Yesterday we celebrated Christmas. In many churches worldwide in this Christmas season we can see pictures or icons of the holy family of Jesus. In catholic and some traditional protestant churches we can also see some Christmas pictures but mostly we can see the statues of Mary, Joseph and a baby Jesus. In some protestant denominations where icons or statues are not popular people usually imagine this holy family while reading the Bible story of the Jesus` birthday. What is very beautiful about this holiday is that ALL Christians regardless of their denomination are celebrating Jesus` birthday. Even people who are not religious traditionally celebrate this holiday by giving gifts, decorating their houses, preparing delicious food and enjoy gathering with their family members.
And here we come to this very sacred word – Family. This is the topic of today`s sermon and there are many things that we should learn about the importance of the family. This is the first lesson that Jesus taught the world, even though he was just a new-born baby not even knowing His mother tongue. Yet His birth is a big lesson to all people. He was born in a byre surrounded with animals and hay. He was not born in a luxurious palace even though He is a King of Heaven. His place of the birth teaches us that material treasure is not the most important thing in this world. As we read in the Bible he got gifts from wise men: gold, myrrh and incense.
Those three gifts have their meaning. Biblical scholars tell us that gold represented value, dignity, authority and everlasting kingship. It is a gift for a king (or a queen of course). Today, many of us yearn for a greater sense of value, dignity and authority in our own lives. Myrrh was an anointing oil used as gifts to kings in the Eastern cultures. The anointing of oil was an act that symbolized holiness. Holy in Hebrew means “set apart and different from all others.” In the Hebrew culture it began as a practice for priests, but was later accepted for prophets and kings. And incense. For the Jews, incense was to be a symbol of prayer, as David says, “May my prayer be set before you like incense” (Psalm 141:2). Incense is still used by priests within the Eastern Orthodox Church.
In the modern time that we live, I believe that it is still important to give the definition of what the family is because some people like to use this term to discriminate certain groups of other people. The traditional family is certainly the family of straight couple and their one or more children. Jesus` family was an example of the family that only looked as a traditional one but he was actually adopted son of Joseph, since we know that Joseph was not biological father of Jesus. So the families are also those families with adopted children. The family can be a family of same-sex partners and their adopted child. Or even if some couple cannot or do not want to have their biological child, they are still family. The family is about love not gender, biological characteristics or sexual orientation. But what I believe is one Family that is also important or the most important to all of us is the Family called The Church. Since all of us believe that we have our one heavenly father, God we believe that we are all children of God. And this is a very special blessing and a gift. We call each other brothers and sisters and this is a symbol that in a spiritual sense we are brothers and sisters. The importance of Our Heavenly Family is emphasized by Jesus when he was twelve in one interesting story from the Bible from Luke 2, 41-52 when Jesus went to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover. He stayed in the town even though His parents had been going back home. They literally lost Jesus. But after three days they had finally found Him in the temple when Jesus replied to his step-father and mom: ”Did you not know that I must be in my Father`s house?”. This doesn`t mean that if our parents are not religious or they seem to be careless or for any other reason we should not be obedient to them. Jesus was an obedient child, He only wanted to teach us about the importance of Heavenly Family. This means that the Father`s house is an important place and to all of us as through Jesus we can also call Him Abba father, as it is written. What we also read in this chapter is that Jesus came to Nazareth and was obedient to His parents. So children should always be obedient to their parents.
In Colossians 3. 18-21 Bible gives us some instructions on how one healthy family members should treat each other. Partners should dedicate to each other, love each other and not to be harsh to each other and do what is fitting in the Lord. If they have children, they should obey parents in everything. But parents should not embitter their kids, or they will become discouraged. These are good pieces of advice given to our nuclear families but what I would like to put my focus to at the end of this sermon is our spiritual family. The family containing of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Especially when we grow old and if our parents died or if we lost our spouse or partner, people become aware that the family can be lost. But The Church is one big family and Christians will never be alone. They will always have millions and millions of Christian brothers and sisters worldwide and this is how beautiful our faith is. In Colossians 3: 12 -14 God is giving some instructions on how should we behave as being parts of the Big Family. It is written: ”Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Let us thank to the Lord for giving us this treasure called family. Thank Him for our biological nuclear and extended family. For our parents, sisters, brothers and cousins. And also let us be thankful for the big spiritual family which is called The Church. Be obedient and love our biological family like Jesus did and also love and care for our spiritual family like Jesus did. Let He bless us all. Amen.
