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.”

Sunday, November 18, 2018

It's the End of the World - As We Know It

It's the End of the World - As We Know It
November 18, 2018    33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

We are fast approaching the end of our liturgical year.  Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, or more commonly known as Christ the King Sunday, and after that we will begin a new liturgical year with Advent.

But as with each liturgical year we begin anew the study the birth, life and mission of Jesus during His time on Earth, during the last couple of weeks of the liturgical year we take time to look toward what OUR final destination will be like, in preparation for the End Times which will come with Jesus’ Second Coming.  And in our readings today we listen to the stories which give us an idea of what to expect when the world as we know it comes to an end.

Our first reading from the Book of Daniel and our Gospel reading from St. Mark are examples of a type of literature known as apocalyptic, or eschatological, literature.

The word “Apocalypse” is from the Ancient Greek: apok├ílypsis, literally meaning "an uncovering", and is a disclosure of knowledge or revelation, which is why you sometimes see the Book of Revelation called the Book of the Apocalypse.  As applied to Scriptures, apocalyptic writing refers to Jewish and Christian writings from 200 BC to 150 AD that contains poetic prophetic visions and symbolic imagery of the end of the world, and they often reflect the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom.

The Book of the prophet Daniel is considered one of the earliest forms of apocalyptic literature, as is the Book of Revelation, which reveals what seems to be the complete and final destruction of the world.

On the other hand, “Eschatology” is concerned with "the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind".  So while the Apocalypse is often thought of as the destruction of the world, Eschatology is more about what happens to us after that – when we meet Jesus face to face.

Now, whether one believes in God or not, it seems that we humans are fascinated with the concept of the End of the World – at least those of us who go to movies or watch television – and it is a recurring theme in Scripture for those who are people of faith.  But our approach to it can be very, very different.

For movie goers, the apocalypse is often something that we, through our heroic efforts, can overcome – we humans are tough enough and smart enough to save the day.  Even if most of the world has been destroyed by alien invaders or zombies, we, through our own efforts, will be victorious and able to rebuild to our former glory.

Or, if we fail in our efforts, we are left alone to struggle forever against the evil which seemed to have won the day.  Those who remain face a future of hopelessness and despair.  It’s no wonder that suicides are on the rise and that those who are suffering from mental illness increasingly resort to violence against others, that we live our lives in fear.  We live with an apocalyptic viewpoint, and not an eschatological one.

But life isn’t meant to be that way.  The study of the End Times should bring us hope, for it is through the promise of Jesus in his death and resurrection that we see that, for Christians, there is nothing to fear from the End of Time, for it signals the coming of the Messianic Kingdom of Christ and the joy of being united with God for all eternity.

So let’s start with a look at today’s reading from the Book of Daniel.  Now, while all last week our first reading for daily Mass came from a variety of sources, for those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours Office of Readings, the daily readings have been the story of Daniel and his time of prophetic service to the various Babylonian kings during Israel’s exile. 

In today’s reading he is receiving visions for the future of Israel that will occur after they return from exile.  The passage begins with a prediction of dark times ahead, with “it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress”. Remember, this will be AFTER Israel returns from exile.

But the passage ends on a note of hope:  "The wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever."  That sounds like something worth living for.  And it contains instructions on how to achieve it.

And in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus also begins with a prediction of dark times: "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  In a way, it sounds like what the people in southern California, especially in Pleasant Valley, experienced – the thick smoke darkened the sun and hid the sky, the glowing embers from the flames falling like stars in the night.

But He too ends on a high note: "And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”  He will gather His elect.  That’s more than just hope.  That’s His Promise.

It seems as if we are always facing the end of the world, whether it’s because of our health or from the elements of nature.  And if you were to believe what we see in the media and our venues of entertainment, we believe the grand destruction of everything will be because of man’s own destructive tendencies through wars or our abuse of the environment.  Or alien invaders or zombies, of course.  They’re high on the list.  There’s no mention of God in any of this, it’s only caused by us.  Or aliens or zombies..

But we humans have been trying to predict the end of the world for a long time, and unsuccessfully trying to make it happen.  Some of these predictions include: early 1st century Jews who assumed that the world would end with the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem; early saints who expressed specific dates in good faith; Pope Sylvester II who predicted it would be at the end of the first millennium, in the year 1000;  Christopher Columbus who thought it would be in 1658; and the list goes on.  There have been hundreds of predictions by people of all faiths and in every age, including our own, and there are dozens more still waiting to occur.

They seem to fail to understand Jesus’ own words: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

It reminds me of the song by R.E.M. that was in the animated movie “Chicken Little”, an animated feature in which Chicken Little thinks he was hit in the head by a piece of the sky (which turns out to be a piece of an alien spaceship, of course.)  The song, by the way, has been used in many other apocalyptic movies.  The lyrics go something like, “It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”

For us, the life-changing events that we experience often seem like the end of the world – and they ARE, at least the end of the world as we know it.  When Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place”, he’s telling us that we will indeed experience the end of our individual worlds, in one fashion or another.

But the world itself, and our place in it, will continue until such time as God determines that we, as a people, are ready to join with Him for all eternity.  And whether we realize it or not, we acknowledge this every time that we pray:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit / as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I Want to See

I Want to See
October 28, 2018    30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

As many of you know, one of my many vices is watching movies.  And among my favorite ones are children’s animated feature films – yes, cartoons, more or less, only longer.  Recently, the second film in “The Incredibles” franchise was released to video, which encouraged me to go back and watch the original.  (For those of you not familiar with The Incredibles, it is about a family of superheroes in a world which doesn’t think it needs superheroes anymore and so has made the use of their powers illegal – kind of like what’s happening to Christians.  By the way, I’m particularly fond of the show because the star was named after me: “Bob Incredible”.  He’s obviously my favorite superhero.)

There’s a scene in the movie where Bob, who was just fired from yet another job for being super, comes home really depressed.  As he pulls into his driveway and gets out of his car, he sees a little kid sitting on a tricycle - staring at him.  The day before, the same kid saw Bob hoist his car above his head. 

This time, Bob says to him: “Well, what are *you* waiting for?”
The kid replies, “I don't know. Something amazing, I guess.”
Then Bob sighs and says to him, “Me too, kid.” Me too.

Which leads me to ask the question:  What are we waiting for from God?

Do we see the amazing things that happen around us every day? Are we so busy looking for those nature-defying miracles that we miss seeing the real miracles that God gives us?  Are we blind to Jesus and the amazing things He does in our lives just because it appears that He’s not doing something amazingly super?

I’d like to share with you a couple of brief stories that occurred recently.

