A SURPRISING ASSOCIATION

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost sunday

Most people are familiar with word association tests. Someone says a word and we have to say the first thing that comes to mind when we hear that word.

 

For example, if we heard the word “blue,” we might respond by saying “sky” or “bird” or “feeling.” If we heard “car” we might respond with “Toyota” or “loan” or “drive.”

 

Suppose someone said the word “Pentecost.” We might say “Holy Spirit” or “fire” or “wind.” Certainly each of those words would be expected responses and ones related to this Sunday’s First Reading (Acts 2:1-11) for the Solemnity of Pentecost.

 

However, there is another word that might also be associated with “Pentecost,” the final day of this Easter Season – a word that we would probably not mention even if we named a dozen words related to “Pentecost.” That word is “annunciation.”

 

“Annunciation” brings to mind the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she had been chosen from among all women to bear a son who would be great and be called the “Son of the Most High.”

 

If we reflect on the Solemnity of the Annunciation and the Solemnity of Pentecost there is a connection, one that can help us to more fully appreciate the meaning of Pentecost.

 

At the Annunciation, the angel told Mary that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

 

With Mary’s positive response, the incarnation took place. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)

 

Luke’s account of Pentecost has certain parallels to his account of the Annunciation. The Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary dramatically overshadows the disciples at Pentecost. The Spirit’s coming is announced not by a message from an angel but rather by “a noise like a strong driving wind” and by “tongues as of fire.”

 

Empowered by the Spirit, the disciples burst forth from where they are gathered in prayer and go forth to proclaim the Gospel. We might say they come out of the “womb,” their place of security, and they make the Church, the living Body of Christ, present in their flesh and blood.

 

Because of the Annunciation, Christ the Savior was born. Because of Pentecost, the Church was born. Both “births” took place through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Pentecost event that we celebrate this Sunday is something that continues to this very day. That happens as the Holy Spirit overshadows those who are baptized and confirmed, makes them part of the Church, and sends them forth into the streets of our world to be the living presence of Christ

 

While we might not readily associate “annunciation” with “Pentecost,” there is a connection. Recognizing that association will help us to better appreciate what we celebrate this Sunday and better appreciate the importance of our responding to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE?

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

What kind of people do you imagine Jesus wants us to be?

 

If someone asked us that question, we might answer by saying Jesus wants us to be loving, compassionate, caring, forgiving, understanding, generous, selfless, humble, and considerate.

 

These are qualities that Jesus expects of his followers. They also are traits that Jesus himself embodied during his ministry.

 

However, in this Sunday's Gospel reading (John 17:20-26) Jesus speaks about another quality that he expects of his disciples. In fact, he specifically asks his heavenly Father that this trait might be seen in all his followers down through the ages.

 

He says, "Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one.”

 

Jesus wants us to be united. He wants us to be a harmonious family of faith bound together by our common relationship with him and the Father. As he prays, “May all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.”

 

That prayer for unity offered by Jesus at the Last Supper is one that is continued by the Church and is especially true as we gather at the table of the Lord.

 

At Mass, the priest prays “that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.” (Eucharistic Prayer III)

Just before we share the Sign of Peace, the celebrant asks the Lord to look upon “the Church and grant her peace and unity.”

 

Then as we receive Holy Communion, we take on that unity the Lord seeks. We become one with the Lord and with our fellow Christians. Just as the members of a human family are of the same flesh and blood, so are we. For we too share the same flesh and blood, namely, the Body and Blood of Christ.

 

We live in a world where despite being digitally connected, people seem to be more socially divided, more polarized, more separated by their politics, opinions, economic status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and group identification.

 

Imagine the impact Christians would have on society if we lived out the spirit of unity we share at Mass outside the doors of the church. If we did that then the world would realize the truth of the Gospel and the life-changing power of the Christian faith.

 

Yes, Jesus wants us to be morally good, compassionate, and merciful, but above all he wants us to be united as brothers and sisters with one another and with him.

 

That is the reason the Lord invites us Sunday after Sunday “to take and eat…to take and drink.” He continually challenges us to become what we receive – “holy communion.”

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord continue to bless you

during this Easter Season!

 

NO DIPLOMAS ON THE WALL

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

When you visit a medical office, you usually see diplomas and accreditations prominently displayed on the walls. Those credentials testify to the educational level and skills of the various physicians associated with the practice. The more courses completed, the more knowledge gained, the more diplomas on the wall.

 

That is not only true for doctors but for lawyers and other professionals. We might be a little uneasy if we did not see some sign of a professional’s level of skill and achievement on display in that person’s office.

 

While professionals are awarded diplomas for the courses they have completed, there are no diplomas or credentials awarded to Christians. That is the case because Christians are always learning, they never reach the point of knowing all there is to know about being a follower of Christ.

 

Even Jesus, the perfect teacher, did not tell his disciples all they needed to know about proclaiming the Gospel and forming the Christian community. He awarded them no credentials to display, instead he promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit to continue to guide and instruct them. 

 

As Jesus says in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 14:23-29), “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

 

We see that Holy Spirit at work in this Sunday’s First Reading (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29) that describes a major issue that confronted the first Christians. Since the initial followers of Jesus were Jewish, a question arose about the non-Jews who were accepting the Gospel. Did they first have to convert to Judaism in order to become Christians? 

 

The “apostles and elders” arrived at the answer not by considering what they learned in “class” but by considering the guidance and wisdom given by the Holy Spirit. The solution reached was described as “the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.”

 

That Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church. There are no members of the Church with diplomas that testify they have achieved a level of knowledge that allows them to know what the Lord expects of his Church in every circumstance.

 

Christians are always learning more about what it means to follow Christ, always learning more about what God requires of them, always learning more about how they should respond to the challenges of this world. Christians who think they know it all are Christians who do not understand the guiding role of the Holy Spirit.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord continue to bless you

during this Easter Season!

WHAT'S YOUR GRADE

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The FIFTH Sunday of Easter

 During the months of May and June, the school year comes to an end. For those in college that happens in early or mid-May and for those in grammar or high school the academic year ends in June. And sometimes late in June, depending upon how many school days may have been cancelled because of bad winter weather.

 

Whenever it comes, the end of the school year brings final exams. Teachers test their students and then give them a grade that indicates how well the students have done in absorbing the material covered in class.

 

But imagine rather than having students take any type of written or oral examination, teachers simply asked their students to grade themselves.

 

Students could award themselves an “A” or a 4.0, or “B” or 3.0 or any other grade they wished. Whatever grade they chose would appear on their record. I doubt any students would give themselves a failing grade.

 

As Christians we are all students and Jesus is our teacher. He has taught us that we are to love God and love our neighbor. That lesson is continually reinforced each time we come to Mass or read the scriptures. Suppose for a moment we had to grade ourselves on how well we have taken the message of Jesus to heart and made it the guide of our lives.

 

Most of us would give ourselves a passing grade and perhaps even an “A”. We would determine the criteria and standard of what it means for us to be a loving Christian, and we would see ourselves as meeting those standards. Like school students grading themselves, we would certainly not give ourselves an “F”.

 

But in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 13:31-33a, 34-35), Jesus, our teacher, sets a standard far higher than we would ever set for ourselves.

 

He tells us, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  The love of Jesus was merciful, forgiving, compassionate, and self-sacrificing. It was far more than kind words and warm feelings. His love led him to put others before himself, it led him to stoop down and wash feet, and it led him to be lifted high on a cross.

 

It’s easy for us to consider ourselves as “passable” Christians if we grade ourselves. But the mark that will count on our final transcript is not the one we award ourselves, but the one based on the criteria set by Jesus, our teacher. “Love one another. As I have loved you.”

