MORE THAN WORDS

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord bless you with his presence and peace

during this vastly different Easter Season.

BUT YOU WILL SEE ME

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord bless you with his presence and peace

especially during these challenging days.

ONLY THROUGH ME

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

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

during this Easter Season!

MORE THAN FUNCTIONAL

Sunday, may 3, 2020

the Fourth Sunday of easter

What are the most important parts of a church building?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Doors are also significant during certain liturgical celebrations.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

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

during this Easter Season!

HEARD DIFFERENTLY

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Third Sunday of Easter

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord continue to bless you

with his presence and peace during this Easter Season!

PRACTICE FIRST

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Second Sunday of Easter

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May the Risen Lord bless you with his presence and peace

during this Easter Season!

NOT SOCIALLY DISTANT

Sunday, April 12. 2020

EaSTER SUNDAY, The Resurrection of the Lord

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Happy Easter!

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

THROUGH OUR EXPERIENCE

Sunday, April 5, 2020

PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

May God bless you this Holy Week,

especially during this difficult and challenging time.

FUTURE PRESENT

Sunday, March 29, 2020

the Fifth Sunday of lent

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

NOW WE CAN SEE!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

HUNGER OF THIRST

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Third Sunday of Lent

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

AN AERIAL VIEW

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Second Sunday of Lent

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

ENTICING

Sunday, march 1, 2020

The First Sunday of Lent

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

MEANT FOR US

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Seventh Sunday In ORDINARY TIME


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

LESSER TO GREATER

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary TIme

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

BWYA

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The FIFth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

IMPROVING OUR VISION
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2020

The Presentation of the Lord

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WHO SAID?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

Time AND ATTENTION NEEDED

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

RELATABLE

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Baptism of the Lord

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We see that in the feasts of this Christmas Season.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

THE CHRISTMAS GIFT

Sunday, January 5, 2020

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

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

NOT LIKE OUR FAMILY

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Holy Family of Jesus, mary and Joseph

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

and we do that searching especially in our own homes.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Best Wishes for a Joyous Christmas

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

THE ONE WORD

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Fourth Sunday of AdVENT

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

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

DO YOU WANT TO BE SAVED?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Third Sunday of Advent

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Today, the Church continues Jesus’ work of salvation.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

AN APPEALING MESSAGE!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Second Sunday of ADVent

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

ALREADY READY?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The First Sunday of Advent

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Footer Text

This is just placeholder text.

This text will be on the bottom of every page on your site.