The first one has to do with a friend of mine who participates in a weekly prayer group with me.  Last week he told the group of us about a dream he had about his mother a week earlier.  He didn’t remember the details from the dream, but only that he had awoke with a strong sense of peace.  But his wife told him that he had been calling out his mother’s name in his sleep and that he appeared to be carrying on a conversation with her.  Later that morning he found out from one of his siblings that his mother, who I think lived in California and who suffered from dementia, had just passed away.  My friend said that there was no question in his mind that his mother had been telling him “good-bye” that evening.

About the same time the daughter of another friend of mine passed away.  She had been battling ovarian cancer and was on hospice, so he and the rest of his children knew that she only had a short time left.  Sadly, she passed away a bit more suddenly that they expected. But my friend took consolation in the fact that, amazingly, the day she died just happened to be the feast day of her patron saint, Hedwig.  The very next day, my friend was with his son-in-law and his grandson when a rainbow suddenly appeared in the sky and he was able to get a picture of them with the rainbow behind them.  By the way, this was in Tucson, which normally doesn’t get much rain. What was more amazing, though, was that often whenever someone close to him passed away, a rainbow managed to appear in the sky.  Coincidences?  I don’t believe in coincidences.

Are we blind to the amazing signs that God sends our way?

In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the blind Bartimaeus.  We see this story in both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels as well, although Mark is the only one who names him.  Just another blind beggar, one of many one assumes, sitting on the edge of the road near Jericho, waiting. 

But, in this passage, who is really blind?  Not just physically, but spiritually as well?

Jesus has by now gathered quite a following in his ministry.  In all three gospels, he has already revealed to his disciples three times that he’s going to Jerusalem to die, but they can’t see it.  The multitude that are following Him, for the most part, appear to be only concerned for themselves as they try to silence Bartimaeus.  They’ve seen the many miracles that Jesus has done, but they cannot see Jesus for who He is.

And yet Bartimaeus, who cannot see physically, is one of the few who does recognize Jesus for who He is – a descendant of King David, a king and savior of his people, the Messiah.  He initially sees Jesus through the eyes of faith.  And when Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus leaves his cloak – his security, probably the most valuable of his meager possessions – behind. Once his eyes are fully opened physically, Bartimaeus then leaves the rest of his existing life behind to follow Jesus.

So, which of the characters in this gospel are we, today?  Are we one of his disciples whose primary concern is our own place in an earthly kingdom granted to us by God?  Are we one of the multitude of followers of Jesus who seek from him some sort of special favor because we have seen what He has done for others and want him to do the same for us?

Or are we like Bartimaeus, seeking Jesus through the eyes of faith, knowing that to answer the call of Jesus means leaving our security behind and following Him wherever He goes?

To truly see Jesus as He is demands a change in us.  Every day that we walk in blindness to the Kingdom of God around us, He is passing by, waiting for us to call out to Him.  He is asking us “What do you want for me to do for you?”  Let us call out to Him.  Let us sing out, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.  I want to see You.”  Just be ready to leave your old life behind, for Jesus asks for nothing less.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

At War with the World

At War with the World September 23, 2018    25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Who or what are you at war with today?  Hardly a day goes by that we aren’t in conflict with something or someone – it may be within our family, our job or our communities.  It may be with a single person or with a group.  It may be that we’re battling financial issues, job issues, health issues or addictions.  It may be that we’re just at war with ourselves – our worries, our anxieties, our fears.  Or maybe it’s just our frustration that we are not the person we want to be.  Any one of these things show that we are at constant war with the world in one form or another, even when it seems that there is a “truce” or uneasy peace at a particular moment in our lives.

We spend much of our time battling these conflicts in our lives, to the point that it seems that conflict is inevitable.  Why is that?  According to St. James, it’s because we allow ourselves to be controlled by our earthly desires instead of staying focused on God.  “Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?”

We place ourselves in conflict with ourselves and those around us when we want what we don’t have, and it disturbs us when others have something – health, wealth, power – that we don’t.  We’re frustrated when we think we’re doing everything right and we still don’t get what we think we deserve. 

Even when we ask that God take away the trials we face, to intervene and take our side in our daily conflicts – we usually do so from a self-centered viewpoint.  We can’t help it.  We are raised and indoctrinated by society to seek “the good life” here on earth, and like the Jews of Jesus’ day, we think that any evil that befalls us, any time our prayers appear to go unanswered, it’s because we’ve done something wrong or we aren’t trying hard enough.

It is hard to see the big picture from God’s perspective.  We often can’t understand His will for us, or we don’t want to.  And how often do we just ignore something that we don’t understand?

Today’s Gospel opens with Jesus continuing to teach his disciples about the Kingdom of God and trying to prepare them for the days ahead that they were going to face.  They’ve been witnesses to many wonderful signs and miracles over the last several weeks and from an earthly perspective, who could blame them for feeling excitement that comes from the many displays of power and wisdom which Jesus has shown?  Now Jesus is again throwing a wet blanket on all of their dreams, just like he did after the Transfiguration.  For the second time, Jesus is teaching them that he had to die and be raised from the dead. 

We might say that he was trying to “bring them down to earth”.  Actually, he’s trying to break them of their earthly thoughts – to raise them to a greater awareness of God’s plans and just how different they are from what others think.

And they don’t get it.  They probably don’t want to.  All of the classic Jewish literature of their time – their scriptures – always talked about the glory and majesty of God’s Kingdom and the earthly rewards that awaited those who are His followers.  The death of Jesus would be totally contradictory to what they’ve been taught to believe, and so it would be easier to ignore the dire predictions or to think of them as remote possibilities at best, not likely to come true.  After all, Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior, and the Savior had to be one who wielded great power and authority, right?  And as his chosen ones, they would share in that power and authority.  No wonder they were arguing about who would be in charge of what. 

Jesus is blunt.  He tells them that in order to be in charge they would have to be servants, and the one who would be the greatest would have to be the servant of all the rest.  To reinforce that thought, he takes a small child and places it in the middle of the group. 
Now in Jewish society, a child was pretty much to be seen and not heard – definitely not a sign of authority.  Yet a child represents something far more important than earthly greatness – a child represents future hope and is a sign of love, a sign of innocence and trust.

That is God’s message to us as well.  In the midst of the conflicts of our lives, we are called to be Children of God.  That doesn’t mean that the conflict will leave us, only that our response to it should be to entrust it to God Himself. 

We too need to change how we think.  Instead of going to war with those around us over those things that we disagree on, those things that threaten our health or well-being, we need to seek the Wisdom that brings us peace.  We do not have to hide from or ignore those conflicts that we face in our lives.  We need to bring them to Jesus, and let Him fight the battle with us. 

In Ecclesiastes we hear: There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. …  A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. … God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. I recognized that there is nothing better than to rejoice and to do well during life.”

