Sunday, April 14, 2019

Father, Forgive Us

Father, Forgive Us
April 14, 2019     Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

I want to focus on a single line from today’s Gospel:  “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

By the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus is dead.  Every year on Palm Sunday, we re-live the stories that lead up to His crucifixion as seen through the eyes of saints Matthew, Mark and Luke respectively; we will re-live it once more on Good Friday as seen through St. John’s eyes. 

These different perspectives of a historical event remind us that in addition to His divinity, Jesus was fully human.  He lived a human life like each of us; he faced challenges like each of us; he had friends – and enemies – like us; he felt joy and sorrow like us, he experienced rejection and betrayal and emotional and physical pain, like us.  And he died, like we all will one day.

While Scriptures tell us of how the chief priests and the scribes conspired to have Jesus killed and that it was the Romans who actually performed the crucifixion, Scripture also reminds us that it was for OUR SINS that Jesus was crucified.  Not just the sins of those who came before Him; not those who walked the Earth with Him, but US, today. 

Too often we are somewhat complacent in our complicity in His murder.  In spite of our play-acting roles in which we shout, “Crucify Him!” we really don’t think about the fact – and it is a fact – that we are complicit in His death.  We are all sinners. Jesus took upon His shoulders the sins of ALL mankind – past, present, and future – and that means OUR sins today. 

St. Francis of Assisi is blunt: ”And even the demons did not crucify Him, but you together with them crucified Him and still crucify Him by taking delight in vices and sins.

So, did Jesus die just to pay for our sins?  Or, as Bishop Robert Barron asks, “Does this mean God the Father is a cruel taskmaster, demanding a bloody sacrifice so that his anger might be appeased?” 

Barron’s answer is, “No. Jesus’ crucifixion was the opening up of the divine heart so that we could see that NO sin of ours could finally separate us from the love of God.

Jesus’ crucifixion was the ultimate sacrifice of love.  When Jesus cries out, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”, He is speaking to US.  We may not understand how our sins are serious enough to result in the death of any human being, let alone Jesus.  But Jesus does.   He took on the burden of our sins, and He died – a death He freely accepted – because He loved us more than we can ever imagine.   And because of that, we have hope. 

The story – our story – does not end with the Crucifixion.  For with the Resurrection that we celebrate next Sunday, we see that sin – death – no longer means the end of everything.  There is still more life to come, and it’s an abundant life. 

St. Leo the Great said, “No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ. His prayer brought benefit to the multitude that raged against him. How much more does it bring to those who turn to him in repentance?

Remember what Jesus said to the good thief when he asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into his kingdom:  "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

There is still time for us. 

Have a Holy Week.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Clock is Ticking

The Clock is Ticking
March 24, 2019     3rd Sunday in Lent - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

There’s an ominous tone in both St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and in St. Luke’s Gospel today: repent, or else:  “(W)hoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”  “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”  These scriptures make for great fire and brimstone preaching. Makes me want to go and stand on a street corner with a bible in one hand and a bullhorn in the other, shouting

But are these scriptures particularly harsh?  Not really – in fact, I would say that these passages should inspire hope.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus frequently talked about the urgency of turning away from sin and orienting oneself toward God.  We hear it in many of his parables, like the one of the ten virgins with oil lamps – 5 are wise and 5 are foolish.  We see it in his parable of the rich fool who builds bigger barns to store his harvest but dies before he can enjoy it. We see it in the story of the head of the household who is prepared before the thief can break in.

Being ready to die is a foundational theme throughout all of the Old and New Testament – God calls us to Himself; we wander from Him to follow our own pursuits; God warns of the consequences of our actions and then calls us once more to His Love.  Again and again, God gives us a choice.  Through our free will, we can choose to accept God’s Love, or not. And sooner or later, we will have to choose.  We just don’t get an unlimited amount of time for making that choice.