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord continue to bless you

with his presence and peace

during this Easter Season!


JEOPARDY

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

In the long-running television game show called Jeopardy, the answer is given first, and the players must come up with the corresponding correct question.

 

Imagine for a moment the category was religion, and the answer given was, “He is the Good Shepherd.” Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Christianity, would most likely respond, “Who is Jesus Christ?” And they would be right!

 

In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd who cares for those in his flock, protects them, and seeks those who stray. As he says, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…..I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.” (John 10:11, 14)

 

However, if the Jeopardy answer was “They are the Good Sheep,” many contestants might hit the buzzer and blurt out “Who are Christians?” But that would be wrong.

 

The correct question, according to this Sunday’s Gospel (John 10:27-30) would be “Who are they who listen to the shepherd?”

 

In that Gospel Jesus describes the sheep he identifies as being part of his flock, as being good sheep. They are the ones who hear his voice and follow him. They are the sheep who will be blessed with a life-giving relationship with him that will last forever. As he says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

 

It is evident Jesus has certain expectations of all those who think of themselves as part of his flock.

 

The Lord expects his followers to set aside some time each day to shut out the noise and distractions of life. And in the silence, to listen to his voice as he speaks through the scriptures and in the teaching of the Church.

 

The Lord expects his followers to reflect daily on the choices they make and things they do to be certain they are in line with the Gospel and with the example he has set.

 

It is easy to think of ourselves as the good sheep. But if we not are doing our best to truly listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and to faithfully follow him, we are deceiving ourselves. We are putting ourselves in eternal jeopardy!

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord bless you with his presence and peace

during this Easter Season!

MORE THAN A FISH STORY

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The third SUnday of easter

“Some men go out on a boat, catch a lot of fish, and then have breakfast.”  That is how someone might summarize what happens in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 21:1-14).

 

But that Gospel reading is filled with specific details.

 

We are told there was a definite number of men – seven to be exact, and the names of five of them are listed in the reading. There was Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, Zebedee's sons (James and John), and two other unnamed disciples. 

 

We are told that their efforts during the night on the Sea of Galilee produced no results. As they are about to quit, a stranger on the shore urges them to cast their net once more. They heed the advice and are rewarded with a catch, a catch specifically described. Not just fish, but big fish, and not just a lot of fish, but an exact number – 153 to be exact.

 

When “the disciple whom Jesus loved” recognizes the person standing on the shore, he tells Peter, “It is the Lord.” Peter immediately throws on more clothes and swims about 100 yards to the shore.

 

When the other six disciples in the boat arrive, they discover Jesus is cooking over a fire. Not just any fire, but a charcoal fire, and cooking specific food, bread and fish. Jesus says, “Come have breakfast” and he serves them.

 

In Saint John’s Gospel this is the third and final appearance of the Risen Lord to his disciples. John provides us with details because he wants us to know he is not telling us about some vision or spiritual experience but about another actual encounter with the Risen Lord. Jesus was no bodiless spirit or wishful creation of his disciples.

 

A bodiless spirit does not yell fishing instructions across the waters of a lake.

 

A bodiless spirit is not visible from 100 yards away.

 

A bodiless spirit does not build charcoal fires on the beach.

 

A bodiless spirit does not cook bread and fish.

 

A bodiless spirit does not serve breakfast to hungry fishermen.

 

In this experience those disciples once again came to know that their master and teacher who had been crucified and placed in a tomb was with them once more. He had conquered death. He was risen.

 

From that first Easter Sunday and down to this very day, there are those who dismiss the resurrection as a pious myth, a spiritual allegory, a product of wishful thinking, or a deceitful fraud perpetrated on gullible people.

 

Sunday’s Gospel is not some “fish story” to use a colloquial expression, but a detailed account that proclaims the reality of the Lord’s Resurrection.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord bless you with his presence and peace

during this Easter Season!

MOVING BEYOND DOUBT

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Second Sunday of Easter

Which of the following phrases sounds right: Doubting Peter, Doubting Mary Magdalene, Doubting Thomas, Doubting Cleopas?

 

If your answer is Doubting Thomas, you would be correct. The word “doubting” is usually associated with Thomas the Apostle. That association comes from the gospel reading that we hear this Sunday (John 20:19-31).

 

In that reading the Risen Lord appears to his disciples on the first Easter Sunday evening but Thomas is not with them. When his fellow disciples tell him the amazing news of the Lord’s appearance, he doubts their report. He demands proof.

 

Who could blame Thomas for doubting? He was being asked to believe that a man who had been publicly executed by crucifixion and whose dead body had been locked away in a tomb was now alive and interacting once more with his followers.

 

Thomas doubts. He demands proof, the same proof the other disciples required before they believed in the resurrection.

 

When Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb that first Easter morning, she cried in sorrow, believing the body of Jesus had been moved. As she said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” (John 20:2)

 

Peter was not sure what to believe when he and the other disciple who had run to the empty tomb looked in. For as John tells us in his Gospel, “they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” (John 20:9)

 

Cleopas, who was walking back to Emmaus, had heard of women seeing angels who announced that Jesus was risen. But he and the other disciples dismissed those reports. Their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:11)

 

Those first disciples came to believe when they saw the Risen Lord. When they spoke with him, ate with him, interacted with him, they had proof of the resurrection.

 

So then, why do we believe in the resurrection? Why aren’t we doubters like so many people in our world?

 

We might answer that we believe because we too have been given proof. Not the kind of proof given Thomas, Peter, Cleopas or Mary Magdalene, but the kind of proof that was given Saint Paul. It was his encounter with the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus that brought him to faith.

 

In that encounter Paul heard the voice of the Risen Lord. In that encounter Paul learned that he was touching the Risen Lord as he violently handled those who believed in him. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? ... “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:4-5)

 

We too have such encounters with the Risen Lord. We hear his voice as we read his word in the scriptures and hear it proclaimed by the Church. We touch the Risen Lord in our brothers and sisters who make up the Church, the living Body of Christ. We experience the presence of the Lord in the sacraments as we journey through life. The Risen Lord is with us, he is not bound to any time or place.

 

We believe not just because we are people of faith, we believe because the Lord gives us proof of his resurrection.

 

It is that proof that moves us from being a Doubting Thomas to a Believing Disciple!

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord bless you with his presence and peace

during this Easter Season!

A FRIEND's RETURN

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday

Imagine for a moment you had a wonderful evening with a dear friend whom you had known since high school.

 

You had a delicious dinner at a popular restaurant, shared memories about the past, spoke about what was happening in your lives, and then talked about your hopes and dreams for the future.

 

As you parted, you made plans to meet again soon. As your friend drove home, there was a terrible accident. A tractor-trailer suddenly crossed over from the opposite lane and crashed head on into your friend’s car. Your friend was killed instantly. When you got the news the following morning, you were devastated. You had just seen your friend hours earlier and now that friend was gone forever.

 

You went to the wake. There you tried to comfort your friend’s family but you broke into tears as you struggled to find the right words to express your sympathy.

 

You attended the funeral Mass and then stood by the graveside as you watched the coffin slowly lowered into the ground. You felt some part of yourself was also buried that morning.

As the days passed, you learned to cope with your grief. You were thankful that your last memory of your friend was the warm conversation you enjoyed during your final supper together.

 

One afternoon the following month, you heard your doorbell ring. You went to the door thinking it must be the UPS driver delivering the items you had ordered from Amazon. When you opened the door, you were dumbfounded. The friend whose funeral you had attended was standing there – alive, radiant, smiling, asking, “Do you have time for coffee. I’ve missed you.”

