Monday, June 27, 2022

The Price of Discipleship

The Price of Discipleship
June 26, 2022    13th Sunday of Ordinary - C 
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

If there is one thing that can be said of today’s readings, it is that they all emphasize the cost of discipleship.  Discipleship is not easy.  But God calls each and every one of us to be His disciple, and the world today is in desperate need of disciples like us.

Do we understand what God is saying to us, what he is asking of us?  It can be difficult to hear Him, especially with all of the distractions we face today: the overwhelming noise of various social media and the so-called entertainment industry, the personal agendas of individuals and groups, and the reality of evil in the world as seen in the tragic events that we or those we love experience.  Even today’s scriptures may seem confusing.

At first glance, it might appear that today’s reading from first Kings and the Gospel passage from St. Luke contradict each other.  After all, when Elisha asks Elijah if he could kiss his family goodbye, Elijah tells him to go ahead and “go back” to them.  Yet Jesus, when asked what seems to be a similar question, admonishes the person with what seems to be a harsh judgment about not be fit for the kingdom of God. So what gives?

Well, let’s start with our first reading.  It begins with God telling Elijah on Mount Horeb to anoint Elisha as his successor as prophet to the Israelites. Elijah had fled to mount Horeb because Queen Jezebel wanted him dead for having her prophets of Baal killed and he was ready to give up.  He sought God on the holy mountain in order to hear what God had to say to him about that.  

God ordered him to go back and continue his mission, and gave him three specific tasks to do. One of those tasks was to anoint Elisha as his successor, which is where we pick up the story today.

Now, Elisha appears to be a fairly well-to-do person, as he has 12 yoke of oxen at his disposal for plowing, and most scripture scholars agree that that would be considerable for the times. To follow Elijah then is going to call for a significant sacrifice on Elisha’s part.

And yet, having been called by God to replace Elijah, Elisha doesn’t really hesitate when Elijah places his mantle over his shoulders.  In requesting to kiss his parents goodbye, Elisha honors them in accord with the 4th Commandment, but he’s truly saying goodbye – by burning his farming equipment and feeding the oxen to his people he is severing all his ties and there will be no going back.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is beginning His final journey to Jerusalem and His Passion.  There is a sense of immediacy – of urgency – in his journey now.  His admonitions reflect that sense of urgency:

•    “(T)he Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” – don’t expect permanence in your life when following Jesus.

•    “Let the dead bury their dead … you, proclaim the kingdom of God” – it is more important to share the message of eternal life, for spiritual life is more important than physical death, as seen in the attitudes of the early church in referring to those who are “asleep” in the Lord.

•    “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” – you cannot look back with longing for the past – or regret – if you expect to persevere in following Jesus.

Notice that in all of his admonitions, Jesus doesn’t tell any of his potential disciples to NOT do what they’ve asked, but he’s pointing out that if they truly want to follow Him, they must be aware of the consequences.  He needs committed followers, and He knows that when the time comes for His Passion, almost everyone who says they will follow him will abandon him.  He’s telling them  – AND US – that the price of following Jesus is our total commitment to Him first.

It is almost ironic that these readings are for this weekend – the last time I reflected on these particular passages was 6 years ago to the day, the last Sunday I served at St. Francis in Frisco before coming to St. Paul’s.  I thought at the time that God had a sense of humor, since these readings were set long before I found out I was leaving, yet here it is 6 years later and I am witnessing a similar transition with Fr. Tymo.

And while it is true that he will have new priorities in his life as the UTD chaplain/priest, it doesn’t mean that the gift that he has been to each one of us, as we have been to him, will ever be forgotten.  In the past, whenever there are reassignments, inevitably people have said they felt like they were losing a friend.  I told them that you really never lose true friends, but that the boundaries of their faith “family” merely expand.  So it is with us.

Fr. Tymo’s presence over the last 3 years should remind us of the beauty, the joy, of following God’s Will instead of our own.  He goes to continue proclaiming the Kingdom of God to those who need God’s love, and what he has proclaimed to us now becomes OUR responsibility to proclaim to others.

So, what about us?  Many of us face major changes in our lives over time – moving for a new job, family members leaving for school or for their own futures, tragic events that change our lives forever.  If God is speaking to us – calling to us – how do we know what He is asking of us?