The Bible is, in one sense, a collection of love stories of God for us. These stories necessarily contain warnings, reminding us that our time on Earth is limited, not because Earth IS heaven and there’s only so much time to enjoy it, but rather because it is NOT heaven and we risk missing out on what is ours by our birthright as children of God.  God WANTS us to receive what has been prepared for us from the beginning of time, for as scripture says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Today’s Gospel, though, is often misunderstood, especially the second portion, the parable of the gardener and the fig tree.  It sounds as if God the Father is the owner of the orchard, God the Son is the gardener, and we are the fig tree – at first glance, it seems like a reasonable assumption.  But the dialogue between the two – Father and Son, owner and gardener – makes it look like God is of two minds in conflict with each other.  The owner: “cut it down”. The gardener: “give it more time.”  The owner demands justice: “why should it exhaust the land?”  The gardener begs for mercy: “give it another year.”

But Jesus is making a point: the owner isn’t God the Father, but rather the owner represents the earthly mentality of the people who say “Produce or else.” It's the gardener who is God, showing His mercy. He’s saying, “As long as you can hear My voice, you still have a chance.”  And, if you listen to God and allow His love and mercy to work in you, you will be saved – not in your earthly existence, but in your heavenly reward for all eternity.

It is from this perspective that we can then look at the first part of today’s Gospel.  The people bring news of a shocking current event to Jesus – a senseless and disgusting act of violence by Pilate which outraged them, just like our reaction to the report of 50 people murdered in the recent New Zealand Mosque shootings.  The people then, like us today, struggled to understand why God would allow something like that to happen.  But instead of explaining, Jesus compares it to another tragic event that the people would be familiar with in which people died, not at the hands of another person, but from a violent act of nature – the collapse of a tower in Siloam.  Their reaction was probably just like our reaction to the news of those killed as a result of the Cyclone in Mozambique last week.

We want to blame someone when something bad happens, and it’s easy to blame someone when it is a senseless act of violence. We can clamor for justice in our earthly kingdoms to satisfy our personal sense of righteousness.  But, an Act of Nature?  An Act of God? Should we blame God?

Jesus’ reply to the people seems harsh, for he is in effect saying, “It is not important about WHY it happened as it is that it DID happen.” From God’s perspective, there will always be tragic events which may unexpectedly cut short our lives or those who are closest to us.  But whether death is sudden and tragic, or at the end of a long life, we will one day have to move on to our next destination, and Jesus is more concerned about that – and we should be too.  He wants us prepared, and his entire ministry up to and including his Passion – his death and resurrection – nurtures us and gives us everything we need in order to find and keep the treasure of His kingdom.  God wants us with him.

Ultimately, today’s readings are readings of hope, of promise.  As long as we can hear His voice, we still have the chance to repent and bear good fruit.  We can still accept His Love, just as the good thief did on the cross beside Jesus.  There is still time.

But, the clock is ticking.

The Quest for Faith

The Quest for Faith
March 24, 2019     3rd Sunday in Lent - The 1st Scrutiny
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi  
Zork.  There are some of you out there who might remember this iconic adventure game in which you explored an immense underground empire by typing in commands on a computer keyboard.  This was long before joysticks, paddles and the fancy graphics of modern computer gaming systems.  The original game predated personal computers by a few years and at one time was one of the most popular adventure games available.

The thing about Zork, however, was that you weren’t inundated with visual special effects and dependent upon violent action to “win” the game, but instead you had to explore the world with your mind in order to learn about the treasures it held. There were limited clues at first for the average beginner.  Most learned the world’s secrets by the sharing by other gamers those hints and clues that they uncovered in their own journeys, and those who uncovered the most treasures of the hidden world were those who journeyed it together. 

In a way, the people of Samaria in today’s Gospel are like those early gamers, and it is the story of our faith journey, too. Often we seem to get lost in trying to discover God in our lives, and we depend on those who may have journeyed farther than we have to aid us in our quest.  And today is a good time to reflect on our journey along with the Elect, who will be receiving Baptism at Easter, as they will shortly participate in the rite of the 1st Scrutiny.