 

Such an experience would profoundly change you. Imagine the questions you would ask your friend. Consider how the idea of eternal life would go from being a matter of faith to a matter of fact. Envision how your priorities and your values would change. Think of how your fear of dying would dissolve. Picture how the limitations of this physical world would be transcended as you considered life from the perspective of heaven.

 

Considering such a scenario can give us some insight into what Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, Thomas, and the other disciples experienced that first Easter. (John 20:1-9)

 

We tend to think of the resurrection of Jesus as a religious, spiritual experience, which it certainly was, but it was also a life-altering experience for the disciples.

 

The one whose life blood had drained into the soil below the cross, was alive, glorified, and standing before them. He was, as Thomas proclaimed, “Lord and God.”

 

His risen presence was the ultimate affirmation of all Jesus had taught and promised. I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.” (John 11:25)

 

Without the disciples’ encounter with the Risen Lord, the memory of Jesus would have faded over the generations like that of any loved one.

 

Our gathering this Easter Sunday testifies to the profound impact their encounter with the Risen Lord had on those first disciples. That impact continues to this very day as the Risen Christ stands at the door of our hearts waiting for us to let him in. Alleluia, the Lord is Risen. He is with us!

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Happy Easter!

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

 

A SIMILAR WORLD

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

We live in a world where there are lies and deceit, where friends betray friends for money, where the powerful abuse the weak, where justice is denied, where the innocent are convicted, where people are unfaithful, where allegiances quickly change, where people are tortured, where human life is disvalued, where killing is glorified, where evil seems stronger than good, and where clouds of darkness obscure the light.

 

In other words, we live in a world just like the one described in the two Gospel readings we hear this Sunday, namely, the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-40) and the account of the Lord’s passion and death (Luke 22:14-23:56).

 

In those readings we hear of people who shift their allegiance as they shout praises for Jesus one day and a few days later yell for his execution. We learn about a trusted friend who betrays Jesus for money. We read of disciples who promise faithfulness then abandon their master and even deny knowing him. We learn about religious leaders who abuse their positions to rid themselves of a rival.

 

We read about false witnesses who defame a person who has done only good. We are informed of a Roman governor who knowingly sentences an innocent man to death. We are told how Jesus is beaten, tortured, mocked and reviled. We learn how his life ebbs away before a jeering crowd.  

 

It was into such a world that Jesus came. As Paul tells us, “Christ Jesus … did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

 

The Son of God stepped into this messy, sinful world of ours not to take away all darkness and sin, but to suffer with us the injustices and evil that often come with living in this world.

 

We have a God who walked this earth 2,000 years ago and who remains with us through his Church, through his Word and Sacraments, and through our fellow Christians.

 

Even more wonderfully we have a God who in the Resurrection of Jesus lets us know that eventually all things will be set right. Those beaten down by the injustices, evils, and unfairness of life will be raised up. This messy world is not the end of the story for those who follow the Lord.

 

That is why we can hear the readings this Sunday and still proclaim, “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ!”

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

THE VIEW OF JESUS

April 7, 2019

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

All people do not view things in the same way. That is why we have divergent opinions, opposing political parties, rival cable news stations, and conflicting messages on social media.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 8:1-11), we learn of people viewing a situation in very different ways.

 

While Jesus is teaching in the temple area, the Pharisees drag a woman before him who had been “caught in the very act of committing adultery.” The Pharisees see her as deserving of death. As they tell Jesus, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.”

 

The Pharisees also see the situation as offering them a perfect opportunity to attack Jesus and to lessen the people’s admiration for this prophet from Nazareth, so they ask Jesus if the law of Moses should be followed.

 

The Pharisees knew that if Jesus said the woman should be freed, he would be seen as opposing the moral code of his people and the teaching of Moses.

 

However, if Jesus agreed that the adulterous woman should be stoned, the people would see him as contradicting his message of forgiveness and mercy. Moreover, if Jesus consented to the stoning, he would put himself in jeopardy with the Roman occupiers who prohibited the Jews from administering capital punishment.

 

That prohibition was the reason that later in the Gospel account, the Jewish authorities would bring Jesus before Pilate, the Roman Governor, to ask that Jesus be crucified.

 

But Jesus recognizes the scheme of the Pharisees. He realizes their true motivation and their hypocrisy. Instead of immediately responding, he lets the tension rise as he traces on the sand with his finger. Then Jesus stands up and looks at those armed with stones and throws a challenge at them. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” With their self-righteous attitude knocked out of them, the Pharisees slip away. 

 

That day Jesus saw the same thing as the Pharisees did, namely, a woman guilty of adultery. After all he warned her, “from now on do not sin any more.”

 

But Jesus also saw something beyond her sin. Jesus saw what the woman could become if she were touched with the mercy and grace of God. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus believed her future did not have to be determined by her past transgressions of the law of Moses.

 

When the Pharisees looked at the woman caught in adultery, they saw a sinner who was lost. However, Jesus also saw a sinner, but a sinner who could change.

 

Today, Jesus continues to see us sinners in the same way. That is why he calls us to repentance, that is why he gives us this Season of Lent, that is why he offers us forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.

 

Thankfully, the Lord does not see our future determined by our past sins and failings.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

LEARNING FROM CONSEQUENCES

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

Parents are protective of their children. Most parents do all they can to prevent their sons and daughters from making bad decisions. And when they do make bad decisions, those parents will often do all they can to keep their children from suffering the consequences.

 

The father in this Sunday’s Gospel parable (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) was not that kind of parent. While he loved his two sons, he allowed them the freedom to make decisions – even bad decisions --and he let them suffer the consequences that followed their choices.

 

In that parable, the father was approached by his younger son. The son had decided he had enough of living at home, working on the farm, and obeying his father. He wanted to leave home but before he did, he wanted to receive his share of the inheritance.

 

Basically, he told his father that he did not want to wait around for him to die before he could enjoy the money that would eventually come to him. Certainly, such a request would have deeply hurt and embarrassed the father before his relatives and friends.

 

Amazingly the father, rather than punishing his son on the spot, did as the boy requested.

 

The father, who knew his son probably better than the boy knew himself, realized his son was making a horrible decision, one that would lead to disaster.

 

The son was given his inheritance, and as we know, he truly was a prodigal son. He was a wasteful, irresponsible young man, who quickly burned through all his money.

 

Being penniless and hungry, he ended up taking care of a herd of pigs – a job that any Jew would have found utterly repulsive.

 

But the father, who deeply missed his son, did not come to his rescue. The father did not send servants to check on him. He did not use his influence to get him a better job. The father let his son suffer the consequences of his bad decision. 

 

Eventually that wayward son realized that he needed the father whom he had so callously rejected when he decided to leave home.

 

When the father saw his son returning, he ran out and embraced him. He welcomed him back. He restored the relationship his son had severed by his selfish decision.

 

The story of the wayward son and that wise and loving father mirrors humanity’s relationship with God.

 

God gave the people he created the freedom to make their own decisions, even bad decisions. And unfortunately from the start, people have been deciding “to leave home” and go their own way. They have sinned.

 

God, like the father of our parable, allows his children to suffer the consequences of their bad decisions, not to punish them but rather to bring them to their senses. To help them realize that turning away from him, that leaving their father’s house, only brings them into the pig sty of sin and selfishness.

 

When we sinners realize our need to return home, God the Father embraces us and restores us to himself. We see that in the healing and forgiving ministry of Jesus, a ministry that continues through the Church, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

 

God allows us to make bad decisions. May the consequences we suffer give us the wisdom to see what the prodigal son eventually came to realize. True happiness and peace are only found when we are at home with the Father!

