Monday, January 28, 2013

2/2/2013 – Presentation of the Lord – Luke 2:22 - 32

        It’s easy for us to forget that Jesus was raised in a devout Jewish family.  Mary and Joseph faithfully observed all of the prescribed rituals and obligations of their Jewish faith.  Forty days after the birth of Jesus, they made the long, exhausting journey to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the prescription of the Jewish law that obligated them to present their son to the Lord.  This law stated that “every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord”.  As prescribed by this law, the holy parents presented the sacrificial offering of two turtledoves.
         It is touching for us to see how conscientiously and how lovingly Mary and Joseph observed the Jewish faith traditions of their ancestors, even though these traditions demanded considerable inconvenience and sacrifice of them to make the arduous journey to Jerusalem.  Mary and Joseph taught Jesus well, as he carried out these Jewish faith traditions throughout his adult life and ministry, interpreting these traditions in the light of his identity as the Son of God. 
         It is important for us to note that for the Holy Family and for Jesus, there is no tension, no contradiction, between their commitment to the prescribed Jewish rituals & their personal spirituality, their personal relationship with God.  As integral members of the Jewish faith community, the faith of Mary and Joseph was grounded in the ritual traditions of the Jewish people, rituals that sustained the community for generations. These same rituals sustained the Holy Family and passed on their Jewish faith to Jesus.  As Jesus grew up with Mary and Joseph, he had intimate contact with the Lord. 
         In our society, people often see a tension between being religious in a ritualistic sense and being spiritual, in devoting ourselves to the pious practices of our faith and obeying the laws of God requiring us to practice social justice and to reach out to our neighbor, especially the poor & the oppressed.  May we follow the example of the Holy Family that we celebrate today on the feast of the presentation of the Lord, may we have a balance faith that follows all of God’s laws and commandments.  

1/31/2013 – Thursday of third week in ordinary time – Mark 4:21-25

       I recently had a baptism at St Mary’s in Yazoo City on my last Sunday there before I leave for my new parish assignment in Tupelo later this week.  In the baptismal rite, the godparent lights a candle for the child being baptized from the paschal candle.  This represents the light of Christ that is being passed on to the child.  The baptismal rite explains that this light is entrusted to the parents and grandparents in order to be kept burning brightly in the life of the child. 
         We are the light of Christ.  We have the light of Christ burning inside of us.  We can choose to keep this light burning.  We can pass on this light to others.  Or we can extinguish the light and keep it hidden from the world.
         When I was a small child growing up in Chicago in the Rogers Park neighbor, the example of Christ’s light living in the adults at the church that we attended was a great example of faith for me.  I felt so nurtured and so encourage by the light of Christ that I saw in their lives.  I seem like this light of Christ was so appreciated in our world.  However, today, I see Christianity under attack.  I see the government trying to marginalize the light of Christ in the world and to make it irrelevant, like the way it tried to take down the lighted cross that was on the water tower in Bentonia just down the road from us here in Yazoo City.  However, the good people of that city raised funds in order to put that light on a tower located on private land. 
         We may face a lot of challenges and struggles in our live that try to keep the light of Christ away from us.  Yet, it is up to us to keep it burning brightly.  May we never forget that task that is entrusted to us.  

1/30/2013 – Wed of 3rd week in ordinary time – Mark 4:1-20

        We hear a familiar parable in the Gospel today, of a sower sowing seeds in different types of ground.  We may be able to identify with this parable in the different moments we have in life.  Sometimes God’s word seems to fall in our lives and take root so easily, but other times, it seems as though God’s word has been snatched up from our lives like birds grabbing seeds off the ground. 
         I was recently reading the book about Mother Teresa of Calcutta, about how for so many years she felt a dark night in her soul that made her feel so far away from God.  Yet, she could still feel God calling her to work with the poor of Calcutta, to live out the Gospel in her life.  No matter what our struggles and challenges, we can find the riches of God’s word and we can help it take root in our lives. 
         May we search for God in the reality of our lives.  May we use our personalities, our interests, and our reality to find the meaning of God’s word in our lives.  

1/29/2013 – Tuesday of 3rd week in ordinary time – Hebrews 10:1-10, Psalm 40

        “Here I am Lord – I come to do your will.”  This is the refrain that we here in the psalm today, and this is the theme in the other readings we hear in mass today.  Our first reading from the letter to the Hebrews talks about how God no longer wants the sacrifices and burnt offerings that the faithful made in Ancient Israel at the time of the Old Testament.  Rather, the Lord has replaced those animal sacrifices with the ultimate sacrifice made by his Son.  Jesus followed his father’s will in making that sacrifice, a sacrifice that brought about the salvation of humanity
         Doing God’s will is not always an easy thing for us, nor is it always something that is easily discerned.  Doing God’s will is something that is demanded by our faith.  We might not have a direct or explicit sign of what God’s will is for us in particular situation, but we can look into our hearts and see the direction in which God is leading us.
         We give thanks to the Lord today for the many ways he works in our lives, for the ways that he leads us and guides us.  We give thanks for the way that God has blessed us, and for the way that his grace has helped us meet the challenges that face us along our journey in life.  We strive to do his will, and we are asked to follow this as best as we can.  

