John was Born for Mission

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Is 49:1-6   Ps 139   Acts 13:22-26   Lk 1:57-66,80

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

            Birthdays are a special time to remember and give thanks for the blessings that have come our way. It’s a good time to ask ourselves, “Am I grateful for the way that God has worked in our life, even from our birth?” John was certainly grateful as he leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when they were in the presence of the Lord who was in Mary’s womb at the Visitation.

The birthday of Saint John the Baptist is remembered throughout the Church, which is special because he is the only saint—with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary—whose birth the liturgy celebrates and it does so because it is closely connected with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. In fact, from the moment John was in Elizabeth’s womb, John was a precursor of Jesus: the angel announced to Mary his miraculous conception as a sign that “nothing is impossible to God” (Lk 1:37) six months before the great miracle that brings us salvation in Jesus, whose very name means God saves.

            John the Baptist is a pivotal, transitional figure who concludes the promises of the Old Testament and inaugurates the New, by identifying Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, the Anointed One of the Lord. In fact, Jesus acknowledged John’s unique role in salvation history by saying, “This is he of whom it is written ‘Behold I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you. Truly I say to you, among those born of women there as risen no one grater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:10-11).

From the get-go, John’s life was all about Mission, which is true for all of us. As our Holy Father Pope Francis writes in his recent apostolic exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad, Each saint is a mission planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.” By virtue of our Baptism in which we were initiated into the Body of Christ, the Church, this is what we’re called to be. You see, brothers and sisters, it’s not that the Church has a mission that we can choose from many options; rather, the Mission of Christ—which is to bring about the salvation of the world through the proclamation of the Good News—has a Church. And, we are the Church and therefore, we are that Mission.

The reading from Isaiah in our first reading expands on this notion, teaching that a person’s name reveals the mission that God has planned.

Elizabeth announced that “John is his name.” Yehohanan means “The Lord is gracious; the Lord has compassion.” John’s name would describe his mission, which would reflect the divine compassion that would burst into the world through the Incarnation.  This compassion is always expressed in generous self-giving, which we hear that “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (LK 3:11). John’s preaching rings of the book of Leviticus, “Be compassionate, for I am compassionate, says the Lord!”

            John the Baptist’s life was fueled by one burning passion: to point others to Jesus Christ and to the coming of the Kingdom of God. Scripture tells us that John was filled with the Holy Spirit even while residing in his mother’s womb and that he rejoiced by being present to Christ Himself who was in Mary’s womb. The Spirit that dwelt within John propelled him to be the forerunner of the coming Messiah. John was so on fire with the Spirit’s presence that he willingly was led to the desert prior to his ministry, where he could go into that emptiness to be filled by divine grace. That grace would fortify him as he was tested and he would grow in the word of God, which he would proclaim to the world in advance of Jesus’ ministry.

What’s our take-away for the birthday of St. John the Baptist? God has saved us through His only begotten Son, Jesus, Who has filled us with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Like John, our faith has come alive to the promises fulfilled in Jesus. Each and every day the Lord is ready to renew us in faith, hope, and love. We’re challenged to follow John’s example. Just as He did with the Baptizer, we are invited to make our life a free-will offering to God, which is concretely expressed by feeding and tending to Jesus’ sheep and lambs. God wants us to share in His glory here and now from our birth to our natural death. Let us celebrate the birthday of St. John the Baptist by renewing the offering of our life to God and to give Him thanks for his mercy and favor that he bestows upon us every moment of our existence. Thanks be to God!

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“He’s Out of His Mind”

“He’s Out of His Mind”

10th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B); 6-10-18

Gn 3:9-15   Ps 130   2 Cor 4:13-5:1   Mk 3:20-35

Deacon Jim McFadden

 

Being misunderstood is never a pleasant experience, especially those to whom were close. Prior to this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus had formed a ministerial/apostolic community which would be the means by which He would proclaim the Good News. After he’s formed this prayer/friendship community, His natural family misunderstands and rejects Him—indeed, upon listening to His teaching, they said, “He is out of his mind” (Mk 3:21b).

Not only does His family misunderstand Him, but the religious establishment consider Him possessed; He’s not communicating a respectable message of an orthodox Jewish believer, but is speaking from a different authority; therefore, He must be in league with the Devil.

Why did Jesus’ natural family (we can safely presume that the latter did not include our Blessed Mother who is conceived without sin nor Joseph who was most likely deceased when Jesus began His ministry) and the religious authorities so misunderstand Who Jesus is and what His mission is about? The Word made Flesh, Immanuel is right in their very midst and their response is that He is crazy and that He is operating under Satan’s influence. How can this be? A Jewish aphorism offers us a clue: “We don’t see the world as it is, but as we are.”