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

BEYOND OUR CONTROL

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The THIRD SUnday of Lent

Whenever there is a construction accident that causes injury or death, investigators from the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as state and local officials, quickly appear at the site. They start searching for the cause of the accident. They want to discover what went wrong and how future problems can be prevented.

 

Whenever a violent incident occurs that results in death, members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies converge on the scene. They investigate what happened. They search for those responsible and try to discover what motivated the attack.

 

When something terrible occurs, we want to learn the details, but more importantly, we want to discover why it happened, and how we can keep such an event from occurring again. We want explanations. We do not like feeling that we have no control over the world around us.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), we hear about a murderous act of violence and a construction accident.

 

Jesus is told about some Galileans killed by Pilate, the Roman Governor, as they were offering sacrifices in the Temple. Their blood ended up mingling with the blood of the animals they had sacrificed.

 

In response, Jesus mentions another tragedy, he speaks of the 18 people crushed to death by a falling tower in Siloam.

 

The Jews speaking with Jesus did not need investigators to tell them the reason these two events occurred. In their minds, the Galileans murdered by Pilate and the residents of Siloam killed by a collapsing tower must have been sinners deserving of divine punishment. God used Pilate’s cruelty and faulty construction as instruments of his wrath.

 

However, Jesus did not accept such thinking. He says the Galileans murdered at Pilate’s order were by no means “greater sinners than all other Galileans.” And those crushed by the tower were no “more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem.”

 

While those events were not acts of divine retribution, Jesus says they are reminders of the doom that awaits those who do not repent of their sins. As he says, “if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!"

 

Then Jesus goes on to tell a parable that makes it clear that the time we have for repentance is limited. God, Jesus says, is like the owner of a non-productive fig tree who gives that tree a final chance to bear fruit, otherwise it is to be cut down.

 

As much as we may want to have control over the events that affect us and want explanations for why things happen, much of life is not within our sway. Accidents, acts of violence, natural disasters, stock market crashes, and political conflicts are beyond our control.

 

However, there is something within our power. We determine how we use the time given us to respond to the Lord’s call to repentance. Striving to live a good and a holy life is certainly within our control.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

WhAT DID HE PRAY FOR?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Second Sunday of Lent

Who was your best friend in high school?

 

What is your favorite movie?

 

What place do you most enjoy visiting?

 

Those are easy questions to answer. But some questions are far harder, more personal, and more revealing. One such question, and one we may never have been asked is this: “In your personal, private prayerful conversations with God, what do you ask of God? What do you pray for?”

 

Our response to such a question reveals a great deal about ourselves. It reveals our worries, concerns, hopes and dreams. It reveals what we consider important and which people have a special place in our lives.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 9:28-36), we hear Luke’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. It begins with the words, “Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.” We might ask, in that time of personal prayer, what was Jesus saying to God, what was Jesus praying for?

 

Was he praying for guidance, as he did before he chose his 12 apostles? “Jesus departed to the mountain to pray…when day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve.” (Luke 6:12-13)

 

Was he praying for the well-being of his disciples, as he did at the Last Supper? “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me.” (John 17:9).

 

Was he praying for the strength to faithfully follow God’s will, as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane? “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

 

What was Jesus asking of God as he prayed in this Sunday’s Gospel? We might conclude that Jesus was praying that his disciples might grow in their relationship with him, that they might come to know him better.

 

That seems to be the prayer that was answered. “While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” In that blaze of glory, Peter, James, and John came to know Jesus as far more than just a man or a charismatic rabbi.

 

In that moment, they also came to know Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets represented by Moses and Elijah who appeared beside him.

 

Then from the cloud, the sign of the Divine Presence, came the solemn proclamation, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him."

 

Certainly Peter, James, and John knew Jesus more fully and completely after their experience on the mountain. Jesus wanted that to happen, otherwise he would not have taken them with him. He would not have prayed in their presence.

 

In this season of Lent, we are called to pray more. But perhaps this Lent, we might think of Jesus as praying for us. As Paul tells us, It is Christ …. who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” (Romans 8:34)

 

Jesus prays that like Peter, James, and John we might come to know him better. He prays that we might grow in our relationship with him. He prays that we might truly recognize him as the only one we are to obey and follow, for as God said of him, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him."

 

This Lent, as we devote ourselves to prayer, we need to realize that Jesus is also praying – praying that we might grow in our relationship with him!

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WHISPERING TEMPTATIONS

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The First sunday of Lent

Change stones into bread and satisfy human hunger. Worship me and gain power and glory. Throw yourself from the temple and impress the public.

 

Those were the temptations that the devil whispered into the ears of Jesus during his time in the desert. Temptations designed to lure Jesus away from being the Messiah the Father wished him to be.

 

But as we hear in Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 4:1-13), those were not the last whispers that Jesus would hear from the mouth of the Evil One. “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.”

 

The devil continued his whispering campaign during the life of Jesus. It was part of the campaign of temptations that the devil launched against humanity from its first days in the Garden. As the snake said to the woman, “You certainly will not die …. you will be like gods, who know good and evil.”

 

This season of Lent is a time of prayer and penance, a time to strive to turn away from sin and to grow in holiness. Lent is also a good time for us to become more aware of the temptations that the devil is whispering into our ears.

 

Those temptations are not the same for every person. One person may be tempted to view pornography, another to steal from an employer, and a third to use social media to destroy others.

 

But there are three temptations that the devil seems intent on whispering into the ears of most people today.

 

The devil whispers, “God is all merciful, God forgives everything.” The devil tells us there is no need to worry about our sins. If Jesus could forgive the thief on the cross, he certainly will forgive us. Just do what you want and then seek forgiveness.

 

The devil whispers, “Remember you are only human.” The devil reminds us we are only flesh and blood, we can’t be expected to be angels. We have our urges and needs. If God wanted perfect people, God would have made perfect people. God understands, after all we’re only human.

 

The devil whispers, “Happiness in life comes with wealth, power, and fame.” The devil flashes images before us of those acclaimed as successes in life. He tempts us to think that if we only had what they had, if we acted like them, then we would be happy and fulfilled.

 

Of course, those whispers are full of lies, as were the temptations that the devil placed before Jesus.

 

In contradiction to those devilish whispers, Jesus proclaims that God is merciful, but he also speaks of judgment. He tells parables that speak of dividing the sheep from the goats and of separating the wheat from the weeds.

 

Jesus proclaims that we are humans, but humans made in the image and likeness of God. Humans who share the same nature that the Son of God took on when he came among us. Humans who through baptism become dwelling places of the Holy Spirit.

 

Jesus proclaims that wealth and power, fame and fortune do not bring what we expect. Jesus speaks of the danger of riches. He says it would be simpler for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus warns of the woes that await the wealthy, the filled, and those exalted by the world.

 

This season of Lent calls us to be more aware of the temptations that the devil is whispering into our ears. Temptations that we will only be able to resist if, like Jesus, we are armed with the truth of God’s Word.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WORDS REVEAL

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

During a job interview, an interviewer is restricted by law from asking candidates certain questions. Candidates, for example, cannot be asked about their national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age, citizenship, or marital status.

 

Indirect questions designed to gain restricted information are also prohibited. An interviewer cannot ask a person when he or she graduated from high school in order to get some idea of that person’s age.

 

However, there is a way that interviewers can learn a great deal about the person sitting before them. They are permitted to ask, “Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?”