St. Paul sums it up well in his letter to the Galatians, when he echoes Jesus’ own words concerning what is most important next to God himself:  “serve one another through love.”  If there is one word which sums up our world today, it might be “conflict”.  We all face conflicts.  Conflicts with personalities, with policies, with the opinions of others.  We can easily find something about another person with which to disagree.  It was really no different in the time of St. Paul – he cautions about “biting and devouring one another.”  Our challenge then, is to overcome the conflicts we face with love.

Ultimately, it is all about attitude.  Are we willing to do whatever God asks of us?  Can we do it with love?  Can we be joyful and at peace with whatever God calls us to?

Speak, Lord, your servants are listening.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Wiping Tears Away

Wiping Tears Away
May 15, 2022    5th Sunday Easter - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

I have a confession to make.  I cry at movies with happy endings.  It’s true – I try to pretend that I have allergies or something – but give me a movie with a powerful, uplifting ending where evil is overcome against all odds (especially by an underdog) and, well, the tap gets turned on.

As a kid I’m sure I cried whenever I was physically hurt and in intense pain, but frankly, when I broke my arm falling off of a horse I shared more colorful words than tears.  And when I slit my hand open on a piece of glass and needed stitches I was pretty tough – at least until the old hospital nun stuck it into a pan of surgical soap to clean the wound.  At that moment they said they could hear me at the far end of the hospital – on the floor above and below us.  And when I broke my foot a year ago – well, it was back to work the next day.

No, I’m far more likely to shed tears for joy than for personal pain.

But there is another time when I am likely to shed tears.  Whenever I’m  faced with situations where someone else is suffering and I cannot help, especially if that someone is close to me, tears will come.  For example, during periods of inconsolable grief when someone cries over the loss of a loved one, I will cry with them.  When someone is intense pain – physical or emotional – which brings them to tears, I will cry with them.  

When we cannot help alleviate the suffering of another; when we cannot fix the problems another faces; when the scope and magnitude of a problem far exceeds our abilities, or the abilities of those around us, to help – tears will come.

In other words, when we are helpless.

And actually, it should be that way.  St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans exhorting them to mutual love (12:15): “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

When we, or those we love, face trials which bring tears to our eyes and no one else can help, those are the times when we’re dependent upon God.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes”…

This line from today’s second reading from the Book of Revelation is echoed both elsewhere in Revelation and by this from the Prophet Isaiah: (24:8): “He will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces…”.  It reminds us that we are NOT God, and that we cannot “fix” every, or even most, of the major problems which come our way.  But God can.  And God is with us through it all.

St. John says in Revelation, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.”

God doesn’t make our problems go away.  St. Paul and St. Barnabas “… strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.

And the hardships, the pain, the tears that we face are the result of our fighting a war with two fronts.  

On one hand, we face our earthly battles – personal health issues beyond just the impact of the CoVid pandemic; economic issues affecting our ability to care for our families and ourselves; world conflicts not just in the Ukraine but in other regions of the world which affect family or friends, or other tragic events.  Some of the issues we face are personal; others may affect those who are close to us.  There are also those which may seem distant and not particularly important to our day-to-day activities but which we are called to face just the same.

But the biggest battles we face are spiritual, against an unseen enemy who uses weapons against which we may not understand how to defend ourselves.

Despite that, we are called to fight.  And the most important weapons we need are those which are already at our disposal: the gifts and the graces God has given us; the blessings of the presence of those around us; and most importantly: prayer.

Through our prayers, our abilities that we have received from God, and the relationships we develop with one another, we are well-equipped for the battles we fight.  And through Scripture we are reminded that our pain isn’t the final answer.

Elsewhere in Revelation (7:15-17) we see an angel say to St. John in vision about the myriads of people clothed in white before his eyes:

  “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  … For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Today’s Gospel, coming just before Jesus’ own Passion, reminds us that Jesus, too, knew he too would have to suffer, just like we do.  He reminds his disciples that there would be a time very soon that they would not “see” him in the same way that they had come to know him for the last three years.  And his final, “new” commandment, “Love One Another”, wasn’t a dictatorial statement.  In it he gave them the most powerful weapon that he had, one which he shared with his Father – LOVE.  It is the one weapon which can be used in all of our battles, on either front – earthly or spiritual.

