Sunday, January 22, 2017

Who Do You Follow?

Who Do You Follow?
Homily for January 22, 2017    3rd Sunday Ordinary - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

500 Years ago this year, in 1517, the Reverend Martin Luther published his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” more commonly known as “The 95 Theses”.  Most historians consider this the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  They were most likely not NAILED to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church as an act of radical defiance, but were hung on the door of the church to encourage debate on what Luther considered abuses in indulgences and related issues within the Church.  In fact, much of what he included were abuses within the Church associated with indulgences and which were already being discussed as problems within the Church hierarchy.  Unfortunately, some of the issues were divisive and, after several attempts at reconciliation, when Luther refused to recant his position on these issues, in 1521 he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X.  The subsequent division and scandal caused to the Church has continued ever since.

But it does not have to be so. 

In John’s Gospel, chapter 17, verses 20 to 21, Jesus prays, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as You, Father, are in me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me.”  One in God.  One in Life.  One in Faith.

This week, from January 18th through the 25th, we celebrate the “International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”.  During this week, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (the USCCB) asks that all Catholics join with those of other Christian denominations to pray for Christian Unity. This “week of prayer for unity” isn’t anything new, but is part of a effort that is over 100 years old, when the first Octave of Prayer was celebrated in 1908.  Pope Benedict the 15th extended its observance to the universal Church in 1916.  It has been celebrated during this week in January ever since.

In 1964, the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio was proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council, which included in its opening remarks that “Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only; division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalises the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel”. “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Sacred Ecumenical Second Vatican Council.”

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity continues to work with representatives of the World Council of Churches and other Christian communities to resolve our differences so that we all may be one in the eyes of God.  This week of prayer and ecumenical activities are meant to help heal the divisions which keep us apart.

But overcoming division isn’t easy.  We are a very competitive people, whether it be in sports, politics or faith.  And while competition in itself isn’t bad, for it helps us strive to be better than we are; we only have to look around us to see how we allow our competitive nature to become destructive: we use antagonistic or insulting language to put others down; we exercise prejudicial judgment against some and preferential treatment for others; we even justify violence as a statement against those we disagree with.  Just look at the recent news of the protests and riots this last week. 

It must stop.

In his letter to the Corinthians today, St. Paul admonishes the Corinthians over the divisions in their fledgling community.  He points out to them that they are losing their focus on the only one they were to follow – Christ.  Not Peter; not Apollos;,not even Paul himself. No matter who they “liked” or “disliked”, they had only one purpose – to witness to Christ, to follow the command of Christ to Love God and to Love their Neighbor.  The same is true for us today - it isn't our political leaders, our sports favorites, or even our friends that we are called to follow, but Christ.

Where are we as a community, as Christians?  Are we divisive, finding fault with those we disagree with? We're called to remain firm and strong in our faith and not compromise our values, but can we do so without hatred?  Can we say that we love each other, and treat each other with respect, even if we disagree with them?  Or do we harbor hatred in our hearts for those that we disagree with – whether it be because of their faith, their politics, or even their sports affiliation?  (OK, maybe we don’t HATE them because of their favorite teams.)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him.  They leave everything behind to follow Him.  We’re called to do the same thing – leave all our hatred and animosity behind and follow Him.  We are called to be one in Christ.

I follow Christ.  I belong to Him.

Who do you belong to?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Following Our Star

Following Our Star
Homily for January 8, 2017    The Epiphany of the Lord - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

 “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we have observed his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (Mt 2:2). 

With these words from today’s Gospel, Pope Francis opened his homily last Friday for the Feast of the Epiphany, during which he spoke of a holy longing which all true believers have and how that longing should guide us in where and how we choose to seek and follow Jesus.  

First, a little background.  Although it may not get as much attention as Christmas, did you know that the Feast of the Epiphany is actually one of the oldest of our Christian feasts, being celebrated by the Church since the end of the second century? The date for celebrating Christmas wouldn’t even be established for another 200 years.  And like other Christian celebrations, the Church appropriated Epiphany from an old pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice.  Back then, the shortest day of the year fell on January 6th, before various calendar revisions over the centuries resulted in the solstice now occurring on December 21st. 

And although most of the world still celebrates the Epiphany on January 6th, here in the US the bishops have chosen to celebrate it on the Sunday that falls between January 2nd and 8th. I personally think that this was to ensure that people celebrated it liturgically, I guess.

So what is an “Epiphany”?

Well, it is a Greek word that one dictionary describes as:
(1)    The manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something;
(2)    An intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking; or
(3)    An illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure. 

I’d prefer to say that the word itself usually means the moment when a sudden and clear understanding of something comes through intuition or insight, or which is revealed through some event that makes understanding clear.  I like to think of it as an “AHA!” moment.

For the Greeks, it came to be used to refer to an appearance or manifestation of a divine being, and so, for Christians, the Epiphany is the revelation and recognition the divinity of Jesus as God. 

Now there are many instances in the Gospel where Jesus reveals His divinity such as through the many signs He worked and through the witness of others of His interactions with His Father – at His Baptism and at the Transfiguration, for example. But the two primary biblical events that are referred to as the first time that Gentiles were made aware of the divinity of Jesus, His Epiphany, are the visit by the Magi described in today’s Gospel and Jesus’ baptism by John. Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant church communities usually use the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany, while the Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism.

Do we recognize the divinity of Jesus today?  More importantly, 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 our daily lives?  Where do we look for Him?  More importantly, do we know what is leading us to Him?

