Monthly Archives: January 2013

Will You Proclaim the Kingdom of God?

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Christ Preaching in the Synagogue at Nazareth (14th century; Visoki Decani Monastery, Kosovo)

Christ Preaching in the Synagogue at Nazareth (14th century; Visoki Decani Monastery, Kosovo)

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Luke speaks to us about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and His return to Nazareth, where he grew up. In the synagogue, where everyone knew him, he reads to them from the Prophet Isaiah. After he has read, he sits down and everyone is looking at him. He then says:

“Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus tells the people that his mission as Messiah is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Jesus is the one that the chosen people have been waiting for – He is the Good News. The best thing that can happen for the people has just happened. The kingdom of God is made present to them because Jesus the Word of God is in their midst.

If you continue to read from this Gospel, Chapter 4, you will see that “…all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” They also asked, ‘Isn’t this the son of Joseph?’ And from there, it goes down hill. How can this man, who has been their neighbor, claim to be the Messiah without the proof of miracles?! As we know from other Gospel accounts, even when Jesus does perform miracles and speaks with unheard authority, few put faith in Him. He is the Good News for all time, and is met by rejection – especially by his own people.

The Good News of God may not always seem like Good News to us, either. The Kingdom of God is opposed to the ways of the world. The world and what it has to offer have a powerful attraction on us, more now than ever before because the world is becoming more attractive to our senses and, our appetites keep increasing. Most of what the world has to offer is good, but the challenge is to keep everything its proper place. If God isn’t first in our life, then other things – people or ideas can become an obstacle to recognizing God in our midst.

The truth is: God is in our midst, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. One sign of God’s presence would be the kind of justice and charity present in a community as Jesus reads about from the prophet Isaiah. But even if we don’t recognize God’s presence in the community or people around us, we can humbly invite Christ to dwell within us and then bring his presence to our surroundings.

Billy Graham

Billy Graham

This is how we can be a light in the world to bring hope to others. It’s a choice we must make.

In recent times non-Catholics have been more effective than Catholics in encouraging people to make a concrete choice for God – which they call being ‘born again.’ About thirteen years ago, as a representative of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, I attended a Billy Graham Rally at the Alamodome. They wanted members of all the local churches to be present because they knew thousands of people would come and they wanted to be sure that as many as possible would be connected to a church.

We were instructed on how to approach people and pray with them as they would come forward after Billy Graham’s message.

Thousands of people did come forward who wanted to be connected to God. We approached them, asked them to commit their lives to God, and then prayed with them. They then filled out a card with their name, address and phone number which was sent to the Church of their choice. We did receive some of those cards at our parish, and I personally know of at least one person who went through RCIA to become Catholic because of that effort.

As Catholics we have been born again, by water and the spirit through Baptism and we have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit which we begin to discover as we mature in the faith. However, the truth is we must make an adult decision to be committed to Christ and to live a faithful relationship with the Holy Trinity. It’s not a one-time thing, but a process of ongoing conversion. As Catholics we are greatly blessed because of the abundant access we have to the grace we need, to live this relationship through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.

There was a Lutheran minister who said something to the effect:

“The Catholic Church is a sleeping giant, waiting to be awakened.”

If we would awaken and use the gifts God has given us, it would be obvious that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

What Toys Taught Me About Discernment

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by Daniel Quintero, former Media Ministry Assistant

Recently, I attended a Vocations Retreat. Each speaker was unanimous: we have to find God first, and through that we find ourselves.

This simple idea is one that many in our society have failed to grasp. As I reflected on what the speakers said,  I couldn’t help but remember learning this message from one of my favorite television shows and my favorite movie.

In the television series The Twilight Zone, there exist an episode entitled ‘5 Characters in Search of an Exit.’ In this episode, five individuals are trapped in a circular room surrounded by a metal wall with the only light coming from the top. The characters have no idea where they are, what is on top, and they have no way of reaching it. But it is open, and thus their only means of hope. The individuals in this story have no names, no identities. In fact, that is the dilemma of the story, characters lost not only in a physical spot, but also in who they are. Their only notion of uniqueness is the character term for what they do. There is the clown, the ballerina, the major, the hobo, and the bagpipe player. Later in the episode, the major had the idea for everyone to climb on top of each other in hopes of escaping from above. They all stood on each other’s shoulders and the major made his way over and out of the room and into a pile of snow. (Spoiler) Then the camera pans out and we realize the major is a doll. The ballerina and the rest of the characters are dolls. And the dark room was a box for dolls to be collected and given to orphans. As the major doll is put back into the box, we, the audience, see tears flow from the ballerina’s face.