Not "A Priest in the Mississippi Delta" for long...

Back in October 2010, I was assigned as pastor at St Mary and St Francis of Assisi parishes in Yazoo City and All Saints parish in Belzoni.  It has been wonderful serving up here in the Delta in these parishes, and in the two prisons in Yazoo City.  Yesterday, I had my last Sunday masses in my parishes, as I get ready for my new assignment in northeast Mississippi.  I will serve as the pastor of St James parish in Tupelo and will coordinate the regional ministry in the parishes in Fulton, New Albany, and Ripley.  It has been sad saying goodbye to everyone up here in Yazoo and Humphreys counties, but I am looking forward to my new ministry up in northeast Mississippi.  I will have to find a new name for my blog, as I will no longer be a priest in the Mississippi Delta.  This week there may not be a lot of posts as I get ready for my new assignment and move up to Tupelo on Thursday.  I still have a lot of loose ends to tie up down here in Yazoo City.  Blessings to everyone -

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

1/27/2013 – Third Sunday in ordinary time - Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21; Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

     Awe and wonder – that is the theme that jumped out at me in today’s readings.  I can imagine the awe and wonder that went through the minds of those assembled who heard Ezra and who heard Jesus read God's holy word from the scroll.  Maybe it's because we live in a modern era where we're so used to computers, scientific knowledge, and special affects that it takes a lot for us to feel awe and wonder in our lives.
      I remember when my good friend Suzan Cox, the liturgist from St Richard parish in Jackson, came with me up to St Mary’s for the first time.  When we entered the church and saw the sunlight come through the beautiful yellow stained glass windows, she just could not believe the beauty of this church.  I had the same reaction when I first walked into our church as well – I really felt God’s presence there. 
     Like the awe Suzan Cox and I felt at entering our church for the very first time, the people of ancient Israel responded in awe and wonder to the word of God that Jesus and Ezra proclaimed.  Almost 6 centuries before Christ's birth, the Temple was destroyed & the people of Israel were deported to Babylon, leaving only a few peasants behind in Jerusalem.  After more than 50 years of captivity they were allowed to return, even though by this time most of the survivors had been born in Babylon and had never before seen Jerusalem.  The priest Ezra led a caravan across the desert, arriving in a city in ruins.  Imagine what we still face trying to continue to rebuild New Orleans after Katrina, or the situation Haiti still faces with hundreds of thousands of people still homeless after the earthquake there a few years ago, and we can only imagine what a task they had.  They rebuilt the city and the Temple, but the rebuilding effort was not the entire story. From day break until mid-day, Ezra stood on a platform, reading and interpreting God's word from a scroll in front of a great crowd.   A new era had begun for the people of Israel: a reconstructed Temple for worship, a rebuilt city to live in, and the rediscovery of the Word of God as their foundation. 
      To the ancient Jews, especially to those who had come back from exile in Babylon, God's word and God's laws were seen not only as the ultimate authority, but as the center of life.   God's word was not a hindrance or a restriction – it was essential to life itself. 
      We see God's word & God's law playing the same role in the community more than 500 years after Ezra as Jesus proclaims this holy word in the synagogue.  Like Ezra returning to his home in Jerusalem after the exile, Jesus returns to his homeland in Galilee after being baptized & spending time in prayer.   Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah, written during the time of the Babylonian exile.   Jesus declares that the Lord has sent him to bring glad tiding to the poor, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a time of favor from the Lord.  Both Ezra and Jesus bring new life to their communities, but Jesus' mission is so much more in inaugurating a new era in God's plan of salvation.  Jesus proclaims that he has come to restore sight to the blind, which also means understanding to the unenlightened.    Yet, much of the story of the Gospels is how so many people rejected this new understanding or insight that Jesus brings. 
      In reading from the scroll of Isaiah to the people, Jesus brought God's word to the here and now as he was living out and fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah.   If we really believe Jesus' liberating message in the new sight and new understanding that it brings to our world, what difference should that make to us in lives?   Today's readings from Luke and Nehemiah take place in the proclamation of God's word in liturgical settings.  How do we approach the presence of God and the presence of his word when we come to mass and other liturgical celebrations?   Do we come with a sense of awe and wonder, of respect and reverence, or is it just one of our obligations or mundane activities?   Coming to church should be something very special to us: entering this worship space, hearing God's word proclaimed, receiving the Body of Christ in the Eucharist  – all of this should touch our hearts and our souls like nothing else in our lives.  It should stir a sense of awe & wonder in our lives.  These readings today give us a lot to think about in how we approach God in our lives and in how we see his presence in our midst.