized, the words of Jesus were the words of “the Holy One of God!"

 

The words of Jesus continue to have power and authority.

 

His words are heard as the Gospel is proclaimed and lives are changed.

 

Words given by Jesus are spoken as water is poured and people are reborn as children of God.

 

The words of Jesus are spoken over bread and wine and simple food is transformed into the very presence of God.

 

Unlike the words of a thesis statement or the words of the scribes, the words of Jesus stand on their own. They need no human confirmation. They have divine authority!

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

A SURPRISING RESPONSE

Sunday, January 21, 2018

THe Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Imagine if someone you just met at a party said, “Marry me!”

 

Or if the person who happened to be sitting next to you at a concert turned to you and said, “Be my best friend.”

 

Or if a stranger you met as you arrived at work told you, “Quit your job. Come work for me.”

 

You would be shocked by any such proposals. You would certainly not do what was asked and you would most likely get far away from a person making any such request.

 

However, in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1:14-20), four people were suddenly asked to do something just as surprising, and they agreed!

 

We are told that Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. There he saw two fishermen, Simon and Andrew, hard at work. He told those two brothers, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."

 

Amazingly they did what Jesus asked. Without questioning what would be involved, Simon and Andrew left their boat, their nets, and their homes and followed the man who invited them to change their lives.

 

As Jesus continued his walk along the shore, he saw another set of brothers, James and John. They were busy mending their fishing nets. Jesus told them what he had told Simon and Andrew. Just as astonishingly, they also agreed to go with him. They left their father Zebedee with ripped fishing nets and followed after Jesus.

 

What would prompt practical, hardworking fishermen to abandon their jobs and their responsibilities because someone walking by said, “Follow me.”

 

We might conclude that since Jesus was God, he could get anyone to do whatever he asked. If Jesus could walk on water, multiply loaves and fish, heal the sick, and raise the dead, he certainly could have used his divine power to have people do what he wanted.

 

However, we know that Jesus only invited, he never commanded. If he did, then he would have compelled all his listeners to follow his teachings.

 

Perhaps Simon, Andrew, James, and John responded as they did because this was not the first time they had encountered Jesus.

 

Perhaps they had been listening to his preaching for some time. Perhaps they had been discussing his words among themselves. Perhaps they wanted to give their lives to something more than pulling fish out of the sea.

 

In telling the story of the call of those four men, Mark may have dramatically condensed a more gradual process whereby Simon, Andrew, James, and John moved away from being fisherman to being disciples.

 

We experience such a gradual process in our own lives. We can certainly have a dramatic moment of conversion in which we radically change our understanding of life and our way of living. But most of the time that conversion, that growing in holiness, is a gradual process – one that has its steps backward as well as forward.

 

As we listen to the scriptures, as we receive the sacraments, as we gather as God’s Church, we come into the presence of the Lord who keeps calling us to follow him a little more.

 

This Sunday’s Gospel shows a dramatic response when Jesus says, “Follow me.” But we need to remember that the point is not how quickly or gradually Simon, Andrew, James, and John may have reacted, but rather that they did respond to the Lord’s invitation. And that response is something the Lord is also asking of us.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

AN IMPLICATION OF CHRISTMAS

Sunday, January 14, 2018

THe Second Sunday in Ordinary TIme

At this time in January all that is left of the Christmas Season are credit cards bills waiting to be paid, unwanted gifts that have yet to be returned or exchanged, leftover holiday cookies, and evergreen needles that continue to avoid the vacuum cleaner.

 

However, this Sunday’s Second Reading from Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20), tells us that what we celebrated at Christmas has implications for our lives throughout the year.

 

Christmas highlighted our belief that God took on flesh and walked among his people. God became intimately involved with his creation.

 

And that is something that continues to happen. At our Baptism, God came into our lives. God chose us to be part of the Church, part of the Body of Christ. The Spirit of God came to dwell within us. We might say Christmas happened in us.

 

As Saint Paul tells us, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? … Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”

 

That is an amazing fact. God dwells in us. That reality is visibly proclaimed each time we receive Holy Communion. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The Lord comes to dwell within us, the Lord comes into our “temple.”

 

Since that is what we believe, it follows that we should reverence and care for our bodies and the bodies of others. That belief led Saint Paul to conclude, “The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.”