LK 1:39-45 Charles Spurgeon was quoted as saying “And when the Lord Jesus has become your peace, remember, there is another thing: goodwill towards men. Do not try to keep Christmas without goodwill towards men.”
My family of God, I welcome you to this last Sunday before the awaited day of Christmas. Today we are asked to take Christ to others; To bring others to experience Christ by our helpful actions as our mother Mary showed in that generous and selfless visit to Elizabeth her relative. May you jump with joy in God’s presence today and always.
Today’s readings remind us that Jesus is reborn every day in ordinary people living ordinary lives, who have the willingness to respond to God’s call and the openness to do God’s will. They suggest that Christmas should inspire us to carry out God’s word as Mary and Jesus did, in perfect obedience to His will, in cheerful kindness and unselfish generosity.
Contrary to the belief of many that Christmas is a time to show off how much we have, a time of partaking in various forms of pleasurable and luxurious living or social activities, the readings of today’s highlight what should characterize everything we do in this period and that is taking Christ to others. A time we bring people to experience Christ by our way of living; this is the most important of all and the true spirit of Christmas. It does not matter whether you are an important person or not, God wants to use you to bring Himself to others.
In the Gospel, Luke tells us how two insignificant women met to celebrate the kindness and fidelity of God. It shows us how sensitive Mary was to the needs of Elizabeth, her older cousin who had miraculously become pregnant in her old age. For Luke, following Jesus consists of hearing God’s word and then doing it, (talking part) and Mary does both, to become the most perfect disciple. “At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? – St. Theresa of Calcutta said, “Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”
We need to carry Jesus to others as Mary did. Christmas is the ideal time for us to be filled with the spirit of Christ, allowing his rebirth within us. Once Christ is reborn in us, He enables us to share his love with all whom we encounter by offering them humble and committed service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate, caring love. Let us take the time to visit others this during Christmas season, especially the sick and shut-ins, to bring some inspiration into their lives, and hopefully to bring them closer to God.
We need to bless and teach the younger generation. Elizabeth exhibits the responsibility of the older generation to motivate the young generation. Grandparents, Godparents and clergy have the responsibility of encouraging those around them. By complementing and encouraging one’s spouse, children and friends, let us make them know how valuable they are to us and to God.
God is faithful to His promises. The first reading from prophet Micah gives assurance to the Jews that God is faithful to His promises and that from the unimportant village of Bethlehem He will send them the long-expected ruler. From something insignificant, God brings out something significant. It does not matter how insignificant your virtuous deeds are, God always treasures them and makes something meaningful out of them. Anything you do for another, in this period of Christmas, is being Christ-like. The second reading encourages to be thanks to Christ who offered the sacrifice of perfect obedience that liberated us from sin. At Christmas, we celebrate that unique sacrificial gift of Christ to the world. May our lives be sacrificial in this period of Christmas to give back God’s gift of himself to us.
May you and your family leap for joy as Christ enters your home this Christmas period.
As always you all and your families are in my prayers.
We lit the pink candle today, and as you can see, we wear rose vestments the third Sunday of Advent. The pink candle is identified as the “Candle of Joy.” Our lighting the candle is our prayer that God may replace our sadness with joy.
The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. In the readings today from the third Sunday of Advent the words ‘joy’ and ‘rejoice’ appear twelve times and used in place of each other. One can, rightly, call the third Sunday of Advent “Baby Jesus Shower Sunday” since we are in the mood of joyful anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The first reading is a prophecy of Prophet Zephaniah to the people of Israel when infidelity to God was exceedingly high. The worship of God was at an exceptionally low level. However, there was a remnant who remained faithful to the worship of God. The prophecy was a prophecy of hope and encouragement to the remnant faithful.
