Thursday, February 25, 2021

Second Sunday of Lent_B - Psst... Can You Keep a Secret?_022821


Deacon Tom Writes
“Psst…Can You Keep a Secret?”


“As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:9)

Mark is the only writer of the Synoptic gospels that weaves the mysterious theme we hear today in which Jesus charges His disciples to keep His identity a secret. Mark makes us aware that Jesus understood the mounting opposition against Him and His need to be in control of the events that were to unfold at the end of His life. All four evangelists record that Christ believed He was commissioned by God and acted with His authority. Yet, it is only in the Gospel of Mark that we encounter this unusual language instructing His closest followers not to reveal His divine identity. This desire to withhold that Jesus was the Messiah from the larger population is known as the “Messianic Secret.”

William Wrede first used the term “Messianic Secret” during the late 1800’s in his attempt to explain that Jesus was not understood to be the Messiah during His lifetime. Wrede theorizes that in those instances where Mark recounts Jesus telling others not to reveal the secret of His Messiahship (Mk 7:36, Mk 8:30, Mk 9:9), he does so to explain that it took the Resurrection for people to realize fully that Jesus was the Messiah. This technique works nicely to defer the mounting tension between the mission and purpose that Jesus came to fulfill as He revealed it and that expectation of the Messiah which existed in the minds of the people.

Jesus avoided any claim on the title of Messiah for fear that it would trigger the notion of political kingship. The Jewish people expected just such a Messiah who would lead them in revolution against their Roman occupiers. But that was not the role Jesus intended to fill.

We know that Jesus had a different kingship in mind, one that would introduce the “reign of God”, one that would be better understood after he had risen from the dead. Then, Jesus’ true identity would be revealed throughout the world and throughout the ages. But until that time, he told them, “not to relate what they had seen…”

In some obscure way the obtuseness of the "Messianic Secret" is a great equalizer in portraying even those who witnessed the ministry and work of Jesus as having no particular advantage to having been there. Some like Thomas stood side by side with Jesus through it all and yet he needed the reassurance of putting his hands into the very wounds that Jesus suffered. Other, like the Centurion, believed once they witnessed the crucifixion. That the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, is the central focal point of Christianity is without question. The debate over whether Mark developed the "Messianic Secret" to ease the tension of the early Christian community that saw Christ as the Messiah amidst a hierarchical Jewish establishment that failed to do so has been the subject of debate for many years. But in a more profound way, the secrecy that Mark records in his gospel narrative provides the veil into the life and times of Jesus that we all experience until we, perhaps like Thomas, through the gift of faith, are able to proclaim with certainty, “My Lord and My God”.

Enjoy the day!
Deacon Tom


Image Credit: FreePosterMaker.com

Thursday, February 18, 2021

First Sunday of Lent_B - Tough Nuts to Crack_022121


Deacon Tom Writes,
“Tough Nuts To Crack”


What a mess! The story of Noah that we read on this First Sunday of Lent begs the question of what evils could those people been up to that would have caused God to destroy the world... lock, stock and barrel and start all over again? One wonders. We might question next, are we pushing the upper limit to God’s tolerance with all the injustice, violence and indifference to the suffering of others we see around us? Something to think about on our Lenten journey perhaps.

A good place for us to begin this new season of Lent is with the word “Contrition” which comes from the Latin word contritio, a breaking of something hardened. Contrition is the action we take to break away from our patterns of behavior that cause us pain, our self-inflected wounds if you will. In spiritual language we call this behavior, “sin,” and the desire to break our attraction to what harms, no longer to be “crushed by guilt.” is called, “contrition.”

The many evils we witness daily can take their toll on us and drive us into isolation but that is not a wise choice. Rather, the injustice that we see or experience can encourage us to look at the sin in our lives and our need for contrition, “for what we have done and for what we have failed to do” as our Catholic faith reminds us of our active and passive participation with sin.