 

Unfortunately, we live in a society where the human body, the body made for the Lord, is not reverenced and respected by many people.

 

Sexual abuse, harassment, and assault, which seem increasingly prevalent, degrade the bodies of women and men.

 

Human trafficking, today’s new slave trade, makes the bodies of its victims into commodities to be bought, sold, and traded.

 

Pornography, readily available on any computer or smart phone, debases the dignity of the human body and warps the thoughts and emotions of those who view its images. 

 

Casual sexual activity, promoted by a hookup culture, makes the bodies of women and men into toys to be used and then abandoned.

 

In the face of such behavior, the Church promotes very counter-cultural values.

If God took on a human body and was born as the Child of Bethlehem, then the bodies of all people are worthy of honor.

 

If the Spirit of God dwells within us through Baptism, then we need to make certain that nothing we do lessens the dignity we have as “temples” of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Christmas season may have come and gone, but the implication of God taking on human flesh needs to be seen in us during every season, especially in the way we reverence our human body and the bodies of others.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

DO YOU SEE IT?

SundaY, JANUARY 7, 2018

tHE ePIPHANY OF THE lORD

Said the night wind to the little lamb,

"Do you see what I see?

Way up in the sky, little lamb,

Do you see what I see?

A star, a star, dancing in the night

With a tail as big as a kite,

With a tail as big as a kite."

 

Those words from the Christmas carol, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” fit this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) for the Epiphany of the Lord.

 

With only a slight adjustment, we can imagine those lyrics being sung by the Magi as they followed the star they had seen at its rising. “Do you see what we see, a star, a star dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite, with a tail as big as a kite?”

 

For the Magi that star announced the arrival of “the newborn king of the Jews,” the king they set out to find so they could pay him homage and honor him with their gifts.

 

But if the Magi had asked the people they met along the way if they had noticed the star, those travelers from the east would have gotten a negative response.

 

If others had seen the star, they certainly would have questioned the passing Magi about its meaning. They might have even joined them in their pilgrimage to see the one whose birth the heavens proclaimed.

 

Even when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage," there was no mention of Herod, chief priests, scribes, and people of Jerusalem looking up and seeing this same wondrous star.

 

But that star was still there, at least to the eyes of the Magi. For we are told, “After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.”

 

The Magi were blessed with the vision to see what others could not see. They saw the star and were led to Jesus.

 

Like those Magi, our eyes have been opened to see what others cannot see.

 

By the star of faith, we see Jesus in his Church. We see him reach out to us through the Sacraments. We hear his voice as the Gospel is proclaimed. We feel his embrace in the kindness and compassion of our fellow Christians. We see him come to us in consecrated Bread and Wine and in the poor and needy who reach out to us. We see him as the one who gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

 

Today we give thanks that God has blessed us with the vision to see what others cannot.

We can answer the question of the Magi, “YES, we see what you see. We see the Lord!”

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

FAMILY TRADITIONS

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2017

The HOly Family

Most families have special traditions and rituals that they faithfully follow during the year.

 

Those traditions include serving particular foods on certain holidays – foods often prepared according to recipes handed down from one family cook to another.

 

Those rituals determine where the extended family will gather on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and who will host the celebration.

 

We feel a sense of sorrow when such rituals and traditions begin to fade as children grow and leave home, as relatives move farther away, and as the older generation, often the keepers of tradition, are called home by the Lord.

 

Traditions and rituals are essential to family life. They strengthen relationships, bring family members together, and keep cherished memories alive.

 

Rituals and traditions are also important to our national life. We are formed as a nation by the values we share and by the rituals and traditions we observe. For example, Fourth of July celebrations, Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances, singing the National Anthem, and flying the flag help to unite us as citizens.

 

Rituals and traditions are essential to our lives as believers. They bring us into contact with the Lord and into contact with others who share our faith.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-40) for the Feast of the Holy Family we hear how Mary and Joseph observe the religious rituals connected with the birth of Jesus.

 

Mary undergoes a time of purification after the birth of her son. Jesus, since he is a first-born male, is presented to the Lord as required by religious custom. And in the verse immediately preceding this Sunday’s Gospel, Luke tell us, “When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21)

 

It is while Mary and Joseph are observing those religious rituals of their people, that Simeon and Anna come on the scene and announce that the child Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of the Chosen People. Then when Mary and Joseph “had fulfilled all the prescriptions in the law of the Lord, they returned … to their own town of Nazareth.”

