Sunday, January 13, 2019

Jan. 13, 2019: Baptism of the Lord

Jan. 13, 2019: Baptism of the Lord C

It is estimated that 3 billion gallons of water flow every year from the Sea of Galilee, through River Jordan, and into the Dead Sea. Whereas the Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake teeming with marine life and vegetation, the Dead Sea is extremely salty brine in which no creature survives and no vegetation grows. Connecting the two bodies of water is the River Jordan in which Jesus was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist. Even today hundreds of thousands pilgrims visit the River Jordan each year to pray and to renew their baptismal vows. 

Baptism site on Israeli side of Jordan River
(not the probably site of Jesus' baptism)
Several years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Jordan River. The site that pilgrims visit on the Israeli side, is not the official site of the baptism of Jesus, but is far easier to visit that the official site on Jordanian side. Across a short distance from the site, I saw horses relieving themselves. I imagined that when it rains, the runoff would enter into the river. On that day, there were hundreds of people plunging into the water to be baptized by their minister. I had to turn off my camera and turn away when people’s robes floated up, thus revealing their birthday suits. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand the desire to rent a white robe from the facility, plunge into the water in my birthday suit, and stand in the water teaming with catfish and what appeared to be nutria rats. 

What’s the attraction of the Jordan River for Christians? It’s the place where Jesus stood in line with the rest of the sinners and accepted John’s baptism as a prophetic sign of his own passion, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Throughout the centuries, millions have come to the Jordan River to seek purification, to renew their faith, and draw closer to Our Lord. The River reminds the pilgrims how they have been washed in the waters of baptism and have become members of the divine family of Jesus. 

Site of Baptism on Jordanian side
(more likely site of Jesus' baptism)
From time to time, I encounter people puzzled by the need for baptism at all. From their perspective, even though they’re not baptized, they believe that they’re leading a good, decent life. They try to be conscientious and respect others. In their candor, they even say that they live a much more ethical life than some of the Christians they know. Some well meaning parents are even saying that they don’t want to impose upon their children baptism and instead give their children the freedom to choose their faith when they mature. How would you explain to such persons the necessity of baptism? 

We need to go back to the River Jordan where Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized. John the Baptist had been attracting great crowds of people into the desert area where the River Jordan flowed. There he called upon people to change their hearts, repent of their sins, and come back to God through baptism in the Jordan River. John called his baptism a baptism of repentance, but he knew that the Messiah who was to come was going to baptize not only with water but with Holy Spirit and fire--a radical transformation only possible by God. The moment of Jesus’ baptism by John revealed that Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father in whom all God’s grace and favor rest. Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations...A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.”     

By being baptized by John, Jesus who is sinless chose to be with us where we are, to enter into solidarity with all sinners. He opened the door to a new life, a life that goes beyond our death and into the life of heaven after our death. St. Paul explained to the Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3, 8, 11) Thus baptism is the sacrament of salvation, an encounter with God that cleanses us from sin and makes us true children of God, sharing in his own divine life. It’s a free and great gift from God. Baptism washes away the Original Sin that we all inherited from Adam and Eve. Baptism gives us the grace--spiritual strength--to follow Jesus through this world. 

Do we take the gift of baptism we received for granted? Pope Francis reminded us that the Sacrament of Baptism is the foundation of Christian life. “It is the door that permits Christ the Lord to make his dwelling in us and allows us to immerse ourselves in his mystery.” While some believe that there is no need to “baptize a child that does not understand” the meaning of the sacrament, Pope Francis said by not baptizing would deny the chance for “Christian virtues to grow within that child and blossom.” He said, "Always give this opportunity to all children: to have within themselves the Holy Spirit that will guide them in life. Do not forget to baptize your children.” 

