We are excited to celebrate July 4th. We are grateful for our country, and we want to be good citizens. Thomas Jefferson on July 4th, 1826 wrote in a letter: “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be ... the signal of arousing men to burst the chains ... and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. ...For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."
The best things we can do to become better citizens is to be better Christians. Every year around July 4th, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops invites us to pray for religious freedom. We are excited to celebrate July 4th, but we need to hold onto that spirit every day, every aspect of our life.
This weekend’s readings speak of the gift of life, both physical and spiritual, that God has given us. They urge and challenge us to be grateful for our health in body and soul and to use God’s gifts of life and health responsibly.
In the first reading from the book of Wisdom we heard that God does not make death. What is death? Every living being dies. What is our experience about death? Fearful…..isn’t it? This death God does not invent.
Now let us go back to book of Wisdom for the answer to where death comes from. It reads, “For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it.” Man had rejected God’s gift and misused his freedom. As a result of his sin, man no longer shared in God’s nature.
The Gospel tells the story about the raising of a twelve year old girl from the dead. When Jesus came to the house, they told him that she was dead. Jesus disregards the message about death. He says do not be afraid, but have faith. Jesus sees death as a falling asleep. Little girl, arise, Talitha Kaum.
Jesus brought numerous people to life. Ultimately, like Paul says in the second reading, “the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the sacrificial love of Jesus restores man’s ability to receive life of God.
God did not make death. He does not cause evil. He cries with us, bawls with us in the face of the horror of the world. But He is not defeated. He restores His life to those who accept Him.
This weekend we are celebrating nativity of John the Baptist. The Liturgy usually celebrates the day of their death, their birthday to heaven. There are only two exceptions: Mary the mother of Jesus, and John the Baptist. The annunciation of John the Baptist to Zechariah in the Temple, Vigil Mass Gospel, and the naming of the child with the name provided by God, Sunday’s Gospel, points out that God had a special mission for John to fulfill.
John the Baptist's life was fueled by one burning passion – to point others to Jesus Christ and to the coming of God's kingdom. Scripture tells us that John was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15, 41) by Christ himself, whom Mary had just conceived by the Holy Spirit. When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, John leapt in the womb of Elizabeth as they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). The fire of the Spirit dwelt in John, and he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness prior to his ministry. When Jesus and John met first time, John leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb. There comes the first preparation. John’s motto of true humility and commitment to the Lord’s service. John brought to the world that light and joy that he experienced the first time.
John’s message was similar to the message of the Old Testament prophets who told the people of God for their unfaithfulness and who tried to awaken true repentance in them. John inaugurates a widespread ministry of baptism for the forgiveness of sin by challenging the self-righteous people to repentance. He is a central figure to prepare the way for Jesus and introduction of the Messiah to the world. John the Baptist proclaimed that he must decrease and the Lord must increase.
When John was born, his father, Zechariah, his voice restored, proclaimed a great truth, “You, my child, shall be called the Prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” The Canticle of Zechariah, is prayed every day as part of the Morning Prayers in Divine Office. This prayer reminds us that we all are called to proclaim Jesus Christ. It’s challenging, isn’t it?
Father's Day was near when I brought my three-year-old son, Tyler, to the card store. Inside, I showed him the cards for dads and told him to pick one. When I looked back, Tyler was picking up one card after another, opening them up and quickly shoving them back into slots, every which way. "Tyler, what are you doing?" I asked. "Haven't you found a nice card for Daddy yet?" "No," he replied. "I'm looking for one with money in it."
Five weeks ago we honored our moms. Today, on this Father's Day, we are doing the same, offering our dads – living or dead – on the altar of God during this Holy Mass, invoking our heavenly Father’s blessings on them. Today we celebrate, congratulate and pray for the men who continue to reflect the divine qualities of fatherhood as they lovingly establish, nourish and maintain family. Pope Francis says, “I have great love for Saint Joseph because he is a man of silence and strength.” St. Joseph is the patron of fathers, families, and the Universal Church. Pope Francis says that faith does not distance us from the world. On the contrary, it brings us closer. For that reason, St. Joseph is a model father for the Christian family. He overcame the difficulties of life because he rested with God. Fathers are a blessing and we thank them for blessing us with lives of dedication, endurance, and love. Happy Father’s Day!!
This weekend we hear two farming stories. The first reading from the book of Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord would take a tender shoot from a cedar tree and turn it into a noble cedar, the people recognized in this prophecy that growth is always in God's hands. Cedar grows best in mountainous regions. Mountains were also symbolic of getting closer to God and further from the influences of the world. Israel, a nation in exile at the time of this prophecy, would become the nation that the whole world would look to with respect. The renewed nation, growing with the blessings of God, will be a blessing for many peoples. The Savior would come from Israel. Every kind of bird, all the nations, would live under the tree of Israel.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus provides another description of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed, which, once planted, grows into a large tree. The smallest of beginnings need not discourage us. God works wonders in us. Jesus invites us to allow the kingdom of God to blossom and live in our hearts.
God does wonders. The question is, do we believe and recognize it? How was our faith ten or twenty years ago, and what does it look like today? I am sure it has changed for everyone. The reading tells us our God is a God of growth. We need to recognize the God’s work in our faith lives. In our second reading, St. John reminds us that: “We walk by faith, and not by sight.” May all of us grow in our faith and God continue to do wonders through us.
My trip to India: Thank you everyone for holding me in prayer. I had a wonderful time with family and friends. May is supposed to be peak summer, but this year the rain started early and cooled it down quite a bit. So it was a very pleasant time for me. Thank you.