 

Later in his Gospel, Luke relates how the Holy Family kept another religious tradition. "Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom." (Luke 2:41)

 

As Catholics we too have our religious customs, rituals, and traditions that bring us into a relationship with God, that form us as a Church community, that help us to grow in our faith, and strengthen us to fulfill our mission of proclaiming the Gospel.

 

Those rituals include celebrating the Sacraments, listening to the Scriptures, spending time in prayer, performing works of charity, and above all gathering each Sunday for the celebration of Mass. That Sunday ritual, that tradition handed down from the time of the Apostles, that sacred custom, forms us like no other. Without Sunday Mass our faith beings to fade way.

 

Just as family life is weakened when customs and traditions are no longer followed; the same is true when it comes to our faith life.

 

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph show us that loving families, holy families, are ones where parents and children keep the traditions, rituals, and customs of their faith. 


© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


THE MAIN CHARACTER

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Who is the main character in the story? What character is central to the plot? Teachers often ask these questions when their students complete a reading assignment.

 

Teachers want to know if their students appreciated what they read and understood the actions, interactions, and motivations of the characters. Obviously, understanding the main character is critical to appreciating a story.

 

Main characters stand out in the stories we read. For example, A Christmas Carol, the beloved story by Charles Dickens, brings to mind Ebenezer Scrooge. Moby Dick, written by Herman Melville, reminds us of the obsessed Captain Ahab.

 

This Sunday, the fourth and final Sunday of Advent, we hear a Gospel reading (Luke 1:26-38) that prepares us for the birth of the Messiah. Luke relates how the angel Gabriel came to Mary, the young maiden of Nazareth, and announced she had been chosen to give birth to “the Son of the Most High.”

 

If we were asked who is the main character in  that Gospel reading, we might answer “Mary.” She is the one who is visited by an angel. She is the one asked to give birth to the Messiah. She is the one whose response is critical if the story is to move forward.

 

However, we could have a different answer. We might say that the angel Gabriel is the main character. If he did not make his announcement to Mary, she would have remained just another woman in Nazareth, and like the rest would have been forgotten by history. Gabriel makes the difference, he sets things in motion.

 

However, if we carefully examine the account in Luke, we realize that neither Mary nor Gabriel is the main character. The main character is God. God is the one who initiates the action and moves the story forward.

 

It is God who directs the angel to go to Mary. As Luke tells us, “the angel Gabriel was sent from God … to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph …. and the virgin's name was Mary.” For she was the one that God had favored and filled with his grace. A fact recognized by the angel as he greeted her, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." Mary then conceives because God sends the power of his Spirit upon her. Everything happens by the power and action of God. 

 

God is the main character in Sunday’s Gospel and throughout the Gospels of the coming Christmas Season. In fact, God is the main character throughout the scriptures. The scriptures tell us the story of God reaching out to his people.

 

That story continues to happen as God reaches out to us. We are people of faith, not because of what we have done, but because God has touched our lives in some way and brought us to faith.

 

God is the main character in every story of salvation, including ours!

 

© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

ATTENTION GETTERS

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The third Sunday of Advent

In the course of a week, most of us see hundreds, if not thousands of people, as we commute to work, spend the day at our places of employment, walk through the mall, pick up our groceries, eat at restaurants, take care of personal errands, and do all the other things associated with daily life.

 

Unless they are relatives or friends, we usually take no notice of the people who cross our path. They are just part of the scenery that surrounds us we move through our day.

 

Those we do notice attract our attention for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it is their physical appearance or the clothes they are wearing. Perhaps it is their behavior or the words they are shouting into their cell phone or a strange object they are carrying down the street.

 

When someone grabs our attention, questions start coming to mind. Who is that person? Why is that individual acting that way? Where is that person from? Is this someone to avoid or someone worth meeting?

 

If we are the curious type, we might even try to get those questions answered.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28), we meet someone who certainly caught the attention of people.

 

John the Baptist comes out of the desert and like one of the prophets of old he begins proclaiming a powerful message. Now is the time to get ready. Now is the time to prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah.

 

The people respond to his preaching with excitement and anticipation. They start coming forward to be baptized. They want to be ready.

