Friday, December 28, 2012

1 John 1:5-7: God is Light

5 Now this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.  6 If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

The above verses from St. John’s epistle jumped out at me both when I read them and when my pastor later proclaimed them during Mass. 
During my fallen-away years (there are twenty-eight of them), I went around occasionally thinking and, if asked, professing that I had faith in Jesus Christ.  My actions, however, spoke differently.  I did not attend Mass, was reluctant to raise my kids in the faith, and after trying to seek out protestant denominations that fit my perception of the truth, failed to consider seeking God at all. My thoughts and actions reflected that I could do life on my own.  If I were a good dad and husband, I thought, and I passively believed in Jesus, then that was good enough.   I tried hard as a father and husband, was mostly honest in my day-to-day dealings with people, and worked diligently at my occupation.  Why wasn’t that walking in the light of Christ’s fellowship?  Upon reflection, however, my "sometimes honesty" was really situationally advantageous dishonesty, my hard work as a teacher and father was falsely attributed to self achievement, and my being a good husband was more on terms of service to self than cherishing and serving my wife.  Certain material items became my focus, desire, and obsession, leading to an emptiness that could not be filled or satisfied. I was blinded by my own poor choices and refusals of God’s invitation to faith and love. I walked in darkness and refused to act in truth.
I am so thankful that Jesus Christ has given me the eyes to see that fellowship is more than empty words.  Fellowship with God begins as a proclamation of faith in Jesus.  That proclamation, moreover, is fulfilled by acts of love.  Fellowship is following Christ’s teaching, love, and self-sacrifice by radiating that truth to the world. It is bearing the cross of discipleship, giving myself for the love of others, and living the truth as revealed by Jesus. Fellowship is loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Fellowship is loving my neighbor as I love myself for the love of Jesus. It is choosing to walk in Jesus’ light, and walking is taking my faith and putting it into loving action. 
I pray that we all act in accordance with God’s love and always walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.  May God bless you. Let us remember to always walk in the light.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Luke 1:18-20: Zechariah's Fault; Our Fault

From The Holy Gospel of Saint Luke 1:18-20

[18] And Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." [19] And the angel answered him, "I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time."

       Today’s gospel grabs me, especially the above section regarding Zechariah’s reply to the angel Gabriel. Contemplatively, I look at this passage and consider the situation as if I were in the temple of the Lord in front of the burning incense. Would I have been scared? You bet! That the angel Gabriel, an angel who stands in the presence of God and who in the next lines appears to Our Lady at the annunciation, stands in front of Zechariah and gives him the information regarding his future son John the Baptist’s birth is reason for awe-struck fear. This is a story that I have read before but took at face value and moved on to the annunciation to Our Lady. However, Zechariah’s epiphany is quite important not only to the preparing for the coming of our Lord, but to understanding ourselves and how we react in the presence of God’s message.
       Zechariah is a righteous man who is devoted to God. He, like many of us who embrace our faith, is heartily trying to live a life according to God’s will. But he loses faith at a crucial time. Zechariah is face-to-face with one of God’s key messengers and questions Gabriel’s validity. How can someone so upright and devoted to the rules and ordinances of the Lord lose his faith? Let’s think of our own trials. Aren't there times when we align our lives with Christ and express our love to Him in any way we can, when, all of a sudden, something happens that is out of our paradigm of understanding? Take that moment, and our fallen humanity, and we have a moment of shaken faith.
No matter how hard we try, it is never through our own abilities that we can be righteous and “earn” our way to holiness. We are flawed people susceptible to our human weaknesses, even the most righteous and blameless of us. (By the way, I am on the opposite end of righteous.) We slip up; we fall. It is only through the gifts, blessings, and graces of God that we are strengthened. Zechariah slips, for he is stricken with doubt, and Gabriel, through the loving grace of God, temporarily takes Zachariah’s speech. It is interesting how Zechariah loses his speech in order to open his eyes.
       I pray that we all are blessed with the fortitude, wisdom, and grace from our Lord to always follow His will and not our own.  For as the angel Gabriel says to Our Lady in Luke 1:37, "With God all things are possible."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Reflection on Fr. Walter Ciszek's "Albertyn"

      In reading the first chapter of Walter Ciszek’s He Leadeth Me, the following section grabbed me:
And so it is in each of our lives.  It is a sad commentary on our human frailty that we fail to think of God or see him behind the comfortable routines of our day-to-day existence. It is only in a crisis that we remember him and turn to him, often as querulous and questioning children.  It is in moments of loss or family tragedy or personal despair that men turn to him and ask, “Why?” – indeed we are almost forced to turn to him, again and at last, for help and for support and consolation.  Mysteriously, God in his providence must make use of our tragedies to remind our fallen human nature of his presence and his love, of the constancy of his concern and care for us.  It is not vindictiveness on his part; he does not send us tragedies to punish us for so long forgetting him.  The failing is on our part.  He is always present and ever faithful; it is we who fail to see him or look for him in times of ease and comfort, to remember he is there, shepherding and guarding and providing the many things we come to count on and expect to sustain us every day.  Yet we fail to remember that, comfortable as we are in our established order and the status quo, as day follows day.   (Ciszek 23)
     Contextually, Fr. Ciszek is discussing the 1939 Russian invasion of a small town, Albertyn, Poland and how it destroyed people’s ability to practice their faith and live freely.  People were comfortable and thought little of God while in that comfort.  Once the Russians invaded, everything changed.  But the depth of this message goes further.  
     How many times do we take our lives for granted and ignore God’s love and blessings?  Many of us truly believe that our achievements are due to our own actions and nothing else.  We walk around in our lives of spending, eating, and working and think nothing of God until we need him to fix something.  Only when we are broken, desperate, and can’t seem to remedy the hurt ourselves do we reach for God, finally, for “help and support and consolation.” The mystery Fr. Ciszek speaks of is at work in our world every day through “God in his providence” making “use of our tragedies to remind our fallen human nature of his presence and his love.”  When we hurt, of course, it is not God’s will.  For God “does not send us tragedies to punish us for so long forgetting him”; instead, it is our selfishness, worldliness, and lack of humility that is at fault.  God is always there, and due to our selfishness, we don’t care enough to look for him.  God is the one who provides us our daily bread, not ourselves.  Through faith, we need only collect a days worth of manna.  God will always provide.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

John 13:12-17: Walking in the Footsteps of Christ

      In reading John 13, I am enamored by Christ’s service to his disciples.  As Jesus prepares to enter His passion, he removes his outer garments and cleanses the filthiest physical part of each disciple, their feet.  Using a towel around his waist, our Lord proceeds to then dry each foot.  It is sometimes difficult for me to comprehend the limitless servitude of Jesus, for even Saint Peter questions our Lord about cleaning his feet.  But Jesus is about total self giving, even when we are incapable of understanding why.  This self sacrifice and love, however, is something Christ gives to each of us every day, for He cleanses all of our sins, the filthiest part of our humanity.  The Gospel reads as follows:
"So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger – greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it." (John 13:12-17)
     During today’s’ Mass, our parish priest delivered a homily and referred to an NYPD police officer that bought a homeless man a pair of boots and socks.  Drawing parallels to my morning Scripture reading, I looked up the story about the homeless man and police officer.  A section of the article states:
“The officer walked to a Sketchers store on 42nd Street and shelled out $75 for insulated winter boots and thermal socks. He returned to the man, knelt down and put the footwear on him.”