We all get excited about the birth of a baby. The entire family prepares for that great moment. At the birth of a baby, everyone rejoices. As a priest, I am blessed to baptize them. So many times I've enjoyed watching young couples bringing their new baby to the Church. They are so excited about the birth of their child, so grateful to God for this child that they cannot wait to bring the child before the Lord, to thank him. I really believe that is what Mary and Joseph were doing when they walked into the Temple with Jesus. Forty days after Christmas on February 2nd we celebrate the feast of The Presentation of Lord! This year it falls on Sunday.
Why do we celebrate this feast? If we want to understand this feast, we need to know a couple of Jewish laws. In the book of Exodus, chapter 13:2 says, “Consecrate to me every firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the Israelites, whether of human being or beast, belongs to me.” Then Exodus 13:14, Moses says, “When your son asks you later on, ‘What does this mean?’ you will tell him, ‘With a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of a house of slavery.”
In Leviticus 12:6 Lord says to Moses, “When the days of her purification for a son or for a daughter are fulfilled, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a yearling lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or a turtledove for a purification offering.”
Beside knowing these two laws, the first reading from the book of Malachi could give us a further explanation. During the Babylonian exile, the Temple of Solomon was destroyed. After the Babylonian exile the Jews built a modest temple. They were lazy in their duties of religious responsibilities. There was a great need for someone to bring back them to the true love of God. The prophet foretold that God loved his people, so God; he would come to the temple to cleanse and purify the people.
In the Gospel of Luke, we see the fulfillment of the Old Testament. According to the law, Mary and Joseph offer sacrifices for the purification of Mary as well as for baby Jesus. Through the coming of Jesus, any further animal sacrifice is eliminated.
After Jesus' birth, Mary fulfills the Jewish right of purification after childbirth. Since she could not afford the customary offering of a lamb, she gives instead two pigeons as an offering of the poor. Like all godly parents, Mary and Joseph raised their son in the fear and wisdom of God. He, in turn, was obedient to them and grew in wisdom and grace.
Simeon, like all of us, wants to hold the new baby. When he does, inspired by the Holy Spirit he prophesied that Jesus was to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel."
Presentation of the Lord and celebration of world day the consecrated life shows the importance of being the salt of the world. The religious men and women did great work for the church and the world. We know from our own experience with Sisters of Francis, Precious Blood Fathers or Benedictine Fathers. Their dedication made a difference in St. Anthony Catholic School and Parish, Immaculate Conception and St. Francis parishes. So this celebration reminds us to pray for them and for all the religious and at the same time pray for vocation. We had and have many vocations from our cluster.
At the same time, it is an invitation for each one of us to reflect on our own baptismal call. Do we recognize the indwelling presence of the Lord with us which we received at our Baptism? Do we share our faith with others?
Tourists were visiting the famous Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. While they were below ground in the giant cave, the lights went out. Among those trapped in the darkness were two children: an eight-year-old boy and five-year-old sister.
The situation was scary, especially for children. Suddenly the little girl began to cry. The eight-year-old brother was heard to say, “don’t worry, Amy. There is a man up there who knows how to turn the lights on again.”
The story is a beautiful illustration of the prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading. It is the same prophesy Matthew applies to the coming of Jesus in today’s gospel: ‘the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.’
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah promised a great light for the people of Israel, especially to the people of Zebulun and Naphtali. During the time of Isaiah, Israel was divided into two parts: the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians came into northern Israel and scattered them and some of them were forced to intermarry. The descendants of these intermarriages were called Samaritans.
In Jesus’ time whenever the Jews had to go to the south to north or vice versa, they didn’t go through the Samaria or intermingled with them. We see Jesus later going through the Samaria, talking to the people and as a Jew facing the resistance.
Zebulun and Naphtali were also affected by the Assyrian exile and this weekend readings, the promise of the prophet Isaiah a great light for the people of Zebulun and Naphtali, and in the Gospel Jesus fulfills the promise. Jesus began to preach and invited the people to repent. Jesus said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." An invitation to embrace the light: Christ the Light.
In the second part of the Gospel, Jesus invites four of the Apostles and told them they have a great mission to bring the Good News to ends of the earth. Jesus commissioned them to be fishers of men.