It is interesting that the word “contritio” connotes a breaking something hardened. Scriptures warns us about “hardness of heart” in Psalm 95... If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened as were the hearts of the people of Israel as they crossed the desert to the Promised Land. Scripture reveals that nothing good results from a spiritual hardness of heart. All we have to do is look at recent history to see how this disease, like Covid-19, is also a pandemic of huge magnitude.

This Season of Lent is all about undoing that hardness of heart that has enslaved us. It’s time to make some changes in our attitudes and, as Philippians 2:5 says, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.” And our attitudes can only change when we take steps to change the focus of our life from ourselves to put Christ as the epicenter.

I don’t think many of us enter Lent looking to do a complete makeover of our lives. Most of us know that even small changes in our behavior are very difficult to make. Just try to stop smoking or go on a low cholesterol diet! We find out then how making small changes really impacts many other facets of our lives

Maybe that’s why we approach Lent so cautiously. We are afraid to go messing around with some of those attitudes that need to be adjusted Let’s face it; it is easier to give up a meal here and there than to try reaching out to a co-worker who is always making our lives miserable. It is much easier to say a Rosary than to say, “I forgive you” to someone who has hurt us in the past. It is much easier to do nothing because the problems we face are too big than to look at our own complicity with sin with a contrite heart and make the changes we need to make on the inside.

During this Lenten season, let’s ask God for His grace that calls us to a spirit of “Contrition” so He may help us in our efforts to breakdown any and all of those attitudes that keep us separated from His love, mercy, and compassion.

Enjoy the day and remember to say “I Love You” to those special people in your life.
Deacon Tom


Image Credit: doodlescribble/1306@deviant.com

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time_B - Spiritual Makeover_021421


Deacon Tom Writes,
Spiritual Makeover 

Although we hear very little of it today, leprosy was a much-dreaded disease throughout history until a treatment was developed in the 1940s. Scholars found the first written account of leprosy on an Egyptian Papyrus written around 1550 B.C. midway through the Israelites bondage there. What was the cure? Banishment! Can you imagine the feelings of utter rejection someone with leprosy would experience no matter what the timeline when they had the disease? The Leper in today’s gospel would no doubt have been seized with fear when he was found to be “unclean”? Unclean! Banishment meant isolation not only from participating in the services at the Synagogue, but also from family, friends. The entire family would suffer as he would no longer be able to provide for them. People with leprosy were banished to the “abode of the dead” for all intents and purposes. And, worst of all, there was no way back. 

We can’t help realize as we read the gospels that Jesus did not recognize any barrier that kept people alienated from God’s abundant love. In fact, throughout Jesus’ ministry, He continued to challenge rules, attitudes, powers and authorities that led to those divisions or imposed obstacles to genuine and authentic spirituality, that is, union with God. Today’s gospel shows Jesus bringing God’s healing power to this forsaken man and making him clean. This intensely liberating act by Jesus allowed the cleanse Leper to reclaim his rightful place in the community. 

Sin is tantamount to “spiritual leprosy”, a sickness that deprives us of God’s graces that are vital to life. Sin diverts our focus away from God. We choose instead to pursue our own selfish and often destructive desires. Let’s face it, we are not very pleasant at times and fall way short of “the glory of God”. We are demanding of others. To get what we want we can often be abusive, manipulative, and conniving. When we don’t get what we want, we can become bitter, resentful, and very ungrateful. We experience too many days when we are not our best selves and those around us know it! If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that we know it to! We do many things that alienate us from one another, that undermine one of the most basic tenets of our faith, namely, that we are “temples” of the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit of God abides in us. 

Jesus is always looking to wash away our sins in order to strengthen our relationship with Him. The Leper in today’s gospel shows us how to do that when he asks Jesus: 

“If you wish, you can make me clean”. 
And Jesus’ reply, “I do will it. Be made clean”.