There will be wars in the world and conflict within our hearts; there will be battles with those we encounter and there will be struggles within ourselves. Yet as St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? … No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Even in our pettiness and struggles, God still loves us.  Let us go forth in our mission to serve others.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Hard of Hearing

Hard of Hearing
September 9, 2018    23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Do you know someone that is deaf?  We all know someone. Oh, I don’t mean someone who is hard of hearing, although we all know people like that, too.  I’m referring to those who haven’t heard or understood the Word of God and who either don’t think they need God or are afraid to admit that they do.  It may be a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend or the parent of one of your children’s friends.  It may even be your own child.  Your spouse.  Maybe it is – you.

I think that we all are hard of hearing at times.  There are even times that we could hear if we wanted to, but we choose not to listen.  I like to tell the story of my dad, who punctured an ear drum when he was young. As he grew older he had more and more trouble hearing what people were saying unless they were directly in front of him, and it led to an increasing tendency to argue with others – or to shut them out.  Especially my mom.

I remember once when Rene’ and I were visiting my parents.  They were having a fairly heated argument over something that had happened years earlier and I realized that they were arguing about two entirely different things – my dad misunderstood what my mom was saying and she in turn thought he was talking about something entirely different.  It was a weird conversation.

So my siblings and I tried to get him to try hearing aids, but we were unsuccessful until my mom had a stroke.  After that, my dad became her round-the-clock caregiver and I guess it made him reconsider and get a set.  To my surprise, the arguments decreased dramatically.  One day I asked him if he liked his hearing aids and he said, “Oh yes, they’re a big help.  Now, when I don’t want to listen to someone, I just smile at them and turn them off.”

I think we’re like that with our faith sometimes.  When someone says something to us that we don’t want to hear, we just turn them off or tune them out.  Maybe it’s because we’re comfortable where we are and don’t want to change.  Maybe it’s because what we’re hearing challenges our status quo.  Maybe it’s because that, despite our knowing that our lives would be better in the long run, we’re afraid to face the unknown that change would bring.  So, what do we do when we or those we love are afraid to come to Jesus?

In today’s Gospel, once again we see that it is a person’s friends who bring him to Jesus. Just like the paralytic that was lowered through the roof of the house where Jesus was staying.  Just like the blind man at Bethsaida. Why?

They recognize that Jesus has the power to perform miracles.  The poetic language used in the first reading from Isaiah – how the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared; the tongue of the mute will sing – is a recurring theme used in the Old Testament to describe the power of God and how He will always have mercy on those who seek Him.  Jesus’ actions with the deaf-mute confirms that He indeed has the power and authority of God, that He possesses the attributes of God as described in the Old Testament of He who will come to save His people.

So if the man’s friends recognize who Jesus is, why doesn’t the man come by himself?

•    Maybe it’s because they know something he doesn’t – they’ve heard about Jesus or heard Him themselves and believe in Him.
•    Maybe it’s because he’s embarrassed by his speech impediment and didn’t want to be ridiculed.  Think of how many times people have made fun of those who spoke funny.
•    Maybe it’s because he’s afraid to come forward since deafness was thought to be a punishment from God for sin.

In any case, he needs to be persuaded to come to Jesus.  Unlike the blind man or the paralytic, the deaf-mute can see Jesus – he can see the way to come to him, but still he won’t come by himself.  He needs help, and the help comes from his friends.  The man doesn’t ask for help; again, it is his friends that begged Jesus to heal him.  They obviously see past whatever faults he might have and think that he is important enough to help.

Which brings us to the Letter of St. James.  Do you want to go to heaven?  James is cautioning his community to be careful when choosing who we help, who we show preference to.  I think it becomes a question of priorities.  It isn’t that we shouldn’t have friends, for as we just heard it is their friends that brought those in need to Jesus.  But we must be seeking those who are in need of Jesus and then work at bringing them to Him, even when they are reluctant to come themselves.  I don’t mean to force them, but we must be persuasive enough to convince them how much they need Jesus in their lives.  James points out that God chooses those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to all of us who love Him.  Shouldn’t we be looking for those who are the ones we will be spending eternity with?

Are we?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Real Presence Within Us

The Real Presence Within Us
August 19, 2018    20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

“Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.” 

These opening words from today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians are as true today as they were almost 2,000 years ago.  And they are a common theme in Paul’s letters as seen in his words to the Colossians: 

 “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.” (Col 4:5)

While the world of today is no more evil than during the time of Jesus, it isn’t any less evil, either.  And with 2,000 years of Christianity under our belt, you’d think that we would be wiser today than those first Christians in the early days of the Church, but we’re not.  Not really.  We fail to take advantage of the opportunities to live our faith for bettering the world around us.  I don’t mean that we aren’t charitable to those causes that we deem worthy of our resources, but we are often arrogant, disrespectful, judgmental, hostile, antagonistic, vengeful and insensitive toward others, especially with those we disagree with or find fault with.  In other words, we are human.  We are sinners.

And we cannot overcome our shortcomings without the Wisdom of God through His Holy Spirit.

All three of today’s readings points to man’s need for Wisdom, and equates it to the most fundamental of human needs – food and drink.  Just as the human body cannot function unless it receives nourishment and will eventually die without it, our souls need spiritual nourishment in order to survive.  That spiritual nourishment is personified in the form of Wisdom.  We often call her the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom isn’t Knowledge.  We can study and learn all the secrets of the universe from a scientific perspective, but do any of them help us in making the most of the opportunities that God presents us for the salvation of souls, especially our own?  With all of our science and technology, are we any “wiser” in how we should behave when dealing with others? 

If not, then what is this Wisdom that Scriptures are speaking to us about, and where does it come from? 

I recommend that when you go home tonight that you take a couple of minutes to read Proverbs Chapter 8, which is the Discourse on Wisdom.  In it you will see how the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are reflected in and flow from Wisdom – such as Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, Strength, and Prudence.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel passage from St. John’s Bread of Life discourse.  The Jews have been given an opportunity to dine on the feast of Wisdom shared by Jesus but they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts toward Him and so, upon hearing Jesus speak of being the living bread come down from heaven, cannot understand the significance of what he is telling them.  Next week we will hear the conclusion of the Bread of Life discourse and how even many of those who followed Jesus, who saw His wondrous signs and fed upon His life-sustaining words, rejected them and so they too turn their back on Wisdom.  Sadly, we too often reject God’s Wisdom.

Proverbs 8 ends with this promise and warning:

Now, children, listen to me; happy are they who keep my ways.  Listen to instruction and grow wise, do not reject it!  Happy the one who listens to me, attending daily at my gates, keeping watch at my doorposts; for whoever finds me finds life, and wins favor from the LORD; but those who pass me by do violence to themselves; all who hate me love death.” (Prov 8:32-36)

Therein lies the challenge for our lives today.  As Paul warns us, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Are we making the most of the opportunities present to us?   When we receive the Eucharist, are we then taking that presence of Jesus into the world according to His Will in a manner that combats the evil that exists around us? 

