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Sunday, 16 February 2020 / Published in Church Reflections

The Romans had the saying, “Nil utilius sole et sale.” There’s nothing more useful than sun and salt. They believed that salt was the purest element of the earth because it came from the most basic components of creation: sun and water. Plutarch said that meat was a dead body and would decay, but that when salted and dried it was given a new soul.

Salt was the most common preservative. Not having refrigeratin, meat and fish were salted and could be stored for long periods of time. Every once in a while, friends of mine treat me to a dinner of homemade baccalao, salted cod fish. So, we’re still using salt as a preservative today. But let’s face it, is there anything worse that a salt-free meal? Salt is a gift from sun and water, and it makes life so much better.

There was another use for salt. This is foreign to us but important for us to understand. In the ancient world only the wealthy enjoyed the luxury of a personal oven. Communities shared an outdoor oven. They were made of stone, fired up and kept going for long periods of time so that the families of the village could make use of them. The inside of the oven was lined with packed salt that provided excellent insulation and efficiently retained the heat. The salt would have to be changed periodically as it would corrupt from the heat and would be thrown onto the pathways.

We’ve put together a few ideas about the use of salt during Jesus’ time. Now, let’s think about the meaning of his statement to us: “You are the salt of the earth.”

The disciple is called to make life taste good. Our relationships must be respectful, supportive,caring and filled with joy. The work that we do must be honest and true. It must be performed with care and caring for the good of the human family.

Thinking about the salt used in the communal ovens Jesus may have imagined the commitment and endurance necessary to be a disciple. He spent his life selflessly giving himself to the people who were like “sheep without a shepherd.” He would eventually pour out his life on the cross, emptying himself in love. Following his example, Jesus asked his disciples to burn themselves out in love and ministry.

Salt was the purest element and essential to life. I would think Jesus was telling us, that as his disciples we, too, must be pure and essential to life. In the sermon on the mount he said, “How happy are the pure of heart for they will see God.” When we hear the word “pure” we generally think about sexual behavior, but that doesn’t capture the enormity of this teaching. To be painfully practical, we’re living in a society that has abandoned the purity of the truth. Phrases that wage war against truth like “fake news” and “alternate facts” ring out every day, it seems. Jesus was asking his disciples to stand in opposition to the world – to maintain purity of heart.

The authentic disciple must never loose sight of Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate. His words should ring in our ears. “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” Pilate’s closed heart tragically responded: “What is truth?”

There are many Pilates in positions of power throughout the world. Today, each and every disciple is called to stand in contradiction to them. We offer the life that truth brings. Some among us who are called to a prophetic ministry may meet the same fate as Jesus. But through us, the truth will continue to reach out, offering life, offering healing, offering a vision of a new world. As his disciples we must never forget his words to us. “You are the salt of the earth.”

Thursday, 06 February 2020 / Published in Church Reflections

Eight days after his birth, Jesus was circumcised and given the Hebrew name Joshua. We refer to him by the Greek translation of his name, Jesus. His circumcision was the sign of the covenant between God and Jewish people. That day Jesus became a Jew.

Three weeks or so later, his parents brought him to the temple in Jerusalem for another ceremony, the redemption of the first born. It was a simple ceremony recalling that all life belonged to God. A small amount of money, five shekels, was given to the priest to buy back the child. That ceremony was followed by another one involving the child’s mother who was considered unclean for forty days after the birth of a baby boy. A sacrifice was required to conclude that period. She offered the sacrifice of the poor, two turtle doves or two young pigeons.

Mary and Joseph came to the temple to fulfill these dictates of the law. They were surprised when a man suddenly walked over to them and asked to hold their child in his arms. He looked like a kind and holy man and had a beautiful smile. Mary handed him her baby boy. The man, Simeon, broke out into a poetic rhapsody. “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

As beautiful as his words were, Mary and Joseph must have wondered what this was all about. They didn’t know that he had had an interior vision in which the Holy Spirit promised him that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Christ with his own eyes. Today was the day! He must have been weeping as he spoke those words. He concluded with a prophecy that he spoke directly to Mary. “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

If this wasn’t enough, immediately after, an eightyfour year old woman who was a prophetess, came forward and intensely fixed her gaze on the child. She left them and began to speak “about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Israel.”

After they had performed their religious duties, Mary and Joseph returned to their home in the Galilean town of Nazareth. The gospel writer concluded his narrative of Jesus’ infancy with a short note. “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. It’s a lovely story we’ve read today, but what’s the deeper message Luke is trying to convey to the people of his day and to us? The Jewish world had been anticipating the emergence of a messianic military leader who would usher Israel into a golden age. Luke was introducing this long-awaited leader, but he was very different from what everyone expected.