 

Of course, the interviewer cannot ask follow-up questions if prohibited topics are mentioned by the candidate. But just allowing an individual to talk about him or herself can give an interviewer a good insight into the person speaking.

 

That is true not only for interviews. We also learn a lot from listening to people talk. And people learn a great deal about us from our words.

 

For example, the words we use to describe a person of another race, the phrases we employ to describe someone with whom we disagree politically, say something about us. Our words reveal more about us than we may realize.

 

In Sunday’s First Reading (Sirach 27:4-7), Sirach, the wise Jewish teacher, tells us to listen carefully to a person’s speech for it reveals what is in that person’s heart. He says, “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear, so do one’s faults when one speaks.”

 

A person’s speech, Sirach tells us, also indicates a person’s education and moral upbringing. Just as the quality of fruit produced by a tree reveals the care that tree has been given, “so does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”

 

Sirach also cautions us not to judge anyone worthy of honor until we have spent time hearing what that person has to say. “Praise no one before he speaks.”

 

In Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 6:39-45), Jesus echoes the advice of Sirach. Besides teaching his followers they will be known by their actions, he also tells them their words will reveal the kind of people they are. “From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” 

 

We live in a culture where words have become increasingly nasty, cruel, crude, vicious and hateful; where words that were once censored are now said openly; where personal attacks, lies, gossip, and innuendo are hurled across the airwaves at those of differing views.

 

A culture where people have forgotten that while it is true that only sticks and stones can break a person’s bones – words can hurt. They can break the human heart. They can crush a person’s spirit. They can devastate a person’s self-worth beyond repair.

 

While we easily recognize the words that indicate that someone’s heart is not right with God or right with their neighbor, we may not be so quick to notice what our words reveal about our own spiritual condition.

 

As Jesus asks us, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” Or to put it another way, “Why do you hear their cruel words but are deaf to your own?”

 

In his life Jesus spoke words that brought healing, hope, forgiveness, mercy, and acceptance. His words came from his loving, compassionate heart. He spoke good words. He spoke Good News!

 

This Sunday we are challenged to consider our words. Those words reveal the condition of our hearts.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

ON THE FINAL

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

You and I know about different professions and careers. We obviously know about our own profession, its requirements and expectations, its good and bad points.

 

We also know about the careers and professions of relatives and friends.

 

However, there is one profession of which we all have considerable knowledge, even if it may not be our own or that of someone we know. That profession is teaching. 

 

We know a great deal about teaching because we have been dealing with teachers for years. We have observed and interacted with teachers during our time in elementary and high school. Many of us have also dealt with teachers and professors in college or graduate school or when taking continuing education courses. Some of us have been watching teachers for more than 20 years.

 

We know what makes inspirational teachers and teachers who make us wish we were anyplace else but in their classrooms.

 

One of the things we know from being in school is that when a teacher emphasizes a point again and again, it must be important. It is also something that will likely appear on a future exam.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 6:27-38), Jesus our teacher, gives his disciples, gives us, a lesson about love of enemies. He begins by saying, “To you who hear I say, love your enemies.”

 

Jesus then continues by explaining what such love involves. He says, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

 

Jesus then gives us concrete examples of how we are to treat an enemy who hits us or steals from us. We are to “love our enemies and do good to them.” We are to imitate our ever-merciful God, who is “kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked.”

 

Then in case we miss the point, Jesus ends the lesson by saying, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful … Stop judging …. Stop condemning …. forgive.”

 

Jesus not only taught that lesson by his words, he taught it by his life. Most dramatically as he hung upon the cross. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

 

To put it mildly, such love and forgiveness are a challenge. But Jesus, our teacher, tells us how to begin. He tells us to pray for our enemies. Pray for them by name. Pray that God will bless them. Pray that we might see them as God sees them.

 

And if we cannot do that, then we should ask God to give us the grace to one day make such prayers our own.

 

This Sunday, Jesus our teacher emphasizes love of enemies for a good reason. Jesus wants his disciples, his students, to know that love of enemies will be on our final exam.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

REMEMBER ACT TWO

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Imagine for a moment you were at your first Broadway play. You had never gone to the theater before. You took your seat and waited excitedly for the curtain to go up and the play to begin.

 

As soon as the actors began performing on the stage, you were drawn into the story. You were mesmerized by what was taking place before you.

 

After a period of time, the curtain came down. You saw people start to leave their seats and you did too. You assumed the performance was over.

 

The play seemed to end abruptly but you thought that perhaps the author intended to leave the audience wanting more or maybe the playwright wanted those who had been watching the performance to complete the story for themselves.

 

You went home without realizing that the play was actually not over. What you thought was the end was only the intermission. Act one was concluded but act two was yet to come.

 

When it comes to human life, many people believe that it has only one act. Life ends when the curtain called death comes down.

 

As Christians, we believe something follows. There is a second act called eternal life. Death is only the intermission that separates act one which takes place on this world’s stage, from act two which is staged in the kingdom of heaven.

 

Paul reminds us of that in this Sunday’s Second Reading (1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20). He says, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” But we do believe in that second act that follows death. As Paul goes on to say, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel’s (Luke 6:17, 20-26), Jesus makes it very clear that a person’s situation and manner of living in act one may be completely reversed when the curtain rises on the second act.

 

Jesus tells us that those in this life, those in act one, who are poor, who are hungry, who are weeping, and who are persecuted for his sake, are blessed. They will find themselves in a very different situation in the second act. They will “rejoice and leap for joy.” Their “reward will be great in heaven.”

 

But the opposite will be true for those in this life who are rich, who want for nothing, who are blind to suffering and pain, and who are exalted by society. They will find their materialistic, self-centered lives will lead to woe. Their second act will see their world crash down around them.

 

This Sunday we are reminded that death does not end the play we call life; another act follows. While some people think that everything will turn out wonderfully for all characters in that second act, that conclusion does not fit the message of this Sunday’s Gospel.

 

Each of our lives has two acts. Our condition and our way of living in the first act will determine what happens to us in the second act.

 

As Christians we believe that God has written the play called “Life” in two acts!

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

GRACE REQUIRED

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Fifth Sunday in ordinary Time

At the start of a new year, many people make resolutions. Some resolve to lose weight, to exercise more, and to watch what they eat. Others resolve to put family responsibilities before their careers. Others promise to limit the hours given to their digital devices and to use that newfound time to get involved in charitable activities.

 

But after a few months, many people forget those resolutions. Not because they no longer want to do what they decided, but because they lack the strength and willpower required. They find things just too hard.

 

As people of faith, we make resolutions related to our spiritual life. We resolve to pray every day, to read the Bible, to faithfully attend Sunday Mass, to get involved in parish ministries, to become better Christians.

 

But again, despite our good intentions, we often give up. We find it hard to remain faithful to our resolutions.

 

However, when it comes to improving our spiritual lives, it is not our work and effort that are required but rather God’s grace and power. We see that in the three readings proclaimed this coming Sunday.

 

In Sunday’s First Reading (Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8), Isaiah becomes God’s prophet not because of what he does, not because he studies the scriptures, not because he develops oratorical skills, but because of what God does. God sends an angel to touch Isaiah’s lips, thereby purifying him and filling him with the grace and power needed to deliver God’s word.

 

The same is true in our Second Reading (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). Paul says that he went from being a persecutor to a preacher of the Gospel, not because he had a change of heart but because God dramatically entered his life and turned it around.

 

Paul recognized it was God’s grace working in him that made the difference. As he said, “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.”

 

That life-changing touch of the Lord is also seen in Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 5:1-11). Peter becomes a disciple not because he decides that being a follower of Jesus is better than smelling of fish for the rest of his life, but because Jesus enters his boat, and enters his life.