With our own baptism, our vocation on earth is clear--to walk as sons and daughters of Heavenly Father, always aware of the living presence of Christ within us, relying on the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Can you be an ethical person without baptism? Can you be a good Hindu, Muslim, or even a person of no faith? Yes. But what’s missing? A relationship and life with Heavenly Father that would not be possible without baptism. For many of us, our parents and godparents made the profession of faith for us when we were baptized, to proclaim life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We reaffirm this faith for ourselves by our daily witness, obedience to the Father’s will, and sacrifice. It is our conviction that through baptism, the final resurrection from our physical death is a reality that awaits us.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Jan. 9, 2019: Wednesday after Epiphany

Jan. 9, 2019: Wednesday after Epiphany

Does the Lord Jesus ever seem distant when trials or difficulties come your way? 

Right after Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, he left his disciples by themselves so he could go to a remote place to pray alone.It was at Jesus' initiative that the disciples sailed across the lake of Galilee, only to find themselves in a life-threatening storm. Although they were experienced fishermen, they feared for their lives. The Lake of Galilee was known for its sudden storms whipped up by strong winds which swept down from the nearby mountains. The disciples must have cried out for help when they recognized that their boat was about to be capsized by the threatening waves.

Jesus always intercedes for us 

Although Jesus was not physically with them in the boat, he nonetheless had been keeping vigilant watch for them in earnest prayer. When Jesus perceived their trouble he came to them walking on the sea and startled them with his sudden appearance. The disciples were terrified rather than joyful when they saw Jesus' presence on the water. They thought a ghost had appeared to seal their doom. They couldn't believe it was really him until he spoke words of assurance: "Don't give in to fear or panic, but take courage and be calm, because I am here for you and ready to help you in your need." Jesus not only calmed their fears, but the threatening waves and storm as well.

Do you recognize the Lord's abiding presence with you? 

Does the Lord Jesus seem distant when trials and difficulties come your way? The Lord never leaves us alone, but keeps constant watch over us at all times, especially when we are tempted and feel weak or helpless. Do you look to the Lord Jesus to give you his strength and help when you are in need? Jesus assures us that we do not have to give into fear or discouragement if we put our trust in Him and remember his great love for us. He will see us through any trial that comes our way. When calamities and trials threaten to overwhelm you, do you respond with faith and hope in God's love and presence with you?

"Lord Jesus, may I never doubt your saving help and your ever watchful presence, especially in times of adversity. Fortify my faith with courage and my hope with steady perseverance that I may never waver in placing all my trust in you who are my all."

By Don Schwager © 2019.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Jan. 6, 2019: Epiphany

Jan. 6, 2019: Epiphany

Have you looked up at the night sky lately to gaze at stars? Now days, It is difficult to catch a glimpse of the stars in the night sky because of all the lights left on at our homes and businesses. The other day, I was driving through a subdivision, and the bright light shining from each home seemed to be the large screen TV’s. That’s the kind of light that captivates us these days--light from the TV’s, our phones, and tablets. During his Epiphany homily last year, Pope Francis reflected on why the Magi alone saw the star. He said, “Perhaps because few people raise their eyes to see heaven. We often make do looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money, and a bit of entertainment. I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry leaves before the wind? The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.”

It was by looking above their heads toward the light of the Star of Bethlehem that the Magi came to Jerusalem seeking the Messiah. Herod, a Jewish king,  and his allies never saw this star because they were preoccupied with holding on to earthly power and fearful of losing the grip. The epiphany story is a foreshadowing of the rejection of Jesus by the powerful political and religious leaders, and the acceptance of Jesus by the poor, the lowly, and the Gentiles. The Magi who represent the pagan Gentiles allowed the light of the Bethlehem Star to guide them, and once they saw the Christ Child, they joyfully adored and surrendered their lives.

The Star of Bethlehem was then as is now visible through faith; instead of dazzling our eyes like a meteorite which brightly burns up quickly, Jesus’ star invites us gently. While success, money, career, honors, and pleasures entice us then lead us quickly to darkness, the call from Jesus to humility, prayer, sacrifice, and love fill us with gentle joy and peace. Those who turn their lives around and decide to be guided by the light of Christ may not make a name for themselves, but they are truly blessed because they serve as another star of Bethlehem for others. Our Lord came to us to give his very own life; the Magi journeyed a long distance to bring the Christ Child costly gifts.  We are called to make our lives a gift for Christ, to give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return. What a bright sign we become for Christ when we build our family upon Christian values, give to the needy, the hungry, the stranger, or spend time with a difficult person. Let us ponder this week: Is my life like a ‘star’ which guides others to Jesus?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Jan. 3, 2018: THe Most Holy Name of Jesus

Jan. 3, 2018: The Most Holy Name of Jesus


The Holy Name of Jesus is, first of all, an all-powerful prayer.  Our Lord Himself solemnly promises that whatever we ask the Father in His Name we shall receive.  God never fails to keep His word.