There are too many desolate people who are going through various kinds of crisis that stifle joy in their life and leave them sad most times. May the prophecy of Zephaniah come to fulfillment in their lives. May God, in his infinite mercy, replace their sadness with joy. May God remove the judgement against them and turn away their enemies. May they no longer be afraid or discouraged. May they be renewed in God’s love. May they shout for joy and sing joyfully to God. May they exult with all their heart.
In times of crises and desolation, let us keep faith, and remain close to God. The psalmist says, “To be near God is my happiness” (Psalm 73:28). As we remain close to God, St. Paul prays for us in the second reading, “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Our reflection on the importance of spiritual preparation for Christmas continues today. The Advent season offers us three major spiritual invitations: (1) invitation to prayer, (2) invitation to repentance, (3) invitation to charity.
St. Paul highlights the invitation to prayer in the second reading. He says, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make requests known to God.”
In the Gospel, John the Baptist emphasizes invitation to repentance and invitation to charity. John the Baptist said to the crowd, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” This is an invitation to charity. We are the crowds. John the Baptist invites us to help, support and be charitable to those in need. Our acts of charity make us instruments of joy to others.
John the Baptist said to tax collectors, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” This is an invitation to repentance. We are the tax collectors. John the Baptist invites us to repent from dishonesty and greed.
John the Baptist said to the soldiers, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” This is an invitation to repentance. We are the soldiers. John the Baptist invites us to be self-content and not bear false witness or accuse anyone falsely.
As our Advent journey continues and as we approach the celebration of Christmas, may the joy of the Lord be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
A soap salesperson and a priest were walking together down a street in a large city. The soap salesperson casually said, “The Gospel you preach hasn’t done much good, has it? Just observe. There is still a lot of evil in the world, and a lot of wicked people, too!” The priest made no reply until they passed a dirty little child making mud pies in the gutter. Seizing the opportunity, the priest said, “I see that soap hasn’t done much good in the world either; for there is much dirt still here, and many dirty people are still around.” The soap man said, “Oh, well, soap only works when it is applied.” And the priest said, “Exactly! So, it is with the Gospel.”
We handed out the Rejoice books for out Advent study, to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord and Savior, it only works if you read the material!
What is Advent? Why is it important? Lent is obvious: as Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem, to His trial and Cross and tomb, we travel with him with quieted voices, almost shameful faces, wearing the color of his bruises. Prayer, penance and alms giving come naturally to us in times of shame and grief like Lent.
But Advent’s time is different. First thing it is only half as long. And what comes at the end of our waiting is not a death but a birth. Whatever its challenges, pregnancy is not a period of despair. And even if we focus on the other aspect of Advent, the Second Coming, when Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” we joyfully greet this prospect with excitement, indeed we pray for it.
Our Advent readings today lack the gloomy mood of Lent. “Take off that dress of sorrow and distress,” says our First Reading, “and put on the beauty robe of God’s glory; wrap the cloak of God’s integrity around you; put the diadem of God’s splendor on your head” (Bar 5:1-9). Likewise, our Psalm promises those who go out ‘full of tears’ that they’ll come back ‘full of song,’ singing Advent carols. Hearing about the countless office parties and new year’s celebrations there is not much hope of Lenten sobriety in this country in any case. But what is it the liturgical calendar asking of us at this time of year?
“Wake up, take the high ground, look East,” says the Prophet, look towards the sun, because something wonderful is coming. “Purify yourselves in preparation for the Day of Christ,” says the Apostle (Phil 1:3-11). “Prepare,” says the Precursor (Lk 3:1-6). The mood of Advent is preparedness, excitement, eagerness: because something important is going to happen soon. So significant that Baruch says, “God has commanded the flattening of the mountains and the filling of the valleys.” So important that John the Baptist cries in the wilderness: “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight… so all may see the salvation of our God.” The Christmas decorations may hang up early in our city and with mixed motives; but the urge to announce the coming of the Lord is a sound one.
