“…and Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
As we celebrated All Saints yesterday and today All Souls it becomes Bitter and sweet. Bitter because we remember our dead, sweet because we know the capacity of our prayers on their behalf. Our Mass today is the same as what we do at a funeral except that on this day, we do not have just one death, but many, very many, so many just look at the pictures.
It is easy for us to reminisce and pray for our close relatives, our friends, our parents, our colleagues, those with whom we shared quality time, but today is also the chance to remember and pray for those who had no one to pray for them, those who did not have the chance of an appropriate burial, the unidentified souls; victims of natural disasters. (Flooding, earthquakes, typhoon, and so on). We also remember millions of people who have died because of man’s inhumanity to man, victims of abortion, sales of expired drugs and fake food, holocausts, war and so on.
Why do we pray for the dead?
One, in praying for the dead, we remember them and by doing so, we offer them a great offering. “I once read somewhere, “you will know your true value when you consider the speed with which you will be forgotten after your death.”” (“A Day to Remember the Dead: All Hope Is Never Lost …”) A day like this is a good day for the dead if one living person still remembers them. The movie COCO, yes, a Disney movie has Christian themes. Nothing is as wonderful as being remembered by someone after your death.
Two, by praying for the dead, we become knowledgeable and worthier. Death is a great educator and one of its teachings is the equality of all humans. Death teaches us those judging others or treating people with disdain, coldness or unforgiveness is foolish. Even the few minutes we spend thinking of our dead ones could boost the quality of our lives and our interactions with one another.
Three, our prayers for the dead help to reduce their pain. Africans, have a traditional belief in the notion of people who died “before their time.” Such persons are said to be in a state of roving until they finally settle with the others that have gone to the other side. As Catholics, we believe in purgatory, a place that is neither hell nor heaven where the sins of the dead are cleansed until they are permitted to enter heaven. This is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1030. There have been numerous occurrences of dead people appearing to the living either in dreams or in visions requesting for prayers or even going further to give advice or warning.
In the end, what we celebrate today is HOPE. Hope that as we pray for the dead, they will enter heaven, hope that if they are in heaven, they will intercede for us. Hope that one day, when we too pass on, there would be people around here praying for us. St. Paul tells us today that Hope does not fail us.
Together with Job 19:25 in our first reading, we sing: “I know my Redeemer lives.” I know God who is my Redeemer will not desert me even after my death. I know I want see God, whom I shall see with me. Our Psalm continues this song saying “The Lord is my Shepherd… surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for length of days unending.”
Finally, just like yesterday, we hear Jesus repeat the beatitudes again. As we hear these beatitudes again, we are made to understand that they apply not only to the Saints but to all departed souls. By repeating this reading, the church wants us to meditate on what is important, the beatitudes.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, deepen our hope of resurrection for your departed servants. Amen.
Dominican Hermitage & Oratory of St’s Peregrine and Sebastian in Gevgelija, Republic of Macedonia, Europe in the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Beloved family and friends, beloved sisters and brothers in Christ our Lord and Redeemer, in today’s mass readings from Deuteronomy, Hebrews and Gospel according to Saint evangelist Mark, I will try to give my little brief of how the Holy Scriptures reflect this to us as ultimate truth for understanding better the meaning and the message, and for our daily devotional spiritual food.
We read here “days…prolonged, Moses’ concern is that successive generations maintain the obedience to God’s laws that ensures life and prosperity, in 6:3 : a land flowing with milk and honey: a description that includes the richness of the land which the Israelites were soon to possess, in 6:4 has become the Jewish confession of faith, recited twice daily by the devout, the intent of these words was to give a clear statement of the truth of the monotheism, that there is only one God. The most important passage is that those commandments in 6:6 shall today be on our hearts. Such a beautiful message, inspirational, and we have to give that to our children, in our family members. Since the relationship such as this of love for God could not be represented in any material way as with idols, if had to be demonstrated in obedience go God’s law in daily life.
In the epistle of St. apostle Paul to the Hebrews we read: “also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them, that mean that by the authority invested to them the priests in the old testament , after the establishment of the Mosaic law, the Levitical priests collected tithes from their fellow Israelites, and the submission was not to honor the priest but to honor the law of Moses. Melchizedek not only received a tithe from Abraham , but he also blessed him, and this prove Melchizedek superiority and another superiority is that of our Lord Christ’s divine and holy character as proof for superiority of His priesthood. In 7:26 in His relationship with God , Christ is holy , he is harmless without evil or malice, in relationship with himself He is undefiled, free of contamination, separate from sinners, He had no sinful nature, which will be source for any act of sin, so He is without sin , higher that heaven, how marvelous is to have such a priest, and we have to watch as in daily mirror to put these words in our heart, and to be faithful in daily attendance of mass, where alter Christus the priest is offer his daily sacrifice in the Holy Mass.