The hardships in our lives will always be here.  But God is also here with us.  He dwells with us.  The tears won’t necessarily stop, but God will wipe them away – through His Love present in the Holy Spirit, through others He places in our lives; through US.  Ultimately, if we remain faithful to God all sorrow and pain will pass away.

The war has already been won.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Witnessing the Majestic

Witnessing the Majestic
March 13, 2022    2nd Sunday Lent - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi    

Those who know me have often heard me compare the Transfiguration to the 2007 movie, “The Bucket List”.  If you remember, in the movie Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two men from totally different walks of life – one a very rich, white, cynical business owner, the other a poor, black, philosophical auto mechanic.  They are united by the commonality of an illness that would soon claim both of their lives.  They meet in a hospital room which they have to share while they undergo their cancer treatments, and a bond develops between the two in the shared misery of those treatments.  

At a point in the movie where the two begin to bond with each other, Nicholson discovers a list of things that Freeman had written.  It’s a   to-do list of activities that Freemen wished he could have accomplished before he “kicked the bucket” – a bucket list.  Nicholson adds to it what he thinks should be on the list, and the rest of the movie then revolves around the two seeking to complete it.

The number one item on Freeman’s list was to “witness something truly majestic”.  In his mind, that could only be climbing the highest mountains in the world – the Himalayas – and looking out across the world.  But, despite all of the spectacular adventures that the two experience while checking items off of the list, visiting the mountain peaks eludes them and Freeman is unable to accomplish that goal before his cancer takes him.  

Have you ever surveyed the world from the top of a high mountain?  Having been blessed by growing up in the mountains of northern Idaho, I’ve been on top of mountains many times.  The view is usually breath-taking; one which never fails to remind me of the majestic nature of God.

And each time it is different – from seeing for hundreds of miles on a clear, sunny day, to experiencing millions of stars so close that it seems like you can touch them at night; from the swirling mist and fog that looks like boiling white water surrounding the base of the mountains during the early morning hours of a crisp fall day to the pristine appearance of snow-capped peaks in the middle of winter.  I’ve seen many mountaintops from the vantage point of an airplane, but nothing matches the experience of standing on a mountain, looking down on the world.

But in order to stand on top of a mountain, you have to climb it first.  And while the higher the mountain, the more majestic the experience, the greater the effort required to reach that summit.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus leads Peter, John and James up a mountain which will result in their witnessing something truly majestic – Jesus’ Transfiguration.  It must have been some sort of effort for them to follow Jesus up the mountain, for it says that when they first reached the top they were overcome with sleep.  But the awesome nature of the event unfolding before their eyes brought them fully awake.  It WAS truly majestic – seeing Jesus transformed before their eyes from their earthly traveling companion and teacher into His divinely transfigured body, and joined by Moses and Elijah in their heavenly splendor symbolic of the Law and of the Prophets – for a brief moment in time, they were exposed to the full power of the glory of God.  

And yet, I wonder what the true impact of the event was on them.  They don’t speak of it until after the Resurrection (in both Matthew’s and Mark’s versions Jesus directs them not to tell anyone) and shortly after this is when Jesus reminds them of his upcoming passion a second time. But despite the predictions of his imminent death, the disciples can only think about which among them would be the greatest in God’s Kingdom.

As we continue through Lent, what are we doing to experience the transforming power of Christ in our lives? Oh sure, we might be abstaining from sweets or alcohol or some other Lenten sacrifice, but if our goal is to be transfigured into the heavenly glory experienced by those in the Resurrection, are we first making a real effort to “climb the mountain”?  How can we experience the divine nature of Jesus in our lives today and so transform our souls in preparation for our future transfiguration?  What’s on our “bucket list” for Lent – and beyond?

If nothing else, the events in the world today should be bringing us face-to-face with our own mortality, no matter how old we are.  I think all of us have lost a loved one to CoVid, or know several of those who have.  The war in Ukraine shows us that it is still a very dangerous and violent world we live in, and the economic impact of world events is having an adverse impact on many of us, especially those who live on the margins.  Jesus’ admonition to “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” reminds us that our lives are short.

For Nicholson and Freeman, the acute awareness of the nearness of the end of their lives spurred them to pursuing their extraordinary activities.  Nicholson had the money to do anything that was on the list – almost – and so they jetted all around the world, eating fine food and wearing fine clothes, but they were always reminded of their mortality by the flare-ups of their conditions and the inability to accomplish their number one goal – climb the mountain.  Eventually, they discover the fundamental truth: it was not in the spectacular adventures where they would find true joy and peace.  For Freeman, it was the rediscovery and return to the family that he had left behind that brought him peace and joy in his final days.  For Nicholson, it was in facing the sins of his past and reuniting with his daughter and granddaughter. Both realized at the end it was love that they were seeking all along.

