I WANT TO BE A POLITICIAN

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2020

The Twenty-Ninth Sunday of the Year

A software designer, a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a security specialist, a financial manager, an architect, a teacher, an engineer. Most parents would be pleased to hear their son or daughter wanted to pursue one of those professions.

 

But many parents would not be thrilled if their child said, “I want to be a politician; I want to pursue a career in politics.” That is especially true today, when many people hold a negative view of politicians and elected officials.

 

Parents also know that if their son or daughter ventures into politics their child and their entire family will be investigated by journalists and by digital prosecutors lurking in social media. Every comment, every action from the past will be judged according to the current norm of social correctness.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 22:15-21), Jesus touches on a subject related to politics. Jesus is asked whether he believes it is proper for the Jewish people to be paying the census tax imposed by the occupying Romans. Jesus looks at a Roman coin with an image of the emperor and then answers, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."

 

That statement which is quoted to this very day seems to imply that Christians have certain obligations to the state and certain obligations to God.

 

The obligation to the state involves the payment of taxes, while the obligation to God involves far more. It involves love of God, love of neighbor, and living according to the teachings and example of Jesus.

 

But we might consider that rendering to Caesar means more than paying taxes. It may mean also giving of our time and talent; it may mean getting involved in political life.

 

As Christians we pray that God’s kingdom of love, justice, and peace will come into our troubled world. As we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come.”

 

God’s kingdom will become a reality not only because of our prayers but also because of our actions. As we know, praying for the hungry is not enough, we also need to feed them. Praying for a better world is not enough, we also need to get involved in helping to bring that about – and that involves more than paying taxes.

 

In this Sunday’s First Reading (Isaiah 45:1, 4-6), we hear how God chose King Cyrus as his agent to free the Jewish exiles in Babylon.

 

In our day, we are the people God has called through baptism and confirmation to work to hasten the coming of his kingdom; we are the ones chosen to continue the work of Jesus.

 

This Sunday’s Gospel may be calling us to get involved in the world of politics. By doing so we will be doing something good for “Caesar” and we will be living as Christians who express our faith not only in prayer but also in action.

 

As Pope Francis put it, “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself …. Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good” (Pope Francis, Daily Homily of September 16, 2013).

 

Once we realize that the world of politics is where we help to bring about the kingdom of God, then parents will be glad to hear their child say, “I want to be a politician; I want to pursue a career in politics.”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

KEEPING PROMISES

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2020

The Twenty-EIGHTH Sunday in ordinary Time

We expect people to keep their word, to keep their promises.

 

If parents tell their children that the family will go to Disney World during the Christmas holidays, those children will expect that to happen. If it does not, those parents are sure to hear, “But you promised!”

 

If an employee is informed by his or her supervisor that a promotion is coming within the next six months, that employee will wait with anticipation for the promotion to be announced. If that fails to happen, that employee will complain, “But you promised.”

 

Candidates running for office make commitments concerning taxes and changes in policy. If those candidates win, voters expect them to fulfill those campaign pledges. If they do not, the voters will certainly remind them “But you promised.”

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 22:1-14), we hear about a king who might have said those same words to those who never came to his son’s wedding banquet. “But you promised.”

 

In that parable, the king sent his servants to tell those invited that it was time to arrive. Obviously, they had already promised to come, otherwise, their names would not have been given to the servants.

 

Since food had to be prepared, the king would have known how many people were expected for the feast. He would have received a certain number of RSVPs. The king had his servants tell those expected guests, “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’

 

However, those who had promised to come, did not. In fact, they mistreated and even murdered the servants sent to them.

 

As Jesus tells us, the king was so enraged at what was done to his servants and at the refusal of the guests to come, that he “sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” Their failure to do as they promised led to their destruction.

 

Jesus addressed that parable to the chief priests and elders who were not being faithful to their promises and commitments, and who were rejecting his words, just as they had rejected the words of the prophets who came before him.

 

But that parable, like all the words of Jesus, is also addressed to us. The Lord has invited us to a heavenly banquet like that described in today’s First Reading (Isaiah 25:6-10). “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.”

 

We promised that we would show up at that heavenly banquet at our baptism. Then and there we promised that we would reject sin and evil, that we would live as faithful children of God, and that we would gather for Mass to hear God’s Word and to share in the Eucharist – the supper of the Lamb that prepares us for the banquet of heaven. We renew those baptismal promises each Easter Sunday.

 

One day, all of us will stand before the Lord who will judge us according to how well we kept our commitments to him. May God never say to us, “But you promised!”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

DOOMSCROLLING

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

There are about 170,000 words currently in use in the English language. That number is always changing as new words are added and other words fall into disuse.

 

Consider the words that we commonly use today that were unknown just 50 years ago – words like google, megapixel, dox, android, or iPod. If you used those words in 1970, they would not have been understood.

 

Recently, two new words have joined our ever-growing English vocabulary: doomscrolling and doomsurfing.

 

Those words refer to the practice of surfing and scrolling through websites and social media looking for gloom and doom. Those looking for such stories do not have to surf or scroll far to find them. The media provides an endless stream of bad news. There are stories about natural disasters, political polarization, corruption, crime, murder, war, terrorism, protests, riots, racial tension, domestic violence, sex scandals, drug addiction, and of course the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Those caught up in doomscrolling and doomsurfing, and we might add doomviewing and doomlistening, are having their minds darkened and their hearts hardened by a steady diet of bad news.

 

In this Sunday’s Second Reading (Philippians 4:6-9), Saint Paul tells us how to avoid getting caught up in such negativity and pessimism. He tells us to “have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” He tells us to pray.

 

Such prayer and petition may not change the situations around us, but Paul assures us our prayer will affect us in a positive way. “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

Prayer opens us to the presence of Jesus Christ, the source of peace – the one who told us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. ….. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

 

We can experience such peace through the reception of Holy Communion. There we become one with the Prince of Peace. The more we focus on the one we receive, the more we will sense his peaceful presence and realize that he is with us as we confront the anxieties of life.

 

Paul also warns us not to let our attention dwell on the evil, sin, and darkness that seem to be overshadowing so much of society. Instead he tells us to concentrate on what is true, honorable, and good.

 

As he puts it, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” By doing so, “the God of peace will be with you.”

 

If everyone followed Paul’s advice, our society would be a more civil, peaceful, and compassionate place, and words like doomsurfing and doomscrolling might fall into disuse.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

ADOLESCENT REBELLION

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time


In a news story involving people, besides naming them, the report usually gives their ages. For example, a story might read, “Robert Jones, age 45, and Joanne Nestor, age 38, were elected to the School Board.”

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 21:28-32), Jesus tells a story about people, specifically a father who orders his two sons to go and work in the family vineyard.

 

Jesus does not name the boys or give their ages. However, from the way they responded to their father, it might be reasonable to suppose they were teenagers or young adults in adolescent rebellion.

 

When told by his father to work in the vineyard, the first son defiantly said, “I will not.” The second son said, “Yes, sir.” But he did not go. His lack of action said the same thing his brother said to his father, “I will not go.”

 

Both sons were apparently in that stage of development where they thought that saying “no” to their father, saying “no” to an authority figure, was a way of establishing their own identity and independence. They would not be like servants obeying orders from on high – each would be his own man!

 

Later the first son “changed his mind and went” to the vineyard. He did what his father asked. Perhaps he grew up a little!

 

Adolescent rebellion is not something exhibited only by teenagers or young adults. Nor is it something directed only against parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, and other authority figures.

 

Such a rebellious attitude can continue in life and it can be directed even against the highest authority figure; it can be directed against God.

 

In the Gospel, Jesus spoke of the tax collectors and prostitutes, who though they were sinners who had rebelled against God, were now hearing the message of John the Baptist. They were changing. Their “No” to God was becoming a “Yes.”

 

Unfortunately, that was not true of the chief priests and elders to whom Jesus addressed the story about the two sons. They refused to listen to John’s message of repentance. John the Baptist was not going to tell them what to do!

 

Such adolescent rebellion has been part of humanity’s response to God from the very start. The first two human beings, we might say those “teenagers” in the Garden, refused to do what God asked. They ate of the tree they were forbidden to touch.

 

That sin, in fact every sin, might be seen as an act of adolescent rebellion. It is saying “No” to what God the Father asks of us.

 

However, as our Gospel shows us, sinners can change just like the prostitutes and tax collectors. Doing so requires the humility.

 

The kind of humility that Saint Paul describes in our Second Reading (Philippians 2:1-11). “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus ... he emptied himself, … he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

 

May we strive to have the humility that Jesus showed – the humility and obedience to do what God the Father asks of us.

 

Such humility will help us to change the way the first son did. It will enable us to move beyond adolescent rebellion and become more faithful sons and daughters of God.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

A POOR BUSINESSMAN

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Twenty-Fifth Sunday in ordinary Time

Students majoring in business often study successful corporate leaders. They want to learn how those men and women built their companies, their methods for recruiting employees, their budgeting and planning process, their ways of cultivating investors, their style of communicating, and so on.

 

I doubt that any school would feature the owner of the vineyard mentioned in this Sunday’s Gospel as a business leader to imitate.

 

In that Gospel (Matthew 20:1-16), Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who goes out at dawn and hires men to work in his vineyard.

 

He obviously had not calculated the number of men he would need for that day’s work, because he goes out again at 9 am, then noon, then 3 pm and finally at 5 pm to hire more workers.

 

It would seem foolish to hire people late in the day. Consider the effort required to get those workers to the vineyard, to show them what to do, and then get them started. That vineyard owner was no strategic planner.

 

And then, at the end of the day, the owner directs that all the workers be paid the same amount. Doing so means that those who were in the vineyard for one hour were paid twelve times as much as those who started work at dawn.

 

Such behavior would make no sense to an accountant or to a human resources officer. It certainly would not help the company’s bottom line.

 

There seems to be only one explanation. The landowner’s primary motivation was not to make his vineyard a financial success but rather to help those striving to support themselves and their families.

 

The landowner went to the marketplace five separate times, not because he kept discovering that he needed more workers, but because he needed to see that those looking for work were hired.

 

He directed that the workers receive the same daily wage. He wanted all of them to have the means to support themselves and their families.

 

That, Jesus tells us, is how it is with the kingdom of God. Having a place in this kingdom, having a place in the heart of God, is something that God offers to all people.

 

Some people are blessed to know God’s love early in their lives. They have a relationship with the Lord from their childhood; others come to know the Lord later, and sometimes not until almost the last hour.

 

Like the owner of the vineyard, the Lord is always going out looking for people to “hire.” He continually invites those who do not yet know him to have a relationship with him. That invitation comes through the Church, through the preaching of the Gospel, through events in life, through moments of inspiration and grace, through the kindness of a stranger, through an unexpected blessing, or an experience of beauty or intimacy.

 

When a person responds to that invitation, he or she is assured of being blessed with an everlasting place in the kingdom of heaven.

 

Like the owner of the vineyard, God is not a good businessman. God does not operate according to the principles of profit and loss, but according to his divine plan. God does not pay only for hours worked, but simply for showing up.

 

In his dealings with us God shows us undeserved, unearned mercy, for God wants everyone to receive that same daily wage. God wants everyone to have a place in the kingdom of heaven.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

MERCY FOR MERCY

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Imagine you were required by your employer to represent your company at a social function where you would probably not know a single person.

 

When you arrived, things were just as you had feared. You were in a hall filled with strangers. As you were standing there, feeling out of place, wondering how quickly you could make an exit, someone walked over to you.

 

That person introduced himself and started a conversation. He then made a point to lead you over to some of his co-workers. They welcomed you into their group and invited you to join them at their table for the rest of the program.

 

Thanks to the person who recognized your discomfort and reached out to you, you had an enjoyable time at the event. You might say you went from feeling like a fish out of water to swimming with a “school” of friendly fish.

 

If you appreciated the kindness you were shown, you would most likely be sensitive to a stranger you saw in similar circumstances. You would make a connection between your situation in the past and that person’s situation in the present. That might lead you to go over to that person, introduce yourself, and try to make him or her feel welcome and comfortable. You would do what someone had done for you.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 18:21-35), we meet a person who could not see the connection between his personal situation and that of a co-worker.

 

Jesus tells a parable about a king who was settling accounts with his servants. One servant was brought before the king who owed an enormous amount of money. Since he was unable to pay, the king ordered him and his family members to be sold into slavery and all his property confiscated. When the servant pleaded with his master for mercy, the master wrote off the entire debt and let the servant go free. That debtor was shown boundless mercy.

 

But when that servant met a fellow servant who owed him a small fraction of the amount that he himself had been forgiven, he ordered that servant to be imprisoned for lack of payment.

 

Apparently, the first servant could not see any connection between the kindness shown him when he was in a desperate situation and that of his fellow servant in an equally dire circumstance.