In the Mark’s gospel we read that vinedressers were greedy because they wanted the entire harvest and the vineyard for themselves and would stop at nothing to achieve that end , they plotted to kill the owner’s son. Because Jesus had achieved such a following, the Jewish leaders believed only the way to maintain their position and power over the people was to kill Jesus.
The owner of the vineyard will execute the vinedressers, thus serving as a prophesy to the destruction of Jerusalem. So also another attribute, prophet, for Jesus King, Prophet and Priest.
According to Matthew if I can little include this verdict was echoed by the chief priests, scribes, and elders, Matthew 21:41 “give the vineyard to other” those others dear beloved family and friends are all of us the Gentiles, , this was fulfilled in the establishment of Christ’s church and its leaders who were most Gentiles. In Mark 12:10 the stone which the builders rejected, those builders that typically rejected stones until they found one perfectly straight in lines that could serve as the cornerstone, that is critical for the stability of the building. So here Jesus is metaphor He Himself is the stone, the builders were the Jewish religious leaders rejected Him, as crucified Him. But the resurrected Christ is the cornerstone, and the chief priests, scribes and elders were completely aware that Christ was condemning their actions, but it only aroused their hatred, not their repentance.
So what we learned from today’s Gospel? We can be servants as the stones that support the cornerstone, to be bold, and steady to the end, always confession our Lord, if we want to be recognized from Him in Heaven as his family, so don’t be afraid to make the proper sign of the cross in public, or before you eat in public restaurant, when we usually pray, we always have to be not people who hide privately the faith, that’s not what Jesus would do.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Reading I: Eph 2:19-22
Responsorial Psalm: 19:2-3, 4-5
Gospel: Lk 6:12-16
Liturgical colour: Red.
My dearest Brothers and sisters-in-Christ:
Today we come together as the church to celebrate the feast day of Saints Simon and Jude. Little is known about either of these saints apart from the fact that they were called by Jesus to be among his band of disciples and were later named amongst the Apostles.
Let us first take a look at St. Simon:
Simon was a simple Galilean, a brother of Jesus, as the ancients called close relatives in those times, including such as uncles and first cousins. He was one of the Saviour’s four first cousins, together with James, Jude and Joseph. These were all sons of Mary, the wife of Alpheus, or Cleophas, both names being a derivative of the Aramaic Chalphai. According to tradition Cleophas was the brother of Saint Joseph, Jesus earthly father. All the sons of this family were raised at Nazareth, close neighbours of the Holy Family.
All were called by Our Lord to be Apostles: pillars of his Church. Saint Mark tells us that Simon was born in Cana, the place, according to Saint John, of Jesus’ first miracle. Some traditions identify Simon as the bridegroom at that wedding and suggest that he became a disciple as a direct response to witnessing that miracle, a miracle that was, after all, performed, at the request of Mary, to get the newly-weds out of a somewhat embarrassing predicament.
Saint Simon is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament except in lists of the Apostles’ names.
Tradition has it that Saint Simon preached in Mauretania (an area which approximated to present day north-west Africa and southern Spain), in Egypt and in Libya, leaving behind him the fertile hills of Galilee, where he had been engaged in cultivation of the vineyards and olive gardens. He later rejoined his brother Jude in Persia (modern day Iran) where they laboured and died together, probably martyred, hence the change to a red altar frontal in their honour on this their feast day. At first the Persian king respected them, for they had manifested power over two ferocious tigers that had terrorised the land. With their king, sixty thousand Persians became Christians, and churches rose over the ruins of the idolatrous temples. However, when they visited other parts of the Persian kingdom unconverted, pagan hordes commanded them to offer sacrifices to the Sun god. They prayed for mercy and offered their lives to the living God but the idolaters fell on the two Apostles and massacred them, while they blessed God and prayed for their murders.
Now let us take a look at Saint Jude:
Saint Jude is also known by a variety of other names. He is called Lebbaeus in Matthew chapter ten and Thaddaeus in Mark chapter three.
In the end of our Bibles, we find The Epistle of Jude. It is a short work of only one chapter containing just 25 verses. Here we are warned against corrupt influences that have crept into the church.
St. Jude is often and popularly referred to as the patron saint of desperate or lost causes, the one who is asked for help when all else fails. Possibly due to prayers for intercession, to be asked of the other Apostles first. Hence, Jude has come to be called ‘the saint of last resort’, the one whom we ask only when desperate.
What, then, can we in today’s world learn from the lives of these two relatively unknown Apostles? Firstly, they, like the rest of the twelve, ‘forsook all and followed Jesus. Can we be accused of doing that? Could we, and should we, give up some of our modern comforts and privileges and live our lives more like our Lord? Secondly, if tradition tells us, St Simon was the recipient of Jesus’ first miracle. We should be reminded that, even two thousand years later, that miracles still happen. We must always be aware that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and he does not always do things in the way in which we would have him do them.