There was great power all around this messiah, but it wasn’t military power! The announcement of his birth came to the poor and lowly. Mary was told that he would be “the Son of God,” and through him a new world order would emerge. Angelic messengers invited Mary and Zachariah to participate in God’s marvelous plan. A chorus of angels announced his birth to poor shepherds with the words: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Simeon, the mystic, proclaimed Jesus “the glory of Israel,” and surprisingly, “the light,” not only for Israel, but for the whole world – Jews and Gentiles alike! Anna the prophetess, continued the proclamation of the good news that the shepherds began after seeing him in the manger. “She spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Luke was telling us God is among us – he calls him Emmanuel which means “God with us.” Nothing can be the same anymore. The light of God’s revelation has appeared in the person of Jesus, the Christ!

This feast we’re celebrating today, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, reminds us that Jesus Christ was the divine Light. That Light will never be extinguished no matter what trials and tribulations the world experiences! It’s traditional, today, to bless candles and to process around the church with them. So today we will light candles and present them to families with newly born children. This is to remind each and every one of us to follow the example of the shepherds, Simeon and Anna in proclaiming the presence of the Light. Let’s pray today that we, and these new-born children, will continue to carry God’s Light throughout the world.

Sunday, 26 January 2020 / Published in Church Reflections

We begin Ordinary Time by reading from the beginning of John’s Gospel. The scene opens with John the Baptist at the Jordan. The Jewish authorities had sent emissaries from Jerusalem to ask him a very direct question: “Who are you.” He had no hesitation in telling them that he was not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. By quoting Isaiah he told them that he was the herald of the Lord who was already among them.

The next day, John was again baptizing. Surrounded by his disciples he stopped what he was doing and pointed at a man. His eyes wide, his heart racing, he proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Then he testified. “I saw the spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.”

Unlike the report of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, here, there is no drama. God’s voice isn’t heard speaking. Instead, John attests that he has personally seen the Spirit come to rest on Jesus. The remainder of the chapter clarifies what the evangelist is teaching us.

The following day, John is again at the Jordan. Two of his disciples are beside him. Again, Jesus walks by. Again, John points to him, “There is the Lamb of God.” The disciples leave John, and begin following Jesus who turns to them asking, “What are you looking for?” “Where do you live?” they ask. “Come and see,” he invites them.

The evangelist is laying out the dynamic of the Christian life for us. One person of faith who can see beyond the obvious, points to Jesus, not only the man, but the Lamb of God. This simple account is meant to fan our faith. Each of us is called to contemplate the mystery of the Lamb of God to internalize it. Each of us is called to testify – to point him out. From that moment on, the Spirit will guide all who can hear, and the journey will have begun.

Sunday, 19 January 2020 / Published in Church Reflections

We begin our reflection on the baptism of the Lord by reading Isaiah’s poetic description of the Messiah. “I, the Lord, formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” Through this image of the Messiah, Isaiah casts the light of hope on the world’s suffering, poor and oppressed.

Then, we move on to the testimony Peter gave to Cornelius and his household. It’s so simple we may overlook its importance. His testimony is a short creed. “You know… what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” Peter is taking Isaiah’s description of the Messiah and placing it into the ordinary course of life. Jesus moved through the society of his day lifting suffering by doing good and healing. The Holy Spirit was with him as he ministered and God’s power flowed from him.

The Gospel reading gives us Matthew’s account of the event. It begins with a wonderful dialogue between Jesus and John the Baptist. Jesus had come from Galilee with the specific purpose of going through the ritual bathing that John had initiated. He asked people to convert – to turn their hearts to God and confess their sins. Submerging themselves into the Jordan, the penitents symbolically washed away their sins. They were then ready to step into the new, Messianic Time.

John didn’t want to baptize Jesus. He protested saying that Jesus should baptize him! Jesus told him to “allow it for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was telling John that he wasn’t detaching himself from the world, no matter how dark and sinful it was. His mission was to purify and heal the world from within. Saint Paul put it this way in his second letter to the Christians in Corinth. “Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Matthew then shares with us the powerful event that occurred within Jesus as he came up out of the water. “The heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.” As he emerged he was overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit and anointed by the Father. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus went into the water wrapped in the world’s darkness; he emerged anointed and strengthened for his mission to bring God’s healing light to the world. With this event, Matthew begins his Gospel, the Good News that God’s loves each and every one of us good and bad alike. The world’s healing has begun through Jesus. His ministry will continue through us, his disciples. Matthew reminds us of this event in the last sentences of his Gospel.

“Go then, to all peoples everywhere, and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”