Sadly, as is typical Hollywood, they miss out on the greatest love of all – God for His children – and the love we can experience through our faith in Him.

Are we seeking the spectacular in our lives? Are we using our love for each other to seek the ultimate divine love?  If we need only to follow Jesus up our personal mountains to discover Divine Love, what are we doing to reach that goal?  

At the end of the movie, it is only in death that the two men accomplish the #1 task on their bucket list and are re-united on top of the world, their earthly ashes stored in a couple of “Chock Full of Nuts” coffee cans.  And yet, by then, they had already witnessed something truly majestic – love of family and love of fellow man.  I only wish they would have included the love of God in the film.

When Peter, James and John witness Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain, they “witness something truly majestic”.  And as St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians reminds us, we too will experience that same transformation when we get to heaven, where Jesus will “… change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body …” That will be truly majestic.  And it won’t take a mountain for us to witness it – only our willingness to accept God’s Love and His Mercy.


Monday, February 14, 2022

The Blessed of God

The Blessed of God
February 13, 2022, 6th Sunday OT - C 
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today’s Gospel is generally known as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” and it is Luke’s version of Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount”, commonly known as the “Beatitudes”.  While many think that these two are different interpretations of the same event, they are most likely two different events as Jesus would have preached with this theme often as he journeyed throughout Judea.

So, what is a “Beatitude”?

We might replace “Blessed are those …” with “Favored are those …”, and so a beatitude might be considered a measure of “Blessedness”, or a definition of what God considers as the measures of holiness in His people.  In his beatitudes, Jesus also tells us “how” people would be blessed if they possess this measure of holiness – their “reward”, if you will.  Jews of the time believed that the measure of God’s favor was reflected primarily in earthly measures of health, wealth, and procreativity.  We see this throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms like in Psalm 1 and Psalm 40 which were included in the responsorial psalm for today.

But Jesus’ measure blessedness was counter-intuitive to the Jewish belief at the time.  And this can be seen in both Matthew’s and Luke’s  Gospels.

Matthew lists 9.  They and their corresponding blessing are:
1.    Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2.    Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
3.    Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
4.    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
5.    Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
6.    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
7.    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
8.    Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
9.    Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Luke only lists 4, which correspond roughly to Matthew’s first, second, fourth and ninth ones.
1.    Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
2.    Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
3.    Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
4.    Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

But unlike Matthew, in addition to the blessings, Luke also includes warnings for those who fail to pursue them:

Blessed are you who are poor / Woe to you who are rich.
Blessed are you who are now hungry / Woe to you who are filled now.
Blessed are you who are now weeping / Woe to you who laugh now.
Blessed are you when people hate you / Woe to you when all speak well of you.

Does this mean that you should not be rich, or well-fed, or happy, or thought well of?  No, of course not.  But they do present a warning to living a life that is comfortable and the consequences if you live that life unaware of the challenges others face in this life.  (Maybe instead of saying, “… you will be …”, it should read “… you should be …”, which would better reflect how we should identify with those who are experiencing these states of life.)

It also means that if you are suffering today from poverty, hunger, depression, isolation or discrimination, God still loves you and has something better in mind for you.  

Scholars also point out there’s a difference in focus in how Luke presents his blessings and woes.  

Luke’s blessings and woes address the real economic and social conditions of humanity (the poor vs. the rich; the hungry vs. the satisfied; those grieving vs. those laughing; the outcast vs. the socially acceptable).

By contrast, Matthew emphasized the religious and spiritual values of disciples in the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus (“poor in spirit,”, “hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on.”) But in all instances, there will be a reversal of fortunes as measured in the heavenly kingdom to come for those who cannot identify with those who are less fortunate.

And we don’t have to “earn” God’s blessings.  We, through God’s Love, are already blessed.  But if we are blessed, then we should take to heart what can happen if we don’t appreciate His blessings, and if we don’t recognize from whom those blessings stem.  Like Jeremiah:  “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, but blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD”.  If we depend on others for our prosperity, good health, or other earthly blessings, we not only risk disappointment but we may miss out on the true blessings that come from God.