Thirdly, judging by his epistle, Saint Jude proved to be an avid supporter of gospel truths.
So then, are we truly passionate enough about the tenets and doctrines of our faith? Do we hold fast to the creedal affirmations of the Church?
Both Sts Simon and Jude, spent their lives preaching the gospel to a very pagan world and it is believed that they died a martyr’s death for their faith. We may not be called to be martyrs like they were (hopefully), but we shall be called to make other sacrifices. Are we ready to suffer for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?
Let us, thank God for the lives of his Apostles Saint Simon and Saint Jude.
Let us pray:
Father, you revealed yourself to us through the preaching of your apostles Simon and Jude. By their prayers, give your Church continued growth and increase the number of those who believe in you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.
Reading I: 2 Tm 4:10-17b
Responsorial Psalm: 145:10-11, 12-13, 17-18
Gospel: Lk 10:1-9
Liturgical colour: Red.
Today we commemorate St. Luke the Evangelist, Patron saint of Physicians. Luke, from his perspective, records for us in his Gospel writings, the life of Jesus=from His birth at Bethlehem, through His ministry and His many healings. How Jesus heals the blind, the deaf, and the lame.
Luke tells us of the peace which Jesus speaks to all, because Jesus is indeed the peace and healing of God, then in human form. That is why in Luke 10, Jesus tells the 72, to say, “Peace be with this house”, as he sends them out as apostles of his peace.
Jesus gives us spiritual healing and peace which forgives our sins, and which reconciles us with God, our Heavenly Father, by His death upon the cross for us.
Jesus is truly the physician of our Soul. He knows all too well, that we are sick with sin, but it deters him not. Each and every one of us, is precisely why He came to earth to be amongst us, the reason he lived with us upon the earth, and why he suffered, bled, was tortured, and died for all our sakes.
Jesus came down from Heaven to our world, to take from us our dark sickness of sin and of death, and to heal us, to bring us true life and salvation. He took all upon himself for us upon the cross, our sickness and death, died with the Lord, to all who truly believe, love and follow Him. We are forgiven, we are healed, we are saved, we are at peace.
If we truly examine our lives, we will see our constant need for healing of the sins of this world. As with the body, if we are sick, we see our dr for diagnosis and treatment, that’s why today, we give thanks to God for His servant, Luke, the Evangelist. It’s Luke’s role to bring Jesus, His healing and peace to each of us through the living and active word of God.
The word of God is the scalpel of Jesus our physician and saviour. With total precision, Jesus’ laws cuts us and ‘kills’ the sickness of the human condition, so that he can heal us, and give us true life.
Each of the commandments of Jesus is a precise incision of his law. We have failed to fear, love, and trust God above all else as we ought to do. We have failed to use God’s name as we should, and to call upon him as our Father, as his children when in every trouble or need, or to give him worthy thanks and praise. We have ignored God’s Holy word and preaching, we have not loved our neighbour, or helped to eased their needs. We have been bad stewards of earthly material things such as money, or possessions. We have failed in giving kindness and forgiveness to our brothers and sisters.
So indeed, our human sickness of sin is dire=without Jesus as our Lord, our Saviour, and physician, the diagnosis is terminal.
But Jesus is merciful, he does not delight in punishment. Jesus our physician of our soul, cuts with His law in order to heal us with His Gospel. The Lord heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds (PS 147:3). Jesus has kept on our behalf, all those commandments, which we have failed to truly follow.
If we want to call our doctor, we pick up the phone, and wait for an appointment to become available. But Jesus as our physician for our souls, is contactable 24 hrs per day, every single day with no exception. He is contactable easily anytime, day or night, by the important communication of prayer.
So let’s end today with the simplest but most important prayer of all, to our Saviour and physician of our soul:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
The Rev. Deacon Igor Kalinski OPI
Dominican Hermitage & Oratory of St’s Sebastian and Peregrine in Gevgelija, Macedonia
The Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle reminds us that the faith of Christians is born and nourished only in the encounter with Jesus
Dear brothers and sisters!
Today’s feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, which we celebrate with this solemn Eucharistic celebration, is the feast of the heavenly patron of the Diocese of Pula and the city of Pula. He was chosen as his heavenly protector by the faithful of this diocese in ancient times with the desire that the example of this holy witness of Christ inspires, guides, encourages and encourages them on the path of Jesus’ followers and witnesses. In this imitation of Jesus, St. Thomas inspires the faithful of this diocese, but also all Christians, in a special way in moments of human and religious insecurity and in the hours when they seek sure answers to open questions, which are imposed on them at a given moment. Therefore, the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, apart from the remembrance of the great figure of one of the first direct disciples of Jesus, is for all of us primarily a feast of faith. Faith, which is born only in the encounter with Jesus. Who lives only in a way of a permanent state of encounter with Christ. Which only that encounter feeds and maintains. For us believers, this takes on a special meaning in this Eucharistic celebration, which is always a reunion with Jesus. With our God and Lord, who in the Body and Blood, under the Eucharistic occasions of bread and wine, comes among his faithful.