If we wish it, Jesus can restore us to health –physical, spiritual or emotional. He can get us back on the road to true happiness and joy, even though we may have messed things up quite a bit. He can, in the words of the 23rd Psalm, “…. Restore my soul…” if, that is, we ask Him, and if we let Him. 

As we prepare for the upcoming Lenten Season, may we look to Jesus to help us overcome our sinful past and to be made clean to enjoy the abundant life we find only through, with, and in Him. 

Enjoy the day!
Deacon Tom 

Image Credit: Christ cleans leper man http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:


Friday, February 5, 2021

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time_B - Find the Joy_020721


Deacon Tom Writes,
“Find the Joy”
 
Have you ever heard the expression, “The more things change, the more they remain the same”? For many of us life is extremely hard or as Job says, “life is a drudgery”. Those repetitive demands that go into daily family life…the laundry, cooking and cleaning, the shopping, the commuting to work, the homework…taking care of children or parents or both, day in and day out can become exhausting and easily wear us out. These essential activities may even become boring! We wake up and then rush into the demands of the day. At night we go to sleep, or try to, only to have the alarm go off in the morning so we can start all over again, like Bill Murray in the movie, “Groundhogs Day”. These daily activities become so routine and ordinary they may leave us with a sense of being “unfulfilled”.

It doesn’t have to be this way! Sure, we all get stuck in a rut at times. We all fall victim to feeling unappreciated and sense that our lives are unfulfilled, empty or that we will “never see happiness again”. It is understandable how this happens. We are busy people. We have responsibilities. We carry around our “to-do” lists on our iPhones and tablets or on little pieces of paper in our pockets. We do all those big and little things to care of our families, provide for our loved ones, for their immediate needs like food, clothing, shelter and for future needs, like college for the kids or retirement for ourselves. Busy…Busy…. Busy, yet so dull and ordinary!!!

Running constant four-minute miles will begin to take its toll and get us asking ourselves if it’s all worth it, or worse, wondering at some point along the way if, like Job, we will ever find happiness again.

When we find ourselves with too much to do and feel we are missing out on the simple joys and happiness of life that should be a “red flag” alerting us that we need to take some precious minutes for ourselves. See how Jesus revitalizes himself in today’s Gospel. With the crowds now seeking him out and his celebrity status growing, Jesus “rising very early before dawn…he went off to a deserted place, where he prayed”.

Jesus responds to the demands others place upon him by withdrawing into the solitude of prayer. Prayer is one of those activities that will reenergize our spirits and keep us from falling into a life of drudgery. Prayer, meditation, spending quiet time with Jesus routinely is therapeutic. Prayer validates our reason for being… gives us time and space to hear God’s plans for us…gives us the courage to set out in the direction he wants us to go. Prayer even helps us get our priorities straight, helping us let go of some of those activities we “think” are essential. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has only multiplied the complexities of our lives raising the high water mark of our anxieties and fears, for some, that is. We are in troubled times but we don’t have to be troubled people. Prayer will help us discern God’s plan in all the events, activities, demands and even the worries and fears that we face each day and gives us a clear vision of how we should face our daily challenges and obligations without being overwhelmed. If we remain faithful in our prayer life, like Jesus, we will find the joy He promised us so that, in this life, we may find joy… and out joy may be complete (Jn 15:11).

Enjoy the day!!
Deacon Tom 

Image credit: www.123rf.comOY. Magnifying glass

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time_B - Words..."Spoken With Authority_013121

Deacon Tom Writes,
Words… “Spoken With Authority”

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 

Casting out the demons from the man in the Synagogue in Capernaum is the first cure Mark recounts as Jesus begins his ministry. Do you suspect there is a message here? I do! Jesus serves notice that the days of darkness are over. While the people in the synagogue may not have realized that at the time, they were quick to realize this event as a sign of Jesus’ authority. 