When we receive the Holy Spirit present to us in the Eucharist, it needs to change our attitudes, our behaviors, and our very presence to all those we encounter. We must be willing to bless the LORD at all times with His praise always in our mouths and on our lips, and we should let our souls glory in the Lord so that those who are marginalized, who are suffering, who are blind or deaf to God can see and hear our joy and rejoice with us.

We seek eternal life.  To get it, we must live in a manner that shows, as St. Paul tells us, that it is no longer us who live but Christ who lives in us.

And every Sunday, when we receive the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, we renew Christ’s presence in our body. So as we go forth from Mass and encounter the evil of the world, let us be wise and make use of every opportunity God has presented us with to share His love, knowing that He is in us and we in Him.

The Song of Mary

The Song of Mary
August 15, 2018  Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – (ABC)
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Each year for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary we listen to this passage from St. Luke’s Gospel which contains the prayer known as Mary’s Magnificat.   Latin for "[My soul] magnifies [the Lord]"), it is a canticle, or a hymn or other song of praise taken from scriptures or other holy texts.  It is also known as the Song of Mary, the Canticle of Mary or the Ode of the Theotokos – the Mother of God.  It is recited daily by all who pray Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, especially by clergy and religious. 

And Mary said:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name…”

Why would Mary respond to Elizabeth’s greeting with this song?  I think the answer in part lies in the question that Elizabeth asked her: And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

There is so much that comes to us through Elizabeth’s one simple question which can be summed up as “why me?”  Elizabeth knows that something extraordinary is happening to her again – the first time was when she conceived her son, St. John the future Baptist, and the prophecies that were associated with his conception.  This time she recognizes that through Mary, her cousin, God is once again at work in her – Elizabeth’s – life.  She feels the movement of the child within her womb in response to the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb.

And the song which Mary sings in response to that question is an explosion of joy which comes from the glory and grace which fills her womb.  Mary isn’t bragging about the fact she was chosen from all possible mothers for Jesus; rather, she is excited that God is fulfilling the promises made to ALL of Israel throughout the generations by God through the prophets.  Just like Hannah when she prayed with Eli after the birth of Samuel, both mothers know that God is alive and active in the world by what He will do through them, not just for them. 

The Magnificat is more than just a prayer by a blessed and holy young mother-to-be.  We too are called to proclaim this prayer every day of our lives.  Each line reminds us that we are also blessed by God beyond all measure.  As we look at each line, we should substitute ourselves as the proclaimer:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

We are all lowly servants for God.  While Mary is, as stated by St. Augustine, the first disciple and a model for us all, we too are His disciples and should rejoice that He favors us with His love and mercy.

From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name.

We recognize in the lives of all the holy men and women we call “saints” that we too have the opportunity to be a blessing to those around us.  From the moment of our birth we have been blessed with the gift of life and the freedom to choose to serve Him in glory.

He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.

While we may face trials and tribulations in this short span of our earthly existence, we know that His Mercy is there to support us and strengthen us if we just call upon Him.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever."

His Mercy is not just for a select few.  It is for all of us, for those who came before us, and for our children and those who come after us.  God is alive and active in the world even today, and for all eternity.

The Assumption, which we celebrate today, confirms this pledge to us. As Mary, through the Assumption, gives us a glimpse of our own future of hope, her continued presence in the world today also shows us that we too can expect wonderful things from God when the time comes for us to join Mary in Heaven.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

When God Says "No."

When God Says "No."
Homily for July 8, 2018    14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Last Sunday’s Gospel recounted a couple of extraordinary healings, and Fr. Szatkowski asked us the question: how strong is your faith?  In fact, in almost all of the healings recorded in the Gospels, Jesus states that it is because of the faith of the person or those with them that not only were they healed, but that they were saved.  The power of God is revealed through our faith.

But, how’s your faith when things don't go as desired or prayed for?

Today’s reading from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is one of my favorite passages of the New Testament, for I too have my personal demons and trials that I continue to struggle against..  By now in his ministry, Paul has been around for quite a while and he has witnessed many, many wondrous signs that God has worked through him, and yet he is still suffering from something serious enough that he has asked God three times to take it away.  Not just asked; he begged for it to leave him. He even equates his problems as coming straight from Satan himself.

And God said, “No.”

It reminds me of the story in the Bible about King David.  After he was been told by the prophet Nathan that his first son by Bathsheba was going to die, David pleaded with God to spare the child. He fasted and slept in sack cloth for seven days, but still the child died.  His servants were afraid to tell him, but after hearing the news David cleaned up and went to worship God.  When his servants asked him about the change, he replied, “While the child was living, I fasted and wept, thinking, ‘Who knows? The LORD may grant me the child’s life.’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”  Even when faced with the death of his son, David had faith that the boy was with God and that he would see the boy again.

Isn’t that the real challenge to our faith?  Remaining faithful even when things don’t go as we hope, despite our storming the heavens with our prayers?  Especially when we’ve bathed the earth with our tears, when our hearts are shredded with grief, and it seems that God either doesn’t hear us or, worse, tells us “No”?  It’s enough to rock anyone’s faith, especially when we see in Jesus’ own words to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Mt 7: 7).  How are we to respond when Jesus says “all that you ask for in prayer; believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours” (Mark 11:24) and then it doesn’t happen?

Today I want to talk about three important points for keeping the faith when God says, “No”:  Purpose, Prayer and Play.  To do that, let me introduce you to three of my favorite writers whose lives have given me insight into these points:  Dr. Viktor Frankl, Jennifer Hubbard and Mattie Stepanek.

First, Viktor Frankl.  Born in 1905, Frankl was a noted Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist before being imprisoned by the Germans and sent to the concentration camps during World War II.  He survived four separate camps before he was freed at the end of the war, but endured almost every atrocity imaginable in the camps short of execution.  He lost his wife and daughter to the Holocaust along with most of his extended family except for one sister.  But he did survive, and his book, “Man's Search for Meaning” originally published in 1946 in German as: “Nevertheless, Say "Yes" to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp” chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, which led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, and thus, a reason to continue living.  He developed a form of therapy called “Logotherapy”, often referred to as the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy".  It can be used to restore meaning to one’s life after suffering a tragic event.

His book is still popular (I just finished reading it – it only took about 3 days and I could hardly put it down.)  In his review of the book, Benjamin McEvoy stated that he learned 7 key lessons on life. My understanding of them are:

1.    He who has a “why” to live for - a reason - can bear almost any “how” that happens.
2.    The salvation of man is through love and in love, and God is Love.
3.    You can get used to anything - I've seen what people endure in 3rd world countries..

4.    You can resist your environment’s influence. Your environment doesn't define YOU.
5.    There is meaning in suffering - Catholics call it "redemptive suffering".
6.    Without hope, meaning, and a future, death will come soon. One needs a purpose.
7.    Logotherapy - the construction of a future for oneself – can be used to restore one’s sense of purpose in life.