            Our first reading from the book of Genesis offers us an insight as to how we can distort reality. The third chapter of Genesis explains the beginning of Salvation History with the Fall of our original parents. While they were in the Garden, Adam and Eve were in full communion with God—they walked in the lush, life-giving Garden openly conversing with their Creator—and in fellowship with each other, symbolized by their nakedness. There was no barrier between themselves and God and each other: naked, “yet they felt no shame” (Gn 2:25).

Adam and Eve, like all of us, asked the question: “Is God enough?” Through their subsequent choices, they answered “No,” as they rejected the unconditional love of God and, in so doing, rejected their identity as God’s children. Rather than to gratefully receive God’s love, they chose instead to grasp, to take eternal life from the Tree of Knowledge and to do so without God. They inappropriately used their freedom, not to be in communion with God or fellowship with each other, but to embark on a way of seeking happiness through having the goods of the world. They tried to create their own identity, their own world based on the illusion of separation. This Original Sin necessarily led to the universal condition of sin and death. Only God redeem this loss by re-creating the Garden through the death and Resurrection of the only begotten Son of God.

With that frame of reference, let’s get back to today’s Gospel reading. Jesus formed his apostolic community not drawing from family members because He knew that his natural family would reject Him. Why? Jesus is not some respectable, traveling guru who’s offering comfortable, easy to digest platitudes. While we tend to domesticate Jesus’ teachings, His message has radical, transformational power because He challenges us to become poor, detached from the goods of the world, so that we can BE in right relationship with God and our neighbor through self-gifting love. His Way to realize our destiny is through self-denial (rejection of the False Self), taking up our Cross, and following Him no matter where He may lead us. In other words, our life is no longer about us, but is about Him. Jesus’s message then and now is not respectable, safe, or conventional; indeed, it’s a radically “new wineskin” and that’s why His family was convinced that He was crazy.

Not only does His family misunderstand Him, but the religious establishment, the custodians of the Jewish tradition, the Law of Moses, consider Him possessed by Beelzebul because He is not communicating a respectable, safe message that has already been established. Jesus is calling them to go beyond the external observance of the Law to its underlying spirit and fulfillment. Jesus speaks with authority because He is the author of the Law. How so? Jesus is the Word of God, which means that He teaches and acts in the person of God. They got that, but they didn’t believe, which is why they thought He was a blasphemer and was possessed.

As the Gospel reading concludes, we continue to see his family have confusion and disagreement. Jesus is redefining the family not in terms of blood but in terms of Spirit. Obedience to our heavenly Father as revealed through the life and teachings of His Son, is the criterium for being a member of the family of God. Jesus is saying that unless we do the will of God, family doesn’t mean anything to me.   In a kinfolk society of ancient Israel, family-clan-tribe was everything. Jesus is relativising an absolute, which the family can become. But, Jesus says that “Whoever oves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worth of me”

(Mt 10:37).  Besides the goods of the world—the 4 Ps: property, prestige, pleasure, and power—there is another thing that that can keep us from the Truth, namely, the family. That’s hard to talk about because we identify so much with our family. In some cases, family has probably kept as much people from the Truth as the 4 Ps. It’s very hard to buck what everybody within the family or my tribe is telling me to do and think. If my family is embracing the affluent, success-trip and you do not fit that worldview, it’s very hard to resist, let alone challenge. Indeed, in a recent article in The Atlantic, it describes The Birth of a New Aristocracy (June 2018) in which “The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children.”

            In today’s Gospel Jesus is questioning the conventional family thing. In our highly individualized culture in which I am the center of my universe, life is about me, and I am in control, children are often extensions of one’s ego. To love our children can be merely an extension of loving yourself. The point that Jesus is making, are we capable of loving those who aren’t related to us–who aren’t part of our natural family, of our little enclave and tribe in which “love” rebounds back to us. Jesus is calling us to love those who aren’t like us, even our enemies—now, we are talking about genuine, self-gifting love.

Brothers and sisters, charity begins at home; indeed, the family is the domestic Church where we learn to love and forgive. But, charity does not end there. Jesus talks the way that He does in order to relativize the family so that even it is not the Center, but God is. We can easily idealize the family, which can become a protective cocoon. It’s very socially acceptable, even a pious way of running away from and surrendering to the Gospel and the Kingdom.