When, therefore, we say, "Jesus," let us ask God for all we need with absolute confidence of being heard.

For this reason, the Church ends her prayer with the words "through Jesus Christ," which gives the prayer a new and divine efficacy.

But the Holy Name is something still greater.

Each time we say, "Jesus," we give God infinite joy and glory, for we offer Him all the infinite merits of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul tells us that Jesus merited the Name Jesus by His Passion and Death.

Each time we say, "Jesus," let us clearly wish to offer God all the Masses being said all over the world for all our intentions.  We thus share in these thousands of Masses.

Each time we say, "Jesus," we gain 300 days indulgence,1 which we may apply to the souls in Purgatory, thus relieving and liberating very many of these holy souls from their awful pains.  They thus become our best friends and pray for us with incredible fervor.

Each time we say, "Jesus," it is an act of perfect love, for we offer to God the infinite love of Jesus.

The Holy Name of Jesus saves us from innumerable evils and delivers us especially from the power of the devil, who is constantly seeking to do us harm.

The Name of Jesus gradually fills our souls with a peace and a joy we never had before.

The Name of Jesus gives us such strength that our sufferings become light and easy to bear.


St Paul tells us that we must do all we do, whether in word or work, in the Name of Jesus.  "All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ..."  (Col 3:17).

In this way, every act becomes an act of love and of merit, and moreover, we receive grace and help to do all our actions perfectly and well.

We must therefore do our best to form the habit of saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," very often every day.  We can do so when dressing, when working – no matter what we are doing – when walking, in moments of sadness, at home and in the street, everywhere.

Nothing is easier if only we do it methodically.  We can say it countless times every day.

Bear in mind that each time we say, "Jesus," devoutly:

we give God great glory,
we receive great graces for ourselves,
and we help the souls in Purgatory.

by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan, O.P. (E.D.M.)
THE WONDERS OF THE HOLY NAME: Reveals the simplest secret ever of holiness and happiness

Monday, December 31, 2018

Jan 1, 2019: Mary Mother of God

Jan. 1, 2019: Mary Mother of God

Have you treasured any advice you received from someone? One particular advice I treasure came to me through a book I read about a holy woman. She said: “Pray especially to Our Blessed Mother Mary, placing all your intentions into her hands. For she loves you as she loves her Son. She will guide you in all your relationships so that peace may fill your life.” The book was about Mother Teresa who had a profound relationship with Blessed Mother. When we get to know Blessed Mother then we grow closer to Jesus, recognizing his voice, serving him, and following to him. A priest very close to Mother Teresa wrote, “When I was with Mother Teresa, I had the sense of being before a living mirror of the one whom Mother Teresa simply called ‘Our Lady’...Here was a living icon, genuine and deep, who gave freely of God’s love no matter how high the cost, who radiated his presence even when she could no longer feel it.” This is our goal too, to be the living icon of Blessed Mother and Our Lord, being the servant to all.

On this beginning of a new year on the great feast day of Blessed Mother under the title of “Mother of God,” we take time to understand the often repeated phrase in the scripture, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” This phrase described the attitude in which Blessed Mother took in all that she had experienced throughout her life, from the moment of the Annunciation to her sorrowful gaze upon the lifeless body of her son after he was taken down from the Cross. In the Gospels, she appears as a woman of few words. We learn that she often treasured or pondered in her heart the imprint of God’s grace hidden in the various situations that unfolded before her. Even when she did not understand the situations she faced, she prayed in order to know and understand the Father’s will. Through prayer she had complete trust in the Heavenly Father.