Pope Francis invites us to celebrate the third Sunday of ordinary time to celebrate as The Sunday of The Word of God. In his Apostolic letter “Aperuit Illis,” Pope writes, “Devoting a specific Sunday of the liturgical year to the word of God can enable the Church to experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world.”
At the end of every Mass, we are commissioned and send out to share the Good News. This year, let us give emphasis to learn the scripture, so we will have a deep understanding and ability to share with others.
Behold, Lamb of God…
Once upon a time, there was a boy who spent many hours building a model sailboat. When he put it in the local river, however, it moved away from him quickly. He chased it along the bank, but the strong wind and current carried the boat away. The heartbroken boy knew how hard he would have to work to build another sailboat. Downriver, a man found the beautiful boat, took it to town and sold it to a toy store. Later, the boy was walking through town and noticed the boat in the store window. He explained the situation, but the shopkeeper didn't believe him and said that the only way to get the boat back was to buy it. The boy wanted it back so much that he did exactly that. Then he looked at the boat and said, "Little boat, now you're twice mine: I made you and I bought you."
God created us in his image and likeness. And when we were lost He came to bring us back, He paid with His blood. Today John the Baptist introduces Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Christ as Lamb of God is a title familiar to us.
The first place we come upon the concept of the Lamb of God is in the 53rd chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Although this was written six hundred years before Jesus, it describes the feelings of God’s people as they look at Jesus on the cross. It’s short, so let me quote it:
“It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole; by his stripes, we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.
Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers; he was silent and opened not his mouth.”
“Lamb of God” for Jews, this brings a familiar image. The phrase 'Lamb of God' was not new; it was a reference to the Passover lamb, the lamb in Exodus which was slain and whose blood set the people free from slavery in Egypt. Every year at Passover the Jews recalled this event, and a lamb was slaughtered in the Temple. Here in Jesus, says John the Baptist, we have the real "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." This phrase also echoed Isaiah's prophecy about the Suffering Servant: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" (53:5).
The ancient instructions for killing and eating the Passover lamb said, "You must not break any bone of it" (Ex 12:46). And so, John says, the soldiers did not break Jesus' legs as he hung on the Cross but pierced him instead with a lance. Later, near the end of the century, in John's apocalyptic vision he saw "between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered" (Rev 5:6) that is, dead and raised up again.
In the Eucharist, at "the breaking of the bread" we proclaim the Baptist’s testimony. Our traditional fraction anthem is the Agnus Dei – “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has mercy on us/grant us peace.” In this prayer, we give expression to our deepest understanding of the identity and purpose of Jesus Christ as our Lamb and Lord. By his life of love and sacrifice, we believe and affirm that he is the one who came and continues to come into a broken life/world to take our sins upon himself.
Thank You! I would like to express gratitude to everyone who participated in the Ministry Survey last weekend, and if you were not in church, please consider filling out one now. They are available at the entrances. Everyone’s participation brings vibrant life to our ministries. Thank You!
Johnny's Mother looked out the window and noticed him "playing church" with their cat. He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later, she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water. She called out, "Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!" Johnny looked up at her and said, "He should have thought about that before he joined my church."
Do you remember your baptism? Most of us don’t. Once I was baptizing a baby. When I poured the water on his head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he turned his head and looked at me with a question “where is this coming from?” In another baptism, a baby was ready to jump in the baptismal font and play. What did you do at your baptism?
Last weekend we celebrated Epiphany, the revelation of the Lord. This weekend again we celebrate God the Father reveals his Son: Baptism of the Lord. We can see a beautiful painting in the Gospel: the Baptism of the Lord. We can see here all three persons of God was present. Jesus Christ, the second person of God, standing at the Jordan River. We hear the voice of the Father from heaven and Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove.
We know the Exodus story from the Old Testament, a journey from slavery to the Promised Land. In that journey, the Israelites crossed two rivers. We all know the story of crossing the Red Sea. It was the beginning of the Exodus story. The end of the Exodus story is crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land.