It is all about choice – you cannot choose the conditions you are presented with, but you can choose on how you respond to them.  That is one of God’s greatest gifts and a measure of our humanity – the freedom to choose to live life oriented toward a higher goal despite the evil which surrounds us.  Man is the only creature so gifted by God that is able to do so.

The second person I would refer you to is Jennifer Hubbard.  I frequently mention her when I talk with groups about faith because I find her so inspiring in the face of what she has gone through.  The younger of her two children, Catherine Violet, was 6 years old when she was murdered during the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, 2012.

Hubbard is a frequent contributor to “Magnificat”, a pocket-sized missalette with daily readings, reflections, and other spiritual writings that is published monthly.  There is usually an article from her each month and I find her brief spiritual writings inspirational and thought-provoking.  She once said to the Catholic News Agency during an interview in 2016 on the power of prayer that, “We’re all going to face trials; we’re all going to face tragedies. My tragedy was my daughter being murdered. Someone else’s tragedy could be the doctor who says the cancer is no longer treatable.” … “When you are intimate with that darkness, prayer turns your attention to God in allowing this peace to settle on your soul, despite whatever chaos is circling around you.”  Her faith remains steadfast to this day.

But the most inspiring person for me is a young boy named Mattie J. Stepanek.  Mattie died in 2004 at the age of 13, shortly before his 14th birthday, of dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, a form of muscular dystrophy.  His three older siblings died from the same genetic disease.  He began writing poetry at the age of four and published seven best-selling books of poetry and peace essays, most popular being his “Heartsong” series. Before his death he had become known as a peace advocate and motivational speaker and was friends with the likes of former president Jimmy Carter and Oprah Winfrey.

Despite having seen what his older brother suffered before he died and having to experience the progressive deterioration of his own health at such a young age, Mattie was a playful, joyous young man with an impish smile and prone to pulling practical jokes.  He fully believed that God spoke to him and that his mission in life was to be an ambassador of peace to the world.  There are many, many thought-provoking quotes which come from his writings, but for me the most powerful one is the tagline that you see on many of my emails:  “Play after every storm.”  It was his motto for life: “Play after every storm! The storms do not last forever. The sun does come out, even if it is for a brief moment.”

Purpose, Prayer, Play.

There will be storms in every one of our lives.  Sometimes the evil which will engulf us will be so disheartening that we will be sure that we will not survive; in fact, we will not want to survive.  We will want to give up.  We will look at the lives of the saints who have experienced tragedies which will match, if not surpass, those we face and we will say, “they were holier than I; they were stronger or tougher than I; it was different for them back then.”  We will focus our attention on the past and the immediacy of our suffering and we will fail to hear God’s voice speaking to us to look forward.  We will fail to seek the purpose of our suffering.

And yet, most of us are here today because we have survived the storms of the past, even the recent ones.  As long as we live, we have the freedom to find purpose in our lives and to choose how to face our challenges. And with faith in God, we know our future.

When I was little (actually, most of my young life), my mom used to say that “everything happens for the best.”  I still have trouble believing that, sometimes, because “the best” used to always mean “the best for ME”.  But when I listen to God as He speaks through Viktor Frankl, Jennifer Hubbard, and Mattie Stepanek, I realize that “the best” is and must be His Will, and that my challenge is to discover that purpose through prayer and with the joy of loving others as He loves me. 

And I DO have hope.  I can see that, despite any suffering I have experienced over the years and the many "NO"s that I've received, when I look back with 20-20 hindsight and the grace of God, I can catch a glimpse of God in what has happened. 

And that gives me the faith to continue to pray to God and, as Mattie would say, to “play after every storm.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day
Homily for June 17, 2018    12th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Happy Father’s Day weekend.  I hope that those of you who are fathers are having a blessed weekend, and that those of you who have fathers (by the way, that would be all of us) – I hope you all take some time this weekend to pray for their souls, whether they are still living or have already passed on, and whether they were good fathers or not.  Especially if they were not, for they are probably more in need of prayers and God’s mercy than a “good” father is.

In any case, at first glance, you might not think that today’s Gospel has much in common with Father’s Day.  But if we take a closer look at the two parables that Jesus shares with the crowds, I think we can see that they contain a very important message for all of us, especially for fathers. (Before I go on, this message applies more or less equally to mothers, too, but they’ve already celebrated their day in the sun.  Today it is us dads’ turn.)

First, we have the parable of the sower and the seed.  Who is the man that scatters seed in today’s Gospel?  Often in the Bible whenever we see a reference to seed being scattered, the sower is usually assumed to be God the Father or Jesus.  And while the references to the sower not knowing how the seed grows, and that the seed yields fruit “of its own accord” seem contradictory to the wisdom and power of God, it would be easier to understand it in the context that the average person would not know or understand how the seeds of faith scattered by God grow and bear fruit.

But what if the sower Jesus refers to is us?  In that sense, the “sower” can be thought of as a father and the “seed” being sown as his children.  He might provide nourishment and tender guidance for his child, but he doesn’t know how that child will grow in faith.

And it’s not just his children.  After all, we are all called to evangelize our brothers and sisters by spreading – sowing – the Good News which is found in the person of Jesus Christ Himself.  He is the faith that lives in every fruitful seed.  This parable would actually make more sense that way, as we often do not know what impact our lives have on those around us.  We do not know what causes another person to grow in faith, as faith is a gift – a grace – which comes only from God.  And only God knows when a seed that is a person is ready to come to judgment.

And then we have the mustard seed.  This too seems a little odd to be a comparison for God as, despite the image given here, mustard plants are not majestic cedars like we hear in our first reading, but instead are hardy, scruffy bushes that spread widely from a tiny seed.  But that too can be a good analogy for fathers as most of us probably didn’t have any idea of what was really going to be asked of us as fathers when our first child came along, and despite the scruffiness of our faith we’ve slowly grown and matured, and hopefully through our faith we have become a spiritual shelter to our family and those who are close to us.

For those of us who are fathers responsible for our children, or father-figures like Fr. Szatkowski and Fr. Benito, who are responsible for their family of parishioners, we know that it’s tough being a father.  The role of a father has changed in recent years from being the head of the household and the primary breadwinner to one of shared responsibility and mutual cooperation – and this is a good thing. 

But sadly all too often in today’s society and especially in the media, the importance of fatherhood is being belittled and dismissed.  And yet, recent studies have shown just how important it is to be a father.  Statistics quoted at last year’s Texas Fatherhood Summit in Austin were striking – children with actively involved fathers were:

•    39% more likely to earn mostly A’s in school
•    45% less likely to repeat a grade
•    Twice as likely to go to college and find stable employment after high school
•    60% less likely to be suspended or expelled from school
•    75% less likely to have a teen birth
•    80% less likely to spend time in jail

Speaking of jail, when I was in prison ministry during my formation as a deacon, I made the mistake on Father’s Day of asking the inmates to compare God the Father to someone in their lives who they considered a strong, loving father-figure.  The room of about 30 inmates went silent.  They had no good father-figures to draw on – the fathers they knew were either bums or had abandoned them and they had few positive male role models in their lives.

