Sunday, March 11, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Some decisions can have negative consequences.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Third Sunday of Lent

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Second Sunday of Lent

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Peter needed that mountaintop experience.


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


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


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


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


Sunday, February 18, 2018

The First Sunday of Lent

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

What is the number one disease in the United States?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

Better than Miracles

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The words of Jesus continue to have power and authority.


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


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


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


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


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


Sunday, January 21, 2018

THe Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski



Sunday, January 14, 2018

THe Second Sunday in Ordinary TIme

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


SundaY, JANUARY 7, 2018


Said the night wind to the little lamb,

"Do you see what I see?

Way up in the sky, little lamb,

Do you see what I see?

A star, a star, dancing in the night

With a tail as big as a kite,

With a tail as big as a kite."


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski



The HOly Family

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


Sunday, December 17, 2017

The third Sunday of Advent

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski


Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Second Sunday of advent

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

Told Once More

sUNDAY, dECEMBER 3, 2017


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

our undercover boss

sUNDAY, nOVEMBER 26, 2017


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


© 2017 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

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