Excitement, about Christ’s coming at Christmas and return at the end of ages, fine: but readiness? Are we ever ready? How could we prepare for such a thing? Well, Jesus once told a story that helps us understand. A king held a wedding feast for His Son, but those who He first invited would not come (Mt 22:1-14). He asked repeatedly. But they stuck to their own concerns and treated the King’s messengers badly, even killing them. It is a parable, of course, about God’s repeated invitation to Israel to join the party that is life in His Kingdom. Finally, in frustration, the King invites strangers “both good and bad” from the streets and what we would consider ghettos – in other words, the less than holy Jews and even the Gentiles. But then we get a strange variation in the story: one guy has come to the feast dressed in flip-flops, a T-shirt and dirty old shorts. The King has had enough of all this disrespect. So, he gets the police to throw the guy out. You understand, even vagrants in the Kingdom of God are expected to put on their Sunday best. Though we might never be completely ready for Christ’s coming at Christmas and at the end of time – or our coming to Him at the end of our lives – we can at least do our part to prepare ourselves to join at the feast. Even the poor shepherds in the field, received a little teaching from the Angels and though they had no gifts to offer, they brought their lambs, carols, and adoration.
Which is why God sends us John the Baptist as an invitation card today. It is to let us know the party’s happening and tells us to prepare. “Prepare a way for the Lord,” he pleads to us in Advent. “Repent and believe the Good News – for the forgiveness of sins.” Straighten out the sins in your life-story through confession, prayer, the sacraments; remove the obstacles of your vices by conversion and the cultivation of virtues in their place; make a straight path for God in your hearts. Prepare yourselves for the wedding feast coming, not in a tuxedo or wedding gown, but with integrity and godliness, as our first reading proposed, ready for what God has waiting for us.
How do we change to what really matters? Paul’s prayer for us today is “that your love for each other may keep increasing, and your knowledge [of God], and your perceptiveness so that you can always recognize what is best.” That, he says, is the way to “prepare yourself for the Day of Christ,” to ready yourself and observe the Advent ways. Our hearts are made for caring, our brains for thinking, our senses for identifying so, all three come natural in the world for us; yet how easy it is for our cares to go astray, our minds to be confused, our vision to be distorted. Hatred, prejudice, egotism, indifference – you name it – these things block us for Christ’s coming, put-up barriers, hills and ravines. But knowing, loving and serving God and His divine image in our fellows: these things ‘straighten out’ the way for Jesus.
When a religious makes profession of their vows or a new priest is ordained, the Provincial or Bishop uses St Paul’s words from our epistle today: “May the Lord who has begun this good work in you bring it to fulfilment.” But Paul wrote this prayer for everyone. If we live with integrity and godliness, desiring to know, love and serve God and His people, we are living for God – between now and Christmas, now and the end of our lives, now and the end of time, the God, who has begun this good work in us, will bring it to conclusion.
So… Happy New Year!
What? You say to me, “Bishop, did you skip Christmas altogether?” Nope. Today marks the beginning of the new liturgical year. Do, please, allow me to explain:
Within the calendar year, there is another year: the great cycle of the liturgical year, revolving around the life and ministry Christ. Each season of the liturgical year has its own focus, feasts, words, and colors, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the coming of Jesus, his life, and his commission to His people to be a light to the world. words, and colors, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the coming of Jesus, his life, and his commission to His people to be a light to the world.
Since the 900s, Advent has marked the beginning of the church year, and is a season of great anticipation, preparation, and excitement, traditionally focusing on the Nativity of the Christ Child, when Jesus came as our Savior. During Advent, we as Christians also direct our thoughts to His second coming as judge.
The word Advent is from the Latin adventus, meaning coming,” and is celebrated during the four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent always contains four Sundays, beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, (November 30) and continuing until December 24. It blends together a penitential spirit, very similar to Lent, a liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of the Lord, called the Parousia, and a joyful theme of getting ready for the Bethlehem event.
Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000-year-old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture readings for Advent reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment of sin, and the hope of eternal life.