 

When he had pleaded with his master, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full,” his words were heard. In fact, his master did more than just show patience: he forgave the entire debt.

 

Yet when that servant heard his fellow servant say almost the same words, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full,” those words made no impact on him at all.

 

The one whose debt had been canceled saw no connection between what he had said to his master and what his fellow servant said to him.

 

If we are to show forgiveness, mercy, and compassion to others, we first need to realize the connection between the mercy God continually shows us and the mercy we are to show to others.

 

As Christians, we must see the connection between the way God treats us and the way we are to treat others.  

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

SILENT CONSENT

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

If we were asked our opinion about the way a certain individual responded to a stressful situation, we might answer in one of two ways.

 

We could say that we approved of what the person did; that the person’s reaction seemed reasonable.

 

Or we might say just the opposite: we disapproved of the way the person acted; the person’s behavior was inappropriate.

 

Both are possible answers. However, there is also a third way we could respond. We might remain silent, expressing neither approval nor disapproval. However, silence in such cases is often interpreted as validation.

 

For example, imagine we saw a co-worker ignore or mistreat a customer because of that person’s race or ethnicity. Rather than speaking up, we said nothing. Would not our silence be interpreted as tacit approval of that co-worker’s behavior? Our silence would appear to give consent.

 

This Sunday, our readings tell us that if we see evil, we are to react. We are not to remain silent spectators.

 

In our First Reading (Ezekiel 33:7-9), the Lord tells the prophet Ezekiel that he is to be like a watchman who sounds the alarm when danger approaches.

 

He is to warn those who are engaged in evil behavior. He is to “speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way.”

 

Ezekiel is not to remain silent. If he fails to speak up and to warn the wicked, God tells him that he will be punished.

 

Then in our Gospel (Matthew 18:15-20), Jesus instructs his disciples on how they are to deal with someone who sins against them. Obviously, that begins with confronting the evildoer and not remaining silent.

 

If we say nothing when we are treated unjustly or see others treated that way, we give consent to such behavior. Jesus would not have told us how to deal with evil if he did not want us to speak up.

 

Certainly, Jesus himself did not remain silent when he saw evil. We have a dramatic example of that when Jesus cleared the Temple of the money changers and those selling animals for ritual sacrifice. Jesus did not stand silently by and let that behavior continue.

 

As Saint John tells us in his Gospel, Jesus “made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’” (John 2:15-16)

 

Unfortunately, there are sinful structures and evil people in our society. We would have to be blind not to see the corruption, the crime, the racism, the discrimination, the injustice, the abuse, the immorality, the devaluation of human life, and so on.

 

As followers of Christ, we are to sound the alarm like Ezekiel. We are to confront those who sin, and like Jesus, we may have to turn over some tables. We are not to silently watch as these evils darkened our society. We need to remember that silence gives consent!

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

PLANNING TO RETIRE

SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020

The Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Those who check their Social Security statements, who put a portion of their income into IRA accounts, who invest in mutual funds and annuities, who estimate the future cost of living, who research continuing care communities, who are knowledgeable about Medicare and other forms of health coverage, who exercise daily and avoid unhealthy behaviors, are people who want to be prepared for the future that awaits them when they retire.

 

But people who are certain they will never make it to retirement because of a family history of early death, a serious illness, a damaging lifestyle, or some other negative factor, are not concerned with preparing for the future. Why bother? They do not see themselves making it to 65.

 

A similar attitude may also be impacting religion. Many people are falling away from the practice of their Catholic Faith. Mass attendance is dropping as are the number of weddings, baptisms, first communions, and confirmations.

 

Various explanations have been proposed to account for this decrease in religious practice. It is thought that some people are negatively influenced by a society and a media that place little value on religious practice. Others are disillusioned with religion because of sexual and financial scandals. Others walk away because they disagree with the Church’s moral teachings regarding abortion, family life, and sexual matters. And still others, whose faith formation stopped at first communion, put aside their faith because they think of it as something for children.

 

But there may be another reason, a more significant reason, to account for this decrease in religious practice. Many people simply no longer believe there is anything waiting for them when life ends. There is no “eternal retirement” for which to prepare. That being the case, why bother to follow the Gospel, to live as a faithful Catholic, or to attend Mass. Why bother to “invest” in a future that will never come?

 

Yet throughout the Gospels, Jesus proclaims there is a future that follows death. What happens in that future depends on what we have done to prepare for it.

 

Jesus makes that point once again in this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 16:21-27). He tells us that “the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.” 

 

The conduct that leads to a place of joy in the kingdom of heaven consists in living according to the example given to us by Jesus. As he tells us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

 

In our Second Reading (Romans 12:1-2), Paul warns us not to be misled by a society that teaches us to live only for the moment. He tells us, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

 

Jesus obviously lived that way. That is why he could embrace suffering and the cross. When Peter was shocked by this behavior, Jesus told him, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

 

This Sunday, we are reminded that people of faith believe in a future beyond death. People of faith prepare for a “retirement” that lasts forever in the kingdom of heaven.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

DRAWING GOD

SUNDAY, AUGUST 23, 2020

The Twenty-FIRST SUNDAY in ordinary time

Pictures created by little children are fascinating to look at because those images give us an insight into their perspective on the world and the people in their lives.

 

Some of the most intriguing works of art done by children are depictions of God. Some children portray God as a kingly figure or as some type of angelic creature. Some children draw a shepherd with his sheep, or a figure surrounded by children, or just a cross. Some children paint a rainbow, or a big red heart, or the world being gently caressed by two hands. Others show the smiling face of Jesus. And still others draw swirls of color or a sun shining upon the earth.

 

As adults, we do not draw pictures of God. But we all have some image of God in our minds. We might think of God as a loving father or as the king of the universe who watches over creation. We might imagine God as a just judge who rewards the righteous and punishes sinners.  

 

We might picture God as Jesus, for as he told Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) We might imagine God as our personal savior who protects us from evil.

 

We might see God as the Holy Spirit who blesses us with peace and directs our lives. Or we may think of God as the one who smiles upon those who follow his commandments.

 

We all have some image of God. But that image can be shattered if we feel that God is not acting as we expect.

 

If we are diagnosed with cancer, we may no longer think of God as a personal, caring savior. If our society is thrown into turmoil by war or civil unrest, God might not appear as a king in control of events. If children die of starvation and people are victims of ethnic violence, we might find it hard to picture God as a loving father. If we try our best to follow the commandments and yet things go wrong in our lives, we might not see God as a fair and just judge.

 

However, as Saint Paul tells us in this Sunday’s Second Reading (Romans 11:33-36), God’s actions are not always in line with our expectations. God’s judgments do not always match our own. What God chooses to do or not to do, does not require our approval.

 

As Paul tells us, “How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid?”

 

God acts as God decides, and that often is in very unexpected ways.

 

If we knew nothing of Christianity, could we picture an all-powerful God emptying himself and living among his creation? Could we envision such a God in the flesh allowing himself to be humiliated and crucified by his creatures? Could we conceive of a God showing mercy to beings who ignored his commandments and then allowing them to be united with him at his Holy Table? Could we imagine a God giving his creatures the insight to recognize his presence? An insight that Peter received in this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 16:13-20) as he professed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 

God is beyond anything we can conceive or imagine, beyond any picture we can draw, beyond anything our words can explain, or our minds can grasp.

 

If we want to draw a picture of God, perhaps it should show us giving praise to God as we proclaimed the words of Saint Paul, “How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! …. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

DISTANCING

Sunday, August 16, 2020

the twentieth sunday in ordinary Time

For the past few months, we have been living in a world of social distancing. People stay six feet apart from those not of their household. Businesses restrict the number of people allowed inside to limit social interaction. Customers are separated from cashiers by protective shields. Mass goers can sit only in certain pews. Expressions of joy, surprise, pain, and sorrow are unseen, hidden behind face masks.

 

But there is another kind of social distancing that began before the coronavirus made its unwanted appearance. People were social distancing themselves from those whose opinions and beliefs were not like their own.

 

Such distancing is especially evident in politics, particularly in this election season. People seem to be standing, literally and figuratively, apart from those holding opposing ideas.

 

In this Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 15:21-28), we read of an instance of social distancing based not on politics but on religion.

 

Jews at the time of the Gospels believed they alone were loved and chosen by God. He had freed them from slavery in Egypt and given them a land of their own. He had promised them a Messiah whose coming they awaited. Gentiles, non-Jews, were outside of God's care.

 

Jesus himself seemed to embrace that thinking. When he first sent out his Twelve Apostles, he instructed them to ignore the Gentiles. He told them, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6)

 

We see a dramatic illustration of Jesus himself doing just that in this Sunday’s Gospel.

 

A Canaanite woman, a Gentile, comes to Jesus and pleads, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

 

Jesus answers with silence. When she continues to plead, his disciples urge him to give her what she wants and get rid of her.

 

Jesus responds, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When the woman refuses to give up, Jesus tells her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” In dramatic language, Jesus announces his mission is to the children, to the Jews – not to dogs, not to Gentiles who have no place in God’s family.

 

Amazingly the woman does not slink away in shame but instead responds with one of the most famous comebacks in the scriptures. “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

 

Jesus relents and grants the request of that distraught Gentile mother. The social distance between Jew and Gentile is overcome.

 

If Jesus had remained “religiously distant” from that Canaanite woman and from all Gentiles, the followers of Jesus might never have shared the Gospel beyond the Jewish nation.

 

In that encounter, Jesus may have come to realize his ministry was meant for Jew and Gentile alike, it was for all people. When Jesus gave his final instructions to his disciples, he made that clear. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)

 

When it came to sharing the Gospel, followers of Jesus were not to socially distance themselves from Gentiles. If they had done so, Christianity would only be a small Jewish sect and we would not be part of God’s Church.

 

Social distancing may be required for reasons of health. But as we learn in this Sunday’s reading, it has no place when it comes to sharing the Gospel with others. And distancing ourselves from those with different opinions may not be good for our nation’s political health.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WALKING ON WATER

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“So, you think you can walk on water!” We might hear that comment if we attempt something that other people consider to be beyond our talents and abilities.

 

Many of the people who use that expression might have no idea it is based on one of the miracles of Jesus, a miracle recorded in this Sunday’s Gospel. (Matthew 14:22-33)

 

In that passage we hear how the disciples are struggling against the wind and waves as they attempt to sail across Lake Galilee. Jesus had told them to cross to the other side of the lake while he stayed behind to dismiss the crowd that he had fed with the loaves and fishes. Then “he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.”

 

As they are struggling to get the boat to the shore, Jesus comes to them walking on the water. They are terrified and think they are seeing a ghost. When they realize that it is Jesus, Peter asks Jesus to order him to come to him. Jesus does and Peter takes a few steps onto the sea, but soon he begins to sink. We might imagine his fellow disciples murmuring, “So, you think you can walk on water!”

 

We might ask ourselves why Jesus came walking on the water in the first place.

 

Jesus might have done it to bring the disciples to a deeper faith in him. For at the end of the passage they proclaim, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

 

Yet during his 40 days in the desert when the devil tempted Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by throwing himself from the parapet of the Temple, Jesus refused.

 

Perhaps Jesus strode across the waves to show his miraculous powers. He could do what others could not.

 

Yet throughout the Gospels, there are occasions when Jesus tells those who have experienced his miraculous power, to keep it to themselves. For example, after he cures a leper, Jesus tells him, “See that you tell no one anything.” (Mark 1:44) When he gives sight to two blind men, we are told “Jesus warned them sternly, ‘See that no one knows about this.’” (Matthew 9:30)

 

Perhaps there is a more obvious reason why Jesus walked on the water. He did what he did so that he could come to the aid of his disciples. When he arrived and stepped into the boat, “the wind died down.”

 

That wondrous event is a reminder that Jesus did the same thing for us. The Son of God took on flesh and came to humanity’s rescue as it was being tossed about by evil, selfishness, darkness, and sin.

 

As Paul tells us, “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

 

Or to put it another way, Jesus, the Son of God, came to rescue us not by walking on the waters of the sea but by walking across the gulf between heaven and earth. Jesus walked on the “water” for our sake.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

COMING To THE LORD

SUNDAY, August 2, 2020

THE Eighteenth sunday in Ordinary Time

Free shipping. Next day delivery. Same day delivery. Two-hour delivery.

 

How we shop has radically changed. Online shopping continues to take an ever-larger share of the marketplace. Rather than going to a store, we visit Amazon.com and other websites, choose what we want, enter our credit card number, and then wait for FedEx, UPS, or the Postal Service to bring our order to our door.

 

This change in consumer culture has also affected the way we get our food. Not long ago, pizza or Asian fare were the foods most delivered to American homes, now every sort of food and beverage can be brought to our doors. We can even choose the items we need from our local supermarket, have them taken off the shelves by in-store shoppers, packed, and then delivered. We never have to touch a shopping cart! This change in the way we purchase items has been accelerated by the current pandemic.