 

Peter acknowledges his unworthiness before Jesus. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." Yet Jesus persists in reaching out, in changing Peter. "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."

 

Isaiah, Paul, and Peter grew spiritually, they grew in their relationship with God, not because of what they resolved to do – but because God entered their lives. They were touched by the grace of God. The same is true for us.

 

It is the grace and power of God that changes us for the better, that causes us to grow in holiness, and that makes us the Christians we are meant to be.

 

If we could change ourselves, we would have no need of a Savior. No, like Isaiah, Paul, and Peter we are changed by the grace and action of God.

 

The more we consciously put ourselves in the presence of God by devoting time to personal prayer, by reading the scriptures, by faithfully attending Sunday Mass, by receiving the Sacraments, and by participating in the life of the Church, the more we are touched by the grace of God and we are changed.

 

Good resolutions and personal effort might improve our everyday lives, but our spiritual lives are improved by the action of God. As Saint Paul put it “by the grace of God I am what I am.”

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

CASTING US

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Imagine for a moment that a movie producer was making a contemporary version of the Gospel passage that we hear this Sunday (Luke 4:21-30) about Jesus preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth.

 

Obviously, the casting director would need to choose an actor to play Jesus and a number of people to portray the residents of Nazareth listening to his words.

 

In such a contemporary version of that Gospel passage, you and I would be perfect candidates to play the people of Nazareth.

 

Those people had known Jesus for years. In fact, some had known him since he was brought to town as a child by Mary and Joseph.

 

We too have known Jesus for years. We were most likely introduced to him by our parents and grandparents. We learned about him in Catholic school or in programs of religious education. We grew in our understanding of him as we prepared for First Penance, First Communion, and Confirmation. And we continue to learn about him and spend time with him when we come to Sunday Mass.

 

Like the people of Nazareth, we think we know Jesus.

 

In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims that the passage from Isaiah about the anointed one of God applies to him. When the residents of Nazareth hear his claim, they find it too much to take. They ask, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?" 

 

What Jesus was saying about himself did not fit what they believed about him, so they reject him. They even go so far as to try and throw him off a cliff.

 

We can be like those people. During our years of knowing him, we have put together our personal understanding of Jesus. We have given him qualities and traits that fit our needs. We have chosen certain words of his to remember and challenging ones to forget. When we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” we usually mean, “What would Jesus do if he were me?”

 

When the Church, through its teaching and preaching, presents us with a Jesus who does not match our image, we do what the people of Nazareth attempted to do. We try to push him away.

 

When we do that, we miss growing in our understanding of who Jesus truly is. And as he did in the Gospel, Jesus goes on his way. He gradually fades out of our lives.

 

We also see that happening in our secular society that regards Jesus as only a non-judgmental teacher preaching prosperity and success and not as Savior and Lord. Perhaps that may explain why Christianity is declining in North America and Europe. Jesus has walked on from those who refuse to acknowledge who he is.

 

A casting director looking for extras to play the people of Nazareth would not have far to look. Today, there are more people than ever who do not understand who Jesus truly is.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

NEW THINKING

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time


What did Jesus see as his main mission in life?

 

Was it to free humanity from the power of sin? Was it to bring healing and hope to the suffering? Was it to usher in the kingdom of God? Was it to confront the hypocrisy and injustice of his day? Was it to make God’s love visible by his words and actions? Was it to invite people to follow him? Was it to start the Church?

 

Certainly, those are all good answers.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21), Jesus himself gives us the answer to that question. He tells us his principal mission in life.

 

Luke wrote that during a service in the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus took the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and found a certain passage. After reading it he said, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

 

Jesus applied what he read to himself. In doing so he told us his primary mission. It was “to bring glad tidings to the poor …. to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

 

Three of those four actions had to do with preaching.

 

This reveals that the primary mission of Jesus was to preach, it was to proclaim a new way of thinking about God, a new way of thinking about ourselves, and a new way of thinking about our relationship with others and with the world.

 

For Jesus knew that how we think affects how we act. It determines our behavior.

 

That preaching mission of Jesus, which continues each time the scriptures are proclaimed and each time the Church announces the Good News of the Gospel, is more needed in our day than ever.

 

For we live in a society that promotes a way of thinking very different from that of Jesus.

 

Society tells us to think of morality as something we determine for ourselves.

 

Society tells us to think that the more things we possess, the greater our wealth, the happier we become.

 

Society tells us to think about pornography as just a form of harmless entertainment.

 

Society tells us to think about marriage as a temporary relationship between any two people.

 

Society tells us to think of gender as fluid and changeable.

 

Society tells us to think of abortion as a form of health care.

 

Society tells us to think of religion as something for the uneducated and ignorant.

 

Society tells us to think of heaven, hell, and eternal life as myths concocted by those afraid of dying.

 

When we think in those ways, our behavior becomes sinful and selfish. We move into the darkness. We lose our dignity as children of God.

 

The main mission of Jesus was to proclaim a new way of thinking about God, about ourselves, and about life. If we think as Jesus taught, our behavior changes for the better and God’s kingdom comes into our lives and into our world.

 

Jesus came to preach a new way of thinking that would lead to a new way of living. That was his main mission in life.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

ON THE GUEST LIST

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The second Sunday in Ordinary Time

When you plan a party, there are certain things you have to do.

 

You need to pick a date and time for the event.

 

You need to select a venue.

 

You need to choose the food and the drinks you will be serving.

 

You need to decide if there will be music and if so, will you hire a DJ or a live band?

 

And you need to make out a guest list. That decision is the most important of all. The right mix of people is the critical ingredient for any successful party.

 

You can have beer and burgers in your garage and if you have invited happy, friendly people, the party will likely be terrific. But the opposite can also be true. You can have gourmet food, fine wine, outstanding music, and an amazing venue, but if you have unhappy, nasty, critical people among your guests, the event can turn out to be a disaster.

 

Guests can make or break a party.

 

If you were planning a party, and Jesus was still walking this earth, would you put him on your guest list?

 

Certainly, we have no problem meeting Jesus in church or when we speak to him in prayer, but would we want Jesus among our guests at a birthday party, a bachelor party, a wedding reception, an anniversary celebration, a sweet sixteen party, or a Super Bowl bash?

 

Would Jesus add life and energy to the party, or would he make people feel uncomfortable? Would people feel they had to watch their language, talk only about religious things, limit themselves to drinking soda or maybe just one glass of wine, and monitor the kind of music that was played?

 

Would our guests feel on edge, feel that Jesus was watching them, judging them, worried that he might strike up a conversation and question them about their lives?

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 2:1-11), we hear about a wedding reception in the town of Cana in Galilee. Mary was there and “Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.” Obviously, the newlyweds and their parents had no problem inviting Jesus to the party.

 

If Jesus had been someone who made parties somber, stuffy affairs he would not have been invited. We also read that the party might have ended when the wine unexpectedly ran out, but Jesus kept the celebration going by changing gallons of water into choice wine.

 

On a theological level, that first miracle recorded in the Gospel of John reveals that Jesus himself is the “choice wine” that comes into the world to bring humanity into a new relationship with God.

 

On a human level, that miracle tells us that inviting Jesus into our lives brings true joy. If we do not appreciate that, the problem is not with Jesus, it is with us.

 

It means we do not understand the joy that comes with living as the Gospel teaches. A joy that Pope Francis beautifully pointed out in 2013 in his exhortation entitled, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

 

It may also mean that we are engaged in some kind of behavior that contradicts the teachings of Jesus.