So, if our role as father is so important to those we love and to society as a whole, what must we do to be true sowers of the faith?  A recent article in “Columbia”, the monthly publication by the Knights of Columbus, listed four things Catholic men must do to defend the faith and build a culture of life in our secular society:

1.    We must be men of prayer.
2.    We must never lose hope.
3.    We must show our friends and neighbors a better way.
4.    We must be active and practical.

Whatever our particular vocation in life – whether it be religious, married or single – we are called to be sowers of the seeds of faith and must be followers of the Great Gardener, Jesus.  And may our faith shelter those whom we love and all those we meet. 

Happy Father’s Day.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Happy Re-Birthday!

Happy Re-Birthday!
Homily for May 20, 2018    Pentecost Sunday - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

[Author’s note: the Catholic Church historically and officially recognizes Good Friday as the actual birth of the Church, when Christ’s side was pierced by the centurion’s spear.  But just as the Church also teaches that we are reborn into the Church at our baptism, and as Jesus told Nicodemus that man “must be born from above”, “of water and Spirit” (Jn 3), it is appropriate to celebrate Pentecost as a “baptism” or “rebirth” of the Church.  Just as Jesus told his disciples prior to his Passion that they needed the Holy Spirit to guide them to the truth (Jn 18), and to wait for when they would “be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1), we celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit coming with His gifts at Pentecost.]

Today we celebrate what some theologians consider is the birthday of our Church - Pentecost.  Why is that?  Because it was on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and gave them the courage to come out from hiding and go into the streets to preach the Good News of God – to evangelize the people.  Actually, it was more than courage, for often we think of courage as facing challenges that we would rather avoid.  Those first disciples – the Apostles and the others from the upper room – were on FIRE with the presence of God in their hearts and were compelled to share that Good News to others.  It wasn’t that they were still afraid and forced themselves to overcome that fear; they were truly FEARLESS because they had no reason to fear.  From that tiny group of now fearless men AND women, the Church sprang into life; the people of God were reborn.  From that moment on, the world would never be the same.  It was a Happy Birthday.

To celebrate this special day, we actually have two completely different sets of readings for this weekend. Normally, the Mass on Saturday evening, although we often call it the “vigil” service, uses all of the same readings, liturgical parts, and so on that we would use on Sunday.  But for certain celebrations – like Easter and Pentecost – the church offers a true “vigil” liturgy with different Mass parts and readings because there is an important before-and-after message contained in the combined celebrations. To get the full “value” of this celebration, you should attend Mass both Saturday night AND Sunday. 

So, if you didn’t come to Mass last night, you might want to note it on your calendar to come to Mass twice on this Sunday next year.

Yeah, I can see your eyes rolling even from here.  I’m just saying, it isn’t a sin to go to Mass more than once a weekend.  And if you didn’t go last night, you have a homework assignment:  look up and read the other set of readings when you get home. 

In any case, today we celebrate Pentecost. In Jesus’ time, Pentecost was known as Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks.  Shavuot was one of the three pilgrimage festivals where Jews were required to travel to Jerusalem, and it commemorated the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. It was celebrated seven weeks after Passover – hence our name Pentecost, or 50 days.  Because Jews had to travel to Jerusalem, it explains why there were so many people there who spoke different languages.  But more on that later.

Our readings this weekend then all relate to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit.  But in order to fully understand the complete message of Pentecost, we have to look at both sets of readings together.

Saturday’s first reading is the story of the Tower of Babel.  It is a fairly straightforward story – the people, in their arrogance, decide to build a tower that reaches to heaven.  They didn’t want to be “scattered all over the earth”; they preferred to bask in their own glory and abilities rather than God’s, and so the Holy Spirit came upon them and removed their ability to understand each other.

But in the passage from Acts that we heard today, we see how the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the ability to speak to all present in their own language of the Glory of God – it’s the classic story of Pentecost.  The combination of the two readings reminds us that true peace and unity among nations cannot occur without our unity with God first. 

And then Saturday’s brief Gospel from St. John comes from the first time Jesus reveals to his disciples his future passion and death, and alludes to the coming of the Holy Spirit.  It occurs on the last day of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, another one of the three main pilgrimage feasts in Jerusalem and it too was a time of joyful celebration, coming just after Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  (By the way, these pilgrim festivals generally lasted all week, from Sabbath to Sabbath.) During this feast, Jesus ticks off the Jewish authorities by his words and deeds to the point that they’ve begun to seek a way to kill him.  The key to this short scripture passage are the last two lines:  “He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

This doesn’t mean that there was no Holy Spirit.  As the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit has always existed co-eternal with the Father and the Son.  Earlier versions of this passage include the word “given” after “yet”, signifying that the disciples had not received the fullness of the Spirit, which will come to them on that first Pentecost after the Resurrection.

But in Today’s Gospel from John’s Last Supper discourse, Jesus makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is coming, and how important the presence of the Advocate will be to his disciples.  They are not ready yet for the total power of the Holy Spirit, but they will need that power in order to continue Jesus’ mission after his physical presence leaves.  After His Resurrection they will receive strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit so that they will be able to give Glory to God and proclaim the Good News.   

So is this Holy Spirit present in our lives today?  Did I miss something at my Confirmation, or have I just lost it?  Why are we still afraid to risk everything proclaim the Good News?  If I’ve received the Holy Spirit, why can’t I speak Spanish?

The Holy Spirit doesn’t come into our lives just once in a spectacular moment and then leave.  The Holy Spirit is with us always, to guide us and bless us.  St. Paul talks to us about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and how they are ours forever, if we accept them.  The Seven Gifts are:

1.    Wisdom – the knowledge and awareness of "divine things" and the ability to judge and direct human affairs according to divine truth.
2.    Understanding – the ability to "see" God in creation and the insight into the very heart of things necessary for our eternal salvation.
3.    Knowledge – the ability to judge correctly about matters of faith and right action, so as to never wander from the straight path of justice.
4.    Counsel – allows a man to be directed by God in matters necessary for his salvation.
5.    Fortitude – a firmness of mind in doing good and in avoiding evil, particularly when it is difficult or dangerous to do so, by virtue of the assurance of everlasting life.
6.    Piety – the reverence of God with filial affection, paying worship and duty to God in accordance to Scripture and the Church.
7.    Fear of God – the "filial" or chaste fear whereby we revere God and avoid separating ourselves from him—as opposed to "servile" fear, whereby we fear punishment.