 

The practice of having things brought to us has even entered our spiritual lives. When the order was given to shelter in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, our churches were closed. Parishes then began to live stream their Sunday and weekday Masses. We might say that Masses began to be “delivered” to Catholics courtesy of the Internet or local television.

 

This Sunday’s scriptures speak not about having things delivered but rather about our coming to receive what we need in our spiritual lives.

 

In our First Reading (Isaiah 55:1-3) we read, “Thus says the LORD: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!... Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.”

 

Speaking through the Prophet Isaiah, God tells us that we need to come to him if we want to receive his life-giving gifts.

 

Then in our Gospel Reading (Matthew 14:13-21), we learn how Jesus went by boat to a secluded place to mourn the death of John the Baptist. “The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot.”

 

The people came to Jesus. “His heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.” When it was evening Jesus showed his concern for the thousands of people who had come to him by feeding them. He miraculously multiplied the loaves and fish brought to him by his disciples.

 

If the people had not come to Jesus, their sick would not have been cured, their hunger would not have been satisfied, and they would not have witnessed the multiplication of the loaves and fish, the miracle most widely reported in the four Gospels.

 

This Sunday we are reminded that we need to come to the Lord. We do that by coming to Mass where we hear God’s Word and share at his Holy Table.

 

We come to the Lord when we gather with our fellow Catholics to celebrate the sacraments, to join in religious devotions, and to participate in programs of religious formation.

 

We come to the Lord when we engage in works of justice and mercy where the Lord makes himself known in the poor and suffering. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

 

If we are to grow in our spiritual lives, we cannot just sit at home and have God’s mercy and love delivered to our doors like some kind of purchase. While we may need to do that for a time because of this extraordinary situation, we cannot make “home delivery” our usual practice. We have to come to the Lord. As Jesus tells us, “Come to me…learn from me.”  (Matthew 11:28, 29)

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

OUR RESPONSE?

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Seventeenth Sunday of the Year

“I will grant you one wish.” That is what the Lord essentially tells Solomon in this Sunday’s First Reading (1 King 3:5, 7-12). There we read, “The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, ‘Ask something of me and I will give it to you.’”

 

After considering the Lord’s offer, Solomon responds, “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart.” Solomon asks for the understanding and wisdom he needs as king of Israel to govern God’s people.

 

In asking for that gift, Solomon reveals that he already has a depth of wisdom.

 

Solomon does not ask for a long life. Perhaps he knows if he is granted a life far beyond that of others, he will have to suffer the pain of losing those he loves, and will love, as they are taken in death.

 

Solomon does not ask for riches. Perhaps he realizes that wealth does not bring true happiness. It breeds envy and resentment, and what people possess often possesses them.

 

Solomon does not ask for the death of his enemies. Perhaps he recognizes that even his enemies are the Lord’s creation. To ask God to kill his enemies is to ask God to destroy what he has made.

 

So, Solomon asks for and is granted the wisdom he needs to govern his people and the understanding required to discern what is truly right in the eyes of God.

 

Imagine for a moment if God were to ask us what we wanted. Certainly, Solomon’s answer would be a perfect response.

 

We need the wisdom to appreciate what is represented by the treasure and the pearl of great price mentioned in this Sunday’s Gospel. (Matthew 13:44-52). That treasure, that pearl, Jesus tells us is “the kingdom of heaven. “

 

We were made part of that kingdom at baptism. There God the Father claimed us as his children. There Jesus revealed himself as our Savior and Brother. And there we were empowered with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

 

If we have the wisdom to live as members of that kingdom, we learn the meaning and purpose of our existence. We recognize we are personally known and loved by God. We see our connectedness with others. We believe that death does not lead to annihilation but rather to God rewarding those who respond to his goodness. As Jesus tells us in Sunday’s Gospel, at the judgment the angels of God will be like fishermen sorting their catch who “put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.”

 

The truly wise and understanding person knows the value of having a relationship with Christ, of being part of God’s kingdom. As Saint Paul tells us, “I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

 

Sunday’s readings challenge us to consider how we would respond if the Lord said to us, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

MORE THAN LOOKING THE PART

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Sixteenth Sunday of the year


Last Sunday, Jesus told a parable about a man sowing seed. What the seed produced depended upon where it landed. In explaining the parable, Jesus said that the seed was the word of God. How people accepted that word determined the difference it would make in their lives.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 13:24-43), Jesus tells another parable about a man sowing seed. He plants good seed, but an enemy comes at night and sows bad seed. When the seeds begin to grow rather than seeing the wheat he expected, the farmer also sees weeds. Weeds that look like wheat.

 

We might think that as it did last Sunday, the good seed represents the word of God, the message of the Gospel preached by the Church. And the bad seed represents the contrary message spread by the devil and by a society opposed to the values of the Gospel.

 

However, Jesus gives another meaning to the seed. Jesus explains that “he who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.”  

 

We are among that good seed, made so in the sacrament of baptism. There we were recognized as children of God, enlightened by Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We were made Christians, members of God’s kingdom.

 

As Christians, we are not supposed to just “look the part.” We are not to be like the weeds that only mimicked the look of the desired wheat. We are not to be Christians in name only, who lead others astray by our bad example and by our failure to live as authentic followers of Christ.

 

Jesus has planted us in the field of this world so that we might help God’s kingdom to blossom and that we might leaven society with our acts of mercy and love.

 

The time will come when the Lord will judge if we have done what was expected of good seed. As Jesus tells us, righteous who have produced good fruit “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

 

While those who have done evil and caused others to do the same will be thrown “into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and the grinding of teeth.”

 

May we not disappoint the “Divine Farmer” who has sown us in this world.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

A DAILY DECISION

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Fifteenth Sunday in ordinary Time

“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

 

That question is often asked by evangelical Christian preachers. During their services they encourage those in the congregation to make a decision for Christ.

 

Christians who have responded to such an invitation are often able to tell you the date, time, and place when it happened.

 

While making such a decision is certainly a wonderful thing, a choice for Christ cannot happen just once. Deciding for Christ has to happen each day. The same thing is true in marriage. Those who on their wedding day publicly affirmed their decision to marry someone need to confirm that decision each day by how they live as a faithful husband or wife.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 13:1-23), Jesus tells a parable about accepting the word of God. He says the word is like seed that is scattered by a farmer.

 

Some seed falls on the path and is quickly eaten by birds. Some seed ends up on rocky ground where it sprouts but quickly dies because it is unable to put down roots. Some seed drops among thorns that choke the sprouting plants. But some seed falls on rich soil and produces an amazing harvest.

 

We can think of that parable as describing the different ways that people respond when they hear the message of the Gospel. Some people decide to accept the word, but the competing messages of this world, the temptations of life, and the lure of pleasure, power, and possessions pull them away from what they have heard.

 

But other people from the first moment they hear the word allow it to take root in their hearts and to guide their lives.

 

Like a decision to accept Christ or a decision to marry, a decision to allow the word of God into our hearts is not something that happens once: It has to happen every day.

 

Each day, like seed, the word of God is sown in our lives. We hear it proclaimed at Mass. We hear it preached from the pulpit and through social media. We find it on the pages of our Bibles and on the Internet. We hear its message put to music, proclaimed on billboards, and referenced in conversations. We find it in the mysteries of the rosary and the prayers we say. We have it come to mind as we recall a scripture passage that touched our hearts.

 

Each day, we decide how to respond to the word of God that we have heard, or read, or seen, or remembered. Do we reflect upon it and let it influence our lives or does it come and go like so many other words and thoughts?

 

Deciding to accept and live out the word of God is not a onetime decision. Each day we decide what we will do with God’s word.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

DIFFERENT YOKES

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This July 4 we celebrate the 244th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. We mark the day when the thirteen colonies announced to the world that they would no longer be bound to Great Britain.

 

As the Founding Fathers wrote in that extraordinary document, “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

 

On July 4, 1776, the British colonies threw off the yoke of tyranny. They would no longer be commanded and controlled like a yoked animal.

 

James Madison, our fourth president, spoke of what the people of America had done when he wrote, “The governments of Europe are afraid to trust the people with arms. If they did, the people would certainly shake off the yoke of tyranny, as America did.”

 

We continue to celebrate our independence down to this very day because liberty and freedom are cherished by all Americans. We abhor the notion of being “yoked” to any person or to any power that seeks to put us under its control.

 

The Gospel for this coming Sunday, July 5, (Matthew 11:25-30) seems to proclaim a message that sounds very different from the one celebrated on July 4.

 

In that Gospel, Jesus speaks not about throwing off a yoke, but doing just the opposite. He says, “Take my yoke upon you.”

 

Then Jesus goes on to tell us that if we do, “you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

 

We put on the yoke that Jesus speaks of when we follow his example and live according to his Gospel. As he tells us, “learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”

 

We are to learn from the one who reveals what God is like and who shows us what it means to be fully human, what it means to be a perfect child of the Father.

 

When we seek to live according to the Gospel and according to the example of Jesus, we do not lose our freedom. We truly find it. As we discover in reading the scriptures and studying history, when humankind goes its own way, ignoring God’s teaching and direction, humanity ends up in disaster.

 

In following the Lord, in letting him lead us, in putting on his yoke, we discover true freedom.

The colonists found freedom in throwing off the yoke of tyranny. We find it by accepting the yoke that Jesus offers us.

 

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

BECOMING WHAT WE ARE

JUNE 28, 2020

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

When does someone become a doctor, a plumber, a teacher or an electrician?

 

It happens when a person has taken and passed the necessary courses of study, successfully completed required internships and training programs, and been certified by various boards and licensing agencies.

 

Only then is an individual recognized by society as a doctor or teacher, a plumber or electrician. In fact, members of those professions receive documentation to prove their status and level of training.

 

When it comes to becoming a Christian just the opposite takes place. Most of us were made Christians when we were just infants or small children. We might say we were licensed and certified as Christians without any course of study or preparation, without any understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

 

We were unaware, as St. Paul tells us in Sunday’s Second Reading (Romans 6:3-4, 8-11) , that “we were indeed buried with Christ through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

 

We gradually became aware of that “newness of life” as we grew in our faith by hearing the Word of God, by celebrating the liturgy, and by participating in programs of religious education.

 

We slowly began to appreciate that through baptism we had become adopted children of God; that the Son of God had freed us from the power of sin and death; that the Holy Spirit was within us, empowering us to continue the work of the Lord; and that we were part of the Church, the living Body of Christ. As that happened, we began to understand the effects and obligations of baptism.

 

As Reginald H. Fuller, a respected biblical scholar, wrote in his book, Preaching the Lectionary, “The Christian life is fitting oneself into that which we have already been made by baptism.” In other words, living the Christian life means becoming what we are.

 

Some of the implications of doing so are found in Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 10:37-42).

 

Living as a Christian means, as Jesus tells us, loving him more than father or mother, son or daughter. While that might sound harsh, it is not if we realize those following Christ should be striving to love others just as he did.

 

Living as a baptized Christian means taking up our cross. It means being a faithful Christian no matter the sacrifice.

 

Living as a Christian means welcoming and caring for those who preach the Gospel and minister in the name of Jesus. We have an Old Testament example of such hospitality in our First Reading (2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a) in which a woman provides food and shelter to Elisha as he delivers God’s message.

 

Unlike other professions where the degree and status come at the end of study and preparation, in the wonder of his love, God makes us Christians first. Then we gradually come to realize what we are and how we are to live.

 

Professionals display diplomas and certificates proclaiming what they have become. Perhaps as Christians we should have a copy of our baptismal certificate displayed in our home. That document could remind us to make certain that our words and actions match what we are. We are “certified Christians!”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

BOLD, CONFIDENT, UNAFRAID

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Successful salespeople have several traits in common. They know how to talk to strangers. They have an outgoing personality. They come across as friendly and interested in their customers. They are knowledgeable about the product or service they are offering for sale.

 

But there is more. Successful salespeople are bold, confident, unafraid, and able to deal with rejection. Those traits are critical because not every person they talk to will decide to buy what they are selling. Successful salespeople have to be able to deal with hearing “No” from potential customers without becoming discouraged or taking it as a personal failure.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 10:26-33), we hear Jesus giving specific instructions to the Apostles. We might say Jesus is speaking to his “salespeople.” Jesus is sending them out to invite others to share the Good News of the Gospel that had transformed their lives.

 

He tells them, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

 

Jesus instructs them to be fearless in their task. “Fear no one…do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” At the end of this Sunday’s Gospel, he repeats the message he started with, “do not be afraid.”

 

Jesus did not want his disciples to be timid in announcing the coming of the kingdom. They were to be bold in acknowledging him before others. They were to be confident that God was watching over them and would reward their efforts.