These toys were sad, lost, and confused. Contrasts that with the toys in the Toy Story series. Woody, Jesse, Rex, Hamm: they all know they are toys. They know they are created in the image and likeness of toys. Thus, they know their identity as toys and what they are called to do. Even Buzz Lighter finds greater peace when he realizes he is not actually a space ranger. Their purpose is to make kids happy, to be their friend. With that came certain responsibilities. They couldn’t come alive with kids around or else they would traumatize them, as they did with Sid in Toy Story one. They also had to be selfless, staying with the kids that loved them even if there was a chance the kids would outgrow them. But they did it because that was the purpose for them as toys. And for the most part, they were happy.

The dolls in the Twilight Zone however did not know they were toys. They had lost a true sense of their identity and what they were made for. Thus, they created in themselves what the Clown in the show entitled a “hell.” For a loss of identity in a confusing environment can bring the least peace of mind and the greatest temporal dissilousionment.

Compare that now to society today. Socrates asked us to know ourselves, but society tells us to just be ourselves. Yet how can one be oneself if he has yet to truly discern who that oneself is. We are all created in the image and likeness of God. Our purpose here is to know, love and serve Him. Many are confused, feeling restless of heart. Thus, even if one is being defined by what one does, it may by miles away from knowing who one is.

As Christians, as Catholics, as people, we are all called to begin that discernment to finding God. To know we are made in His image and thus to know we have a purpose and an identity that flows from it. To know we are not just characters in confusion, lost dolls in search of an exit. But instead we are individuals with a purpose. Let us strive to be as mindful of that purpose as the toys are in Toy Story.
“Reach for the Sky!”- Sheriff Woody

My Visit to the Jordan River

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This Sunday, we heard about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. I want to share with you a reflection that I wrote over two years ago while in the Holy Land. On a cloudy November day, I visited the Jordan River:

The Jordan River is not a spectacular scene worthy of a movie set. It doesn’t have extraordinarily blue water nor is it surrounded by fantastic rock formations, flora or fauna. It’s really just a river. (Click for today’s photos.)

And yet, God chose it for His own baptism, and for the initiation of the Sacrament of Baptism. It was at the River Jordan that the Holy Trinity was first revealed to the world (see Luke 3:21-22).

Everyone is loved by God. That’s without question. So what’s the big deal with baptism? Isn’t it some sort of sign that the person is a “child of God”? Isn’t everyone a child of God? What happened to me when I was baptized? Why be baptized in the first place?

Walking through the wilderness today, after having visited the site of John the Baptist’s birth, I tried to imagine John in the flesh. I’ve always heard him described as the ‘wild man’ prophet, Jesus’ cousin (see Luke 1). So this wild man was “crying out” a message of repentence and baptism for the forgiveness of sins – what a remarkable individual. Only the Spirit of God could compel someone to live such a radically simple lifestyle, totally dependent upon God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers the questions above. Baptism is “the seal of eternal life” (CCC #1274) and “constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn” (CCC #1271). Beyond that, baptism is where God graces us with the theological virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit, and empowers us to live a moral life (CCC #1266). This is why we are baptized, with Jesus setting the example for us. He gives us a glimpse of the life that we can have, both here and in Heaven, through baptism. By this public sign and sacrament, persons become united to God and the faithful in a new and powerful way.

Of course, the sacraments are mysteries. If anyone knew this best, it must have been St. John the Baptist. He relentlessly sought God in his life and for others’ lives. He unashamedly proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. Still, he knew that Jesus – his own cousin – was beyond his understanding:

…One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:16)

Today we renewed our baptismal vows at the site where Jesus was baptized. How often do you think about the significance of your baptism? Do you realize that it has changed you forever? Are you lead by the Holy Spirit like St. John the Baptist? In what ways? What habits do you have which do not proclaim the coming of Jesus?

Ask the Holy Spirit to renew the gifts that God gave you at your baptism. While you’re at it, ask St. John to pray for your fervor and commitment to Christ.

Are you listening to God?