We all received these gifts at our Baptism and had them strengthened at our Confirmation.  We continue to receive guidance on these gifts through the Holy Spirit whenever we actively seek it.  But do we?

I remember a story of a woman who loved to give gifts.  She was always thoughtful in what she gave, and one year she worked especially hard on a gift for a very good friend.  Her friend took the gift and later thanked her for the perfect gift.  One day while the woman was visiting her friend, she saw her gift on a shelf, still wrapped, unopened.

How many gifts do we have, unopened?  For this Pentecost, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the courage to open and use your gifts.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Community of Believers

A Community of Believers
Homily for April 8, 2018    2nd Sunday Easter - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi    Divine Mercy Sunday

Happy Easter! As we conclude the Octave of Easter and our celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, for the rest of the Easter Season we shift our focus to living as a community of believers in the Resurrected Christ.

The first reading for Mass almost every day from now until Pentecost will come from the Acts of the Apostles, and will be about the development of the early Church and the continuation of Jesus’ ministry on earth by his disciples.  Today’s first reading focuses on what the first Christian communities looked like and how they acted.

It begins with: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” Earlier in Acts, chapter 2, we hear the same thing:  “All who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts chapter 2, verse 44.

 “(H)ad everything in common.”  Sounds a bit unrealistic for us today, doesn’t it.  I’m not expected to share my house or car or my other expensive toys with others, am I?  And I certainly don’t have to sell them and give the proceeds away to those who didn’t work for them or who don’t have the ambition to make it on their own, do I?  After all, I EARNED them, right?

The opening line from today’s first reading brings back memories of my teen years in the late sixties and early seventies – the age of Communism and hippie communes. 

It was a time when the word “communal” didn’t carry a positive connotation, with images of forced labor farms in Russia or drug-crazed drop-outs from society running around in the woods.  Surely that wasn’t what the early Christian communities looked like, did they?

Yes and no.

If we look at true Christian communities today, we see that they have some of the same characteristics as the early Christian communities did back then, as revealed in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, starting with verse 42: 

•     “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles – that would be religious study of scripture and of the leaders of the Church, like our bible study programs and other spiritual reading;

•    To the communal life – that would be the loving care of each other through self-sacrifice, constantly thinking of the other person first, like our volunteer efforts and our charitable giving programs;

•    To the breaking of the bread – that would be specifically the Eucharist, not just sharing a meal; and

•    To the prayers – that’s not private prayer but the shared liturgical experience, what we would call “Mass” today, and other Sacramental activities.

So what’s the difference between the early communities and our communities today?  I think that it can be found in the three words that begin verse 42: “They devoted themselves”.  Devotion signifies priority, what is most important. They were Christ-centered, not life-centered (at least, not earthly life.)  And, because they were Christ-centered, wonderful things happened: 
“Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the Apostles” and “Great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them”.

Can we say that today?  Have we eliminated the needy among us?  Are we devoted to our faith in a way that fills us with awe at the mere thought of Jesus?

If not, then one way we can work on that devotion to our faith is through the new initiative that was introduced by our Bishop Burns on Friday called the “Be Golden Campaign."  The campaign is based upon the Golden Rule and focuses on those who are marginalized in our society, especially the immigrant.  The primary goal is to change our mindset, our attitude, to be more Christ-like.

And, to be more Christ-like it demands that we show mercy to those who we have the ability to show mercy, especially if we are to expect mercy in return.  Jesus’ command to us in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 6:

 “Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. … But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Lk 6: 31-36)

Be merciful. This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Mercy is not forgiveness; forgiveness can only be extended by the person who was harmed.  Mercy is the ability to prevent or alleviate the suffering of another by someone who has the power to do so, whether it is justified or not.  God extends mercy to us out of His love for us, even when we do not deserve or have not “earned” that mercy; we are called to do the same.  Members of the early Church communities extended mercy to one another when they used their own resources to make sure that “There was no needy person among them”.

God has granted all of us an ability to show mercy to others.  We too are in need of mercy – from others in our lives and especially from God.  It’s what we celebrated last Sunday – the ultimate sign of God’s love and mercy – the Passion of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today’s Gospel concludes with, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in His name.”

Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Are you truly devoted to Him?  Does your life reflect that devotion?  If not, then during this Easter Season, you have some work to do. 

Frankly, so do I.

Death and Taxes Revisited

Death and Taxes Revisited
Homily for March 18, 2018    5th Sunday Lent – A (Scrutinies)
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

For the last two weeks our RCIA candidates have listened to passages from St. John’s Gospel known as the Scrutinies – the first was the story of the Woman at the Well and her conversion experience and that of the others of her village through listening to Jesus, the Word of God and the second was the story of the Man Born Blind and how his eyes were opened both figuratively and spiritually.  Today we just heard the 3rd Scrutiny – the Death of Lazarus.

There’s an old saying that there are only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes.  And while if you’re poor enough or clever enough you might be able to avoid some taxes, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re rich or poor, you’re going to die someday.  And sadly, the ones we love will die too.

But while death and the pain caused by it are inevitable, with faith we can find strength to continue on with our life.  And today’s Gospel gives us some pointers on the reality of our future, if we trust in God.

The story begins simply enough.  Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that his good friend, their brother Lazarus, is seriously ill.   They know about Jesus; more importantly, they KNOW him and WHO he is – the Son of God.  So they reach out to him to intercede on behalf of their brother.

Don’t we do the same thing whenever a family member or one of our dear friends is sick and in need of healing?  Reach out to our prayer groups and prayer warriors and ask them to storm heaven to intercede for us? 

But instead of going immediately to see Lazarus, Jesus stays on the other side of the Jordan.  His statement that Lazarus wasn’t going to die, that there was a purpose to his illness, may have seemed a little strange to his disciples but, as he had cured many people, maybe they thought he’d do the same thing remotely like the centurion’s slave or Jairus’ daughter.  After all, Lazarus lived near Jerusalem and the Jews there wanted to stone him.  Who’d blame him for staying where he was?

And then Lazarus died. 

It can be hard to imagine the pain and grief that Mary and Martha were going through unless you have experienced that kind of loss yourself – and most of us have.  Not just death of a loved one, although that is the ultimate loss, but it could have been the loss of a job; the loss of house and home through a natural disaster or other catastrophic event; or maybe a break-up in our relationship with another.  We pray and pray and may even experience a glimmer of hope:  interviews for a better job; insurance payments or help from friends and family to compensate for our losses; the discovery of a miraculous cure or the word that the cancer is in remission. And then the other shoe drops.

Mary and Martha probably felt that glimmer of hope as they sent word to Jesus, hoping that he would get there in time to heal Lazarus.  And when he didn’t; when their brother died and still Jesus didn’t show up right away, their grief must have been tremendous – along with feelings of frustration, despair and maybe even anger. 