 

As Jesus told them, “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

 

Those words of assurance were meant for his disciples for Jesus knew that, like him, they would face persecution and rejection. They would hear “NO” more often than “YES.”

 

We might think those words of Jesus were meant only for the Apostles, because the passage begins with the phrase, “Jesus said to the Twelve.” Or we might imagine they might apply to missionaries. Yet those words are meant for us. The Gospel always applies to the present situation. That is why it is called Good News and not Good History.

 

This Sunday Jesus reminds us that whatever our position is in life, we are to be unafraid to boldly acknowledge him before others, confident that God is watching over us.

 

That means acknowledging Jesus before our relatives and friends, before our classmates and coworkers, before neighbors and strangers. We are to be bold in sharing our faith and telling others about Jesus, the one who has a special place in our hearts.

 

May we be bold, confident, and unafraid because what we are offering is far more valuable than anything the world is selling.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

NOURISHMENT NEEDED

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

What do the following 12 people have in common: Grover Cleveland, Vince Lombardi, Alexander Hamilton, Joyce Kilmer, Molly Pitcher, Woodrow Wilson, James Fenimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, John Fenwick, Clara Barton, Thomas Edison, and Richard Stockton?

 

If you drive the New Jersey Turnpike, you probably know the answer. All those people have service areas named in their honor.

 

Those rest stops provide refueling services, restrooms, and restaurants where people can get something to eat and drink. Without such service areas, extended trips on major highways would be challenging, if not impossible. Cars need gas and people have physical needs.

 

In Sunday’s First Reading (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a), we hear how the Jewish People journeyed for 40 years through the desert as God tested their resolve and their faithfulness.

 

There were no service areas to provide for their physical needs on their way to the Promised Land. Instead God himself fed them with manna from heaven and quenched their thirst with water from the rock.

 

Moses reminded them, “Do not forget the LORD, your God … who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers."

Like the Chosen People, we too are on a journey. A faith journey, that we pray, will bring us to the Promised Land of eternal life.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 6:51-58), for the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus tells us that he is the spiritual nourishment we need for our faith journey.

 

Jesus warns us that without the food and drink he provides, we will perish on the way. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”

 

We receive that nourishment during the celebration of Mass. As we receive Holy Communion, we become one with the Lord, the source of life. As Paul tells in our Second Reading, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

 

The connection between Sunday’s Gospel and the celebration of the Mass is seen in the words of Jesus. In that Gospel passage, which follows the feeding of the five thousand with the loaves and fish, Jesus says, “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” At Mass, we hear, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.”

 

In the Gospel Jesus says, “My blood is true drink. Whoever …drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” At Mass we are told, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant.”

 

As we make our faith journey, the Lord provides us with places where he can nourish us with his holy Body and Blood.

 

We have been made acutely aware of our need for such nourishment during the weeks we have been unable to gather for Mass because of the coronavirus. Without the food that Jesus provides, our journey to the Promised Land becomes ever more challenging. We need the bread that comes down from heaven. May the day quickly come when we can receive it in our churches once more!

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

REVEALING ART

Sunday, June 7, 2020

THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

Novelists, sculptors, composers, painters, architects, designers, playwrights, photographers, and all creative people use their talents, abilities, and skills to produce works of art in their respective fields.

 

What they produce not only reveals their expertise, it also reveals something about them.

 

For example, what a novelist chooses to write about and how he describes his characters and develops his story, reveal something about that writer’s interests, imagination, and view of life.

 

What a painter chooses as her subject, the type of paint and the colors she selects, her brushstrokes and style, disclose something about her perspective on the world around her.

 

Every piece of art reveals something about the artist who created it.

 

What is true of earthly artists is also true of God, the Divine Artist. We learn something about God if we look at God’s artwork, if we look at the things that God has created.

 

The beauty, majesty and order we see in the universe and in this world of ours all reveal something about God. As Paul writes of God in his letter to the Romans, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (Romans 1:20)

 

If we look at ourselves, the highpoint of God’s artistry, we particularly learn something about God. For as we read in the Book of Genesis, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

 

God created male and female for God recognized “It is not good for the man to be alone.(Genesis 2:18)

 

The fact we are made for one another reveals something about the Divine Artist who fashioned us. If we are made in the image of God then God must be relational. And God most certainly is. The one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three Divine Persons in relationship with one another.

 

We bring that belief to mind this Sunday, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. We can never fully comprehend that central mystery of our faith, for God is always beyond us. But if we look at ourselves and our need for relationships with other people, we gain some insight into the Divine Artist who formed us.

 

We also learn something of the Trinity if we consider how God redeemed humanity after it turned away from him and sinned. God the Father sent his Son to rescue humanity. As John tells us in Sunday’s Gospel (John 3:16-18), “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

 

Then after his Resurrection, the Son gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples so they might continue his work of redemption in the world. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20:22-23)

 

In appreciating how God worked in redeeming humanity, we come to know more about the Holy Trinity. For God has made himself known in the work of redemption and in the work of creation.

 

God, the Divine Artist, reveals himself in what he does. Art always reveals the artist.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

PRESENT FOCUSED

SUNDAY, MAY 31, 2020

Pentecost Sunday

Most of us are far more interested in what is occurring in the present than in what happened in the past or what might happen in the future.

 

We cannot do anything to alter the past and the future is only a possibility. But what is happening now affects us. In our digitally-connected world, we are more aware than ever of what is taking place in the present – perhaps too aware. That is certainly true during this current pandemic that has drastically changed our daily lives.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading (John 20:19-23), John tells us of an astounding event that happened in the past. The disciples who had seen their master crucified and buried suddenly saw him standing before them. He wished them peace and in doing so he forgave them for failing to stand by him when he was arrested.

 

He then “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”

 

In that appearance, the Risen Lord shared with his disciples the Spirit that had come upon him at his baptism and guided him during his ministry. Empowered by that Spirit they were to go forth and offer forgiveness and mercy to others.

 

In our First Reading (Acts 2:1-12), we hear Luke’s account of the coming of the Spirit. He describes how the Spirit dramatically descended upon the disciples gathered in prayer on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost.

 

The Spirit’s presence was revealed in noise and fire. Transformed by the power of the Spirit, the formerly fearful disciples went forth to proclaim in every tongue “the mighty acts of God.”

 

But the coming of the Holy Spirit described in our readings is not a past event, but a present reality. Those readings help us to be aware of the Spirit who continues to come to us today.

 

At Baptism, the Spirit comes upon those who are washed in the waters of new life and made children of God.

 

At Confirmation, the Spirit comes to strengthen us so that we might continue the mission of Jesus in our world.

 

At Mass, the Spirit comes to transform the gifts placed upon the altar. “By the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.” We later pray that through the reception of the Eucharist and power of the Spirit we “may become one body, one spirit in Christ.” (Eucharistic Prayer II).

 

The Holy Spirit also comes and empowers us to profess our faith, as Paul tells us in Sunday’s Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13), “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”

 

The coming of the Spirit continues in our day. While the Spirit can come dramatically, it tends to come to us more gently. The Spirit comes during times of personal prayer. The Spirit comes when, like the disciples, we gather as Church with our fellow believers. The Spirit comes in the inclinations to do good that come to mind. The Spirit comes as we read the words of scripture written under divine inspiration.

 

While it is important to recognize how the Holy Spirit came in the past, it is far more important to recognize how the Holy Spirit comes to us in the present. “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.” Come Holy Spirit, come today!

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

MORE THAN WORDS

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

Praise and worship services have become increasingly popular, especially in non-denominational Christian congregations.

 

Such services, which are generally held in an informal setting, feature contemporary worship music usually provided by the church band and choir.

 

The leader of the worship service is often a singer or musician, who besides preaching, enthusiastically leads the congregation in giving praise and glory to God. The services are high energy, emotionally engaging, and make use of electronic and digital equipment to display lyrics and to project images to complement the day’s message.

 

Those present are led to praise the Lord with joyful song, shouts of acclamation, and whole-hearted participation.

 

Everything is done to glorify God and to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus.

 

Elements of such praise and worship services have entered many mainline congregations and can even be found at Catholic parishes.

 

While there are positive elements in such services, there is a risk that people may come to think that glorifying God happens only during such services.

 

There is also a danger that members of the congregation start to evaluate each service according to the emotional reaction it produces. The more good feelings experienced during it, the more successful the service and the greater the glory given to God.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 17:1-11a), Jesus speaks about glorifying God. As he speaks to God in prayer, Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you … I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.”

 

Jesus glorified the Father by announcing the kingdom of God was at hand and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel.

 

He glorified the Father by making the love, mercy, and forgiveness of God present in his response to the sick and the hurting.

 

He glorified the Father by confronting hypocrisy, evil and sin.

 

He glorified the Father by being a faithful, loving Son, even willing to embrace the Cross.

 

The Father in turn glorified the Son by raising him to new life, revealing him as Savior and Lord, and lifting him up to the glory he had with the Father “before the world began.”

 

In Sunday’s Gospel, we also hear Jesus praying for his disciples in whom he had been glorified. “I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me … I have been glorified in them.”

 

Those disciples brought glory to Jesus by faithfully following him. The same is true today. We glorify the Lord by living as faithful Christians who are even willing to suffer for the sake of our relationship with Christ.

 

As Peter tells us in Sunday’s Second Reading, “whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name.” (1 Peter 4:13-16)

 

This Sunday we are reminded that giving praise and glory to God involves more than uplifting words and music, more than enthusiastic worship. It involves living a life of service, sacrifice and faithfulness. As we are told when Mass comes to an end, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord bless you with his presence and peace

during this vastly different Easter Season.

BUT YOU WILL SEE ME

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Most of us have had the experience of going to a buffet that has so many enticing dishes that it is difficult to decide what foods to select.

 

We may find ourselves in a somewhat similar situation, when we look at the Gospel for this Sunday (John 14:15-21). The reading is a buffet of thoughts and ideas.

 

The passage is taken from the section of John’s Gospel often referred to as the Farewell Discourse, which contains the words that Jesus spoke to his apostles at the Last Supper.

 

In Sunday’s selection, Jesus speaks about loving him and keeping his commandments. Jesus speaks about his relationship with the Father, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and how he will not abandon his disciples.

 

However, there are words that might be particularly worth our attention. Jesus says, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.”

 

When Jesus says in a little while the world will no longer see him, we know that indeed came to pass. For soon after speaking those words, Jesus would be arrested and tried, led off to crucifixion and death, and then placed in a tomb. The world would no longer see him.

 

Certainly, that was the intention of the Scribes and Pharisees who pushed for his crucifixion. They no longer wanted Jesus to be heard or seen. They no longer wanted Jesus to be preaching a message that they considered heretical, that indicted their hypocrisy, and that they saw as a threat to their arrangement with the occupying Romans.

 

For a while, for that first Good Friday and Holy Saturday, those apostles would also experience the absence of their Master.

 

But Jesus told those disciples, “but you will see me, because I live.” That wonderfully came to pass that first Easter Sunday. He did live. He was alive and glorified and risen from the tomb. The disciples did see him again in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, at the Sea of Tiberias, and on the mount of the Ascension.

 

He lived and they lived as well, just as Jesus promised them – “and you will live.” Those disciples were raised from sorrow to unrestrained joy, from fear to courage, from silence to bold proclamation, from seeing death as an ending to viewing it as the gateway to eternal life.

 

However, that passage does not apply only to those first disciples. Jesus also addresses those words to us. “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.”

 

Today, most of the world does not see Jesus. It considers Jesus a figure from the distant past, unconnected to the present.

 

But we see Jesus because he lives. The Spirit he promised opens our eyes to see him in the words of scripture, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, in the celebration of the sacraments, in the gathering of the Church, and in all the baptized – even ourselves.

 

Our lives are different because the Lord, who left his disciples for a while, returned alive and risen. In doing so he brought them and us into a new and everlasting relationship with God. As Jesus told us, “and you will live.”

 

Of all the wonderful words that the Church sets before us this Sunday, perhaps we might particularly take these words of Jesus to heart, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord bless you with his presence and peace

especially during these challenging days.

ONLY THROUGH ME

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

We live in a politically correct society where, for fear of being labeled as intolerant or bigoted, people are reluctant to say a certain way of thinking is better than another or one manner of living is superior to others. Whatever an individual thinks or does is to be accepted and not to be challenged or criticized.

 

That is true even when it comes to religion. It is considered bad form to say that one religion is better than another.

 

People are expected to consider all religions as valid paths to God. It is to make no difference if one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu or anything else.

 

It is considered equally improper to try and convert someone. Trying to do so would imply that we judged a person was not on the best spiritual path – how intolerant of us! If someone believes in God that is all that should matter and maybe even that is unimportant. After all, if God is all merciful and loving, then God will welcome all people into his kingdom.

