The Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C (1st Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Today we celebrate the end of the Christmas season, and that may make you ask yourself why we would celebrate it, especially when Christmas “ended” two weeks ago. In today’s readings God himself celebrates what is taking place in the Gospel: the Baptism of his Son in the river Jordan by St. John the Baptist. In today’s First Reading God speaks of Jesus as his servant who is about to begin something wonderful: his public life. He’s going to bring justice to the world, be a light for the nations, open the eyes of the blind, and free prisoners, and God is keeping his promise through Jesus’ mission on earth. In short, God is sending out the Savior today to get to work. During Christmas we celebrated the birth of the Savior. On today’s feast, the Baptism of the Lord, we’re celebrating him finishing his silent years in Nazareth and going out to preach salvation to the world.

In today’s Second Reading Peter rejoices that salvation is not just for the people of Israel, but for everyone who respects God and acts uprightly. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan he institutes a new kind of baptism. John talks about that baptism in the Gospel today as different from his: it is a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Peter in the Second Reading is speaking to Cornelius, who was the first non-Jew to be baptized in Church history. The Jews thought originally that the Savior would only come for the Jews, but then the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter and the Church through Cornelius’ situation that the Savior was coming for every nation that “fears God” (respects God) and “acts uprightly” (acts in a good way).

The Holy Spirit always works gradually. Cornelius had heard about Jesus and his promise of salvation, and had been praying for a sign. Peter was praying too, and they didn’t know each other at all. An angel came to Cornelius and told him to send men to find and bring Peter. Cornelius was a Roman centurion, and since he wasn’t a Jew, Peter wouldn’t have visited him unless the Holy Spirit had said it was okay in a dream, because Jews didn’t enter the homes of non-Jews. As Peter rejoices that the Savior has come for everyone, he recalls Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan as the beginning of doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil. So we celebrate today with God, with Peter, with Cornelius, and with everyone who has become Christian since. We celebrate that Jesus began to go out and do good, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and free those who are imprisoned by sin.

As we begin a new year, and the Christmas season concludes, Jesus’ private and public life show us it is time for us to get to work as well. In the Christmas season we’ve spent more time at home, resting, being with family and friends, receiving so many gifts, and getting ready to live the New Year better. It’s not a time for gloom and doom as we return to work, to school, to the daily grind: it’s time to show Our Lord we appreciate all he’s given us over the last year, and all he’s given us during the Christmas season. It’s time for us to get to work and get the word out about salvation. Cornelius heard about salvation from someone, long before he met St. Peter, and there are lots of Cornelius’ out there who are looking for what our faith has to offer. They are hungry for God.

Let’s thank Our Lord for the Christmas Season and the New Year that has just begun, keep moving forward on those New Year’s resolutions as a way to show gratitude to Our Lord for all the blessings he has poured out on us, pray for those who are suffering from hunger and war, and pray for all those Cornelius’ out there to find and love God, to do good, and to find salvation.

Readings: Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7; Psalm 104:1b–4, 24–25, 27–30; Acts 10:34–38; Luke 3:15–16, 21–22.

Holy Family, Cycle C

In today’s Gospel, after Mary and Joseph spent days searching for Jesus, only to find him in his “Father’s house”, what they don’t say to each other speaks volumes. Mary doesn’t say, “not another word out of you young man, get on that camel right now.” Joseph doesn’t say, “you are going to be sweeping the wood shop until the broom breaks.” Jesus doesn’t say, “I am twelve years old, and I happen to be the Son of God, so you just take care of the house and the wood shop and I’ll save the world, okay?” They didn’t understand completely why Jesus did what he did, but they loved and accepted it, and Mary guarded all these things in her heart. Jesus counted on them to understand and accept him, just like every good family does.

We all take our family for granted. “For granted” doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate them and show gratitude for all they’ve done, and are for us. A family is a gift, and our family is our family no matter what they do or don’t do on our behalf. We feel that all too well when we don’t respond to the love shown us by our family, or when we lose a member of our family unexpectedly and see what a hole that leaves in our life. We count on our family, and that reliance on our family reflects the reliance we should have on God. When we can’t count on our family, it’s hard for us to count on anything else, even God. We all know of truly tragic and heart-breaking family situations – divorce, children lost to drugs, squabbles over inheritances, misunderstandings, even betrayals – but even in those situations we don’t lose sight of the ideal which Sirach reminds us of in the First Reading: a father and mother set in honor and authority over their children, children revering and praying for their parents, obeying them and caring for them when they grow old, and the blessings God showers on children who do so. This model of mutual respect, help, and reliance is meant to be reflected in our society as well, so when it’s not lived in the family it’s no surprise that society suffers as a result. Our family is more than what they do or don’t do for us, and more than what they mean or don’t mean to us: they are our family. God’s given them to us.