As a refresher for those of us who are cradle Catholics or otherwise don’t remember, those who will be entering the Church at Easter by receiving Baptism are known as catechumens, or the Elect, and they will be participating in the rites known as the Scrutinies, preparing them for the Easter Vigil.
These rites are held on the last three Sundays of Lent.  Each scrutiny has, as part of the rite, a particular passage from the Gospel of St. John which reflects on: first, Christ as Living Water in today’s Gospel; next, Christ as the Light of the World in the story of the man born blind next Sunday; and finally Christ as the Resurrection and the Life in the story on the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  The Elect will ponder each of these stories during their time of reflection and discussion.

Let’s pretend that today’s Gospel takes place in the Samaritan village called San Pablo.  The main characters of the story are us – we are the woman at the well, her past spouses, her current companion, the rest of the townspeople, the disciples of Jesus.  Fr. Szatkowski can be Jesus – after all, he is the Persona Christi at the altar.  For the rest of us, see if you see yourself in any of these other roles.

First of all, we should note that all of the people of San Pablo – that’s us – are open to the presence of God.  They are separated from others in how they worship, but they believe that God will send a Messiah to unite all people with Him.  They, like us, are a people of hope.

But they have their issues.  The woman at first is distrustful of a man who shouldn’t even be talking with her – by his rules, not hers. She is not bound by the Jewish religious laws and so is open to the conversation, but she is cautious as the Jews wield a lot of power and influence in the country.

She’s also a bit cynical in her comments to Jesus, as she doesn’t know who he is and probably hasn’t heard the stories about him yet.  But the more she talks with him, the more she opens herself to him.  She’s thirsty for God and is drinking in the living water of Christ without even recognizing that she is.

How many of us are like the woman – wanting God in our lives but distrustful of others who ask for help, cynical in our beliefs about the abilities of others, defiant in our attitudes, self-righteous in our faith?

Then, there are the men in her life.  We don’t know why she has had so many of them – some may have died, some may have just left her, maybe she left them. While we might be quick to judge her since she is living with someone who isn’t her husband now, life was tough for women during that time and it may have been the only way she thought she could have any kind of life.  Sadly, it is still true today.

How many of us have difficulties in our relationships – with our co-workers, our spouses, our family members?  How often have we turned our back toward someone that we couldn’t handle, or isolated ourselves because of our own insecurities or sense of guilt?

How about the disciples?  They left Jesus to rest while they sought out food, but upon returning they see Jesus breaking social conventions in talking with a woman, a Samaritan at that. They were uncomfortable enough to avoid asking about it.  How often do we assume the worse in others when we see something we don’t understand? 

There’s the rest of the townsfolk.  Despite the fact that the woman was living as a bit of an outcast, she must have been inspired enough in her conversation with Jesus to be willing to overcome any separation between herself and the rest of the town to share her “faith” with them and draw them to come see for themselves.  And they listened.

Are we inspired enough by the presence of Jesus in our lives to cross boundaries that separate us from others, even those closest to us, and encourage them to “come and see” what inspires us?

Finally, the townsfolk have their own personal encounter with Jesus. Not all of them believed, but they were willing to invite Jesus to stay with them so that they could learn more. The more they listened to Him, the more they came to believe.

And so, like the gamers who explored the world of Zork, we too are on a quest to explore our faith and find the treasure that is Christ.  Like the Elect, we should seek out those who have already discovered the clues which help us in our journey – and like the woman at the well we should share with the Elect and with others those clues that we have discovered ourselves. 

Finally, as we ponder this Gospel passage about the Woman at the Well, we should ask ourselves: Which character am I?  As is often the case, we’re a little bit of all of them.  But the more we discover about ourselves in the world of our faith, the closer we get to God.  And there is no greater world, no greater Kingdom, no greater treasure, than His.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Loving Your Enemies

Loving Your Enemies
February 24, 2019     7th Sunday in Ordinary Time - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi    

Today’s Gospel continues St. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes in his Sermon on the Plain.  Last week we heard the blessings that await those who are suffering affliction in this world and the impending woes that await those who are receiving apparent blessings now if they ignore those who suffer.