Today our world is still plagued by demons seemingly have imbedded themselves into the fabric of our daily lives. Unfortunately they are just as real and destructive and pathetic today as they were in Jesus’ time. We know them by the fruit of their works: hunger, poverty, war, ignorance, their empty promises and lying tongues, the division and chaos  that we see around us. They continue to raise havoc with many of our brothers and sisters, keeping them wrapped up in fear and seizing them with a perpetual sense of hopelessness. 

Mark wastes no time telling of Jesus miraculous power as He liberates a man bound up and tormented by some terrible affliction described only as “an unclean spirit”. Whatever that condition was, it sounds horrible. What people saw, what made them marvel was that Jesus had amazing power and that He used that power for the well-being of one of His neighbors who was longsuffering. They ask the question, “What is this, a new teaching with authority?” Yes, it is, one that we continue to spread nearly 2,000 years later. It is the quintessential teaching not only of one man’s liberation; it is our story too, of our struggle to get free from all that imprisons us, from all that has hardened our hearts and blinded us to the sorrows and sufferings of those around us. It is a new teaching which calls us to be like the Master, to imitate Him by helping others break free from whatever shackles them, diminishes their dignity and self-worth, exploits their labor, or impoverishes them. 

How do we who claim to be disciples of Jesus respond to the evils we witness as we go about our daily activities? Does the evil we see or experience motivate us to action or to prayer? Are we minimalists, adhering to the practice of attending Mass once on week on Sunday, dropping our envelope in the collection basket and getting our ticket punched? Or, do we go above and beyond the minimum by engaging in the corporal works of mercy – you remember them, don’t you? … feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; clothing the naked; sheltering the homeless; visiting the sick; ransoming the captive, burying the dead on the corporal side. Or, perhaps we prefer helping others on their spiritual journey by teaching them our faith, counseling them through their doubts; warning them they have wondered of the straight and narrow; bearing wrongs patiently; forgiving offences willingly; comforting the afflicted; praying for the living and the dead. St. Thomas Aquinas regarded the works of mercy as various forms of almsgiving. Furthermore, he considered these works to be a duty, an obligation we owe to one another predicated on the golden rule to do to others, as we would have them due to us. 

There are many ways in which followers of Jesus can respond in a positive way to the evils we see and experience in our daily life. What is important is that we do something to respond to the many faces of evil in our world. Doing nothing is not an option! We know the scriptures. We know what Jesus asks of us. AND, we know the consequences of choosing to turn our heads. We find them spelled out clearly in Matthew 25:41: “Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, in everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me not in; naked, and you covered me not; sick and in prison, and you did not visit me", etc.

It is easy to be overwhelmed with all the evil that we see or personally experience on a daily basis. It is easy to think that there is nothing we can do to change it… that the problem is too big and we don’t have the means to stop it. That way of thinking perpetuates the work of the devil. Apathy, indifference, inactivity, feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, or that we are too old, or too young and similar thoughts on our part tip the scales even more in favor of the evil one. There is a saying that we should call to mind should such thinking enter our minds… “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” As friends of Jesus nothing could be more truthful. Christ is the light of the world who came to chase away the darkness, the chaos, the division and chaos and the evil in the world. By His life and His ministry, by His Death and Resurrection,  He set the example that we are to be lights to those around us too, to cast away the darkness and to resist the evils in our world, little by little, each and every day.  May we always be faithful in following his example and true to His Word. 

Enjoy the day!
Deacon Tom


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time_B - Time Is Running Out_012421

Deacon Tom Writes,
“Time Is Running Out”
Paul’s message to the Corinthians rings equally true for us today, “Time is running out!” Who ever has enough time? Ronald Rolheiser in his book, “Against an Infinite Horizon” writes, “In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we come to understand that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished”. What a sobering thought that reminds us that we all suffer from a chronic shortage of time. The clock is always running; how important it is for us to invest our time wisely.