And looking around at those seated in the circle (of inclusivity of the universal, Catholic Church) he said, “Here re my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (vs. 34-35). That’s it: anyone who does the will of God is Jesus’ family. As members of His mystical Body, the Church, do we concur?

Real Blood Brothers

Body and Blood of Christ (B); June 3, 2018

Ex 24:3-8   Ps 116   Hb 9:11-15   Mk 14:12-16,22

Deacon Jim McFadden

As kids growing up we had ways of solidifying our bonds of friendship. We had secret handshakes, coded language, and the one we learned from Western movies: we’d make a small cut on our thumbs and then mingle the blood with our buddies to signify that we had a special bond as “blood brothers.”   That bond didn’t survive the passage of time; indeed, it didn’t even endure beyond grammar school. Today’s readings bring to mind this symbol of blood bonds, but in this case the bond is enduring; indeed, it’s eternal.

In the first reading, Moses sprinkles the blood of a sacrificed animal on the altar and the people. Using our imagination, it’s a rather strange, somewhat gruesome ritual. If you think we duck a bit when we get sprinkled with baptismal water during the Easter season, think about the reaction if Father was using ox blood! And, yet it was a sacred ritual, one they entered into willingly because they understood the significance of sharing blood, which was a symbol of life. Since God is the source of life, the ritual connected them with God and with each other.

In the same way, Jesus sharing of his body and shedding his blood, reaffirms God’s unbreakable bond with us and our fellowship with each other. When Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples to eat, he did this within the context of Passover; but, just as the Old Testament foreshadows the New, Jesus was going to infuse this ritual with extraordinary meaning that will last for eternity. What is different about the Last Supper is that by his own words, this broken bread is now his own body that will soon become broken for us. The cup contained his blood, the life-blood that he would pour out in unconditioned fidelity on the Cross for our salvation. When we share the bread and cup, we are now bound to him and to one another in a way that we could never imagine. This bond is meant to be eternal!

Therefore, it is not enough to state that Jesus is really Present in the Eucharist.   We must give thanks that Jesus is giving His life to us and that we’re invited to partake in His very Being: His soul and divinity enters into our body, which is meant to be transformative. When we take and eat the consecrated Bread, we are associated into the life of Jesus, which is one of radical self-gifting love. In so doing, we commit ourselves to be in communion with our brothers and sisters, to transform our ordinary lives into a gift for others, especially to the poorest, which we hear in Matthew 25.

Brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is the basis of our solidarity; indeed, that’s what it means to be Catholic—to be an integral member of a living organism in which we are connected to others in Faith. When we receive Communion, we are being invited by Jesus to convert ourselves completely to Him—to give Him our absolute allegiance. That promise of surrender means we embrace service to others in very concrete, steadfast, and regular ways. We put Eucharistic love into action and we forgive one another no matter how grievous the offense may be.

Our Eucharist celebration challenges us to become with our life, imitators of the One Whom we celebrate in the Liturgy. The Christ Who comes to us in the consecrated bread and wine, is the same One who comes to us in our ordinary experience. He is the poor person who holds out his hand, in the suffering of one who begs for our help. He is the convict who asks us to walk with them and treat him as a human being. He is the brother or sister who asks for availability and awaits us to share our gifts and talents with them. He is the unborn child who depends upon our protection and the defense of her life. He is the young person who knows nothing about Jesus, who does not have faith, but yearns for communion and fellowship. Through the Incarnation, Jesus is present in every human being, even the smallest and defenseless. As Jesus said to Peter, “If you love me, tend and feed my sheep.”

Brothers and sisters, how great is our Eucharistic celebration: it is the source of love for the life of Holy Mother the Church; it is the school where we learn how to love, to be self-gifting; it is the basis of our solidarity.   That’s why those who are nourished by the Bread of Christ cannot be indifferent to those who do not have daily bread.

People of God at St. John the Baptist, let me ask you: if we don’t minister to others, are we fully participating in the Eucharist? As Evelyn Underwood, the great early 20th century spiritual writer put it, “As Christ gives himself to feed us so we have to incarnate something of his all-loving, all-sacrificing soul. If we do not, then we have not really received him. That’s the Plain truth.” Her insight: there is no real presence that does not demand real commitment.

Church, on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we share Life at the table, which brings with it responsibilities and duties towards God and each other.   We remember that we are truly “blood brothers and sisters” at a very profound level of being. We remember that we are connected with God and with each other and we are called to continually feed one another. We become Bread of Life to the world! Amen.