The family God’s given us as a gift is the bedrock of love on which we build our love. Sunday in the octave of Christmas is about the Holy Family. Our Lord is telling us today that family is more than just something to take for granted. Our family ties, be they biological or adoptive, are the bedrock for love. They’re more than a simple hereditary or social obligation. We build on them by loving and being loved in return, and sometimes even loving when we’re not loved in return. Christ reveals God to us as Father. Not just as his Father, but as wanting to be Our Father as well. When we realize that we are chosen by God the Father as his adopted children, and as his creation, we see how a holy family should be, as St. Paul reminds us in the Second Reading: holy and beloved.

We’re made holy by sharing in the life of God, through our Baptism, and we are beloved because we have received the gift of life itself, no strings attached. We build our love on that bedrock of divine love by bearing with one another and forgiving each other when grievances come, just as the Lord has forgiven us for all those times we haven’t shown him the love he deserved. With a spirit of gratitude to God for the gift of life and the gift of his son we serve and love each other in our family, avoiding bitterness and provocations and disobedience. “Obedience” grates on ears today, in a world that’s so obsessed with autonomy and self-reliance, but in a family it means acknowledging the gift God has given us of someone we can rely on. We show gratitude by obeying, and it reminds us that being someone relied on can be a big sacrifice and responsibility as well.

Finally, we can’t forgot those who’d categorize their family experiences as more of a trauma than what we’ve considered today. God calls our loved ones to love, and sometimes they don’t respond to that call. It’s the mystery of human freedom and sin. He calls us to love as well, and when we consider Christ’s example we know our love can’t be tarnished by a lack of love from others. Don’t feel left out in the cold: the Holy Family always has room for you, and the Church is always praying for you. The bedrock of love is always there, and forgiveness, even when a loved one doesn’t show it, is the balm that will bring you peace and consolation. Don’t be afraid to say “I forgive,” and don’t be afraid to say “I’m sorry” either. It’s often the trigger for many people rediscovering that the bedrock of love on which their lives are built is not buried that deep after all. It doesn’t mean that you’ll forget, and many times it doesn’t mean that what happened will hurt any less, but it will give you a peace that the world can’t give.

Let’s pray today that families be united in love, like the Holy Family, that those separated by misunderstandings and squabbles may find reconciliation, and that the whole Christian family may be re-united to God the Father through his son.

Readings: Sirach 3:2–6, 12–14; Psalm 84:2–3, 5–6, 9–10; Colossians 3:12–21; Luke 2:41–52.

3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)

The Third Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday because of the first word of the entrance antiphon. Gaudete is Latin for rejoice; each reading today is an invitation to joy because the Lord is near or in our midst. In today’s Gospel people are flocking to John because expectation is building that a change for the better is at hand. People from all walks of life are approaching John and asking advice on the right thing to do. They’re willing to share and willing to be fair in their dealings with others. A better society is at hand, which is why they start asking themselves whether John is the Christ.

John tells them that the Christ is coming and promises something even better than what he is calling for: a salutary shake-up. Winnowing fans were used to toss grain and straw into the air: the straw and chaff would blow away, leaving the grain to fall back onto the floor. The “grain” is everyone and everything good and just, while the “chaff” is burned as bad and useless. Even if a shake-up was coming, it was for the sake of good, not evil.

Just as John is preparing the way and telling them the Lord is close, so Advent has now reached it’s fourth week. Let’s follow John’s advice: let’s share with others and strive to be more fair to them in this Advent season.

Readings: Zephaniah 3:14–18a; Isaiah 12:2–6; Philippians 4:4–7; Gospel Luke 3:10–18.