The initial faith of the apostles was born in an encounter with Jesus while he was still living in this world. She grew in them in fellowship with Jesus, that is, in their living with Him, which was nothing but a daily and all-day encounter. On the contrary, that faith in them waned at the moment when, after Jesus’ death, His parting with them occurred. True, this was due to the fact that, after Jesus’ condemnation and crucifixion, the apostles were overwhelmed with disappointment and fear of persecution. But much more than fear, their faith was threatened by parting with Jesus. That is, the cessation of the encounter with Jesus was the main reason for their discouragement. This is best proved by the fact that the faith of the apostles was strengthened again after Jesus appeared to them. Their sure faith appeared and came to life again in the encounter with Jesus. That is, they believed after “seeing.” After the risen Jesus came among them. In an encounter with Jesus. But Tom was not present at the event. Thomas did not “see” Jesus with the other apostles. He did not experience that encounter with Jesus. He will experience it a week later, and faith will be revived in that encounter as well. In other words, there is no significant difference between Thomas’ reaction and the reaction of the other apostles, because everyone actually believed only after they “saw”. The only difference is that they “saw” at different times. Therefore, it is more a matter of a different time, in which their faith is born, than of a difference of content and manner.
It is precisely this birth and strengthening of the apostle’s faith, that Jesus was indeed resurrected, that is reported in the passage from the Gospel of John, which we have just heard. And this is the passage for which St. Thomas is generally known. He was even called “unfaithful” after that event. But it is very often forgotten that this passage, though the most famous, is only one of three incidents from the same Gospel of John, in which St. Thomas speaks. In their own way, they complete our knowledge of him, complement the image of this apostle of Jesus and emphasize the uniqueness of Thomas’ character.
The first incident, in which St. Thomas speaks, is the event of the death of Lazarus, Jesus ‘friend from Judea, and the miracle of his return to earthly life by Jesus’ action. And it was in that Judea that they wanted to stone Jesus shortly before. Namely, after Jesus learned that Lazarus had died, he said to the apostles: “Let us go to Judea again! […] Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to wake him up ”(Jn 11: 7-11). And in order to turn Jesus away from his intention, his disciples said to him, “Teacher, have the Jews now sought to stone you, that you may go there again?” (Jn 11: 8). And as Jesus did not give up, the apostles continued to convince him that it was not prudent to return to Judea, and told him, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will be healed” (Jn 11:12). And John the Evangelist continues: “Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. I’m glad I wasn’t there, and for your sake – to believe. Let’s go to him! ‘ Then Thomas, called Gemini, said to his disciples, “Let us also die with him” (Jn 11: 14-16).
These words of Thomas should be read, listened to and understood in the light of the real danger that threatened Jesus in the event of his return to Judea, as an expression of Thomas’ great personal courage and willingness to die with Jesus if necessary while He carries out His mission, but at the same time as Thomas’ call to all the other disciples of Jesus to show solidarity with the Lord. He is not afraid to return to the region and among the people, who are a real danger to life for all of them, and he invites others to behave in the same way. He is willing to risk his earthly life for Jesus. He chooses freely to always be with Jesus. Not only when Jesus is praised, but even in mortal danger. He is also He chose not only to live with Jesus but also to die for him and with him, as he himself says. To be with Jesus in life and death, in Judea and eternity. Forever!
The second incident, in which Thomas speaks, took place at the Last Supper. Then, on the eve of his death and departure from this world, Jesus comforted the very worried and troubled disciples. He said to them, “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God and believe in me! […] There are many dwellings in my Father’s house. I’m going to prepare a place for you. When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that you may be where I am. And where I go, you know the way ”(Jn 14: 1-4). These words of Jesus surprised the apostle Thomas. They were not clear enough to him and he is not ashamed to admit it publicly. Therefore, as a very curious person, who is always ready to seek clarification, and above all as a disciple who wants to always be with his Master, even where Jesus announced his departure, he says to everyone in front of Jesus: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How then can we know the way? ”(Jn 14: 5).
Thanks to this question, all the disciples heard Jesus say of himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 14: 6). That is, thanks to the Apostle Thomas, we gathered here today as worshipers of this apostle, know about this fundamental teaching of Jesus, which is a great challenge for every follower and every believer, and for us gathered here, especially to the extent that he wants to achieve his eternal salvation. That is, thanks to Thomas ‘question, we know that only Jesus’ way and path leads people to Heavenly Father.