 Paul’s letter to the Corinthians wasn’t a lesson on time management! He stresses the importance of using the time we have now wisely in light of a future event looming on the horizon. Paul is referring to the end times, the end of one era, and the beginning of a new one, when Christ will return in glory. This will be the final age when the things of this world will pass away and God’s Kingdom that Christ established will dawn upon the earth. The message St. Paul wants us to understand is that in order to prepare for that day, we need to enter into a new way of living and acting; we need to align our lives with Jesus and His teaching and not in accord with the ways of the world. 

We look to Jesus to teach us how to be faithful to the gospel while living in this world. According to Mark the journey begins when we answer His call, as did His first disciples. Simon and Andrew, James and John dropped everything when Jesus invited them to “Come after me.” Jesus knew that time was critical and there was much work to be done. How interesting that two thousand years later nothing has really changed! Time is still the most precious element in our lives. My appreciation of that fact has deepened when I began visiting hospice on a regular basis. To some extent, time stops there. So many emotions are at work as spouses, children, grandchildren, and friends sit at the side of the bed as their loved one passes on. I often hear the expression, “I’ve lost track of time” or “I don’t even know what day it is.” Sometimes there is a lot of sadness and regret on the part of the survivors who feel guilty for not spending more time with their loved one, for not showing enough care. And as I said, time seems to stop as the inevitable unfolds. 

There is still much work to be done and the clock is running as we maintain our vigil for the Kingdom of God to dawn upon us. We have time now to do a simple act of kindness for a friend or loved one. We can lift somebody’s spirit with a phone call, a card, a simple “thank you” or a smile as you pass by. We have time to do so much good and to let the light of Christ shine in our lives so as to brighten the way for others as we wait for Christ to come again. 

Enjoy the day!
Deacon Tom 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time_B - What Are We Looking For?_011721


Deacon Tom Writes,
What Are We Looking For?

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

What is common to the scripture readings as we once again enter into these early days of Ordinary Time is how God has chosen certain individuals to partner with Him in first revealing and then laying the foundation for His Kingdom on our earthly realm. That call to share in the divine effort comes from John the Baptist who points to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” and then watches as his followers turn away from him to follow Jesus. When Jesus notices them, He wastes no time confronting them about their motives asking, “What are you looking for?”  What a great question for us to reflect upon as we continue our faith journey in these new and challenging times. 

The disciples did not hesitate in their response. They wanted to know where Jesus was staying. Simple enough isn’t it? At least on the surface that is. How do we respond to the question raised in the gospel today? What are we looking for? 

I believe we all have the natural tendency to pursue those things that we desire most in life, those things that we believe will give us the greatest amount of happiness and joy. We want the good things this life has to offer… material success and good fortune, a prestigious career, the praise and adulation of others, good families and friends, ad infinitum. But, as we may have experienced so often in the past, once we have what we desire, the happiness that we imagined is seldom realized or, at best, is brief and fleeting. Soon disillusion surely follows and we begin the chase all over again!

Does that mean we are never to achieve true happiness in this life? Not at all! In today’s Gospel Jesus, “the teacher”, gives us some practical advice on how to find and maintain a spirit of true AND lasting happiness in this life. He invites us to join Him as He begins His public ministry, to “Come and…see” the marvelous things He has in store for those who tag along with Him as He preaches the gospel, the Good-News of the dawning of the reign of God. In the Gospels Jesus teaches us that it is by deepening our personal relationship with Him that we “Come and see” that only He can satisfy the innermost longings of our hearts. It is only through Christ that we can experience healthy and mutually beneficial relationships and have a sense of well being, be satisfied with who we are and what we have and to thus be filled with a joy and a peace that the world cannot give. 

As we begin this new and overly challenging year, may we respond to Our Lord’s invitation to “Come and see” as did Samuel, James and John, Peter and the first disciples. May we, like all those faithful souls whose self-sacrifice and genuine love have carried the seed of faith through the ages so that it could be passed on to us, discover the truth that, above all else, Jesus is our hearts greatest desire. 


Enjoy the day!
Deacon Tom