In the New Testament, at the Baptism of the Lord, it begins the new Exodus story. It echoes the Old Testament. Jesus is the new Moses who is going to bring humanity out of slavery eternally. When David was anointed as king with oil in the Old Testament, Jesus was anointed with “the Spirit of God” at the baptism. Jesus is the true king. First Exodus leads to earthly Promised Land, but the new Exodus leads us to heavenly Promised Land.
The Baptism of the Lord was the inauguration of the new Exodus. Then began his ministry of the miracle at Cana, opening the eyes of the blind, healing the sick, bringing out prisoners from confinement, feeding the five thousand, instituting the Eucharist to remain with us forever, and offering on the cross, poured out blood to give us new baptism, to wash away our sins. Through his passion, death, and resurrection, he gave us Sacraments to prepare us to go out bring the same ministry he did.
When we walk into the Church, most of us dip the fingers of our right hands into the holy water font and bless ourselves when we came into the church. Why? This blessing is supposed to remind us of our baptism. And so when I bless myself with holy water, I should be thinking of the fact that I am a child of God; that I have been redeemed by the Cross of Christ; that I have been made a member of God’s family and that I have been washed, forgiven, cleansed and purified by the blood of the Lamb and I have been sent out to bring the Good News by serving one another.
Thank you: I would like to thank you, everyone, who serve in our cluster parishes in different ministries. Your time, talent and treasure make our cluster vibrant and life-giving. Thank you.
An 8-year-old asked, "How come the kings brought perfume to Jesus? What kind of gift is that for a baby?" His 9-year-old sister answered, "Haven't you ever smelled a barn? With dirty animals around, Mary needed something to freshen the air."
Happy New Year!! We are still in the spirit of Christmas and it prepares us to receive the New Year. This year the first Sunday of the New Year 2020 is Sunday of Epiphany.
Most of us have sweet memories of the time that our parents first brought us, as little children, to kneel at the Christmas crib and marvel at the peaceful scene before us. The baby Jesus has his arms reaching out as if to embrace everyone in the world. That image sums up perfectly the meaning of His Epiphany, or manifestation, to the three wise men from the East: Jesus, in sharing our humanity, invites men and women of all nations and races to share in His kingdom.
The wise men are from the East, but from where in the East? There are three predictions about the place. Some predict that they are from Persia; some others say they are from Babylon. The third prediction is from Arabia. Today’s first reading from the book of Isaiah gives us more approval from the third prediction which is Arabia. In the first reading, we read, “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.” Matthew is looking at the prophecy of Isaiah which tells us about the non-Israelites bringing gifts to the Lord. In Psalm 72, we read today that “The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Sheba shall bring tribute. All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.”
The Magi were not members of the Chosen Jewish People, so the Epiphany today shows Jesus came for all people. The Magi shows us that there is no substitute for an open heart and mind. Jews knew about the coming of Jesus, but they did not recognize his birth. But Magi came looking for a king. On their way to Bethlehem, where did inquire first for a king? They inquired at the palace. Who else is likely to be there? A royal family. But the Magi came to a cave or a stable where they found a poor family, with animals and perhaps a few shepherds. Of course, they found their King: “falling to their knees, they did him homage.”
Today, another character in the Gospel is Herod. He does not have an attitude of reverence and respect for Jesus. Herod pretends that he is just as respectful to Jesus as the wise men. He tells them, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” These words were not out of respect, but out of fear.
Jesus came for everyone. Some rejected him out of fear like Herod, others came and worshiped him out of love like shepherds and Magi. Father revealed his son to the world. Jesus reveals to us every day of our life: in the Eucharist and other sacraments, devotions, in our sisters and brothers. Do we recognize him?
Like the Magi, let us open our minds and hearts to receive Child Jesus and offer Jesus our gifts on this feast of Epiphany. What are the gifts we can offer: the first gift might be friendship with God. God wants our friendship in the form of wholehearted love, commitment and devotion. The second gift of this season is the gift of peace: seeking God’s peace in our own lives through prayer, sacramental life and daily meditation on the Word of God. A thirds gift might be friends with others expressed by encouraging them by our visits and helping them in their needs. A fourth gift might be the gift of reconciliation: repairing damaged relationships in and outside our families. Let us become a gift to God and one another.