 

The couple at Cana would tell us, if you want a great party, if you want a great life, put Jesus on your guest list. After all, we’ve been talking about their party in Cana for 2,000 years.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

LOOKING FOR "LIKES"

sunday, January 13, 2019

The Baptism of the Lord

Imagine having a Facebook page without any likes.

 

Imagine having a Twitter account without any followers.

 

Imagine posting photos on Instagram that are never viewed.

 

Imagine having a YouTube Channel that no one watches.

 

Imagine only receiving emails and text messages from companies trying to sell you something.

 

Anyone in that situation would certainly feel out of place in our day where being noticed, being seen, being recognized, seems to validate a person’s existence. Even being noticed for the wrong reasons, is better than not being noticed at all!

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) we meet two people who did not seem to care about being noticed.

 

By his preaching, John the Baptist certainly attracted the attention of the crowds. We are told “at that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (Matthew 3:5-6).

 

But rather than rejoicing in that attention, John did all he could to deflect interest away from himself.

 

As John told the people, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”

 

John the Baptist was not interested in gaining “followers” and “likes.” Instead he was interested in alerting people to the one whose coming they were awaiting, the coming of the Christ, the coming of the Messiah.

 

When that Messiah came, he did not come in a dramatic way that caught the attention of the world. While this Christmas season, which ends this Sunday, has focused our attention on singing angels, awe-struck shepherds, a shining star in the heavens, and searching magi, we need to realize most people took no notice of the Messiah born in Bethlehem. He hardly made a showing on the “social media” of his day.

 

While we might imagine that changed on the day of his baptism, that was not the case.

 

Luke tells us that Jesus simply was baptized along with other people who came to John at the Jordan River. There was no dramatic spectacle.

 

In Luke’s account the coming of the Spirit and the words of the Father come when Jesus is at prayer. “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying … the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven.”

 

While the Gospel of John indicates that John the Baptist saw the dove, Matthew says these events were seen only by Jesus. Certainly, if these events were witnessed by all present, there would have been a dramatic reaction.

 

As Jesus begins his public ministry, he does so in a humble, unassuming, prayerful way. And that is how Jesus acts throughout the Gospels. He is not an attention seeker looking for praise and adulation. He is not concerned with impressing the public with miracles. He is not interested in media attention and increasing the number of his admirers.

 

No, like John the Baptist, Jesus was dedicated only to doing the will of his Father. We might say Jesus was only interested in getting his Father’s “thumbs up.”

 

As baptized members of God’s Church, that also is the “like” we need to seek. We need to be Christians who hear the Father say, "You are my beloved … with you I am well pleased."

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

DARKNESS REQUIRED

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Epiphany of the Lord

This weekend in many churches across the country, selected members of the congregation will act out the scene described in this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) for the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

 

Dressed in robes and wearing crowns on their heads, they will move in procession up the aisle of the church. Then they will reverently place the gifts they are carrying before the figure of the infant Jesus located in the parish’s nativity scene.

 

Afterwards, many preachers will urge listeners to consider what gifts they can bring to the Lord.

 

However, Matthew’s story about the coming of the magi is not just a heart-warming story about exotic visitors bringing gifts to a little baby boy or a call to personal generosity.

 

Matthew is using that event to teach us about Jesus and to challenge us spiritually.

 

The magi, who were described as coming “from the east,” were Gentiles. They were not members of the Chosen People, as were the shepherds who had come earlier to see the “newborn king of the Jews.” This king was able to draw Jews and Gentiles to himself. He was the savior of all people, even those people that others might judge beyond saving.

 

While the magi sought this newborn king, the chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem made no move to search him out. Knowing predictions about the birth place of the coming Messiah did not motivate them to join the quest of the magi. Those religious leaders were happy with their power and position, happy with the status quo. Like most people, they had learned to deal with things as they were. Who knew what turmoil this child might cause?

 

Matthew described the gifts that were presented not to show the wealth of the givers, but to show who the recipient was. The gift of gold represented the royal status of the child. The frankincense represented his divinity; while the myrrh, used in burials, predicted, his saving death.

 

But there is something else in Sunday’s Gospel that particularly relates to us today. In order to see the star that led them to the “newborn king,” the magi had to be comfortable with darkness. Stars cannot be seen in daylight, and stars are equally invisible in places flooded with artificial light.

 

For us to find the Lord and to grow in our relationship with him we also need to be comfortable in the dark. We need to shut off, or at least tone down, the competing lights that keep us from seeing the true light of the world.

 

In our day and age, much of that competing light comes from the glowing screens of smart phones and tablets, from computer monitors and television sets, from the flashing images of video games, and from bright alerts from social networks. Those lights steal our attention away from the “true light.” They also keep us focused on what is before our faces rather than on what is beyond and above us.

 

To recognize the presence of the Lord, we need to be comfortable in the “darkness” that comes when we step away from the bright, flashing distractions that our culture puts before us.

If the magi had lived in a world like ours, the light from their digital devices might have overtaken the darkness required to see the star that was shining above them.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

GROWING IN UNDERSTANDING

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

I don't understand my kids. They sometimes make such stupid decisions.

 

I can't figure out my parents. I'm 16 years old and they treat me like I’m still a child.

 

I don't understand my husband. Every evening he comes home angry from work and when I ask him what's the matter, he says everything is OK.

 

I can't figure out my wife. Just because I tell her that I want to relax and watch a football game rather than visit her mother on Sunday afternoon, she gets mad at me.

 

We sometimes find it hard to understand people, that includes the people in our own families. We should not find that surprising, even the members of the Holy Family had difficulty understanding one another.

 

As we read in this Sunday's Gospel (Luke 2:41-52), Mary and Joseph take their son Jesus to Jerusalem for the yearly celebration of Passover. But this time, rather than leaving with his parents, Jesus stays behind.

 

When Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus is not with their group of fellow travelers, they return to Jerusalem looking for him. There they find him in the temple having a discussion with religious experts who are “astounded at his understanding and his answers”

 

Mary and Joseph are upset that Jesus had stayed behind. As Mary asks, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Mary and Joseph could not comprehend the behavior of Jesus.

 

Jesus for his part could not understand why his parents were upset. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

 

Here we have parents who could not understand the behavior of their son, and a son who could not understand the reason for his parent’s concern.

 

The Gospel passage ends with the words, “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”

 

We might say that Jesus grew in his understanding of himself and obviously in his understanding of his obligations as a son. As we are told “he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”

 

Mary for her part, grew in her understanding of her son. We certainly have evidence of that at the marriage feast of Cana. There Mary sees the dilemma of a newly married couple and she asks Jesus to handle the situation. Mary had obviously come to an appreciation of the power of her son.

 

This Sunday’s reading reminds us that growing in our understanding and appreciation of the members of our family is a continuing and a challenging process. One that takes patience and love.

 

This Sunday’s Gospel also reminds us that just as Mary and Joseph had to grow in their understanding of Jesus, so do we. It takes time, prayer, study and effort to truly understand Jesus, the Son of Mary and the Son of God, and to appreciate the implications that come with having a relationship with him.

 

If, as we know, it takes deliberate time and effort to understand the members of our own families, the same is true when it comes to understanding Jesus, our brother. It takes dedicated time and effort

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah where she entered the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth.

 

Those words found in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45), tell us that after being informed that Elizabeth her kinswoman was with child, Mary immediately set out to visit her.

 

While we may imagine Mary quickly going a few miles to the home of her relatives, that was not the case.

 

The distance Mary had to travel to see Elizabeth and Zechariah was some 90 miles. Such a journey on foot would have taken several days. It would be like walking from New York City to Philadelphia.