We are all already blessed.  But we should understand that true blessings do not come from what we have here on Earth but in what we will receive in Heaven.  And we don’t want to lose what God has already promised us.

Like the question I asked earlier, a priest-friend of mine likes to ask this question of children and adults alike:  What is a Beatitude?  His answer:  It’s an Attitude to Be. If we profess to be Christian, then others should recognize us as Christians by how we live out these beatitudes, these blessings. By our Love.

Those of you who were ever on an ACTS Retreat with Hector Cardenas before he passed away might remember one of his favorite adages:

“My point to you is, Life should not be about working through your To Do List, but is all about working through your To Be List!” Most of us, if we even made a list of New Year’s resolutions have already cast them aside, and if you’re like me you have a to-do list of tasks to accomplish at work or honey-do things at home.  But it isn’t what we accomplish that is important to God.  It is who we are that is.

God didn’t create Human-Doings, He created Human-Beings.  Let your humanity show just how God has blessed you.  And if you don’t feel blessed today, remember Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: God will bless you when it counts the most – in heaven, for all eternity.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Journeying with the Magi

Journeying with the Magi 
January 2, 2022    The Epiphany of the Lord - ABC
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Happy New Year! Merry Christmas! Happy Epiphany.

Today we celebrate all three – the Christmas season, the beginning of the New Year, and the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. In the United States the Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday between January 2 and January 8, which this year means today, January 2nd.  

But elsewhere in the world, the Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th – the twelfth day of Christmas, and that’s when gifts are exchanged, not Christmas.  In case you didn’t know, the song about the 12 Days of Christmas was actually written to teach the Catholic faith during a time in England when Catholics were being persecuted.  And NO, don’t ask me after Mass what each day means – I can’t even sing the song without the Muppets singing along with me.

It is common that most years we reflect on the Epiphany as being the first of three incidents where the divinity of Jesus was revealed to the world, the other two being at Jesus’ baptism and the miracle at Cana.  But this year, there have been three questions which have occupied my thoughts:
•    When did the Magi come to see Jesus?
•    Why did the Magi come?
•    Why did I come here today?

First, when did the Magi come?

I was asked this question by one of our parishioners a week or so ago, and I admit that for most of my life, I’ve equated the coming of the Magi with Jesus still being in the manger – sort of like visiting hours at the local maternity ward.  The shepherds came, oohed and aahed over the newborn, then went home to make way for the next set of visitors – the Magi entourage.  We even include them in our manger scenes – like the one in front of our altar.

But most scripture scholars agree that that wasn’t the case.  It is generally accepted that they had come from Persia, a thousand plus mile journey.  In a caravan.  With an entourage.  Following an astrological phenomenon.  Which takes time.  And scriptures also give us a hint that they didn’t arrive that holy night.  They visited Jesus, Mary and Joseph in their home – or at least in a house where they were staying, not in a stable with Jesus in a manger.  And given Herod’s reaction to the news of Jesus’ birth by condemning all boys under 2 in the area to death where he was supposed to have been born, most scripture scholars believe that Jesus was somewhere between 1 and 2 years old by the time he was visited by the Magi.  

Which leads to the second question: Why did the Magi come?  
Today’s Gospel says that they came to homage to a newborn king.  But why?  After all, they weren’t Jewish, and Jesus wasn’t “officially” of royal lineage of the time like Herod was.  Remember, rulers usually came from royal dynasties, and in Herod’s case we know of at least five in his royal dynasty during the time of Jesus: Herod the Great; his sons Archelaus and Antipas; and the grandkids Agrippa I and II.

And while we might talk of the Magi as “kings”, they were more like scientists, educated in astronomy and astrology, and they were probably motivated more by the spiritual and metaphysical significance of the star than by its political aspects.  Also, since the use of the “gifts” they brought is not discussed anywhere else in the Bible and we normally only reflect on their Christological meaning (that is, Jesus’ royal humanity, His divinity and His mortality), they obviously were more symbolic than substantial.  Yet still the Magi came. Why?

My thought? Because they wanted to see the fulfillment of ancient prophecies concerning a birth that would affect the entire world.   And they would be EXCITED!  Whether there were 3 wise men or 30 in their caravan, I’m sure they all would have been caught up in the excitement of their discovery.