In the Gospel of John, the apostle Thomas speaks for the third time in the description of the two apparitions of Jesus, with Thomas absent at the first apparition and present at the second. From this account of John we learn that Jesus appeared to his disciples for the first time on the very day of his resurrection. We also learn that they were very frightened because we read, “And in the evening of the same day, the first day of the week, when the disciples were shut in fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said unto them, Peace be unto you.” (Jn 20:19). So they were all behind well-closed doors. In fear. Except Tom! That is, although there was great fear among Jesus’ disciples and they hid and closed the door, Thomas was different and was somewhere outside the door. Curious, as he was, he probably went to look for answers to new questions, which arose, and doubts, which he wanted to solve. At that moment, apparently more brave than the others, it can be assumed that he went out to reconnoiter Jerusalem. Because it is clear that he did not run away or forget the other apostles. In fact, he knows where they are and, after reconnaissance, returns to them with the information gathered. But they shock him by telling him what happened while he was gone. That is, that they saw the Lord. And he, obviously very surprised and taken aback, and probably suspicious of his colleagues because of their cowardice, replied, “If I don’t see the nail mark on his hands and put my finger in the place of the nail, if I don’t put my hand on his side, I won’t to believe ”(cf. Jn 20:25). Because he knew that “big eyes are in fear”, and in such a state it often seems to see what is not there. But when, just a week later, Jesus reappeared to the apostles, Thomas was among them. And when he was convinced, that is, when he personally saw the risen Jesus, he confessed his faith in the divinity of Christ with the words: “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). It is a confession of faith, which Christians to this day often repeat, especially at the moment when they partake of the Eucharistic Jesus, their Lord and God.
At the end of the description of this event, we read that Jesus Tommy, after he confessed his faith in Him, God and Lord, said: “Because you saw me, you believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed ”(Jn 20:29). This is the third great lesson of Jesus, which he uttered thanks to the reactions and questions of the apostle Thomas. The lesson, which directly refers to the Church, the community of faith, to our present condition, because we are not given to “see” the Risen One. In fact, the whole Church has believed from the beginning the testimony of the apostles, who “saw” and then believed and gave their lives for it.
Commenting on this last incident with the Apostle Thomas, St. Gregory the Great, the Pope writes: “What, brethren, to observe in all this? To attribute to the pure case that this disciple, chosen by the Lord, was absent, and that when he came then heard of the event, and hearing doubted, and doubting touched, and touching believed? No, this did not happen by accident, but by Divine disposition. The mercy of the Lord worked in a glorious way, for that disciple, while, with his doubts, touching the wounds on the body of his Master, healed in us the wounds of unbelief. The unbelief of Thomas benefited us more, in terms of faith, much more than the faith of the other apostles. While he has been brought to faith by touch, our mind is fixed in faith by overcoming every doubt. […]
One, however, was what he touched, and the other was what he believed. The deity cannot actually be seen by mortal man. So he saw a man, and he acknowledged God, saying, ‘My Lord and my God.’ So he believed when he saw it. He saw the right man and said it was the God he could not see. (Hom. 26, 7-9)
Other great saints and minds of the Church wrote similarly. Thus St. Augustine says: Thomas “saw and touched man, and confessed his faith in God, whom he neither saw nor touched. But what he saw and touched led him to believe in what he had doubted until then. ” (In Johann. 121, 5)
Dear brothers and sisters, The case of Thomas the Apostle, apart from the saintly example, is an important lesson for all Christian believers for at least three reasons. First, because it comforts us in the uncertainties of the faith we profess, and encourages us in our quests. Secondly, it is important to us, because it shows, that any doubt can enter enlightenment, where there is no uncertainty. And third, the words, which Jesus addressed to Thomas, remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to, in spite of difficulties, continue on our path of adhering to Jesus.
Therefore, through the intercession of St. Thomas, God grant that all of us, who have not seen, but believe and confess that Jesus is “my Lord and my God”, confirm this faith every day with our deeds. And so that, according to our testimony, others could “see” and “touch” God’s goodness and believe. Through the risen Christ, our God and Lord. Amen!
Reading I: Acts 12:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Reading II: 2 Tm 4:6-8, 17-18
Gospel: Mt 16:13-19
Liturgical colour: Red.
Let us first look at today’s Gospel Reading of MT 16:13=19:
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter,and upon this rock I will build my Church,and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of two of the great pillars of the church, those being the Apostles, Sts Peter and Paul. They both came from entirely different backgrounds. Peter worked as a fisherman and was from rural Galilee. Paul was a learned Pharisee from the university city of Tarsus. Peter’s first language was Aramaic; Paul’s first language was Greek. Peter knew Jesus from the time of Jesus’ baptism and was with Jesus until the time of Jesus’ passion and death; Paul only ever met the risen Lord, in the vicinity of Damascus. For all their differences, they had at least one thing in common. Both of these men found themselves at odds with the Lord. Peter denied Jesus publicly three times. Paul violently persecuted the followers of Jesus, and thereby persecuted Jesus himself. Yet, their resistance to the Lord did not prevent the Lord from working powerfully through them. Paul was chosen to be the great apostle to the pagans. We know from the letter to the Galatians that Peter and Paul had a serious disagreement at one point about the direction the church should be taking. They were very different people and the Lord worked through each of them in very different ways. They were certainly united in death. Very early tradition recalls that both were executed in Rome by the emperor Nero who blamed the Christians for the fire of Rome. Today’s feast reminds us that the way the Lord works through us is unique to each and every single one of us. The feast also reassures us that our many resistances to the Lord need not be a hindrance to the Lord working through us. Peter who denied the Lord and Paul who persecuted the Lord went on to become great servants of the Lord. Our failings do not define who we are. Paul would go on to say, ‘the Lord’s grace toward me has not been in vain’. Likewise, the Lord’s grace towards us in our weakness and frailty need never be in vain if we continue to open ourselves to the workings of that grace, just as Peter and Paul did.