In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for holy living, arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. As the church celebrates God’s Incarnation in the physical presence of Jesus Christ, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning, awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
We celebrate with gladness the great promise of Advent, yet knowing that there is also a somber tone as the theme of final judgment is added to the theme of promise. This is reflected in some of the Scripture readings for Advent, in which there is a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment of sin. This is also faithful to the role of the Coming King who comes to rule, save, and judge, the world.
Because of the dual themes of judgment and promise, Advent is a time of preparation that is marked by prayer. While Lent is characterized by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isaiah 9).
As we prepare ourselves for the coming Christmas season, let us also remember that we are in Advent, preparing for the coming of Christ, our King. May all of you have a meaningful, blessed, and holy, Advent.
Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States and Canada. It is a special holiday when people should celebrate. In both Canada and America, family and friends gather for a feast on Thanksgiving. Traditional fare in America often includes turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. Parades and football games also have long associations with the holiday. Since I grew up and live in South Eastern Europe I remember the time when I was studying English as a kid. Sometimes we had lessons called – Thanksgiving Day. I was sad because we in Serbia do not have this holiday. Yet I also understood how important deeper meaning of this holiday is. How important is to think really deeply about all the things we are thankful for. To think about all blessings and everything that God has done and is doing in our lives.
When I started preparing this sermon I was investigating a bit how many thanksgiving verses we have in the Bible and I found that there are more than 100 of them. In Psalm 95:1-2, King David wrote” I will enter and give thanks to the Lord”. In 1 Chronicles 16:34 it is written “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever”. More than 10 years ago when I was living in an Orthodox Christian monastery trying to become a monk for many months I was reading orthodox Christian books in order to learn as much as I can. Even though I declare myself as an old catholic since 2016 when met father Michael, I remember that there are some good things I learnt from Orthodoxy. One thing is Thankfulness. If you ever go to Holy Month Athos in Greece where only monks live you could hear very often them saying ”Slava i hvala Gospodu” which means “Glory and thank be to the Lord”. Also one important thing that I learnt I would like to share here with you. As a young man, when I was in my early twenties I spent two years learning Greek language, I also worked in tourism sector in Greece. I remember one very important word that we all use in Christian churches. This word is Eucharist or in Greek – Evharistia. This word actually means – thankfulness. In Greek language evharisto means thank you. So, it is very important to make this relation between Eucharist and giving thanks to God.
When we participate in the holy Eucharist we also participate in thankfulness for the salvation that Jesus had given us though his the most holy sacrifice. When we eat brad and drink vine, we eat Jesus` body and blood. We show thankfulness to his sacrifice, we are thankful for His most holy body that is given to be sacrificed for the sinful humans and when we drink his blood we show thankfulness to God for the purest blood that was given to wash away our sins of everyone who believes and accepts Jesus as his or her savior.
Another definition of the biblical meaning of thanksgiving is that Thanksgiving means to respond to God’s goodness and grace with gratitude. The word for giving thanks in the Old Testament means to raise hands to God in gratitude. We can show gratitude through Eucharist but we can also show our gratitude through our prayers. From time to time it is really useful to all of us to think about all the things that we have and to become aware how blessed we are. Usually when we pray we ask God to do something. We pray for success at work, we pray for good health, we pray for better salary, we pray for many things. But I personally believe that the most powerful prayer is not to request anything from God. Just stay in His presence and say one sincere “Thank you. Thank you for all the good things that you gave me. And thank you even for allowing bad things to happen because those might be lessons and I may learn something from those. Thank you God for everything, for every breath I take, for every heart bit, for giving me this life, for giving me love, for allowing me to get to know Jesus. Thank you for the gift of salvation, for the love, the hope and the faith. Evharisto!”
I remember one old school friend when I was in my Secondary school. That friend unfortunately always lived in a very bad financial situation, as many people in Balkan do. And she always kept asking every single person for some small money. We were all helping her, sometimes when we could and as much as we could. But after some time, we were trying to skip seeing her in the school. All students knew that this girl would be complaining about her finances and ask for some financial help if you stop her to say hello. Students started seeing her not as a true friend, but as a material person who always asks for some material help.