Think about how we feel when we come across something that we think is important to our state in life.  Such a discovery could change everything for us.  We might travel thousands of miles just to be able to experience it, although it would be a much quicker trip since we’d most likely travel by plane or car.  For example, think about the millions of people who travel to see the Pope whenever he is near enough to visit.

But still, why did they come?  After all, even if Jesus was two years old, I’m sure he wasn’t much of a conversationalist. Although I’ve known some two-year-olds that can carry on a very lively conversation – rarely could I understand a word they were saying.  Of course, the Magi would be able to talk with our Blessed Mother and Joseph, and I’m sure that discussing the Holy Family’s spiritual encounters with angels would have left their minds and hearts open to the angelic encounter that warned them not to go back to Herod.

Which brings me to my final question: Why are we here today?  Because we are now obligated to attend Mass?

Our presence at Mass should be more than our fulfilling an obligation.  We just finished a year of uncertainty where, for much of it, we were not obligated to come to Mass.  Many couldn’t come; others chose to participate vicariously by watching live-streamed Masses on TV or the Internet.  And while that is better than nothing, it is hard to develop a relationship with the living God if you do not have a relationship with His people.

So why are we here?  To feed on the Body of Christ in the Eucharist and in God’s living word? Of course!  But I think there should be more to it than that.  The Magi came to give homage to a new-born king, not to get anything.  And like the Magi, we should come to Mass to give homage - adoration - to our king.

Can you imagine if the Magi had said, “What a pretty star!  I’m sure it is important to the Jewish people, and since there’s nothing on TV this weekend let’s take a trip to see a new-born king. “

We, like the Magi, should be EXCITED to be here.  And like the Magi, we should be seeking Jesus in new and unexpected ways.  Like the star that lead the Magi to where they knew the Christ-Child would be, we come to Mass because we know that He is present here, at Mass, especially in the Eucharist.  

Oh, sure.  Sometimes the homily is BORING.  Or there’s little distractions running around or crying which can interfere with my ability to focus.  Of course, if you see me smiling on the altar it’s usually because of them.  I love children at Mass.  By the way, if Jesus was about 2 when the Magi arrived, I’m sure he didn’t just sit quietly while the adults talked.  At least few of the 2-year-olds that I know could or would do that. In fact, since the Magi would know about how old Jesus would be when they arrived, I’ll bet they probably played with him.

But the journey of the Magi is OUR journey –  to seek out Jesus and, in our case, discover where Jesus lay hidden in our lives.  And we find him in the Mass.  The REAL Jesus. The Jesus that we can interact with.  The Divine Jesus.

Do we recognize the divinity of Jesus today?  More importantly, if the Epiphany was the divine revelation of Jesus for the Magi, have we had our own moment of Epiphany with Him?  Our faith tells us that He is present in His Word and in the Eucharist, but do we see Him at other times in Mass – or for that matter elsewhere in our daily lives?  Where do we look for Him?  Most importantly, do we know what is leading us to Him?

The Magi came because the star offered them HOPE.  That sign of hope should be the Mass for us as well.  Do we see Mass as a sign of hope, like the Magi did with the star?

As we proceed into this New Year, we should ask ourselves that last question over and over: why am I here?  Am I prepared to have an “Aha!” moment – an Epiphany – where I encounter the risen Christ?  Am I willing to do the things I need to do – to journey – in order to see Him?  Can I overcome the fear of the change that encounter may require of me?  Will I see Him today?

You can see Him.  Just do not be afraid to look

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Blessing of Visitations

The Blessing of Visitations 
December 19, 2021    4th Sunday Advent - C 
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Twas the week before Christmas, and all over the earth,
People were preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth.

Joining again with family and friends
In celebration of the nearing of this year’s end.

Some would be traveling, the first time in two years
As last year they battled CoVid fears.

And most importantly, although some might not agree
Coming to Mass, once again from fear, set free.

On the 4th Sunday of Advent each year, we get one of three Nativity stories: last year was the Annunciation story from St. Luke of the angel Gabriel visiting the Virgin Mary; the year before that was the story of the angel visiting St. Joseph in a dream, and this year, the story of Mary visiting St. Elizabeth.  So, in a sense, all three stories are visitation stories of sharing the good news of the imminent arrival of Jesus.  