Let us pray:
O God, who on the Solemnity
of the Apostles Peter and Paul,
give us the noble and holy joy of this day,
grant, we pray, that your Church
may in all things follow the teaching
of those through whom she received
the beginnings of the true religion.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ – Mass in the Holy Night
Is. 9:1-6; Ps. 96:1-3, 11-13; Ti. 2:11-14; Lk. 2:1-14
Rejoice, heavenly people! And you on earth, echo their joy! The battle is joined: Emmanu-el, “God With Us,” is born in the flesh! The final contest between good and evil is joined!
Our Gospel reading this morning is from the erudite account in Luke, written by a literate, educated man for a literate, educated, thoroughly cosmopolitan, and skeptical Gentile audience. Luke’s gospel is infused throughout with the ancient arts of rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy. Luke himself was deeply imbued with Platonic concepts of the relationship between the supernatural and the earthly planes, between what was above, and what was below. We see this most clearly in contrast with the account of Our Lord’s birth in the Gospel of Matthew, which was written by a Jewish evangelist for a Jewish audience.
Matthew essentially disregards the event that we commemorate tonight/this morning; reporting only the fact of the child’s birth as a terminal point before which Joseph refrained from marital relations with his wife (Mt. 1:25), before segueing into the appearance of the Magi “when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.” (Mt. 2:1). Luke, on the other hand, treats the Nativity as an event in and of itself – as, indeed, it is – and casts it in Platonic terms. We all know the story, if only from watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV every year. Linus’s soliloquy, as he attempts to explain the Nativity to Charlie Brown, is Luke’s account:
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flocks.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to them on whom his favor rests.’” (Lk. 2:8-14)
Dear brothers and sisters, the appearance of the multitude of the heavenly host is nothing less than the unrestrained, jubilant exultation of Heaven at the birth of Heaven’s champion, transcending the Platonic barrier between the higher and the earthly planes. We know, from the Old Testament prophetic accounts of Isaiah and Daniel – to name only two – that the heavenly host praise God unceasingly. That’s Heaven; this is earth, and – according to Plato – ne’er the twain shall meet. Yet in this moment, when God is not merely incarnate – as He has been since the Annunciation, nine months ago – but born in the flesh, completing and perfecting the entry of Heaven’s champion into the arena of combat with Evil, “all Heaven breaks loose,” so to speak, in celebration so cacophonous, so raucous, that it transcends the Platonic barrier between Heaven and earth, and is manifest even to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks.
One could argue that the Platonic barrier is a result of, and a sign of, the alienation of Creation from its Creator in the Fall of Man. Before the Fall, there was no barrier between Heaven and earth; Adam and Eve existed in the same state as the heavenly host. With their eyes of vision, they beheld the beatific vision; the Garden of Eden was, literally, Heaven on earth. After the Fall, the fact of the barrier between Heaven and earth constitutes the brokenness of Creation. These arguments, I think, find firm support in a close reading of both creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2. If these arguments hold, then the heavenly rejoicing at the Nativity of the Lord becomes, from a Platonic standpoint, what orthodox Christian theology asserts that it is: a new Creation, a return to the “status quo ante” when Heaven and Earth were in harmony.
If we see the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, as a bridge, or a linkage, between Heaven and Earth – God reigns on His Throne in Heaven; God walks the earth in human form – then we must see, in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, the same linkage between the supernatural realm of God, who is “pure Spirit” (cf. Baltimore Catechism of 1891, Lesson Second, A.13 “God is a spirit infinitely perfect,” and A.16b “[God] is a pure spirit …”) and the earthly plane of material existence. Where the first Creation was marred by original sin, the Nativity of God Incarnate at least sets the stage for a new, better Creation, one in which the final, decisive victory over sin and death will be won.