 

While political correctness influences the thinking of many people, it certainly would not have influenced the words and actions of Jesus. That is clearly seen in this Sunday’s Gospel. (John 14:1-12)

 

There Jesus declares, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

 

Jesus says that by following his example and by walking with him, people find their way to God.

 

He declares that by listening to his words and observing how he lived, people come to know the truth about themselves and their purpose in life.

 

He announces that by allowing him to enter their hearts, people discover the fullness of life that only he can offer, a life that is not limited by death.

 

In that Gospel, Jesus also makes it clear that he alone is the perfect revelation of God. If we want to know God, then we need to know Jesus. If we want to discover what God is like, we need to look at Jesus. As Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

 

This Sunday, the Risen Lord reminds us that he is our way to God, there is no other. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

 

When it comes to those who have yet to know Jesus, we should follow the advice of Timothy. “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone….This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus…who gave himself as ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

 

While it may be politically correct to say that all paths lead to God, Jesus says something very different. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord continue to bless you with his presence and peace

during this Easter Season!

MORE THAN FUNCTIONAL

Sunday, may 3, 2020

the Fourth Sunday of easter

What are the most important parts of a church building?

 

If we were asked that question, we would most likely answer the altar, the pulpit, the presidential chair, the tabernacle, the baptismal font, the sanctuary, and we might even say the pews for the people.  For as we know, no people, no church.

 

But there is another part of the building that might come to mind in light of this Sunday’s Gospel (John 10:1-10). In that reading Jesus speaks about a gate. That image might remind us of the doors of our churches, for like a gate, they let people in and out. Sadly, at the present time those doors are shut tight.

 

Those doors normally allow people to enter the church so they can pray with their fellow Catholics. Those same doors let people exit so they can go forth to glorify the Lord by their lives of love and service.

 

Doors are also significant during certain liturgical celebrations.

 

At a baptism, the priest greets the parents and godparents who are presenting a child for the sacrament at the doors of the church.

 

At a wedding, the priest is encouraged to greet the bride and groom at the doors of the church and to lead them in procession to the altar.

 

At the start of a funeral Mass, the priest receives the body of the deceased at the doors of the church. After the liturgy, he accompanies the deceased as he or she is brought out of the doors for the last time.

 

The doors of our churches are fitting places for those rituals because those entry ways remind us of Jesus who in Sunday’s Gospel solemnly proclaims, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”

 

As Jesus further explains, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

 

Jesus is the gate that brings us into a new relationship with the Father, and the gate that can lead us to a richer life today, and eternal life tomorrow. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

 

The doors of our church are not only functional. They can serve as powerful reminders of the one who brought us into the church, and the one who sends us out through those doors to share his Gospel with all people.

 

Our church doors also declare that Jesus is the gate that leads to the green pastures of eternal life.

 

The next time we pass through the doors of our church, which we pray will be soon, we might remember the words of Jesus, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord continue to bless you with his presence and peace

during this Easter Season!

HEARD DIFFERENTLY

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Third Sunday of Easter

Sometimes a story that we have heard before takes on a different meaning because of what is happening in our lives.

 

That is true of the story that we hear in this Sunday's Gospel (Luke 24:13-35), the story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus that first Easter Sunday afternoon. We hear of Cleopas and another disciple walking side by side as they make their way home. Jesus, their master and teacher, had been crucified and buried. Dejected and disappointed, they are returning to their former lives.

 

As they walk along, a stranger catches up with them and asks them what they are talking about. The two disciples tell him about what has happened in Jerusalem and how their hopes in Jesus had been shattered. They reveal that they “were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”

 

The stranger then points out that the scriptures predicted that the long-awaited Messiah would suffer.

 

When they reach Emmaus, those disciples invite the stranger to stay with them and join them for supper. He accepts and they sit down to eat. As the stranger says the blessing, they come to recognize the Risen Lord.

 

On a human level, that story is about nothing extraordinary. It is about people walking and talking together and allowing a passing stranger to take part in their conversation. It is about two people inviting a new acquaintance to join them for something to eat.

 

But today, allowing a stranger to walk next to you and inviting that stranger to sit at your table is not so ordinary. In this time of the coronavirus, a stranger is a possible threat, a possible carrier of the disease. Showing hospitality has been replaced with social distancing.

 

Sunday’s Gospel reminds us of simple human activities we would not have given a second thought to some months ago.

 

The Emmaus story not only reminds us how our social interactions have changed, it also reminds us of what has happened in our spiritual lives.

 

Since mid-March, we have been unable to gather for Mass with our fellow parishioners, with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

We have been unable to listen to the Lord who speaks to us as the scriptures are proclaimed in the assembly and broken open in the homily.

 

We have been unable to gather at the table of the Lord where the priest does what Jesus did at the Last Supper and in Sunday's Gospel passage. There Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.”

 

Sharing the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ, being united with him and his Church in a “Holy Communion,” has been suspended. We are deprived of the Eucharist not by threat of persecution, but by an unseen threat even more deadly.

 

Sunday's Gospel reminds us of the simple human interactions that we now miss, interactions to which we never gave a second thought.

 

Even more importantly it reminds us of the liturgy that we can no longer freely celebrate with one another – the liturgy in which the Lord warms our hearts with his Word, and where he comes to be with us in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist.

 

This Sunday, we will hear the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in a very different way.

 

But may the day soon come when walking side by side and sharing at the table of the Lord will again be a normal part of our lives.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord continue to bless you

with his presence and peace during this Easter Season!

PRACTICE FIRST

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Second Sunday of Easter

“My Lord and my God.” That was the profession of faith made by Thomas in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 20:19-31) and it was equally made by the other Apostles. 

 

Their master whom they had seen crucified and laid in a tomb, appeared among them. He was alive, risen, and glorified. How could they not believe in him?

 

Brought to faith by that profound experience and empowered by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, those disciples went forth to preach the Gospel. They not only preached by the words they proclaimed, they preached by the way they lived their lives.

 

As we learn in our First Reading (Act 2:42-47), those first Christians “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” They lived differently.

 

They first came to faith, then came living out that faith.

 

However, for most of us the situation is reversed. Living the faith, practicing the faith, comes before we are truly able to say of Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”

 

As children we hear Jesus spoken about by family and friends. We notice religious symbols in our home. We are taught how to make the Sign of the Cross and to say the Our Father and the Hail Mary. We are taken to Sunday Mass where we watch and imitate what people are doing. We go to religion class and prepare for First Penance, First Communion, and Confirmation.

 

We are engaging in religious practices before we truly understand what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to know him as our Lord and God.

 

That process of practicing our faith continues as we grow. We do what those first Christians did.

 

We listen to “the teaching of the apostles” handed down to us by the Church. We take part in “the communal life” of the Christian community by being involved with the Church and with our parish. We join in “the breaking of bread” as we gather at the Table of the Lord each Sunday. And we take part in the “prayers” as we speak to God in the words handed down by those who have gone before us.

 

As we do those things – which now have become more difficult to do because of the COVID-19 pandemic – we practice our faith. We grow in our relationship with God. We come to know Jesus as our Lord and God.

 

Unfortunately, the opposite is equally true. When we decide to stop doing those things, when we decide to stop practicing our faith, our relationship with the Lord fades. We no longer recognize him as the Lord of our life.

 

While some people, like the apostles, can be brought to faith in God through a profound religious experience, most of us come to faith by devotedly doing those things expected of Christians. If we practice our faith, we will come to a deeper faith in the Lord. Remember, practice makes perfect!

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord bless you with his presence and peace

during this Easter Season!

NOT SOCIALLY DISTANT

Sunday, April 12. 2020

EaSTER SUNDAY, The Resurrection of the Lord

A few months ago, if we had heard the term “social distancing” most of us would not have known what was meant by that phrase.

 

However, since the discovery of the coronavirus, we have learned the meaning of that term and the necessity for us to increase the physical space between ourselves and others.

 

Health professionals and government officials have urged all people to keep at least six feet away from others in order to lessen the chance of an infected individual transmitting the coronavirus to other persons.

 

The need for such “social distancing” has led to the cancellation of sporting and social events, the suspension of church services, the closing of schools and businesses, the relegating of restaurants to “take out” only, and the dramatic lessening of our interactions with other people.

 

This “social distancing” has caused a sense of isolation. The isolation is especially difficult to endure when we feel threatened or in danger. At those times we want to be near other people, we want to be near people we love.

 

There is a form of “social distancing” that does far more than keep us at a certain physical distance from people. It moves us away from all people and out of their lives completely. We learn of such “social distancing” in the Gospel reading for Passion Sunday and Good Friday.

 

There we hear the account of the suffering and death of Jesus. We hear how Jesus was executed by Jewish religious leaders and Roman officials.

 

They wanted to completely “socially distance” Jesus. With his life ended and his body “quarantined” in a tomb, he could never again approach people with the Good News of the Gospel or touch them with healing and hope.

 

Certainly Mary, the mother of Jesus, Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, and the other disciples acutely felt that pain of Jesus being isolated from them by death.

 

But that “social distancing” came to a glorious end on Easter Sunday when Jesus was raised to new life. As Peter proclaims in the First Reading of Easter Sunday (Acts 10:34a, 37-43), “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

 

Those first disciples saw the “social distancing” caused by death broken by the power of the Resurrection. They experienced the presence of the Risen Lord.

 

He was with them and now the Risen Lord is with us. He is not socially distant off in the heavens. He is with us as we gather in his name, as we hear his Word, and as we share at his Table.

 

In the Resurrection, Jesus broke the power of death. His victory is our assurance that if we believe in him the “virus” of death will not result in “social distancing” us from God and from those we have loved. We will be joyfully united forever in the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Happy Easter!

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

THROUGH OUR EXPERIENCE

Sunday, April 5, 2020

PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD

People who look at a famous painting, read a best-selling novel, watch a critically acclaimed play, or listen to a piece of well-known music, do not come away with the same appreciation or understanding of what they have read, or seen, or heard.

 

People bring their knowledge, tastes, preferences, and life experiences with them as they interact with any kind of artistic creation.

 

For example, a person who is a musician will judge a Beethoven symphony differently than someone who has no idea of the complexity of music. A Christian who has studied art will appreciate the beauty of the Sistine Chapel in a different way than a non-believer who is obsessed with videogames.

 

That is true this Sunday as we listen to Saint Matthew’s account of the Passion of Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:14-27:66).

 

In that reading, we listen to a true “work of art” inspired by the Holy Spirit that recounts the suffering and death of Jesus.

 

Like any work of art, it elicits different reactions from those who hear it. Everyone will not hear the story of Christ’s Passion in the same way

 

Those who have never heard the passage before, will be shocked by the unjust suffering Jesus endures, by the cowardice exhibited by his apostles, and by the seeming victory of evil over good.

 

Those who have heard the Passion Reading many times before and who will remember parts of the story even before they are read, will hear it differently.

 

What they hear in Matthew’s account of the Passion will be affected by their religious knowledge, by their past experiences, and by what is happening in their lives at the present moment.

 

People who have been victims of any type of abuse or bullying, will see in the Passion reading, a person who was abused and bullied by the crowd and by Roman soldiers – someone with whom they can relate.

 

People who have been betrayed by a spouse or close friend will listen intently as Jesus is betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and deserted by the other apostles with whom he had just broken bread.

 

Persons in positions of leadership may feel uncomfortable as they hear how Jesus is treated so unjustly by religious and government leaders who fail to act as they should.

 

People dealing with physical or psychological pain will pay more attention to those passages in which Jesus endures physical suffering than they did when they were physically fit.

 

Persons sensing the end of life is approaching, despite all their prayers for healing, will hear the words of Jesus from the cross as a cry from their own hearts. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

While people growing in their love for the Lord will hear the Passion reading as another affirmation of God’s love for them. As Saint Paul tells us, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

 

This Sunday we will all hear Saint Matthew’s account of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. However, what we take away from that reading will depend upon what has happened and what is happening in our own lives.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May God bless you this Holy Week,

especially during this difficult and challenging time.

FUTURE PRESENT

Sunday, March 29, 2020

the Fifth Sunday of lent

Imagine for a moment you were taking a course in chemistry. After the first day of class the teacher took you aside and told you that no matter how hard you worked, no matter your level of class participation, no matter the marks you achieved on exams, you would fail the course.

 

Or imagine you started working for a mid-size advertising firm and your employer told you that no matter how many new accounts you brought in, no matter how many hours you worked, no matter the dedication you showed, you would lose your position in three months.

 

In both situations, you would feel you were being treated unjustly. You certainly would have no incentive to be devoted to your studies or to your job.

 

Why study, if a failing grade was inevitable? Why work, if unemployment was your promised payoff? What you knew was coming would influence how you acted in the present.