 

But Mary made that arduous journey because she wanted to assist Elizabeth during the final months of her pregnancy. Undoubtedly, Mary also wanted to tell Elizabeth the amazing news she had received from the angel Gabriel.

 

As she walked along, no other person greeted Mary with the words Elizabeth used when she saw her. "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” For them, Mary was just another nameless traveler walking the dusty roads leading from Nazareth.

 

In our day that is still the case. So many people view Mary only as someone who traveled through history some 2,000 years ago and they consider the fruit of her womb as just another religious leader, a teacher, a philosopher, or a mythical figure from the past.

 

But we see things differently. Touched by that same Holy Spirit that came upon Elizabeth and allowed her to see the truth about Mary, we too recognize Mary’s special role in the story of salvation. In fact, we address her with the very words of Elizabeth each time we pray the Hail Mary. We say, “Blessed are you among woman.”

 

That same Holy Spirit has also given us the faith to proclaim the child of Mary’s womb as our Savior and Lord.

 

As the season of Christmas is about to begin, we might ask ourselves a question similar to the one that Elizabeth asked herself when Mary arrived at her door. “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

 

We might ask, “How does it happen that the child of Mary should come into our lives?”

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

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

NEEDED ENCOURAGEMENT

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Third Sunday of Advent

When a football team is scoring one touchdown after another, its fans go wild. They enthusiastically cheer on their team. The better the team does, the louder the cheering in the stadium.

 

But a football team is most in need of enthusiastic fans not when it is doing well but when there are fumbles, interceptions, and penalties. It is then the players most need to hear their fans cheering them, encouraging them not to give up.

 

A football team or any group of people needs encouragement and support the most when things are going badly. That is also true for the Church.

 

At the present time the Catholic Church is doing poorly. Its sinful fumbles are all too apparent. Some members of the clergy have sexually abused minors and vulnerable adults. Some bishops have not reacted as they should have. There have been cover-ups and a failure to confront sin in the Church.

 

Today, the Church is hearing little cheering. There is the silence of pain, disbelief, and disappointment. But this is precisely the time the Church needs support and encouragement.

 

In this Sunday's first reading (Zephaniah 3:14-18), we hear how God encouraged the Jewish people after they had fallen into sin and idolatry. Through the prophet Zephaniah, God offered his people a vision of hope at time when they were in darkness.

 

Zephaniah announced, “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.”

 

Those words might be seen as the words God is speaking to his Church today. Fear not, O Church, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst ... he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.

 

Another message of encouragement and advice from the heavens, is also heard in Sunday’s Second Reading (Philippians 4:4-7). Through the words that Paul wrote to the Philippians, the Church is told, “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

Words of encouragement are also found in the title traditionally given to this Third Sunday of Advent. It is called “Gaudete Sunday” or “Rejoicing Sunday” because we are certain the Lord is near.

 

In the midst of the Church’s difficulties, the Lord tells us not to lose hope, but to rejoice that he has not abandoned his Church. He is near.

 

In addition, the Word of God tells us to be sure we are faithfully living as members of God’s Church.

 

In the Gospel (Luke 3:10-18), we learn that when people ask John the Baptist what they should do in response to his message of repentance, he tells them to be the good people God expected them to be. Soldiers should be fair. Tax collectors should be honest. Those blessed by God should be generous.

 

That advice is also the Lord’s message to us. It encourages us – clergy and laity alike – to be certain that we are living as the good, holy, authentic Christians we promised to be at our baptism.

 

This Sunday, the scriptures proclaim a message of encouragement from the Lord – a message that the Church especially needs to hear in our day.

 

Like any team, the Church most needs to hear encouraging words, not when it is doing well, but when it is doing poorly.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WHEN AND WHERE

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Second Sunday of Advent

When we watch a film or read a book that is said to be based on actual events, we need to know when and where those events took place.

 

Occasionally, the time and place are revealed in the very title of the book or film. For example, the movie “Pearl Harbor” is obviously set in Hawaii during December of 1941, while the film “Gettysburg” takes place in Pennsylvania during the Civil War.

 

Sometimes the title gives no indication of the setting. Instead a date and a location flash on the screen as a film begins or that information is found within the first pages of a book.

 

We can also learn the time and place by watching or reading descriptions of the scenery, the clothing, the modes of transportation, the mannerisms, and the style of speech. Obviously, men wearing top hats and women riding in carriages speak of 19th Century England, while polyester clothing and disco music bring to mind Manhattan in the 1970s.

 

Knowing the time and place helps us to understand and appreciate a story.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 3:1-6), Saint Luke begins his account of John the Baptist by giving us the time and place of his ministry.

 

Luke tells us the names of those holding power and the names of those serving as high priests. That information lets us know that the ministry of John the Baptist began around the year 28 AD. Besides giving us the time, Luke gives us the place. He tells us, “John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan.”

 

Luke gives us those details to make it clear that he is telling us about a real person, actual places, and true events. He describes how God acted in the life of John the Baptist.

 

The other Gospel passages associated with Advent show us how God acted in the life of Joseph the Carpenter and the life of Mary of Nazareth to prepare the way for his Son.

 

In knowing the time and place we can better appreciate the story of salvation, we can better appreciate how God acted in the lives of people.

 

This Advent Season would be an appropriate time for each of us to look at our own lives and to identify the times and the places where God has touched us. And God most certainly has, otherwise we would not be people of faith.

 

The God, whose coming was announced by John the Baptist and who will come again in glory, continues to come to his people. To appreciate that continuing “advent” of God, we need to recognize the times and places where God has touched us. Knowing those details will help us to better understand the story of God’s personal relationship with us.

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

HOW LONG?

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The First Sunday of Advent

How long is Advent? That is an appropriate question to ask as we begin the Advent season that marks the beginning of the new liturgical year of 2019.

 

How long is Advent? 

 

The obvious answer is Advent is about four weeks long. It begins with the fourth Sunday before December 25 and continues until Christmas Eve. The four candles of the Advent Wreath certainly bring the length of the season to mind.

 

But if we consider the fuller meaning of Advent, then the answer, four weeks, is not complete.

 

The Church tells us that Advent is not just a season that prepares us to celebrate the coming of the Son of God at Bethlehem. It is also a season that reminds us to be prepared for Christ’s second coming “with power and great glory.”

 

We might say we are living not just through the Advent that leads to Christmas, but through the Advent that leads to the return of the Son of Man.

 

Since the Ascension of the Lord, more than 100,000 Sundays have gone by and Jesus has not yet returned. That is a tremendous number of candles in heaven’s “Advent Wreath.” But who knows how many more candles are yet to be lighted until we come to the Sunday that will lead to Christ’s return?

 

In Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 21:25-28, 34-38), Jesus speaks of the signs that will mark his Second Coming, his Second Advent. He says, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

 

But such signs of catastrophe and chaos have been taking place throughout history. And are perhaps even more evident in our troubled world with its natural disasters, endless wars, and growing polarization.

 

Those signs tell us to be aware of the Lord’s presence amid the turmoil of life and to be ready to stand before him when he makes his ultimate return in glory. We do that, as Saint Paul tells us in our Second Reading, by conducting ourselves in ways pleasing to God.

 

Advent calls us to be prepared for the celebration of Christmas.

 

But even more importantly, Advent reminds us to look for the Lord as he shows himself in our world and to look forward to his return in glory.

 

Advent is not just a matter of counting off four Sundays, it is a matter of making sure we are not so caught up with the cares of life that we are unprepared for the return of the Lord.

 

“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength …. to stand before the Son of Man.”

 

© 2018 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

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