 

The response that John received got the attention of the religious authorities in Jerusalem and that got them asking questions. “Who are you?” “What do you have to say for yourself?” “Why then do you baptize?”

 

There was no doubt that John the Baptist attracted attention. In fact, John continues to attract attention as we listen to the Gospels of this Advent Season.

 

But John did not let the attention remain on him, instead he focused it on one who was far more important. As he said, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie."

 

What John did is something we are to do. As Christians we are to attract the attention of people and then we are to focus that attention on Jesus Christ. We might say we are to get people to notice us so that they might notice the one we follow.

 

In Sunday’s Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24), Paul tells us how we as Christians can attract the attention of people, especially in a society that is darkened by pessimism, cynicism, suspicion, and hostility.

 

Paul tells us, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks…. Do not quench the Spirit…. Refrain from every kind of evil.”

 

If we live with such joy and thankfulness, if we avoid evil – and we can if stay in touch with God – then we will attract attention. People will start asking questions. They will want to discover the cause of our joy and peace.

 

John the Baptist attracted attention, he got people asking questions. As Christians we are to do the same; we are to attract attention and not just be part of the scenery!

 

© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

A QUICK START

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Second Sunday of advent

Some movies open slowly. They introduce us to the characters and their relationships with one another. They give us a feel for the period in which the story is set. They give us background information that helps us to understand the situation, and then the story begins to unfold.

 

But other films begin with no introduction. We are immediately thrust into the story. We see things happening, characters coming and going, interactions taking place – all with no prior explanation.

 

Mark’s Gospel is like one of those films. It immediately starts with an exciting scene, one involving John the Baptist. The other Gospel writers take another approach.

 

Matthew sets the stage for the appearance of John the Baptist by presenting the genealogy of Jesus, giving an account of his birth and his escape into Egypt, and then relating how Jesus made his home in Nazareth and from there went forth to encounter John.

 

Luke prepares us for the appearance of John by telling us how God granted Zechariah and Elizabeth a child in their old age. He reports the events that surround the birth of their son John, and then after relating the story of the birth of Jesus and his growing up, he brings John and Jesus together at the Jordan River.

 

John, in his Gospel, goes even further back to prepare for the ministry of John the Baptist. He goes back before creation, showing how the appearance of the Baptist was in accord with God’s plan for salvation.

 

Mark, however, handles things differently. In the first line of his Gospel, Mark simply tells us this is “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” Then the action found in this Sunday’s reading begins. (Mark 1:1-8)

 

Without warning, John suddenly comes out of the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance. This strange figure, oddly clothed and oddly nourished, announces that the long-expected Messiah is about to appear.

 

In response, Mark tells us that people from the Judean countryside and from Jerusalem rushed out to hear John’s message. They acknowledged their sins and were baptized so they might be ready for the mighty one about to come. There was excitement in the air. At last, the prophecies of old were about to be fulfilled.

 

But as we listen to the events of this Sunday’s Gospel, our reaction is most likely very different. We have heard this Advent gospel before. Like an action film that we have seen many times, it no longer excites us as it once did.

 

But it should. The message it contains is meant for us. That message is so important that Mark wastes no time for introductions, he immediately puts John the Baptist before us. Mark wants to draw us in. He wants us to hear the message of John, "One mightier than I is coming after me.”

 

Jesus, the mighty One, is coming this day, not just at the end of time. He comes today as surely as he first came at Bethlehem. He comes as the Gospel is proclaimed, as consecrated Bread and Wine are blessed and shared, and as the Church gathers in prayer.

 

He comes in experiences of tenderness, love, and mercy, and he comes when we allow our minds and hearts the quiet they need to be aware of his presence.

 

Mark wanted the readers of his Gospel to hear the preaching of John the Baptist without delay. There was no time to set the stage; John’s message had to be delivered at once! Get ready, the Messiah is coming.

 

© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

Told Once More

sUNDAY, dECEMBER 3, 2017

THE sECOND sUNDAY OF aDVENT

All of us have favorite stories – stories that we enjoy again and again.

 

For example, people whose attention and imagination were captured by the series of adventures found in Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings continually return to those stories. Even though their endings are known, those stories continue to appeal to audiences. They work their magic.