But this week Jesus is more direct about it.  Love your enemies.  Help them.  Pray for them.  Treat them with justice, for the way you treat them will be the way that you will be treated.
Of all of the passages in the Gospels, I think today’s poses the greatest challenge. Think about it:

•    Love Your Enemies
•    Bless those who curse you
•    Pray for those who mistreat you
•    If they hit you, let them hit you again
•    If they steal from you, give more to them unasked
•    And maybe the biggest challenge: “Do Good To Those Who Hate You”.

I have a confession to make.  While I’m quick to tell others to not be judgmental, I’m afraid that I still pass judgment on people sometimes.  I can be guilty of judging strangers based on appearance or how they sound.  And it’s not just strangers.  I sometimes unconsciously judge people I know even those I’m closest to – although I might cut them a little slack or even make excuses for them afterward.  (See? I’m even being judgmental in just thinking about them.)

I mentally compare people to my own set of ideals and adjust my emotional state in relation to them depending on my opinion at the time – sometimes respectful; sometimes condescending; sometimes pleased; sometimes angry.  Rarely do I stop to think about how God sees them, unless it’s that God sees them as a disappointment like I do.  I’m quick to use in my mind those deadly words:  “They Never”; “They Always”; “I Assumed”.  These words poison my mind and keep me from responding to others in a loving manner.

It gets worse.  Ever stop to think about the number times a day that you do more than just judge a person, but actually pronounce sentence on them?  Think about the person who speeds by you or cuts you off and you think, “I wish a cop would catch that one.”  Or when you see someone coming at you and you intentionally ignore or avoid them because you just “know” what they are going to say, especially when you’re sure that there’s going to be an argument?

But today Jesus is calling us to a higher standard, and to be a Christian requires us to live according to that higher standard. What does it take to love your enemy, to pray for them, or to help them?  It is the difference between Justice and Revenge.

Justice is a form of behavior in dealing with another person in fairness, with genuine respect, open-mindedness, impartially, even-handed, ethically, morally, decently.

Too often, however, we equate justice with revenge – punishing someone how we think they deserve to be punished.  But revenge is not justice; it is the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands.  Revenge is all about getting even and not about justice.  We see in our movies.  We hear it in our news.

And getting even is like trying to straighten out a bent nail.  You have to hammer it or bend it more in the opposite direction in order to make it look straight, and in the process the metal is weakened.  It bends easier next time, and metal fatigue eventually causes it to break. Revenge is like a disease that eats at you. So how do we know whether we are seeking justice, or just revenge?

The answer lies in our “motivation”.  What motivates us to respond the way that we deal with others, especially when we are treated unjustly?  What motivates us more, love or fear?

Jesus in today's gospel appears to be counter-cultural in his response, although even in Old Testament times the prophets repeatedly pointed out God’s desire for mercy from us:

•    Proverbs 25: “If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat, if thirsty, give something to drink; For live coals you will heap on their heads, and the LORD will vindicate you.
•    Leviticus 19: Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD, your God.
•    Deuteronomy 32: Vengeance is mine says the Lord.

We see it too in the New Testament.  St. Paul echoes this in his letter to the Romans: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath (of God); for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.

And St. Peter makes it clear too:  “Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing. … But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.

So, Jesus teaches us that in order that we show that we are Christians and truly children of God, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than non-believers.  We must love everyone, including our enemies. We aren’t always going to succeed, for pain and anger can be hard to overcome.  We need the help of Jesus in order to do so.  But despite what the world will tell you, if we don't seek revenge and we respond as Jesus tells us today, it isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength.  It takes Courage and Endurance, gifts of the Holy Spirit. It means that if we look to the higher standard set by Jesus himself as he took up his cross, we too will receive our reward - and God's mercy.

Stand up for what you believe. Live and defend your faith, but do so with love and humility.
Remember what Jesus tell us from the Gospel of St. John:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

And remember, Revenge is for the movies, not for our life.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Whatever He Tells You

Whatever He Tells You January 20, 2019     2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Did you ever wonder how Mary knew that Jesus could do something about the wine running out at the wedding?  While there isn’t anything in the Bible about it, I had a priest-friend tell me that there is an old story about how, when Jesus was young, He and Mary went to another wedding party, this time with St. Joseph. It also was a typical Jewish wedding with a lot of celebrating, and the next day Joseph woke up with a very bad headache. Mary asked him if he would like a glass of water.  Joseph replied, “Yes please, but don’t let the boy touch it.”