Blessed Mother invites us to listen for the voice of God. To say that we are busy is an understatement, even for those of you who are ‘retired.’ Most of us become anxious throughout the day as the long list of to-do’s, demands for results, and expectation of efficiency weigh us down with stress. When we are stressed, we need to pause and ponder as did Blessed Mother so that we can understand and accept God’s will for us. Mother Teresa said, “If you ever feel distressed during your day — call upon our Lady — just say this simple prayer: 'Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now.'" When we approach Blessed Mother as a little child, meaning dependent, open, and expectant, we appreciate the grace that is hidden in the circumstance of the moment.

We are called to imitate Blessed Mother’s loving surrender to our Heavenly Father. Each day we pray the powerful prayer the Lord’s Prayer. The petitions, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” is a prayer of surrender because we are cooperating to allow His grace to transform this earth through us. Heavenly Father gave Blessed Mother every grace necessary to fulfill Her role as Mother of God, and we must realize that each of us have been chosen by the Father to continue the work of His Son. Hence He has also given each of us every gift we need to accomplish His will. Blessed Mother, many angels, and saints are ready to assist us, but we have to call upon them and trust. Mother Teresa reminded us, “Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.”

What’s on your New Year’s resolution list? Going to the gym, being punctual, losing weight, and eating right? Perhaps part of our list should include growing closer to Our Lord. A few suggestions: read and ponder daily mass readings, praying Blessed Mother’s Rosary regularly, assist social responsibility outreach. We should place our spiritual fitness as priority over our physical fitness. In this way, when God calls us, we can hear Him and respond, “FIAT” or  “Thy will be done.”

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Dec. 30, 2018: Holy Family C

Dec. 30, 2018: Holy Family C

Have you been on a pilgrimage as a whole family, perhaps to a shrine in New Orleans or somewhere further away? The first time my family took a pilgrimage was after my parents sold their restaurant. A terrible tragedy occurred one night at the restaurant when an armed robbery resulted in a person being shot. At that time, I was on a leave of absence from college for a year to help run my parents’ restaurant. The armed robbery took a huge toll on our family, and my parents believed that getting away for a month on vacation in Europe as a family would help us renew. Originally it began as a vacation, but because we ended up spending so much time in many Catholic Churches during the trip, it ended up being a pilgrimage. Both myself and my father at that time were atheists, so we only appreciated the architecture of the holy places. During the trip, we as a family struggled to be kind to each other. Old tensions and wounds that existed prior to the trip resurfaced. We ended up blaming each other for how badly the whole restaurant endeavor turned out. We were on the verge of tearing apart as a family at the end of the trip. That was the year 1994.

Do we believe that Jesus has a plan for our family, that he came to redeem our family? Do we believe that even when our family goes through trials and tribulations, God is faithful to us even when we are ready to give up? When the Son of God became man, he became flesh as a newborn infant within a family of St. Joseph and Blessed Mother. From the beginning Joseph and Mary faced many struggles and hardships. The miraculous conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit in Blessed Mother’s womb was threatened by the possibility of divorce and even death. Jesus’ birth occurred, in human perspective, at the most inopportune place and time --- at night, away from family support, and in a place only fit for barn animals. Immediately, the child’s life was threatened by a power-thirsty King Herod who wanted to murder him. Some years later during the annual family pilgrimage to Jerusalem Temple, the unthinkable happens to Mary and Joseph when the child Jesus was lost for three days. All through these ups and downs of family life, St. Joseph and Blessed Mother sacrificed much to protect their child Jesus. Their fortitude to survive the trials and tribulations came from God alone. The hearts and minds of Joseph and Mary had been prepared through a life of prayer to listen and hear the voice of God. Joseph and Mary taught their son Jesus to treasure prayer, scriptures, and service for others.

Perhaps we can’t readily identify or understand the Holy Family because we don’t have family prayer life or because our family is beset by tensions and divisions. Perhaps our families are pulled away from meditating on scriptures and prayer by distractions--sports, entertainment, jobs, or items we can’t afford. If we take time to reflect, what do we hold as the center of our family? Is it love for God or something else?