In today’s Gospel, we also hear about being blessed.  Elizabeth says to Mary: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”  Luke 1:45

It is similar to another passage in Luke’s Gospel, when in response to a woman in the crowd who had called out to him, Jesus replied with: “(B)lessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”  Luke 11:27-28

In fact, throughout both the Old and New Testaments there are blessings which echo what John said in the Book of Revelation: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud and blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message and heed what is written in it, for the appointed time is near.Revelation 1:3

There’s two parts to the blessings which flow forth in each of these passages – first we have to hear and listen, then we must respond to what we have heard.

The first part should be the easiest.  Week after week we come to Mass to hear God’s Word.  Some of us also pursue God’s Word on our own, through reading of the Bible and other spiritual books, or through electronic media such as the podcasts from Fr. Michael Schmidt and his “Bible in a Year” presentations or Bishop Robert Barron’s recordings offered through his Word on Fire institute.  We “hear” and “listen”, but how do we respond?

We must Observe.  We must Heed.  We must Believe.  Most importantly, We Must BELIEVE.

When St. Joseph received his message from the angel in his dream, he took Mary into his home because he believed what the angel said.  When Mary responded with her “fiat” to Gabriel, “let it be done to me according to your word”, she responded because she believed.  When the infant John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb announcing the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb, Elizabeth knew what it meant because she believed what she felt.

Sounds like the message from the movie, “Polar Express”, when at the end of the movie the young lad who received the golden ticket for the train Tom Hanks punches it with the word, “Believe”.

But just because Mary believed, why did she go to Elizabeth?

I think it was because Elizabeth was the one human person she knew who would understand what she was experiencing. She probably felt an affinity – a connection – with Elizabeth, because she knew that Elizabeth had also experienced a type of miracle conception.  Elizabeth, who in her old age was considered barren, was pregnant.  And Mary knew that divine intervention was involved in both situations. The angel Gabriel had told her so.  And Elizabeth, although not yet a mother herself, could offer her guidance on the practical matters associated with pregnancy that, frankly St. Joseph could never do.  Any man who thinks he can tell his wife what to expect when she gets pregnant takes his life into his own hands.

And so she went “in haste”.  Why so quickly?

From the moment of her conception, Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit and when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you want to proclaim it with great joy.  And who better than to someone who would understand?  The mere fact that the angel Gabriel told her about Elizabeth would have been a sign to Mary that she needed to go to her relative in all haste.  

It’s sort of like when we receive a gift (like at Christmas) that can best be appreciated only when it is shared – whether it be a video game, a new set of golf clubs, or new clothes.  A gift that cannot be shared will never bring as much joy as one that can.  And Jesus is the ultimate gift shared with the world by God his Father.

What about us?  Every year at Christmas we receive a renewal of the gift of faith through our participation in the birthday of Jesus, and it is a time for us to remember others who need the gift of his presence more than ever.  And these last two years should really bring that home, given the isolation so many have experienced, not to mention the losses of loved ones, of jobs, of our peace of mind.

And there is no better gift than to share the love of God with those most in need of His mercy.  There is no shortage of those who need that love.  All you have to do is look around you.  So let us go in haste to those around us: first to those who are closest to us – our family and friends, then to all we encounter.  This Christmas, let us truly be the Light of Christ to all we meet.  Seek out those who are in darkness.  Be their Light.

And then, as Tiny Tim might say, God will bless us, every one.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Four Calls to Action

Four Calls to Action
November 14, 2021    33rd Sunday of OT - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

It seems that ever since my ordination almost nine years ago, I have been blessed each year with preaching on one of the last two Sundays of Ordinary Time.

Since these Sundays usually deal with the topic of eschatology, or the End Times and what to expect when we meet Jesus face to face in his 2nd coming, in the past I’ve emphasized Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel:

"But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father"

and I’ve referred to the number of false prophecies concerning the end of the world or the number and magnitude of tragic events which the world has experienced during the last 2000 plus years.

So, in preparing for Mass this weekend, I went back to see what God said to me in the past about the Sunday readings for today, and I was particularly struck by what was at the beginning of my homily in 2015 – six years ago.

“Based on what we see in our movies, it appears that we have a fascination with the end of the world, and we have created all sorts of apocalyptic visions of it – world destruction by earthquakes, floods or asteroids; nuclear destruction; epidemic or pandemic disease outbreaks; or my favorite – zombie invasions.”