In any case, this is where in John’s Gospel we see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – and the first of the seven “signs”, or miracles, that Jesus performed to reveal His divinity as the Christ.  The seven are:

1.    Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11
2.    Healing the royal official's son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54
3.    Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15
4.    Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14
5.    Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24
6.    Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7
7.    The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45

I always wondered, why change water into wine as your first “miracle”? I mean, Jesus could have just as easily raised someone from the dead, like Lazarus, which would have really gotten people’s attention. This particular miracle of water into wine is also unique to the Gospel of John – you won’t find it mentioned anywhere else in the Gospels.

I would venture to guess that, as the bishops said in the introduction to the Gospel of John in the latest revision of the New American Bible, this first sign “symbolizes the entire creative and transforming work of Jesus.”

While John only emphasizing seven “signs” instead of the collection of miracles that other Gospel evangelists list, he used each one to help his community to understand a particular aspect of the divine nature of Jesus, and to set the stage for John’s version of the Passion of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection.  It is important to note that scholars figure that John’s Gospel was written in the 90’s and so his need to portray the many “whats” of Jesus’ ministry – the many healing and other miracles which would have been fairly well known by Christian followers by then – would be of less importance to the people than the “whys” which revealed Jesus’ glory.

Let’s look at this story a little closer.  It begins with Mary, Jesus and some of his friends being invited to this wedding in Cana.  It’s about 4 miles from Nazareth to Cana, so the wedding must have been fairly important to Mary to travel that far to attend the wedding.  It is also reasonable to assume that this would be a fairly large celebration,.  Mary might have even been related to the couple.

As for Jesus and his disciples, in John’s Gospel they have recently begun traveling together – the previous chapter ends with the calling of Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanial. So, while John the Baptist has identified Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Son of God, these new disciples have yet to fully experience the divinity of Jesus.

It also doesn’t say how long the party has been going on, but according to ancient Jewish wedding customs, a wedding celebration usually lasted for several days, so the fact that they ran out of wine isn’t necessarily surprising.

But we see some important symbolism in the conversion of water to wine.

•    Wine was significant to Jews – we see that wine was meant to “gladden men’s hearts” as in the Psalms (104), and Sirach (40:20)
•    Weddings were communal events meant for celebration
•    Wine production was a major industry for the Jewish people – blessings from God often were referred to as coming as wine.
•    At the Last Supper, Jesus uses wine to signify His Blood
Jesus’ creation of wine would have been seen by the Jews as a sign of the generosity of God and the amount would indicate the abundance of that gift.

Next in the story is Mary’s comment to the servers:  "Do whatever He tells you... "  The key points for this include:

•    Mary must have an understanding of what Jesus is capable of.
•    Her intercession on behalf of the wedding party without being asked is also a sign of her motherly concern for those around her. We recognize the same thing in her today, when we ask her for her intercession on our behalf.
•    Mary’s comment is to us just as it was to the servers – if you want to be a disciple of Jesus and serve at the banquet table where He is present, you must do whatever He tells you.

And what is he telling us to do?  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law, and then warns his followers with:

“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 

And then he tells us what to do with “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” and “Do to others as you would have them do to you” – the theme of the diocesan “Be Golden” campaign.

We receive many conflicting messages from our society today.  Some are good; many are not.  It is not easy to determine which are which. 

We have to ask ourselves two questions:
- What is it that the world is saying to us?
- What is Jesus saying to us?

If we will just look to Jesus’ words in the Gospels, we can learn what it is that he is saying to us, today: Love God and love our neighbor.  Our challenge: Do we have the faith and the courage to do whatever Jesus is telling us to do?

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Members of the Family

Members of the Family
December 30, 2018    Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Merry Christmas!  We’re in the middle of the Octave of Christmas, still celebrating the miracle of the birth of Jesus, so it is OK to wish people a “Merry Christmas” – actually it is more appropriate now than during the days leading up to Christmas.  In fact, the Christmas season continues until the Feast of the Epiphany, which is January 6th this year.  So, Merry Christmas.