Thus, the Nativity is, at the same time, both the completion of a process within salvation history, and also the beginning of the next stage of the God-initiated and God-mediated process of redemption of the world. The Nativity is not our salvation – salvation is not completed, it is not perfected, by the Nativity. The humility of the manger at Christmas will have to be succeeded by the scandal of the Cross on Good Friday, and the triumph of the grave on Easter Sunday. The Nativity of the Lord is pointless without His Death; His Death would have been impossible without His Nativity. But, by Our Lord’s being born in the flesh, the battle between good and evil is joined. The competitors are “in the ring,” so to speak. The host of Heaven exults, and earth “echo[es] their joyous strains.”
For me, the most lump-in-the-throat-inducing of all Christmas hymns is “O Holy Night,” the second part of the first stanza of which sets the scene of the Nativity in cosmic terms, situated within the sweep of salvation history: “Long lay the world/ In sin and error pining,/ ’Til He appeared,/ And the soul felt its worth./ A thrill of hope,/ The weary world rejoices,/ For yonder breaks/ A new and glorious morn!” A thrill of hope, at which the weary world rejoices – we feel that thrill. Our world lies groaning in sin and error, pining for salvation. We understand. We are there. The anticipation of the hymn is our anticipation.
Reading 1: IS 66:18-21
Responsorial Psalm: PS 117:1, 2
Reading 2: HEB 12:5-7, 11-13
Holy Gospel Reading: Luke 13:22-30
Liturgical colour: Green.
In today’s Gospel we are told that Jesus is travelling from town to town, “teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem,” . During these travels, on one occasion, somebody asked him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Let us notice his response. He turns the question around: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Jesus won’t let us leave our religious questions at arm’s length. He always brings the matter directly home to us. “You ask about other people. ‘Will they be saved?’ But what about you? Will you be saved? Take heed, repent and believe, lest you be lost, shut out at the end.”
Jesus does it this way, he turns the question around. He does this many times in the gospels. For examples of thism let us think of the lawyer who wanted to justify himself, and so limit the “Love your neighbour ” commandment, and who asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” But Jesus turned the question around with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and he basically ends up asking the lawyer, “Are you being a neighbour to the person in your path, to the one in need?”
Or let us think of the woman at the well. When Jesus starts to get too close with his knowledge of her sinful life, she tries to deflect the conversation into a discussion about at which mountain to worship. But Jesus doesn’t let the conversation stay in deflected. He wants this woman to repent and to realize her thirst to receive the living water.
Or maybe we can think of the people who ask Jesus, “What about those Galileans who were massacred at the temple?” His response? “Do you think that those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus turns the question around, and he redirects the questioners to their own spiritual need.
So also in our Gospel reading for today. Someone asks Jesus, “Will those who are saved be few?” He answers, “What about you? Will you be saved? Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
And today, In answer to this question, Jesus would say the same thing to each of us: “Will you be saved? God’s Word always is meant to be applied personally, to reach deep into our hearts and into our lives, calling each one of us to repentance and to faith.
Jesus is speaking to you, to me, and to all today when he says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” you may well ask, “what’s this business about ‘striving’? I thought salvation was a matter of grace, not works. And what’s this thing about ‘the narrow door’? I thought salvation was open to everyone, open wide, not narrow.”
Well, glad you asked those questions. Let’s deal with them one by one. First, “strive.” “Strive to enter,” Jesus says. How can he say that? Here’s how. Yes, salvation is a matter of grace, God’s free gift in Christ to each and everyone of us. All who are saved are saved purely and exclusively out of the free grace of God in Christ, and not by our own merit in any way whatsoever.
So what does Jesus mean here when he says, “Strive to enter”? I think it’s helpful if we look at this word “strive.” The Greek word here in our text is “agonizomai,” from which we get our English word “agonize.” “Agonizomai” means to strive, to struggle, to exert enormous effort. It’s the word the Greeks used to describe athletic contests for example. And this is the word that’s used here when Jesus says, “Strive,” agonize, “to enter through the narrow door.”
We don’t contribute anything to our salvation by our striving. No, because we have been given this as a free gift. But as we come to Christ and enter through that narrow door, it will involve a struggle. There will be much agonizing along the way.
We all know that living the true Christian life is not easy. There are all these forces which constantly pull against us, to attempt to keep us from entering through that narrow door. We have got Satan, we have the world, and we have our own sinful flesh working against us. It’s like a tag-team wrestling match, and those three are on the other side, tagging in and out, each taking a turn to see if they can defeat us and pin us to the mat. So it is a struggle.
Satan, the world, and the sinful flesh–that’s who we’re agonizing against. Satan will assault us and assail us. He will lure us with temptations. He’ll whisper in our ears lies that say, “God doesn’t love us. Look at what’s happening! Give up.”
Then there’s the world. Listen to the lies of our culture: “There often doesn’t seem to be sin anymore as these things have become commonplace. Everything is seen as OK by the world. We are told by the world that we don’t need to repent. The world questions even if there’s a God out there anyway? As long as you’re a good person, that’s what counts is often the worldly belief.”