Pandemic Outbreaks?   I would have never thought that just 4 short years after that homily our world would face one of the worst pandemics in recent history – and no, I’m no prophet like Daniel.

I can hardly believe that it has been almost two years since we first heard of CoVid and entered into a global pandemic which, to date, has directly or indirectly claimed the lives of over 5 million people worldwide. During the pandemic’s peak activity there were those who were sure that we were definitely entering into the End Times prophesied by Daniel; and there were others who, while certain that the world wasn’t ending, thought it would be the “end of the world as we know it”, to quote the movie “Chicken Little”.

But while the residual effects of the pandemic linger on, signs of God’s Mercy and Love are once again at work – indeed they have been at work all along.  Slowly the world is beginning to resume a sense of normalcy in day-to-day life.  Businesses are bouncing back and there are jobs available for those who are seeking work.  People are beginning to break free from their isolation and gather in groups, even traveling to see family and friends as many of you will be doing come Thanksgiving.

Even before the Bishop’s announcement this weekend of the lifting of the dispensation from Mass obligations beginning with Advent, more and more people have been returning to Church to feed their hunger for the presence of God in their lives.  And the outpouring of love and charity to those most affected by the pandemic by those who were moved by the Grace of God has been a source of great hope.

In both our first reading from the prophet Daniel and today’s Gospel from St. Mark, we are reminded that there will be more trials and tribulations to come, beyond our current pandemic.  In the face of these challenges, we are called to bring hope to others, and we need to embrace that hope ourselves.  So, here are 4 ways we are called to respond to the current pandemic and to the future challenges we will face.

1.    We are called to Community.  This doesn’t mean we need to live in the hippie “communes” of the 60’s and 70’s in order to draw closer to God; it means that we can best experience the presence of God through other members of the Body of Christ in community.  We had that taken away from us by the pandemic and we had to work at maintaining a sense of community.  We held ZOOM meetings and used social media to stay in touch.  I even know of one group that met in a park and keep socially distant by sitting in lawn chairs six feet apart, almost yelling to each other to be heard.  Satan wants to isolate us, but we cannot allow anything to keep us from each other – or from God.

2.    We are called to Charity.  The pandemic has had a devastating effect on not only the health of individuals but on their livelihoods. Many despaired of finding relief from their challenges.  While there were many agencies that tried to help, it was through the charitable efforts of individuals that the needs of many were filled.  Satan wants us to be selfish with our time, our talents and our treasures, but we must always be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and reach out in charity whenever we see someone in need.

3.    We are called to Courage.  Despite the fear generated by the various media outlets and in spite of the warnings and legal efforts of governmental powers to the contrary, many individuals placed their personal lives at risk by physically attending to the needs of those with CoVid or other issues. Unfortunately, as a result some died.  But like St. Damien of Molokai, they served willingly, without counting the cost.  Satan wants us to be afraid and trust in no one, but we must have the courage to overcome our fears and trust in God, whatever the cost.

4.    We are called to Love God.  While the first three “calls” above are important, nothing is more important than our Love of God – the 1st Commandment.  And the #1 way to show our Love is through how we worship Him.  In the name of safety, our normal ability to worship God in our Sunday liturgies was restricted and even discouraged, leaving us to find alternative ways to show God our love through live-streaming of Mass or other social media outlets.  

Satan wants us to neglect God and he places obstacles between us and Him, but we must always seek ways to prioritize our worship of God and to draw closer to Him in spite of these obstacles.  The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, and while nothing can replace it we must take advantage of any opportunity to express our love for God through worship until we can receive Him in the Real Presence.
Yes – even at the risk of our lives, we must worship God.  If our mission on earth is to draw people to Jesus, how can we truly fulfill that mission if we don’t place Him first in our hearts and our lives?  And if we are afraid to worship Him, how can we say He is first in our hearts?

As we reflect on how we move forward to “normalcy” in the weeks and months ahead, let us respond to any current or future challenges through the four calls to action above. Let us find a new “normal” in which God is #1 in our lives and we no longer fear the trials and tribulations that will certainly arise again in the future.  Let us draw others to ourselves and to God through love and charity.  

God is always near, and as our psalm today says, He will show us the path to life, to fullness of joy, to His delights forever.

So remember:  CommunityCharityCourageLove.   

And the greatest of these is LOVE.  No matter who you are or what you are experiencing, God loves you.  And He will always love you.  Forever.