 

That is true for all of us. How we see the future, affects how we live today. That is especially true when it comes to the future that awaits us all – namely, death.

 

Persons who see death as an utter annihilation, or at best as an endless sleep from which no one ever awakens, live in a certain way.

 

Their view of the future, or better yet, of the “no-future,” influences their choices and behavior in the present. In their understanding, whether one is good or bad, generous or selfish, forgiving or vengeful, respectful or abusive makes no difference. Death comes. Life ends. They cease to exist, and with time any memory of their having walked this earth fades into nothingness.

 

But people of faith see things differently and live differently. For them, death is not a dead end, but a door that leads to another dimension of life.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 11:1-45), Jesus powerfully proclaims by word and deed that understanding of death.

 

There we see Jesus come to the home of his friends, Mary and Martha, who have suffered the loss of their brother Lazarus.

 

When Martha speaks of her hope that her dead brother “will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”  Jesus proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

 

Jesus then demonstrates his power over death by bringing forth Lazarus from the tomb. The “stench” of the tomb is blown away by a gust of life as Jesus cries out, “Lazarus, come out!”

 

In the raising of Lazarus, and even more dramatically by his own Resurrection, Jesus shows us that death is not the final curtain. As that curtain comes down, another one goes up. For as Jesus says, “whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.”

 

A belief in eternal life not only changes our view of death, it also influences the choices and decisions we make today. How we see the future affects how we live in the present.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

NOW WE CAN SEE!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

According to WebMD, “Babies are born with a full visual capacity to see objects and colors. However, newborns cannot see very far. Just after birth, a baby sees only in black and white, with shades of gray. As the months go by, he/she will slowly start to develop their color vision.”

 

However, that was not the case with the man we meet in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 9:1-41). We are told the man was “blind from birth.” In his entire life, that man had never seen the face of his father or mother or even his own two hands. He had never watched little children playing with one another or a flock of sheep grazing in a meadow. He had never witnessed a morning sunrise or stars shining in the night sky. He had never seen the wonder of God’s creation, a creation which God found to be “very good.”

 

That man’s blindness came to an end when Jesus smeared clay on his eyes and told him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” … He went and washed, and came back able to see.”

 

Can you imagine what that man experienced when the faces, the colors, the sights, the wonders he had never seen suddenly burst into view.

 

While thankfully, most people are not born physically blind, we are all born spiritually blind. No one is born being able to see the presence of Jesus in their lives. We only come to see Jesus when he removes our spiritual blindness.

 

That was true for the blind man, and it is true for us. In the Gospel reading, he is given physical sight and then he is given the vision to see and know the one who had touched his eyes.

 

First, he says he was cured by “the man called Jesus.” Then he tells the Pharisees that Jesus is more than a mere man, “He is a prophet.” When the Pharisees question him again, he says the one who opened his eyes is from God, for “if this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”

 

Later Jesus comes to the man and reveals who he truly is. Jesus tells him that he is the “Son of Man.” The man’s eyes are now truly opened in every sense and he says, “I do believe, Lord, and he worshipped him.”

 

That same process of gradually coming to see and know Jesus happens in our lives.  Our spiritual vision began when we were baptized. There we were “enlightened by Christ” so that we might “walk always as a child of the light.”

 

As we grew, we came to a deeper understanding of Jesus. We heard his words as the scriptures were proclaimed. We came to see him in the bread and wine of the Eucharist and in the celebration of the liturgies of the Church. Our spiritual vision increased as the Lord touched us during times of personal prayer and reflection and in unexpected moments of grace.

 

And unlike physical eyesight that can dim over time, our spiritual vision continually improves the more we spend time with Jesus, the light of the world.

 

The fact we are not spiritually blind is positive proof that the Lord who gave sight to the blind man, has touched our eyes as well. Like him, we can say, “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” We can see the Jesus! We can see him as our Lord and God, our Savior, Brother and Friend.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

HUNGER OF THIRST

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Third Sunday of Lent

When we are thirsty, we look for something to drink. When we are hungry, we look for something to eat. But hunger pangs are not always an accurate indication that our body needs food.

 

Sometimes we misinterpret our body’s signals. Hunger pangs can really be indications of thirst. "Mild dehydration is often masked as feelings of hunger, when really our body just needs fluids." (Alissa Rumsey, RD, American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.) That is why dieters are often advised to drink a glass of water before reaching for food.

 

In this Sunday’s readings, we meet people who are dealing with thirst.

 

In the First Reading (Exodus 17:3-7), we hear how the Jewish people grumbled against Moses. They believed they would die of thirst in the desert as they made their way to the promised land. God alleviated their thirst. He told Moses to strike a rock with his staff and water miraculously flowed forth and the people’s thirst was quenched.

 

Then in our Gospel (John 4:5-42), we meet a Samaritan woman who also was moved by thirst. She came to the village well, not at the usual time in the morning. She came at noon in the heat of the day. She came when she thought she would not meet anyone. Her situation in life had made her an object of small-town gossip and scorn.

 

At the well, she meets Jesus. There he does not behave as expected. Rather than avoiding a public conversation with an unrelated woman and a despised Samaritan, Jesus speaks to her.

 

In their conversation, Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Jesus reveals himself as the one who satisfies the deepest thirst of the human spirit.

 

When the woman says she is waiting for the promised Messiah, Jesus continues his self-revelation. He tells her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”

 

In that encounter, the Samaritan woman discovers that her thirst is for more than water. In fact, in the Gospel reading, we are never told that the woman put a bucket down the well. Instead, she leaves her water jar and races back to her neighbors whom she earlier had tried to avoid and announces, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”

 

The Samaritan woman discovered she had a deeper thirst in her life. We all do.

 

We have a thirst for a life-giving relationship with the Lord. But we often mistake that thirst for hunger. We try to ease that hunger in many ways. Some people try to satisfy that hunger with food, with mood altering drugs, with unnecessary purchases, with clothes that barely get worn, with entertainment, with the latest electronic gadgets, or with whatever seems to fill their emptiness at the moment.

 

Perhaps the misguided quest to satisfy that hunger may explain, at least in part, the increase of obesity, the opioid and drug crisis, the proliferation of storage units, the rise of junk removal firms, the popularity of home shopping networks, and the mounting credit card debt.

 

But the hunger we are trying to satisfy may not be hunger at all. It may rather be thirst – a thirst for a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ. As Jesus himself tells us, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. (John 7:37)

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

AN AERIAL VIEW

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Second Sunday of Lent

Aerial America, which is broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel, is a program that takes viewers on a flight across different parts of the United Sates. Cameras mounted on planes and drones show us bustling cities, suburbs, farmlands, historic places, mountains, rivers, and natural wonders.

 

From the vantage point provided by Aerial America, we can better appreciate the varied geography of our land. We notice flat areas that stretch to the horizon, places below sea level, and regions that soar to the heavens. There are plains, valleys, and mountains.

 

Those three types of land might describe different periods in our personal lives.

 

There are times when everything seems to be going as expected. We might say we are walking through a field, devoid of dips and bumps.

 

But there are times when things go wrong in our lives. So wrong we might sink into a valley of sorrow or depression.

 

And thankfully, there are times when things go wonderfully. We feel we are standing on a mountain of joy.

 

Plains, valleys, and mountains can also describe our relationship with God.

 

Our spiritual lives can be going smoothly. We pray, we come to Mass, we do our best to live the Gospel. We might say we are walking with the Lord through a field of goodness.

 

But our spiritual lives can sink into a valley when we sin or when we ignore our relationship with the Lord.

 

And then there are experiences that can lift us to a spiritual mountain top. That can happen in a moment of intense prayer, during the celebration of the liturgy, at the birth of a child, in an experience of intimacy, in the appreciation of creation, or when a heartfelt prayer is answered.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 17:1-9), we hear how Peter, James and John have such a spiritual experience as they witness the Transfiguration of Jesus.

 

They are privileged to see Jesus revealed as the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of the Chosen People, represented by Moses and Elijah.

 

They hear the voice of the Father from the heavens identifying Jesus and commanding them to follow him. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

 

Those three disciples were so awed by that experience, they wanted to hold on to it. As Peter said, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

 

But those disciples could not stay on that mountain top; they could not remain in that awesome moment of spiritual joy. They had to come down and continue their journey with Jesus. That is also true for us.

 

Our spiritual lives are usually lived on the level plain of habit and routine, and sometimes in the valley of sin and darkness.

 

But thankfully, the Lord does offer us mountain top experiences that strengthen, encourage, and affirm us in our relationship with Him.

 

For those who look with the eyes of faith, such a mountain top experience is available each time we come to Mass.

 

There the Lord draws our attention to the pulpit and invites us to listen to his word proclaimed by the reader. There the Lord lifts our eyes to the altar so that we might “Behold the Lamb of God” in the Bread and Wine of Eucharist. There the Lord tells us to “Rise, and do not be afraid” no matter what we may face.

 

The Gospel for this Second Sunday of Lent challenges us to take an “aerial view” of our spiritual lives – to recognize its plains and valleys, and most of all, its mountain tops.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

ENTICING

Sunday, march 1, 2020

The First Sunday of Lent

Those in the business of selling things to the public know the importance of showing their products in attractive and enticing ways. They do their best to make sure their displays of merchandise and their advertising catch the attention of potential customers.

 

We certainly see that as soon as we enter a department store like Macy’s or Nordstrom. From the moment we walk through their doors everything is geared to capture our attention and to make us believe that the items we see are things we need and should buy.

 

The first “seller” to know the importance of enticing people with his products appears in this Sunday’s First Reading and Gospel. There we see the devil working at persuading people to buy what he was selling.

 

In the First Reading (Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7), the serpent, the devil, entices the woman to consider the beauty of the tree that she and her husband were forbidden to touch. After the devil’s sly words, the woman concludes “that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” So, she eats of the tree and shares the fruit with her husband. They find the devil’s enticement irresistible.

 

In the Gospel reading (Matthew 4:1-11), the devil does the same thing. That is especially evident in the third and final temptation. The devil takes Jesus up a high mountain and shows him “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence.” He promises all this power and glory can be his, if Jesus just prostrates himself and worships him. Jesus, however, rejects the devil’s enticement. He says, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”

 

The devil who successfully tempted the man and woman in the garden but failed with Jesus, continues to try and seduce humanity today.

 

He entices us with attention-grabbing things that can pull us away from God, from the Church, and from our relationships with other members of the human family.

 

The devil can entice us with our smartphones. He can lead us to believe that constantly looking at our phone is more important than paying attention to the people God has placed in our lives, even more important than spending time with the Lord. Rather than looking up in prayer to God, we end up looking down at the flickering screen in our hand.

 

The devil can enthrall us with the cult of celebrity. He can make us want to be seen as an influencer in the world of social media. He can make us think that we find meaning in life not by following the Gospel but in collecting digital followers.

 

The devil can beguile us with non-stop entertainment available through television, radio, podcasts, video games, the internet, cable and streaming services – diversions that are as close as our smartphone or tablet. That never-ending entertainment overcomes the silence we need to hear the gentle voice of God.

 

The devil can trick us into thinking that drugs, alcohol, gambling, casual sex, power, and fulfilling our every desire is the way to happiness rather than living the way revealed by Jesus.

 

The devil, the clever salesman, is always tempting us to buy what he is selling, for he knows if we do, we will end up just where he wants us, outside the garden with Adam and Eve.

 

This Lent is the time for us to become more aware of the devil’s enticements so that like Jesus we too can say, “Get away, Satan!”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

MEANT FOR US

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Seventh Sunday In ORDINARY TIME


Imagine you are working in an insurance office with some hundred other employees. One morning, everyone receives an email from the owner of the firm announcing that a new person will be starting work tomorrow and requesting everyone to welcome this new employee and make that individual feel part of the “family.” You might read the memo and decide that you would say “hello” if you noticed that new person or you might just delete the email and move on with your day.

 

However, if your employer made a point to come to your desk and ask you to be kind and welcoming to that new hire, you would certainly make it a point to do so. We tend to be more attentive to instructions specifically addressed to us than to those meant for everyone.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 5:38-48), Jesus gives instructions on how people should deal with those who treat them badly and how they should behave toward their enemies. Jesus says, “offer no resistance to one who is evil…love your enemies.” We can hear those words of Jesus and dismiss them as unrealistic or perhaps meant for other people, people holier than ourselves.

 

However, if we look carefully at those words of Jesus, we see they are specifically meant for us. They are for followers of Jesus. Matthew writes, “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil…But I say to you, love your enemies.’”

 

Jesus tells us not to return insult for insult, not to react with anger and vengeance when we are mistreated or bullied. He instructs us to love our enemies. The love that Jesus speaks of is not a matter of hearts and flowers or warm feelings for our enemies, which would be unnatural, but rather it involves doing good for those undeserving of our help.