I often remember this situation when I pray. I know it is written that we should ask for many things in our prayers but it is also written that Our Heavenly father is giving food to birds and water to flowers in fields and He knows what we need even before we ask for it. But human nature is strange, it seems that we always want more and more. My prayer for today on this Thanksgiving is let us all to stand for a moment and not to ask for anything new in our prayer. Let us just pray to good with the mouth full of thanksgiving. Let us think about all the things that we have already and let us be thankful for these.
In Philippians 4:6-7 there is a verse saying: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This does not teaches us that it is not good to have requests. We can have requests for our God. But those requests should be there with thanksgiving. God loves when we show gratitude and when we say:” Thank you, God”. As a result he can grant us more than we ask him to. And there is one more Bible verse talking about that. In Luke 17: 11-19 it is written: “Out of the ten lepers Jesus healed, only one went back to thank Him. This man, completely free from illness but full of faith, knelt at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him for showing mercy. Because of his gratitude, God healed him far deeper and more than the other nine men were”. With this story in our minds and hearts let us all be thankful on today`s Thanksgiving Day, and let us celebrate thanksgiving every day in our hearts. Thanks be to God forever. Amen.
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of Universe.
Reading 1:Dn 7:13-14
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 93:1, 1-2, 5
Reading II: Rv 1:5-8
Gospel: Jn 18:33b-37
Liturgical colour: White.
Today we come together to honour Our King and Our saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus is the One and true King of all heaven and of all the earth. There is no one who Jesus is not the ruler of, whether such person be an Earthly King or Queen, a President or a Prime minister of a country, Jesus still is the ruler and the King of all. Earthly kingdoms and offices of power are just that, earthly.
Jesus has His true Kingship of all, not by elections or by earthly processes, but by election of God. From his resurrection from the dead and from his installation in heaven at God’s right hand. When our dear Lord rose from the dead, after paying for all our sins upon the cross, God the Father exalted Him and gave him a “name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.” and this includes everyone, ourselves, and all the rulers of the earth. Jesus lives today and rules over us from his heavenly Kingdom with the Father. Jesus doesn’t rule with evil or hate, or with earthly wants, policies and pride, but rules with love, mercy and forgiveness and who loves and accepts each of us where we are as long as we love him. We have a King that loves us so much that he suffered human death upon the cross for all of our sins, so that we could have a chance of eternal life with Him. What a wonderful Lord and King we have indeed!
Lord Jesus, you are the King of Kings!!
Let us pray:
O Divine Saviour and King of all, transform us into that which is pleasing to yourself. May our hands be your hands. Grant that every faculty of our being may serve only to glorify you. Above all, transform our Spirit, our will, and our affections so that they become those of you, our Lord and King. We pray that you destroy all within us that is not of you, our King of all. May we live in you, by you, and for you. Amen.
In days of old there was a woman married to a most annoying man. He would complain about everything. He never did anything to help his wife. He expected to be waited on hand and foot all the time. (Do not shoot the messenger guys) Remember if you want to be treated like a king, she must be your queen. One day he went to the river with his mule. He complained so much that the mule got upset and kicked him till he died. At the funeral, when all the men walked by the wife, she shook her head in the affirmative. Every time the women walked by; she shook her head negatively. The priest asked the woman after seeing this: “Why are you shaking your head “yes” for men and “no” for women?” Her answer was: “The men would say how bad they felt for me, and I was saying, ‘Yes, I’ll be good.’ “When the women walked by, they were asking if the mule was for sale…”” (“Simple Truths for Marriage”)
The readings today seem filled with despair and disaster. The prophet Daniel tells of the day when the great Archangel, Michael, shall trumpet the time Jesus returns. And Jesus speaks of the time when the Son of Man shall come in glory and gather the elect into His kingdom.
While select might find these readings frightening, they would be wrong. For the readings are given to us not to incite fear but to invite reflection about how we live our lives today.