2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C

Advent is a time of penitence and conversion, but one characterized by Messianic hope: our penance and conversion are about to experience a boost and a means to bear fruit in the birth of Our Lord at Christmas. As St. Paul describes it in today’s Second Reading: “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Our Lord enables us to definitively leave our sinful past and ways behind, and that is a cause for joyful hope.

As Baruch in today’s First Reading exhorts the Israelites to get ready to change from their garments of penance to those of joy, we know that soon the sorrowful purple vestments and the embargo on the “Glory Be” in Mass,will give way to the white vestments of our Sunday best and the Glory of the birth of Our Lord. In the Gospel today the Holy Spirit mobilizes St. John the Baptist to get the people of Israel ready: Advent gets us ready. Not only do we reach out to God; in the Incarnation God also reaches out to us. Through penance and striving for conversion we’re reaching out to God so that he can reach out to us; we can try to take his hand to help us up, or we can avoid it. The choice is ours.

Conversion and salvation are within reach. Let’s prepare a good path for Our Lord.

Readings: Baruch 5:1–9; Psalm 126:1–6; Philippians 1:4–6, 8–11; Gospel Luke 3:1–6.

1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle C

Today there’s a change in color in the liturgy to celebrate a change of season. It’s not just that the weather is getting colder: today we begin a new season in the liturgical year, and a new liturgical year. Yesterday, the end of a liturgical year, symbolized the end of time when Christ will come to definitively overthrow sin and death so that we can live forever with him and everyone we love. Last Sunday we celebrated that by celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King.

This Sunday we are beginning the season of Advent. “Advent” means “coming.” Last Sunday we celebrated the Second Coming of Christ, which is going to come in the future. During Advent we prepare to celebrate the First Coming of Christ: Christ’s first coming happened on Christmas. Actually, it happened at the Annunciation, which was when he became man, which is why it is also called the feast of the Incarnation, but he was born at Christmas, which is also called the feast of the Nativity. During the liturgical year we celebrate all the mysteries of Christ’s life, from the beginning of time, even before he became man and came to earth, until the end of time, when he will return in glory. We also celebrate the whole history of salvation during the liturgical year. In Advent we celebrate the start of the history of salvation from the beginning, but before Christ’s First Coming to earth at the Incarnation.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is talking about his Second Coming, but the question for both Comings of Christ is the same question: Are you ready? How do you answer that question? It’s going to influence how you live Advent a lot. Is it “finally!”? Is it “yeah, right…”? Is it “yikes”? Those answers are not answers to what gifts you’re going to get, what family members you’re going to see, or how much you’re going to eat: they’re answers to how you are getting ready for Christ’s coming at Christmas.

The Gospel today reminds us that he is coming at an unexpected moment and an unexpected way. For the Israelites, that was nothing new. They didn’t imagine that the Messiah, the Savior of the World, would come in such an unexpected way: as a little baby in a manger. What’s your response to the Savior of the World coming as a little baby and lying in a manger? Maybe the question “Are you ready?” takes on a different light when you consider how he is coming. For the Israelites, the coming of the Messiah was going to be at the end of time: he was coming to defeat all their enemies and clean house. But then he came as a little baby, way ahead of schedule. How did they respond? Some saw a little baby in a manger and said, “he’s not the Messiah, come on….” Others didn’t even believe in a Messiah to begin with, and didn’t change their opinion: “yeah, sure, the Savior of the World…”

Christians are often on the fence: Some have the same attitude as the Israelites and the skeptics, but others are saying, “yikes,” because the Second Coming is all they have on their mind, and they know they’re not ready. At Christmas we’ll be celebrating the fact that God is with us as one of us. We have to do our part, we have to change our lives, but helped by him, sorry for our sins, but joyful in knowing he is near, ready to save us from them.

Let’s get ready for Christ’s coming by rejoicing. The Lord is giving you a whole liturgical season – three weeks — to reflect on what you’ve done and could have done better so that he can help you draw closer to him. Ask him to help you keep him in the center of your preparation for Christmas. Christmas is going to be a time for family, friends, and rest, but it is also a time for rejoicing, because the Savior of the World, our Savior, is going to be born. Let’s live Advent with a spirit of gratitude, contrition, and joyous expectation.

Readings: Jeremiah 33:14–16; Psalm 25:4–5, 8–10, 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2; Luke 21:25–28, 34–36. See also 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.