 

That is something Jesus himself showed us by his life. His love for us was not a matter of feelings but a matter of action. His love for us took him to the cross.

 

As Saint Paul told us in his Letter to the Romans, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us….while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:8, 10)

 


God’s love for us led him to do good for us sinners. What God did, we are to do. We are to do good for our enemies, for those who sin against us. As Jesus instructs us, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

 

We might say in Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus does not send out instructions to all people telling them how to treat their enemies. No, Jesus specifically walks over to our “desk” and gives us those instructions. Imagine, if each of us followed them – what an impact we would have in our homes, in our society, and in our world.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

LESSER TO GREATER

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary TIme

As they raise their children, parents try to teach their sons and daughters the importance of making good decisions.

 

One way parents do that is to give their children a small allowance each week. Parents instruct their children that this money should be used for incidental expenses, special purchases, and some should be saved for the future. Parents hope that handling a small allowance will teach children to make good choices when it comes to handling larger sums of money in the future.

 

Knowledgeable parents will compliment their children for the good choices they make in handling their weekly allowance. And even more importantly, wise parents will permit their children to suffer the consequences of their bad decisions. They will allow children, who spend all their weekly allowance on going out with their friends on Saturday, to face the rest of the week without a dollar in their pocket.

 

Parents hope that teaching their children to make good decisions in small things will help them to make wise decisions in more important matters.

 

Children who learn how to properly handle their allowance are far less likely in their college years to incur thousands of dollars in credit card debt buying things they can’t afford or truly need.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 5:17-37), Jesus speaks about the importance of making good moral choices. He speaks about not killing, not committing adultery, and not taking false oaths. Jesus speaks about the importance of making wise decisions in major moral matters.

 

But in each instance, Jesus also stresses the importance of making good moral choices in lesser matters related to each of those major decisions.

 

The person who will decide to respect the life of another in a potentially violent situation is the person who has previously decided not to give into anger and vicious and hateful speech when he or she feels criticized or insulted.

 

The man or woman who will decide to remain faithful to his or her marriage vows is the person who has been deciding not to indulge in lustful thoughts and pornographic fantasies.

 

The individual who will resolve to speak the truth in important matters is the person who previously has chosen to be honest in everyday situations. The person whose “yes” stands without equivocation at work, at school, or at home, will not need to stand on a stack of Bibles to be believed.

 

Just as parents know that children need to learn to make good choices in small matters if they are to make good choices in more important matters, Jesus knows the same. That is the reason he directs our attention not only to major moral decisions we may face, he also challenges us to see what kind of decisions we are making in every day related situations.

 

Those who know how to make the right choice in big things are those who have learned to make the right choice in lesser things.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

BWYA

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The FIFth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Imagine firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians arriving at the scene of a raging house fire.

 

Immediately those first responders would move into action. The firefighters would start battling the flames and searching for anyone trapped inside the home. The police officers would divert traffic, move spectators a safe distance away, and evacuate threatened structures. The emergency medical technicians would begin caring for the injured and setting up a first aid area.

 

Those first responders would fulfill the roles for which they had been trained. They would be the heroic men and women we expected.

 

We would be shocked if we saw firefighters doing nothing as a fire raged, or police officers ignoring people in harm’s way, or EMTs failing to assist the hurting.

 

In Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 5:13-16), Jesus speaks about his followers as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

 

When we hear those words of Jesus, we might think they tell us what we should aspire to become. Yet Jesus does not tell us to work at becoming salt and light. Rather he says, “You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world.” Jesus tells us what we already are.

 

We were made the light at our baptism. There we were “enlightened by Christ,” the light of the world, so that we might “walk always as children of the light.”

 

Since that time, the salt of God’s word has been poured into our lives Sunday after Sunday. That word flavors our life with the truth and preserves us from being corrupted by the lure of evil and the false values of our society.

 

Just as we expect first responders to be what they are when called to an emergency, so the Lord expects us to be what we are as we go through life.

 

Several years ago, some Christians started wearing bracelets with the letters WWJD.  Those letters reminded the wearer to consider What Would Jesus Do when they were faced with a decision. 

 

Considering this Sunday’s Gospel, we might imagine there should be a bracelet with the letters, BWYA.     Be What You Are. Be the salt! Be the light! Make a difference in a society where life has been made tasteless by loneliness, despair and a lack of purpose. Make a difference in a world darkened by sin and selfishness.

 

Be what you are! If we have forgotten what that requires, Jesus makes it abundantly clear this Sunday. “You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world.”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

IMPROVING OUR VISION
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2020

The Presentation of the Lord

Over the years, many of us may have noticed that restaurant menus have become more challenging to read, the print in newspapers and magazines has gotten blurry, and the glare from oncoming headlights has increased.

 

We notice such things because as the years go by our eyesight tends to weaken. We no longer see as well as we did when we were younger.

 

While that is the case in our everyday life, that is not necessarily the case in our spiritual life.

 

In fact, our spiritual vision can actually get better as we age.  We certainly see that in this Sunday’s Gospel for the Presentation of the Lord. (Luke 2:22-40)

 

In that reading we hear how 40 days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph come to the Temple in Jerusalem. In accord with the law of Moses, they come to present their firstborn male child to the Lord, and Mary comes to offer the sacrifice required for her ritual purification.

 

Obviously, there were many people in the Temple that day. But only two people were able to recognize the infant Jesus, namely, Simeon, who had been told “that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord,” and Anna, who “was advanced in years…she was eighty-four.”

 

It was these two elderly individuals who had the spiritual vision to recognize the identity of the one carried in by Mary and Joseph.

 

Simeon had the vision to see this child was, as he proclaimed, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

 

When Anna saw the child, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”

 

Simeon and Anna had that sharp spiritual vision because as we read, they were righteous and devout, they were people of prayer and worship.

 

It was their time with the Lord that gave them the spiritual vision to see the Messiah, to recognize Jesus, the Light of the World, that day in the Temple.

 

If we are to recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives, then like Simeon and Anna, we need to work at strengthening our spiritual vision.

 

We need to spend time in prayer, we need to read the scriptures, we need to come to Mass, we need to be part of the Church, otherwise, our spiritual vision will become weak and blurry and we will fail to see the Lord in our lives and in our world.

 

That is certainly happening in our day. It is no coincidence that as Mass attendance has fallen, as people have moved away from prayer and from growing in the knowledge of their faith, the number of people identifying as atheists, agnostics, and of no religion has increased. Their spiritual vision has dimmed. They can no longer see the Lord.

 

Simeon and Anna would tell us that the more you pray, the more time you spend with God, the better your spiritual vision becomes!

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WHO SAID?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the Gospels, who said, “May it be done to me according to your word”?

 

Which apostle proclaimed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”?

 

What preacher declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”?

 

If you answered that Mary said, “May it be done to me according to your word,” you would be correct. That was her response when she was asked to be the mother of the Savior. (Luke 1:38)

 

If you replied that Peter proclaimed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” you would be right. That is what he said when Jesus asked him “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16: 15-16)

 

If you responded that Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” you would be correct. We hear that proclamation in this Sunday’s Gospel as Jesus begins his public ministry. (Matthew 4:12-23)

 

However, there is another possible response to that third question. If you answered that John the Baptist said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” you would also be right.

 

We heard those words in the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent. There we were told, “In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” (Matthew 3:1-2)

 

However, though the words might be the same, each message was different – as different as the preachers.

 

When John the Baptist called people to repent for the kingdom was at hand, he was announcing that the kingdom was imminent. It was fast approaching. Now was the time to get ready for its arrival.

 

When Jesus said those words, he was proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven had arrived. The kingdom was present in him and in his ministry. It was at hand. The kingdom was not some future reality or some heavenly place, it was the power of God acting in this world to set things right.

 

Jesus demonstrated the presence of that kingdom by his preaching and miracles. As we read in Sunday’s Gospel, “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.”

 

Those miracles of Jesus highlight the difference between John and Jesus. John proclaimed the kingdom was at hand, it was coming, but its power was not yet evident. “John performed no sign.” (John 10:41)

 

The presence of the kingdom, the power of God acting in Jesus, is also seen in the call of Peter and Andrew, James and John. When Jesus summons them, they leave their nets and follow him. At his word, fishermen are transformed into disciples.

 

That kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is present today. It is present as the power of God works in the lives of those who turn from sin and open their hearts to the Lord. Their acts of kindness and generosity, their ability to forgive those who hurt them, their sacrifices for the sake of others, their love of neighbor and stranger, their ordering their lives according to the Gospel, and their willingness to share their faith are all signs that the kingdom of heaven is at hand,

 

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” those words spoken by Jesus challenge us to see the presence of God’s kingdom in our world and in our lives.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

Time AND ATTENTION NEEDED

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time


How much time does it take to really know a person, to truly develop a deep, lasting relationship with that individual?

 

Can that happen after a single meeting, or does it take several encounters or even more? Can it happen after a few weeks or months, or might it take several years?

 

Getting to know a person and developing a true bond of friendship and love is a process that requires time and attention. We never know someone completely. Even people we have known for years can do or say something we never expected or reveal something surprising about themselves.

 

If that is true of the people in our lives, it is even more true when it comes to Jesus, our Savior and Lord. A relationship with the Lord is something that takes time to develop and grow. We usually do not have a “Damascus experience” like Saint Paul in which the Lord suddenly reveals himself to us in a blinding moment of enlightenment.

 

We come to know the Lord just as we come to know the people who hold a special place in our hearts. We come to know the Lord over time.

 

We see that happening in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 1:29-34). There we hear how John the Baptist came to a deeper understanding of Jesus.

 

John obviously had already known Jesus. They were just six months apart in age and their families were related. Yet when John was baptizing at the Jordan River, he came to a deeper understanding of Jesus. He came to know him as “the Lamb of God” and as the “Son of God,” as he saw the Spirit come down upon Jesus like a dove.

 

But that process of John’s growing in his understanding of Jesus did not end there. In the Gospel of Matthew, we learn how later in his life John sent his disciples to Jesus to confirm that Jesus truly was the one whose coming John had predicted.

 

Just as John had to grow in his understanding of Jesus and in his relationship with him, so do we.

 

At this point in the liturgical year of 2020, we enter the Season of Ordinary Time. In its Gospels, we will learn of the ministry of Jesus, we will hear him proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom and we will see him interacting with the poor and powerless, and the rich and powerful.

 

While we can let our attention drift elsewhere since we have heard those Gospel readings many times before, we would be missing an opportunity to grow in our understanding of Jesus and in our relationship with him.

 

Each time we hear the Gospel proclaimed, Jesus speaks to us. Each time we reflect with others on God’s Word, Jesus opens our minds. Each time we celebrate a sacrament, the Lord touches our lives. Each of those moments provide another opportunity for us to grow in our relationship with the Lord.

 

We might say that as we faithfully progress through the liturgical year, we progressively grow in our understanding of Jesus and our relationship with him.

 

Like all relationships, a relationship with the Lord requires our ongoing effort, time, and attention.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

RELATABLE

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Baptism of the Lord

When individuals run for national office, they try their best to relate to the people whose votes they are seeking. They do not want to be thought of as being aloof, out of touch, or elitist.

 

When giving a speech, candidates for office will be sure to mention the top concerns of the voters. Those candidates want to be seen as sharing those concerns and ready to address them.

 

While campaigning in a particular state, office seekers will praise that “great state”, and of course they will reference its winning sports teams, its main industries, and its wonderful, hard-working people.

 

When visiting ethnic neighborhoods, those running for election will be sure to sample the local delicacies, participate in cultural traditions, and speak at least a few words of the group’s first language.

 

All candidates realize that if they want people to listen to them, to put their trust in them, to vote for them, they need to be seen as relatable, approachable, and concerned.

 

Jesus our Lord and Savior took a similar approach. When he came among his people to proclaim the Gospel and to announce that the Kingdom of God was at hand, he did not come in power and majesty as some unapproachable being from on high. He came as one of the people.

 

We see that in the feasts of this Christmas Season.

 

The Son of God is born not in a palace, but in a lowly stable. His birth is first recognized by simple shepherds and ignored by high ranking religious leaders and seen as a threat to the politically elite.

 

When he receives precious gifts from the magi, those gifts do not change his social status or that of his family. He continues to be known as the son of Mary and Joseph, members of the common people of the day.

 

He and his family follow the same religious prescriptions and rituals as the rest of the Chosen People. As an infant he is circumcised and then presented in the Temple. He is treated like any other Jewish boy of his day.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 3:13-17), we once again see Jesus seeking to identify with his people. We are told that “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.”

 

While theologians speculate why Jesus, the sinless one, came to be baptized, perhaps the reason is simply this. Jesus wanted to identify with sinners.