Today we celebrate the beauty and mystery surrounding the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  The Holy Family is a model of faith for all families.  According to the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, or Lumen Gentium, “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church.” 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes further to state that “The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called "the domestic church," a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.” (CCC 1666)

All this means that it is in the context of family that we first learn who God is and to prayerfully seek His will for us.

But today’s readings and those during this last week also show us that, despite the fact that Joseph was a saint, and Mary was conceived without sin and Jesus was, well, God – the Holy Family had family problems too.  For example:

•    A man discovers that his betrothed has conceived and it’s not his?
•    Their child is born in a rudimentary shelter along the side of the road and not at home?
•    They are forced to flee and live in a foreign country as refugees? 
•    Their son vanishes from sight for three days and when told by his mother that she and his father have been looking all over for him he tells them, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house”, and he doesn’t mean Joseph’s?
•    How about later when it appears that the young man rejects his family when they come to see him and he says to those around him, “Who is my family?  You are.”

And all this is from a family that is “a model of faith”?

Even the best families can be messy, can’t they?  I would say that the number one prayer request that I receive from people beyond the immediacy of health problems would be something to do with broken family relationships: children who have left the Church, parents who are estranged from their children; family disputes between in-laws and even among siblings.  To me, one of the greatest tragedies in life is when a parent and his or her child cannot reconcile with each other before one or the other passes away.  If the #1 illness in the world is loneliness (and it is), then the #1 contributor to that illness is probably the inability of family members to get along with each other.

And beyond our nuclear family, we are also part of a larger family. 

Pope Francis tells us in “The Joy of Love” that: “… the family is a bigger network than we may imagine. It’s something our love builds, beyond our immediate blood relatives, to create larger societies of mutual support. Too many people seek security in small units, or even by focusing only on themselves: this narrow life must be broadened, and we must build our families to include our relatives, neighbors, and friends.”

The secret of a happy family, then, is to look beyond your own kin in the service of outsiders, says Pope Francis. Quoting Luke chapter 14, he says “You will be blessed!” when you look to “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” He says that we find these people in our own relatives and friends – our “greater family” – and that it is precisely here, in this larger family, that we can find the true meaning of love of others. Loving those who are difficult may be challenging, but it can also be very rewarding.

Whether you are married or single, each of us belongs to some sort of family – we have parents, neighbors, co-workers, and friends – all of which form our extended “family”.  And it is through this extended family that we encounter God – and through which we share our own understanding of God with others.

But if being part of family is so important, and yet living as a family is so difficult even with those we like, then what are we to do?  According to Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World”, there are four general tasks that we need to do as members of God’s family:

1.    Form ourselves as members of the Christian community;
2.    Be in service to a culture of life;
3.    Participate in the development of society; and
4.    Share in the life and mission of the Church.

How do we do this?  First and foremost, we can work at accepting our family members as they are, warts and all, while living our lives as Christian examples for them. That can be quite challenging, especially when they do not want to be with us or listen to us – or we, them.  But as we form ourselves as Christians, they may see in us the beauty that is God, and God in turn will strengthen us in our love for them.

Second, we should work on orienting our own lives toward Christ and our spiritual journey toward heaven.  This may include spending more time in prayer, or participating in opportunities to study God’s Word.  The closer we come to God, the better model we can be for the rest of society. 

Third, we should seek opportunities to be involved with our family. Church is not a place where we go once a week to be entertained (and many would say that it isn’t very entertaining anyway), but Church is our family that we serve.  While attending Sunday Mass may keep us in touch with God, sort of, if we are not involved in the life and mission of the Church, we may miss the purpose that God has for us.  God calls us to mission every day of our life.