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Sunset on green Field Landscape

Be still and know that I am God… (Psalm 46:10)

When was the last time you spent quiet, unhurried time alone with God? Time spent focusing on no other request than to be in communion with Him?

I recently spent two days in solitude at a quiet retreat location surrounded by nature. It was a great gift to myself and I came back renewed and refreshed. The busyness and noise which can so easily strangle my inner being, was cast off in this quiet, still place.

Communion with God is the greatest need of our soul and vital communion requires that we remove ourselves from the noise and distractions around us (cell phones, television, radio, honking cars and endless activities) and venture boldly into the silence. But retreating into silence does not come easily to everyone. Many people are afraid of silence for it is in silence that we are forced to confront our innermost nature.

There is a deep inner calling within each of us to simply “be present” in His presence. Rather than asking and presenting a list of things for God to fix in our world, spend time simply seated at His feet, gazing up into His face…asking for God…loving God…praising God.

Is the Holy Family a realistic model for us?

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"The Holy Family with the Infant St. John" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

“The Holy Family with the Infant St. John” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The Holy Family was the happiest family in the history of humanity, not because they were given special privileges, but because of their faithfulness and humility. We might expect the mother of God and his foster father to live as royalty as they cared for the child Jesus. However, they had the same living conditions, concerns and trials as any other working-class family. As faithful Jews, they did not consider themselves above the law, but instead were obedient to the letter of the law. Mary and Joseph’s obedience to the Word of God was their source of hope. They in turn would teach Jesus to be obedient even as he was beginning to discover his purpose in the plan of his Heavenly Father.

This faithfulness and obedience that was the source of happiness for the holy family is also God’s plan for each of us. The holy family is an example of how we all should live our lives close to God. It’s in our family that we should first learn about God and the importance of daily prayer.

The most important gift that parents can give their children is that their children know without a doubt that their parents love each other and that they are loved by their parents. This gives the children the security they need, especially in their developing years. It is also important that children see their parents pray together and are taught by their parents how to pray.

How Can We Join God’s Family?

When a child is baptized, the parents agree to be the first teachers of the way of our faith. In baptism, we all become children of God and part of His family, which is the Church. The Church that Jesus Christ founded is also called our Mother because it is in her that God’s specific plan of salvation unfolds for His family. It is through this Church that we receive the Word of God and the sacraments which allow us to encounter Jesus Christ in an intimate and personal way, especially when we receive him in the Holy Eucharist.

"The Last Communion of St. Joseph Calasanz" by Francisco Goya (1819)

“The Last Communion of St. Joseph Calasanz” by Francisco Goya (1819)

Now that we are adults – no matter if we are married or single – whether we live alone or as a family, we are members of the family of God. We call ourselves Christian because we claim Jesus Christ as our Savior and we agree to be his disciples. This is no casual thing; it requires each of us to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.” No matter if we should gain the whole world, we can only be truly happy now and for all eternity by being a faithful witness to what Christ has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures.

The wonderful thing about God Our Father is that no matter who we are or what we have done He longs for us to come to Him with a humble heart so that we may experience His mercy and love. It is for this purpose that He has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yes, it does take humility to confess our sins to Jesus Christ through his minister the priest, but then it is Jesus Christ who through his priest says, “Your sins are forgiven,” and then gives us grace to help us overcome sin.

Making Our Home a Domestic Church

In the month of October, we began the Year of Faith which continues until November 2013. The purpose of this year is to help all of us to re-focus our lives on what is really important so that we can be filled with hope and peace. We are encouraged to follow the example of the Holy Family and live our lives in communion with God. Our homes should become a domestic church where we pray with the people we love and grow together in the faith by reading the Scriptures, the lives of the saints, and the teachings of our Mother the Church, given to us for our sanctification.

There is no one on this earth who has a greater possibility of having the experience of being a member of the family of God than those of us who belong to the Church He founded. We have everything we need to live a life close to God if we so chose. It begins with the desire to place God first in our lives and then follow the example of Mary, Joseph and all the saints who have gone before us. There is no shortcut to becoming holy; the path is the same as it always has been.

Mary and Joseph, pray for us that we will receive the desire to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ, so that we may be truly happy now and for all eternity.

This blog was originally preached by Deacon Tom Fox as his homily for The Feast of the Holy Family (C) at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.