The fantasy mule-kicked husband is just like those people that only care about themselves and want it their way all the time or they are unhappy. And while the husband may be an extreme example, the numerous variations of his behavior find a home in many places and peoples in our world.
Today’s readings challenge us to look at life with a diverse set of lenses…not with self-centered glasses but with compassion and care for all. It calls us to see with new eyes. To see that the person who cuts us off in traffic might be a single parent who worked nine hours that day and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a little precious moment with her children. The older couple who are walking excessively slowly through the store and who block our shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report from the doctor she got back last week, this might be the last time that they will be able to go shopping together for a while or forever depending on the aggressiveness of the cancer.
To serve each other is not only to learn to think differently it also means taking the next step and moving outside of we: to lend a hand to those in need, a listening ear to those who are lonely and a compassionate and understanding heart to those who find themselves living on the fringes of society.
It is only when we learn to give ourselves in service to each other and to those in need that we gain a proper perspective on life and let Jesus Christ lead us so that we might, in the words of the prophet Daniel, “be wise and shine brightly…like the stars forever.”
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints (also called All Saints Day).
All Saints’ Day, All Hallows Day, or Hallowmas is solemnly celebrated on 1 November by many Western Liturgical Churches to honor, literally, all the saints, known and unknown; those individuals who have attained Heaven; all the holy men and women who have lived their lives for God and for his church, who now have attained Beatific vision and their reward of Heaven.
In early Christian history it was usual to solemnize the anniversary of a Martyr’s death for the Lord at the place of their martyrdom. Frequently there were multiple martyrs who would’ve suffered and died on the same day which led to multiple commemorations on the same day. Eventually, the numbers of martyrs became so great that it was impossible for a separate day to be assigned to each individually, but the church feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a feast day to commemorate them all on the same day.
The origin of the festival of All Saints celebrated in the West dates to the month of May in the year 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. In the 730’s Pope Gregory III moved the Feast of All Saints to 1 November when he founded an oratory in St. Peter’s for the relics of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.”
From our Readings today, we hear of the vision of St. John from the Book of Revelation:
After this, I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.”
All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed:
“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”
Who are these nameless saints? Their anonymity teaches us that sainthood is not reached through great achievements or rare acts of bravery. Sainthood comes from simply loving God and doing our best to live our lives in a way consistent with Jesus’ commandment. I would dare say that none of the saints actually set out to be saints. They simply loved God and lived their lives to follow Him.
Revelation goes on to remind us that giving our lives over to God will not protect us or insulate us from hardship. Living in, for, with, and through God, however, will make sure that we can and will endure whatever “great distress” comes our way. In this passage of Revelation, John is speaking specifically of those who have given their lives for their faith. Christians throughout the Middle East are being martyred by forces opposed to Christianity, but in reality, it is very unlikely that any of us will be called upon to sacrifice our lives for our faith.
Our challenge, then, is to live for Christ, rather than to die for Christ. Jesus does ask to lay down our lives for Him. Peter said to the Lord, “I will lay down my life for Your sake,” and he meant it (John 13:37). Has the Lord ever asked you, “Will you lay down your life for My sake?” (John 13:38). It is much easier to die than to lay down your life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling of God. We are not made for the bright-shining moments of life, but we have to walk in the light of them in our everyday ways. For thirty-three years Jesus laid down His life to do the will of His Father. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
If we are true followers of Jesus, we must deliberately and carefully lay down our lives for Him. It is a difficult thing to do, and thank God that it is, for great is our reward. Salvation is easy for us, however, because it cost God so much. But the exhibiting of salvation in our lives is difficult. God saves a person, fills him with the Holy Spirit, and then says, in effect, “Now you work it out in your life, and be faithful to Me, even though the nature of everything around you is to cause you to be unfaithful.” And Jesus says to us, “…I have called you friends….” Remain faithful to your Friend, and remember that His honor is at stake in your bodily life. We are called to remain faithful, despite the reasons the world gives us to not, despite the “great distresses” in our lives.