Finally, are we ready and willing to serve our family?  Our family needs us, and the Church offers us so many opportunities to serve.  It doesn’t have to be something radical; just take that first step.  Volunteer for one of our many liturgical ministries – we are always in need of ushers, of EMs, of proclaimers of God’s Word.  And we have many ministries that serve others, such as the Knights of Columbus, the Men’s Club, Catholic Daughters, the Women’s Guild, or St Vincent de Paul to mention just a few.  Or, attend one of the many faith formation opportunities such as the monthly Sunday movies or one of our many bible studies.  And, if you want to get to know your family better, attend one of the upcoming ACTS retreats.  Now is the time to register for either the Men’s retreat or the Women’s retreat which are both coming up next month – they are an ideal way to get to know your fellow parishioners at St. Paul’s.  See one of the team members as you leave today.

We will celebrate the beginning of a new calendar year next week.  People often make New Year’s resolutions in order to better their lives during the coming year.  It is an ideal time to make a resolution for change.  It is an ideal time to show your love for your family.

Remember, no matter how messy our families may be, we are all members of God’s family. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.  Let us remember to always Love God and Love our Neighbor as ourselves.  And may God bless you in the upcoming New Year.  Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

God's Plan

God's Plan
December 8, 2018    Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Have you ever had a time in your life when everything that you had planned for your life had to be radically changed?

Woody Allen is supposed to have said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” which probably comes from the old Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs.”  Isn’t that the truth!

When I was very young, I had big plans for my life.  I wanted to be an astronaut.  Then, when I was about 8, I had to get glasses and I discovered that you had to have perfect eyesight (at that time) in order to qualify to become an astronaut.  So, since I couldn’t become an astronaut, I decided to be an astronomer.  I bought my first telescope when I was 13 and physics was my declared major my first year in college.  Then I discovered that I didn’t have enough money to continue in college at that time and, by the time I decided to return to college three years later, I had decided that engineering paid better.  Now I’m a deacon that works for a church who also works on computers.  I planned; God laughed.

I wonder:  Did Mary feel the same way?

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Here’s a trivia question for you: is today’s Gospel about an Immaculate Conception?  That’s meant to be a trick question.

What do we mean by “immaculate conception”?  There are those who mistakenly think that this has to do with the perpetual virginity of Mary, but it doesn’t.  While it is commonly confused with the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary was sinless, or conceived without the stain of original sin.  While most Christians believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus, it is principally Roman Catholics, along with a few other Christian denominations, who believe in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. 

This belief has been widely held in the Church as early as the 2nd century and is alluded to in the Protoevangelium, or Gospel, of James which is believed to have been written somewhere around 145AD. While it is not a canonical book, or one which is held to be divinely-inspired like the other books of the Bible, it is from the Gospel of James that we often get the legends of the early days of Mary and the life of Jesus, including the names of Mary’s parents: Joachim and Anne. And St. Gregory Nazianzen designated Mary as “prepurified’ as early as mid-4th century.  But the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception itself wasn’t dogmatically defined in the Catholic Church until 1854 when Pope Pius IX, declared it so “ex cathedra”. 

This can help us understand the line:  “Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"”  We might get a clearer picture of this if we look at how others have translated it:

•    How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? – King James Version
•    "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" - New International Version
•    Mary asked the angel, "But how can this happen? I am a virgin." - New Living Translation

Why would the statement from the angel raise a question in Mary’s mind, if she was to be married?  It wasn’t as if the angel had said to her, “Mary, you have already conceived a child” but “You will conceive and have a son”.  You would think that since she was going to be married, she would expect to have children.

One explanation I’ve heard from Fr. Mitch Pacwa on EWTN was that possibly Mary had expected to remain a virgin even after marriage. This would be consistent with the stories that we see in the Gospel of James and other references, that she would be married to an older widower (Joseph) and would be expected to care for his household, and he in turn would respect her virginal consecration from service to the temple.

In any case, today’s Gospel reminds us that no matter how we think our lives should go or what we plan for our future, God has plans for us.  As the prophet Jeremiah said, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you – plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”

We must be open to seeing the work of God in the changes we face in our lives.  They are a challenge at times, and not always without pain or suffering.  But they can be spectacular in their results, “for nothing will be impossible for God.”

So, whenever we face challenges that appear daunting, we must listen to hear what God is calling us to do. And when God calls us, our response needs to be Mary’s response:  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your Word.”