In today’s Gospel, the Magi followed a star which led them to Jesus.  They were learned men, most likely astrologers, and they knew that what they saw was a sign of something great was about to happen – even though they were not Jews. It signified the birth of a King, and they had come to see for themselves this newborn King and to worship Him.  The star was for them the guiding light that beckoned to them. The Magi came because the light offered them HOPE.

What is the “star” – the light – which beckons to us?  Again, in his homily on Friday, Pope Francis said: “In our life, there are several stars, and it’s up to us to choose which to follow. There are many “flashing lights” in our lives, like success and money, which come and go, which may be good, but are not enough, because they do not give lasting peace.”

Do we see the star – the guiding light – which leads us to Jesus? If not, are we looking in the right place?  Do we see the light as a sign of hope, like the Magi?

Or, like Herod, do we see the light of Christ but are unwilling to accept it or follow it because we’re afraid of where it will lead us? Even if the status quo of our life isn’t ideal, we may prefer it to the unknown consequences of giving our all to Jesus.  Herod was so afraid that he had all of the baby boys –  the Holy Innocents – murdered to prevent the coming of Jesus, rather than risk the change that Jesus represented. He tried to stop Jesus from coming, and we all know how effective he was at that.  God always prevails.

Are we afraid of following the light of Christ?  Haven’t we acted like Herod, as we approach the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision next weekend that has resulted in the murder of over 55 million babies? Isn’t it fear that prevents us from embracing the demands that the respect for life places on us, and drives us to pass laws in support of abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment?

The Magi came to see and worship this newborn child who would be king, and they willingly left behind the comfort of their lives to seek something that was greater than what they had.  They brought their gifts – more than gifts, their treasures – and laid them at the feet of the newborn child, with no expectation of personal gain.  They chose to follow the guiding light – the Star – which came from God.

As we proceed into this new year, we need to ask ourselves: what is my Star?  Can I see clearly where God is leading me? Am I prepared to have an AHA moment – an Epiphany – where I encounter the risen Christ?  Can I overcome the fear of the change that encounter may require of me?

You can.  Do not be afraid.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions
Homily for January 1, 2017    Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Happy New Year!  This weekend we straddle the line between the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one – the bridge between history lived and a future promised.  Are you looking forward to the New Year with anticipation, or with dread?  Are you thankful for the blessings you have received? Or are you just thankful that the year is over?

You know, each time we celebrate New Year’s Day we are given an opportunity – a milestone if you will – which we can use to measure our lives to date and to prepare for our days going forward.  I prefer the word “prepare” to “plan”, since to paraphrase an old Yiddish proverb, “When Man Plans; God Laughs.”  By the way, that doesn’t mean that God wants to do something to screw up our plans.  But since we don’t know what God has in mind for us or those around us, we should not be surprised or mad when things don’t go like we think they should.  Instead, we should prepare ourselves to encounter God however and wherever He chooses.  And that preparation begins with our accepting that God wants to bless us with His Love and Mercy.

Do you believe that God will bless you in the upcoming year? As we celebrate this feast of Mary as Mother of God – the Theotokos – I wonder if on that fateful night when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her she would bear the child of God Most High, if she believed that she was going to be blessed in the upcoming years?  During this last week within the Octave of Christmas, we’ve heard about some of the trials faced by the Holy Family, including Jesus’ birth in a cave, the family being hunted by Herod and becoming refugees in a foreign country, and even Simeon’s prophesy to Mary last Thursday was that her own heart would be pierced with sorrow because of Jesus.

And yet, in today’s Gospel, the shepherds spoke to Mary and Joseph about what they had seen and heard from the angel about her newborn son – the good news and great joy that Jesus would be their Messiah and Lord for the whole world – and how she kept and reflected on their words in her heart.

In her heart.  There is a difference between analyzing something with your mind and embracing something with your heart.  There is an emotional component to the heart that measures things that the mind cannot, because it is in our hearts that we find, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, the spirit of Jesus that God has sent to us; the proof that we are His adopted children and heirs to all of the graces and blessings that God wants to bestow on us.  It is with this perspective that we need to look toward the future.

And while we don’t know what the future holds for us, there are some things we can do to prepare for whatever God may ask of us.  This is where our New Year’s Resolutions should come into play.  Instead of the old stand-bys of dieting and exercise, here are some things you might consider doing in the upcoming year, based on an article from the December 1959 issue of “McCall’s” magazine and with a few of my own added for good measure:

•    Seek out a forgotten friend.
•    Mend a quarrel. Apologize if you were wrong. If not, try to understand. Listen to others.
•    Dismiss suspicion, and replace it with trust.
•    Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Welcome a stranger.
•    Share some of your treasure with those less fortunate.
•    Encourage our youth.
•    Gladden the heart of a child.
•    Laugh a little. Laugh a little more.
•    Show your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise.
•    Find the time for your family, for others, and especially for God.
•    Go to church. Get involved with your church community.
•    Oh, yes – Attend the ACTS retreat.
•    Think of others before yourself. Examine your demands on them.
•    Appreciate what you have. Express your gratitude.
•    Write a love letter.
•    Be kind; be gentle.
•    Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth.
•    Speak your love. Speak it again. Speak it still once again.
•    Did I mention – laugh a little more?

So, as we begin this new year, ask yourselves – what are your New Year’s Resolutions for the upcoming year?  Will the year be more of the same? Or do you want this year to be different?

What are YOU willing to do to make it different?

Happy New Year!