Who are these dressed in white robes? It is my prayer to be counted among them. What about you?
At times in the gospel, we must be thankful to Jesus, because he had a marvelous instinct for simplifying things. In his time, it is written that there were more than 600 laws that devout Jews were supposed to know and follow, dietary rules, rules about behavior, more than half were things that you were simply never to do. So it might seem like it was a bit of a big deal for Jesus to say that really, not to ignore the other 600 laws, but if you could do two of them right, love God and love your neighbor as yourself, and to be told that if you do that, you’re not far from the kingdom of God, that’s redemptive. It was uncommon for a scribe and Jesus to discuss with someone whose business it was to know all those laws, and yet who realized that they were not all of equal meaning, who was willing to say that God possibly doesn’t get that much satisfaction from burnt offerings, what God gets pleasure from than anything is our love, our love for God, and to see us authentically love one another. It is the same for us today, many of us feel like we do not know enough about our faith, or that we could not explain it to someone else. There are about 3,000 numbered paragraphs in our catechism explaining what we trust and how we should live, and to believe, if we get these two things right, that we can feel good about where we are in our walk, which is almost un-Catholic, isn’t it?
Just two commandments that Jesus gave to be accepted as a citizen in good standing by Jesus Christ himself. Before we feel too comfortable, though, about the easiness of what Jesus is saying here, we must remember the way Jesus saw the state of this world we live in. From the surface what Jesus is asking for sounds very peaceful and simple, but he is involving us in something much larger. Because when you read the gospels, it is impactable not to realize that Jesus saw this world in the hands of a dominion that needs fighting against, and he is recruiting us in building the kingdom that is going to be the alternative to that power. Sometimes we see this power that we are fighting, we see it daily on the streets and on the news, we see it in wars that go on for years and deprive people of the basics of life, we see it when people are demonized, rejected, and feared. We are not sure what this power is sometimes, but we see what love is up against, and we do not see how love is going to win. But the kind of love Jesus is asking for here triumphs over anything. He is not saying for us to be even-tempered, mild-mannered patience with everyone, or leaving people alone the way we would mostly like to be left alone. Instead, the love he is talking about is love that is 100% focused on God and others, love people who are hurting and who have nothing and no one else. And in this war, our weapon is not a rule book but a love that always asks the question, what if that were me? What would I want to have happen if I were them? If I were that person who is coming up here from another country, that person whose lengthy illness is so dispiriting and unfixable, that person who stands for things I do not believe in or understand. How would I want to be treated, for what would I desire? We may not be able to repair any of those situations, we do not know how to, and we cannot but acts of love towards others are the sign we need in this world of another way of life, of that other kingdom that is still on its way. This one commandment is not such an easy commandment to follow, as it appears today. Simple does not mean easy. What is going to save us from disappointment, from giving up? If we only had the second part as our labor, loving our neighbor as ourselves, we could never do it. But God gave us this, a gift of love.
This commandment says that all God wants is a connection of love with us,
establish love as our first job in life, before anything else, realize that we already have it. God is not an inactive participant waiting for us to take the lead here, saving the world by ourselves. We cannot fight this all-alone God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and all the angels and Saints are assisting us. God is already trying to have love take over. The love you have knowledge of from God in your life, the love that is poured out here in this parish, the love that God already showed for this world by sending his Son to the Cross, it is all on our side. Love has already rescued this world and us.
In the first reading today from the Old Testament where we heard these two commandments laid out for the people of Israel, God had already brought these people to the edge of the promised land, and that is available for us, also. We are not digging ourselves out of a hole against impossible odds. We have work to do, but it is as if we should know that God has already suffered death for us. Our relationship with God is already so influential that we can turn to Him no matter what needs to occur. We know it, and yet, we lose faith. We are human. We will at times feel like the odds are against love in this world.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says that in an age where evil is multiplied, most people’s love will grow cold, and some days it does seem as if that is possible.
St. Oscar Romero, who gave his life fighting this fight.
He said, let us never tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world.
Today we ask God to keep our love from dying, and to give us life to put love to work where love is required most.