And if the issues with Satan and the world aren’t enough, we each have got our own sinful flesh to contend with: “ I know what I want, and I’m going to get it. I won’t listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice telling me otherwise. No, I want to make my own decisions type of thing! And if I’m going into sin, and I know it–well, I’ll just repent later on, I suppose. This way I can keep doing what I want, and I can rationalize it all away.”
So see what we’re up against. It is indeed a struggle, an agonizing, to live as a Christian and to keep the faith. It’s like St. Paul says in Acts 14, “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Being a Christian is not easy. It does call for a constant striving, and so Jesus says here, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
And then there’s this “narrow door”. What does Jesus mean by that? To say that the door is “narrow” is telling us that there’s just one way in. There are not many doors. There are not many roads that lead to the Kingdom of God. There is only one way. It’s through Jesus, through faith in him alone, and in nothing else! Jesus says in John 14, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Or again, in John 10, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” The narrow door is Jesus!
This door is narrow, is telling us it’s the only one, but this door is indeed always wide open! Jesus has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Trust in him, and we will be saved! This is all because of that “journey to Jerusalem” Jesus was on. There, in Jerusalem, Jesus’ “arms’ length” extended far and wide when he stretched out his arms on the wood of the cross. Those arms, those arms of Jesus, took in all the sins of the world, including yours and mine. Whatever we have done wrong, our sins against God and mankind, the ways we have disobeyed God and hurt the people around us–all these are paid for, paid in full, by Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, dying sacrificially for us, so that we now are forgiven.
And having done this, Jesus rose from the dead, showing us what is in store for us through faith in him. Eternal life! Jesus’ arms are extended to embrace us and to welcome us as a brother or sister in God’s kingdom. The door is open. Enter in!!
There is a great feast waiting for each of us there. And we will be joining many, reclining at the table at the wedding feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end–with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a whole multitude coming from the east and the west, the north and the south. Will you be there, seated with them at the feast of salvation? If we had to answer on the basis of our works or merit, we’d have to say no. But Jesus turns the question around in a good way and answers with a great big yes!!! Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, He wins the victory for us.
“Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Today this narrow door is open, and it is open wide!! Enter through Jesus, and we shall be saved
Brothers and Sisters this is a homily after the Gospel. But sometimes it is necessary for those who are shepherds to give some advice to the sheep who are lost. Take it or leave it.
All throughout the Bible, salvation history is giving us lessons about our place in the world. Some of these lessons are hard to take. Some easy. Today’s lesson is a little of both, I think.
Let me jump to today’s times. If we look around at our town, neighborhood, faith community, there seem to be those who are turning this message a bit on its head. What I mean is that there are some people who are waiting for the shepherd to come and help them. They are in trouble or in difficulty or just angry at what’s happening and they want a strong shepherd, leader, father-figure to fix things. I sometimes wish for this as well.
I am the good shepherd, says the Lord,
I know my sheep, and mine know me.
This is today’s Alleluia from the Apostle John.
“In verdant pastures he gives me repose,” from the Psalm. “In good pastures I will pasture them…” from the First Reading.
Now who is doing this pasturing, feeding, protecting, leading? The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. And we, who are shepherds, are enjoined to go out and find lost sheep and take care of them. Not just the clergy, not just religious…everyone is responsible for the lost sheep. Who among us will not go out and find the sheep that is lost?
But today I fear that some of us are waiting for the shepherd to come and save us. The strong man, the leader, the capable woman, the boss, the politician…somebody who is going to fix the disordered world we find ourselves in today. It’s in every headline, every news story or broadcast, every political missive that comes in our mail or on our smart phone. “We need someone who can fix these problems! We need a leader!”
And then, “I am someone who can fix these problems! Make me your leader!”
You know where this is going. So let me get back to reality. All of today’s readings tell me one thing. I am a shepherd and I need to take care of my sheep. The One I trust, as it says on our coins, is God. There is no message that anyone other than God will save us. No matter what’s going on in our lives, everywhere, not just in the readings, we are urged to take matters into our own hands. Yes we are to rely on God, but here where we are temporarily living, we need to rely on ourselves.
No, I am not speaking as one who thinks there should be no help from others. I am saying that the shepherd is ourselves, not some politician, boss, or pastor. When we begin to take charge of our own lives, with God’s help, then we are fulfilling the lessons of today’s Gospel. We are the sinners. We must repent. And we must tend to our own sheep, our own neighbors.
And if you remember the Gospel of Luke, you know who your neighbor is. Sometimes we are the fallen man needing help, sometimes we are the Samaritan. But Jesus tells us that help is given by those who can and not to be expected from anyone but God.
So maybe I need forgiveness for venturing into a quasi-political diatribe. But today’s readings have led me down that path. Then if I need forgiveness, please forgive. If I need applause, please rejoice.
In all cases, let us rely on the Lord to show us the path. And then let us assist those we find on the path with us.
Lord, Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.