 

Certainly, the month of December has its special stories, ones we look forward to each year. Could it be Christmas without watching a version of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol or seeing A Charlie Brown Christmas (first broadcast in 1965)?

 

The Church has its own favorite story that it shares with us again and again. The Church tells that story as the scripture readings are proclaimed during the course of each liturgical year, as it will during the new liturgical year of 2018 that begins this Sunday.

 

As the liturgical seasons unfold we hear the story that has changed lives, transformed hearts and minds, and nourished the faith of billions of Christians for 2,000 years.

 

In the Gospel for this First Sunday of Advent (Mark 13:33-37), Jesus tells us three times to “Watch!” He tells us to “Be alert!” 

 

While those words refer to our being ready for his coming in glory, they can also remind us to watch and be attentive to the story of salvation that begins again this Sunday and continues through November 25, 2018, the final Sunday of this new liturgical year.

 

During the Advent season, we will hear how all was readied for the coming of the Messiah.

 

During the Christmas Season we will learn how the Son of God came among us in flesh and blood. Born of a woman, revealed to Jewish shepherds and Gentile kings, raised in a human family, he walked among us.

 

During the season of Lent, the story challenges us to examine our lives and actions in light of the teachings and example of Jesus. As we do, we become aware of our sins and failings and equally aware of the Lord’s mercy.

 

During the Easter season, we celebrate the highpoint of the story - the victory of Jesus over sin, darkness, and death. We learn that we who are baptized into a relationship with Christ also share that victory. We learn that our personal story does not end with our final breath.

 

During the season of Ordinary Time, as we hear the preaching of Jesus and watch his actions, we are challenged to grow in our understanding of our faith and even more importantly in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

As we listen once more to the Church’s favorite story during this coming liturgical year, we need to watch and to be alert. For what the Lord is saying in that story, he is saying to us. What the Lord is doing in that story, he is doing for us.

 

No matter how many times we may have heard the Gospel story, it is never the same. Our ever-changing concerns and moods, our ever-changing questions and experiences, all affect how the story touches our hearts.

 

This Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, we begin the treasured story of God coming to his people – the only story that will be continually told until the end of time.

 

© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski




our undercover boss

sUNDAY, nOVEMBER 26, 2017

tHE fIRST sUNDAY OF aDVENT

Undercover Boss is a popular program that has been on the CBS television network since 2010. In each episode, a corporate executive of a large corporation goes undercover at his or her company.

 

Disguised as a low-level employee, the executive gets a first-hand look at how things are being run and how employees are performing and interacting with one another and with the customers.

 

Since the employees have no idea they are working side by side with their company’s chief executive, they are more open and honest than they would be if they knew their boss was present.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46) for the Solemnity of Our Lord Christ, King of the Universe, we learn that the Lord is often an undercover boss.

 

We know that the Lord comes to us at specific times and in certain places. We are aware that the Lord is with us when we gather for the celebration of Mass. We believe that he speaks to us as the scriptures are proclaimed and that he comes to us in a powerful way as we share his Body and Blood in Holy Communion.

 

We also recognize the presence of the Lord as he brings us to rebirth in Baptism, strengthens us with his Spirit in Confirmation, forgives our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, gives us healing and hope in the Anointing of the Sick, and empowers us to live our vocations in the sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders.

 

We are also aware of the presence of the Lord in his ordained ministers and in those holy places where the liturgy is celebrated.

 

In those places and at those times, we act as the Christians the Lord expects us to be for we realize that he is present. We are on our best behavior.

 

But Jesus, our Lord and King, also comes to us undercover. He comes to us in the poor and powerless, the sick and the suffering.

 

In fact, at those times he comes so well disguised that he is often unrecognized by those who claim to be his followers. As those in Sunday’s Gospel ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?”

 

It was in those who were hungry and hurting, those who were ill and imprisoned, that the Lord was present. As he explains, “what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

 

It is easy to impress our boss when we know we are being watched and evaluated, but truly good employees do impressive work when they have no idea they are being observed.

 

As this liturgical year of 2017 comes to a close, Sunday’s Gospel reminds us that day in and day out, year in and year out, the Lord comes into our lives. He comes in ways we expect, but most of the time he comes in unexpected ways. The Lord comes undercover. He is an Undercover Boss!

 

© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

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