 

He wanted to relate to his fellow Jews who were turning from sin and anticipating the arrival of the Messiah. So, like them, Jesus goes down into the water and is baptized.

 

Associating with the common people and sharing their lives is something that Jesus did throughout his ministry. As the religious elite asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11)

 

As this Christmas Season comes to an end with Sunday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are given another example of our God humbling himself in order to be one with his people.

 

God is not aloof, distant, and beyond us, God is with us. He became one of us. He is “Emmanuel.”


© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

THE CHRISTMAS GIFT

Sunday, January 5, 2020

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD

 This Christmas season that began on December 25th is the time for giving gifts. During this season we typically give gifts to our relatives and friends, to our coworkers, and to those who have helped us this past year. We also give gifts to people in need, to various charities, and of course to our parish – our spiritual home.

 

The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas has its origin not in the story of Santa Claus, but rather in the feast we celebrate this Sunday, the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

 

Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) tells us that led by a star, the magi, those travelers from the East made the long journey to Jerusalem to offer homage to the newborn king of the Jews. Then, directed by the prophecy told them by the chief priests and scribes, they continued on to Bethlehem.

 

On entering the house over which the star was shining, “they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

 

Those magi presented the very first Christmas gifts, the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those three gifts not only honored this newborn king of the Jews but also revealed who he was.

 

The gift of gold pointed to his royalty. The gift of frankincense used in worship indicated his divinity. While the gift of myrrh used for burial hinted at his future suffering and death.

 

But those three gifts were not the first Christmas gifts ever to be given. The very first Christmas gift was the one given to the magi themselves.

 

They were given the gift of faith. It was that gift that caused them to notice the shining star in the heavens. It was that gift that spurred them on as they journeyed to the land of Judah. It was that gift that caused them to recognize the child of Mary as the newborn king of the Jews.

 

Without that first Christmas gift, the magi would have remained at home. Like the chief priests, scribes, and people of Jerusalem, they would not have taken a step toward Bethlehem.

 

We would not be celebrating this Christmas season unless God gave us that same gift of faith that he gave the magi of old.

 

It is that gift of faith that enables us to recognize the child born in Bethlehem as the one whose coming was announced by John the Baptist. It is that gift of faith that allows us to know Jesus as the Word made flesh. It is that gift of faith that empowers us to profess Jesus to be our Lord and God.

 

This season we give gifts to those who have a special place in our hearts and we also bring gifts to God, the gifts of our praise and worship, the gifts of our love and obedience.

 

This Feast of the Epiphany reminds us that we who give gifts during this Christmas Season share in the first and best of all Christmas gifts. Like the magi, God has given us the gift of faith to recognize Jesus, the one born that first Christmas, as our Savior and King.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Best Wishes for a New Year Filled with God’s Presence and Peace!

NOT LIKE OUR FAMILY

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Holy Family of Jesus, mary and Joseph

This Sunday we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – one of the great feasts of the Christmas Season. This feast centers our attention on that holy, perfect family into which Jesus was born.

 

It is not surprising that this family was perfect and holy. Mary had a special place in God’s heart from the moment of her conception and throughout her life she was free from the corrupting influence of sin and selfishness. She was full of grace.

 

Joseph was a righteous man who made perfect decisions for he was guided by messages from God. We see that happening in Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23). There an angel of God appears to Joseph in a dream and warns him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus in order to escape the murderous plot of Herod. Later that same divine messenger reappears and tells Joseph to return home for the threat was gone.

 

Most significant of all, the child in that family was divine, the Son of God himself. How could this family not be perfect, not be holy?

 

Sunday’s feast, while it highlights this perfect family, also reminds us of something that we often forget. It tells us that there was only one holy, perfect family and there will never be another one like it.

 

Yet most of us keep searching for other holy, perfect families,

and we do that searching especially in our own homes.

 

Children want their mothers and fathers to be perfect. Or at least to be perfect according to their understanding of what makes the perfect parent.

 

Parents want to have perfect, holy, obedient children who cause no trouble and are a credit to the family.

 

Siblings want their brothers and sisters to be kind, sharing, and supportive and to cause them no trouble or embarrassment.

 

Yet as we know from our personal experience, families are not perfect. Even families that produce priests and religious have their failings and imperfections.

 

That is why the scriptures this Sunday speak of what family members owe one another. The Second Reading (Colossians 3: 12-21) speaks of the things that imperfect families, like our own, need to work on.

 

Paul tells us, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love.”

 

Families are made up of imperfect people like you and me, who try to muddle through, who sometimes succeed, and sometimes fail. That is why our families need to be rich in love, forgiveness, and understanding.

 

There was only one perfect, holy family. As much as we might hope, there will never be another one. Since that is the case, perhaps the best gift we can give the members of our families this Christmas Season, and throughout the coming New Year, is a little more forgiveness, a little more understanding, a little more love.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Best Wishes for a Joyous Christmas

and a New Year Filled with God’s Presence and Peace!

THE ONE WORD

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Fourth Sunday of AdVENT

Advertisers will often use a single word to capture the feeling, mood, or idea they are trying to convey in their messages. That is especially true during the Christmas season. For many years Macy’s highlighted the single word “believe” in its holiday advertising.

 

Other companies use other words. For example, they might emphasize a word such as joy, hope, love, share, peace, giving, wondrous, or magical. A single well-chosen word can be more effective than a string of words that are quickly forgotten.

 

If we had to choose just one word to convey the spiritual meaning of the Christmas season, we might pick the word that appears in this Sunday’s First Reading (Isaiah 7:10-14) and is repeated in the Gospel (Matthew 1:18-24). That word is Emmanuel.

 

In the First Reading, the prophet Isaiah tells King Ahaz, who doubts God’s protection, that God would give an unmistakable sign of his providential care. “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

 

Then in the Gospel, Matthew relates how Joseph comes to know that Mary’s pregnancy is not the result of her unfaithfulness but the result of the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.

 

This happens, Matthew tells us, to fulfill the prophecy found in the reading from Isaiah. In quoting that prophecy, the word Emmanuel appears again.

 

The word Emmanuel is the ideal single word to express what we celebrate this Advent and Christmas Season. The word means, God is with us.

 

As Christians we believe that the God of infinite power and majesty, the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe, decided to take on flesh and come among his creatures.

 

God did not simply want to tell us about himself, God wanted to reveal himself in a human face.

 

God became one of us that first Christmas and walked among us. Amazingly God continues to walk among us through Word and Sacrament and through the members of his Church. God is involved with our lives and with this world. That wondrous mystery is captured in the word Emmanuel.

 

God is not above us. God is not beyond us. God is not far from us. God is not removed from us. No, God is with us. God is Emmanuel. That one word proclaims what we celebrate at Christmas and it gives us the reason for our joy. EMMANUEL!

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Best Wishes for a Joyous Christmas, Filled with God’s Presence and Peace!

DO YOU WANT TO BE SAVED?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Third Sunday of Advent

“Do you want to be saved?” If you were asked that question, you would certainly respond with a definite YES. Yes, I want to be saved.

 

But what if you were asked, “Do you want to be saved right now?” You might hesitate to say YES since salvation is often thought of as gaining eternal life. While eternal life is something we hope to obtain in the future, most of us would prefer to have as much time as possible in this world before being “saved.”

 

As we prepare to celebrate the coming of the one who was acclaimed as the savior of the world, we need to realize that the salvation Jesus came to bring is not limited to eternal life.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11), we read that while he was in prison, John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" John wanted to know if Jesus truly was the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Savior of the World.

 

Jesus responded by telling the emissaries from John to report what they were hearing and seeing. “The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

 

The salvation Jesus was bringing was not limited to the future but involved the present as well. He was bringing healing and wholeness to the suffering in this life. He was not just “saving” people so they might have a place in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was making their lives better as he encountered them and showed them his mercy and compassion.

 

Today, the Church continues Jesus’ work of salvation.

 

It saves people from seeing their lives as meaningless, as merely the result of chance. It proclaims the meaning of human existence found in the scriptures and in Jesus, the “way, the truth, and the life.”

 

It saves people from the power of sin and from believing they can never move beyond their past failures. It offers them God’s forgiveness and the opportunity to start again.

 

It saves people from the fear of death and from thinking they are nothing more than a momentary spark in the immensity of the universe. It declares that those who put their faith in Jesus are caught up into God’s eternal life and love.

 

It saves people from hunger, homelessness, disease, exploitation, ignorance and loneliness. It makes the compassion and healing of Jesus present in our day through its many social services, charitable endeavors, educational institutions and advocacy for justice.

 

Jesus assured those sent by John the Baptist that he was the one who was expected. He was the one who had come to save the people. He did that by pointing out to them what he was doing to bring healing, wholeness and mercy to the suffering. Today, the Church makes present that saving mission of Jesus Christ.

 

So, do you want to be saved, and saved right now? If we truly understand the fullness of salvation Jesus offers, our answer will be a definite YES! Save me Lord and save me now!

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

AN APPEALING MESSAGE!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Second Sunday of ADVent

Some authors write best sellers, while others write books that end up for sale at the dollar store.

 

Some songwriters compose songs that are downloaded millions of times and become Grammy winners, while others produce music that no one remembers.

 

Some painters produce works of art that are collected and hung in galleries, while the creations of other artists end up on tables at garage sales.

 

Why is it that some people become successes in their profession, and others do not? We might conclude that those who succeed are those with the most talent. Yet, we all know of talented people who never make it big.

 

The key to success is not just talent. People who succeed are those whose works appeal to the public. An author, for example, might write a story that is grammatically and technically correct, but if that story has no mass appeal, that author will fail. The opposite is equally true. If people like what they read, that author succeeds, despite any critical reviews.

 

In Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 3:1-12), we hear of a person who was a great success as a preacher. We are told that “at that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him.” John the Baptist obviously had mass appeal.  

 

Yet it seems surprising that a preacher whose main message was repentance and a public acknowledgment of one’s sinfulness would be attracting large crowds. In our day, a preacher with such a message would see many empty pews before him.

 

There had to be something in the message of John the Baptist that appealed to the public. There had to be something in his words that made people leave their homes and go out to him in great numbers. That something was hope - hope that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The power of God was breaking into this world and the one who embodied that power and presence of God was about to appear.

 

Now was the time for people to repent and to turn away from those behaviors, those attitudes, those ways of thinking, those relationships that would keep them from welcoming the one who would usher in this time of hope and transformation.

 

That hopeful time is poetically described in Sunday’s First Reading (Isaiah 11:1-10). It would be a time when “the cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.”

 

Whose attention would not be caught by such a hopeful message of peace and harmony? Who would not want to be ready to welcome the one predicted by John who would bring the power of the Holy Spirit and the fire of God’s love into this troubled world?

 

Yes, John was a successful preacher because he had a message that the crowds wanted to hear – a message of hope, harmony, and peace. His message truly had mass appeal. So much so that we are still coming to hear it today.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

ALREADY READY?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The First Sunday of Advent

“Are you ready for Christmas?” That is a common question at this time of year.

 

It will be asked even more frequently this season for Christmas seems to be coming more quickly than usual. That is the case because typically there is a week or so between Thanksgiving and December 1.

 

However this year, the fourth Thursday of November, Thanksgiving Day, is the 28th of the month, the latest date possible for the holiday. That means the month of December begins just two days after we clear our Thanksgiving table.

 

So, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

 

Have you selected the people who will receive gifts from you this year? Are those gifts already ordered or purchased? Are they wrapped? Are your Christmas cards written out, addressed, and ready to mail? Is your home decorated for the coming holiday? Have you decided where you will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Have you thought about the people you will invite to your home? Are your finances ready to handle your holiday expenses?

 

“Are you ready for Christmas?” For most people, the answer is NO.

 

Christmas always has a way of sneaking up on us, especially this year. But the advertising and media world are working overtime to remind us to get ready. Even the lighting of the candles of the Advent Wreath can be a reminder of the decreasing number of weeks to prepare for Christmas Day – more light, less time!

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 24:37-44), Jesus is also at work, warning us to be ready for his coming. That requires continuous effort on our part since, unlike the date of Christmas, the date of the Lord’s arrival at the end of time and at the end of our lives is not marked on any human calendar.

 

How much time we have to ready ourselves to meet the Lord remains unknown. That being the case Jesus tells us that we “must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

 

We see that lack of preparation in the Gospel where we read, “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.” In that example, only half of the people are ready to be taken into God’s kingdom, the rest are left behind in their sinful state.

 

We ready ourselves for the day of the Lord’s coming by following the advice Paul gives us in this Sunday’s Second Reading (Romans 13:11-14). “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy.” We are to live in the light of the Gospel and follow the example of Jesus. We are, as Paul tells us, to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

During the coming days whenever we are asked “Are you ready for Christmas?” we should picture ourselves being asked the more important question, “Are you ready for Christ?”

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

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