We see that in the responses from Mary, Martha and their friends:
"Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died."
"Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"
"Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days."

Their sobbing reflects their grief and mourning.

And Jesus wept.

Why did Jesus cry?  After all, Jesus knew that Lazarus wasn’t going to remain in the tomb.  He knew that, despite being buried for 4 days, Lazarus was going to rise and be with his family and friends, and that there would be great joy and celebration.  So why did Jesus weep?

Empathy.  Empathy is more than just witnessing another’s pain or joy; it is the ability to understand and SHARE the feelings of another, especially their feelings of sorrow and pain.  Jesus FELT their grief; their pain was real and no amount of knowledge that “everything will be all right” can take that pain away from them. It was more than Jesus “knowing” that they were in pain; he FELT a pain that was so intense it made people cry.  And He Wept.

In his book, “A Grief Observed”, well-known author C.S. Lewis records his own personal observations on how he dealt with the many issues associated with the sudden death of his wife to cancer: his grief, including the pain; the depression; the awkwardness of dealing with well-meaning friends who didn’t always know the right words to say; the loneliness; the anger he had towards God; and his ultimate return to faith.  I recommend the book to anyone who has experienced a sudden loss of a loved one or to those who know someone who has.
Now, if all this Gospel was about was Jesus performing a miraculous cure for Mary and Martha because Lazarus was a friend, then it would be a wonderful story but it wouldn’t tell us much about God the Father or Jesus his Son.  After all, Lazarus eventually died again and that time wasn’t raised from the dead.  So what is Jesus telling us?

1.    God loves us and understands our pain in loss.
2.    Grief is natural and expected.
3.    There’s a purpose to our life – and death – which we may never fully understand.
4.    Even in death, there’s hope for those of faith.
5.    Jesus is calling us to come to him, even if we’re bound up in sin.
6.    No matter how tightly our sins bind us, they are not enough to keep God from freeing us. 
7.    Death is not the end of life – merely a prelude to something better.

As we approach Easter, we will witness Jesus’ Passion and Death next Sunday and throughout Holy Week.  As we reflect on what we hear and see, let us remember that all of the scriptures which we heard today: Ezekial with God’s promise that the people will be raised from the grave of their exile and returned to the promised land; St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies”; and this story of Lazarus, are meant to remind us of God’s love for us and His promise that death isn’t an end for us.   Despite whatever deaths or losses we will experience in or lives, there’s going to be an Easter morning for us too.

The Journey’s End Revisited

The Journey’s End Revisited
Homily for March 18, 2018    Fifth Sunday of Lent - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Have you ever gone somewhere that took a long time to get there?  Maybe it seemed like a long time, but with travel today it doesn’t usually take too long to get somewhere – a few hours by plane, maybe a couple of days by car.  Not like in the days of Columbus, where it took two months to cross the Atlantic for the first time.  Even Lent is only 40 days.

But maybe you went on a vacation, or maybe you had to make an important business trip. If it was somewhere you wanted to go and you had the time, you probably did a lot of planning beforehand - what to take, what NOT to take, how you were going to get there, where to stay once you arrived, what to say and do while you were there.  The planning and preparation may have taken longer than the trip itself.

Or maybe you had to make a trip on short notice. Maybe it was to see someone who was seriously ill or because someone had died.  It’s hard to plan for that kind of trip, and you know there will be many unknowns once you arrive.

And as you approached your destination, you probably experienced a change in your emotions.  If you were traveling for pleasure, you might have experienced an increase in the sense of anticipation or excitement – maybe even impatience? How many of us who have traveled with children have had to deal with “Are We There Yet?”

For a business trip you might have reviewed what all you needed to do and what you wanted to accomplish once you arrived. You might even feel a little anxious or uncertain, especially if the purpose of the trip was important to your business.

And if the trip was to deal with a serious problem or a death in your family, you might have even had a feeling of dread, or the desire to be anywhere else but there.

In today's Gospel we see that Jesus and his disciples are coming to the end of a long journey. They are approaching the end of three years of Jesus' ministry, and during this journey He has tried to prepare his followers for what was coming next - His Hour, as He calls it. And it would not be what they expected.

In a way, today's Gospel sort of jumps the gun for us, as this passage actually comes AFTER Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem for Passover, which we will hear next week for Palm Sunday, the start of the Passion of Our Lord. The journey is over; the action is about to begin.  Jesus’ Hour has Come.

Now, throughout the past few Sundays, we’ve heard Jesus say that His Hour has NOT yet come.  We’ve heard it when the authorities have repeatedly tried to arrest him or stone him.  We’ve heard him tell his disciples how they must work in the light – his light – while there was still time, for darkness was coming.

Now, he talks about how His Hour has come, and how it troubles him. He KNOWS what is about to happen to him and what he will face. But although it troubles him, he knows that what he faces is the will of his Father and that it will bring glory to God. It is why he came.  Through his death, he will bring eternal life back to us.

We, too, have been on the journey with Jesus for the last 32 days or so of Lent. We started our journey on that 1st Sunday of Lent with Jesus in the desert facing the temptations of the devil; then journeyed with him as he revealed himself to us as The Son of God through his lessons and miraculous signs; and finally as we witnessed the conflict between him and the Jewish authorities develop. Has it felt like a long time?

Do you feel any different now as we approach the end? You should. Throughout this time we should have been mentally preparing ourselves (well, hopefully) for the most sacred time of our Liturgical Year - Holy Week and the Passion of Our Lord. Of course we already know the outcome - Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord - but because of that we might forget about the importance of this portion of the journey. WE ARE NOT THERE YET.

And for some of you, your journey to Calvary is more than a religious exercise.  You may be feeling the rejection of those closest to you.  You may be persecuted or abandoned; you or someone near to you may be suffering from illness or economic distress.  You may want to scream out the same thing that Jesus will from the cross, “God, why have you abandoned me?”

We may struggle to understand why we suffer the things we do, but as painful as they may be, God doesn't abandon us. And while we may not know how to deal with them, we can use them to give glory to God. For, after our own journey is complete, we too will experience our own resurrection and a share in Jesus' victory over death.

So, as we continue forward to our own Jerusalem, let us remember that Jesus suffered as one of us and that his Resurrection at Easter is a promise to us, too.  Renew your efforts during this last week of Lent.  Listen closely next Sunday as the Passion is proclaimed.  Participate in the various Holy Week liturgies that follow it – if you can, go to the Chrism Mass on Tuesday; come experience the Lord’s Supper and the Washing of Feet on Holy Thursday; come venerate the Cross on Good Friday.  Fast and abstain when you can, and ponder the sacrifice that Jesus willingly took upon himself for us.  And when Easter morning comes, embrace the victory of Jesus over death and the Cross.  For at the end of our own journey, that victory is for us too.