The Holy Family models for us the kind of earthly family for which we should strive. To be a holy family is what a mother does to protect her family and serve her husband and her children; it is what a father does to protect his family and serve his wife and children. It is what the children do to honor and obey his parents. At the center of a holy family is a prayer life--family Rosary, reading of the scriptures, and the Holy Mass. We need to ponder on this Feast Day what we can do to change our routine in our family to feed our family with daily spiritual nourishment.

As for my family, this past June, we as the whole family joined together in pilgrimage for the first time since 24 years at the shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland. We celebrated Holy Mass together as a family, to give thanks to God for saving our family and keeping us together. Through a miraculous grace, I became a priest, my dad attends Sunday masses regularly, and my sister named all her children after the names of Saints - Therese, Pio and Seelos. Our family is by no means a perfect family. Our family members still have old habits that annoy and hurt each other. Yet, Christ came into our family and placed His love at the heart of ours. He had mercy on our family, and performed numerous miracles over the years.

We are living at a time of grace for the family. We are called to renew our family prayer in order to make Jesus the heart of our family. How far will we go to protect our family? In order to protect our family, we need to listen, trust, and obey the direction of God. And this will not be possible without prayer being the center of our own families. May our own families become a witness of love in this world.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Dec. 27, 2018: St. John the Apostle and Evangelist

Dec. 27, 2018: St. John the Apostle and Evangelist

John, the youngest of Christ's apostles, would certainly qualify as one of the most fascinating characters in Scripture. He anonymously penned the Gospel that most people consider their favorite. He identified himself only as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” He took the other Gospel accounts of Jesus the Messiah and wrote as if to say, “You've heard what Jesus did, now let me show you who He really was.” Thus John shows us the cosmic Christ who created the world, died to redeem it, and lives to reclaim it. 

The apostle John's life includes unbelievable moments of courage and greatness. Of the twelve, only John stayed near for the crucifixion, and he became the recipient of the capstone of Scripture: the Revelation. He walked in the inner circle with Jesus to places like the Mount of Transfiguration and the resurrection chamber of Jairus' daughter (Luke 8: 51), yet between those mountaintops John experienced many long years when others stood in the limelight. From this disciple we gain an intimate and personal perspective of both Jesus and of a beloved follower.

[As you read the writings of St. John] I hope you'll make the discovery that he did so long ago—the discovery that affection counts for more than ambition. That loving and being loved by Jesus matters more than all that the world can obtain or contain. 

John was free to love because he was so utterly convinced that he was loved himself. “We have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him” (1 John 4: 16). Leave it to John to pen these words. How differently would each follower live if we characterized ourselves above all else as the beloved disciple of Jesus Christ? Our water would be turned to wine and our joy made complete. Oh, how we would long for the day when we see our Bridegroom face-to-face—the living, breathing Son of God! 

John lived to be a very old man. We have no idea how many years he lived beyond his exile. The earliest historians indicate, however, that the vitality of his spirit far exceeded the strength of his frame. His passionate heart continued to beat wildly for the Savior he loved so long. John took personally the words God poured through him. They did not simply run through the human quill and spill on the page. John's entire inner man was indelibly stained by rhema ink. 

In closing, read some of the words obviously inscribed on his heart from that last earthly night with Jesus: This is My command: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn't know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father. You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. This is what I command you: love one another. (John 15: 12-17)

John lived the essence of these verses. He ended his life a true “friend” of Christ, for he took on God's interests as surely as Elisha took on the cloak of Elijah. Early church fathers reported that long after John lacked the strength to walk, younger believers carried the beloved disciple in a chair through crowds gathered for worship. His final sermons were short and sweet: “My little children, love one another!” He poured his life into love. Christ's love. The focus of his final days captures the two concepts I've learned above all others in this journey: 

-Christ calls His beloved disciples to forsake ambition for affection. John moved from his “pillar” position in the Jerusalem church to relative obscurity. Better to pour out our lives in places unknown than to become dry bones in the places we've always been. 

- Only disciples who are convinced they are beloved will in turn love beyond themselves. Actively embracing the lavish love of God is our only means of extending divine love to injured hearts. We simply cannot give what we do not have.

By Beth Moore

John: 90 Days with The Beloved Disciple