Personal Martyrdom

Today we celebrate the Feast Days of Saints Peter and Paul who were martyrs for their faith and who paid the highest price for their beliefs by dying for Christ. By wearing red vestments the Church recognizes, in a visual way, the supreme witness to the faith given by the blood of these martyrs.

Tradition holds that, under the persecutions of Nero, Peter, not being a Roman citizen, was to be crucified – he is said to have asked the authorities, who complied, that he be crucified upside down – claiming he was not worthy to die in the manner of his Lord. Paul, being a Roman citizen, was executed by having his head cut off with the sword. It is said that his severed head bounced three times and, in each place, a fountain sprung up.

But enough of the bloody details instead let’s concentrate on the basis for martyrdom. It is the belief that God is truth, and each of us is called to be a witness to that truth in our words and deeds regardless of the consequences.

And what better models to imitate than the lives of Saints Peter and Paul? They are examples of God’s ability to take flawed individuals and turn them into powerful witnesses of the Gospel. Neither Saint Peter nor Saint Paul accomplished what they did simply by virtue of hard work. They were both formed in the fire of difficulties and failures that left them humbled. As a result, they became more aware of their need for God and were captivated by His love.

The Peter we find in today’s Gospel is the same Peter we have come to know as the one who is much like us. He is the one who does not always understand the teachings of Jesus. He is the one who is terrified in the boat in the storm. He is the one who falls asleep in the Garden of Olives, and who later denies Jesus three times.

Yet, in today’s Gospel passage Simon Peter clearly understands that Jesus is the Messiah. He gets it right for a change, and Jesus knows that it is God who has revealed this to Peter. Our Gospel reading recounts Peter’s great profession of faith and the special office that Jesus gave him, that of becoming the rock of His new Church. Since Peter is receptive to God’s revelation, Jesus changes his name from Simon to Peter, which means ‘rock’ and gives him the authority, power and keys to lead the Catholic Church that Jesus has established.

Saint Paul, once a persecutor of Christians himself, is also a witness to the truth of Jesus as recorded in his Second Letter to Timothy. His letter was probably written toward the end of his ministry to the Gentiles for he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul is not boasting, but recognizes the strength of Our Lord at his side as he anxiously awaits the prize of eternal life. Paul speaks with confidence that no matter what happens; God will continue to rescue him. Therefore, Paul’s advice to Timothy, and to us, is to always keep the faith and rely solely on God.

God’s power to transform His people is unlimited. Saints Peter and Paul completely surrendered themselves to Jesus so that He could work through them to give birth to His Church. When we surrender ourselves to God as these two prominent saints of our Church did, giving God permission to transform us and to use us as He sees fit, great things can happen. Even if the work we are called to do seems little in our own eyes, we should never underestimate its importance to God.

But there is another side to the power of God and that lies within the personal martyrdom that many people go through in their lives. Sometimes it is not the same type of martyrdom that Saints Peter and Paul went through but most of us, at one point or another, go through an experience or a suffering that is so deep, that it brings a searing pain and feels as if it is a personal martyrdom. Sometimes it is the death of a loved one – or equally, if not worse, the loss of a child. Cathy and I had a 20 year old nephew murdered on the streets of Boston some years ago. The pain that his mother and father went through was beyond words and it was a pain that his father carried to his grave. Sometimes it is an illness that calls into attention our own mortality and the ability to go on; sometimes it is an estrangement from someone whom we loved or still loves but now that person is dead to us. In each case, there is an emotional pain, a feeling of being “a victim” and the question of “why me.” How we deal with that pain and that loss is our response to a martyrdom that feels larger than life itself.

I sometimes think that St. John Paul II faced that question as he battled the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease. Surely, he could have retired or stepped aside because of his illness. But he did not. And my belief is that he chose not to in order to give us a model of suffering. Regardless of the pain, regardless of the physical changes that took this handsome, strong Pope to a man bent over and ravished with pain, he chose to carry on. I believe fervently that he

had the words of St. Paul in his mind as he faced his last days: ““I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” It was his faith that gave us a model of suffering.

For those of us who are more mortal, keeping the faith in times of great distress and great personal agony is sometimes quite difficult. As any human being, we not only ask “why me” but we wonder why our God has not intervened.

I remember when I was a deacon in California, during the early days of the AIDS crisis; I chose to do hospice work among those who were afflicted with this ravishing disease. Time and again, I would hear the “why” question. And while I could not give them the definitive or wise answer, I could assure them it was not the punishment of God for their lifestyle as so many believed. I talked to them of God’s love for all of his children, for God’s care for all of his children, and for God’s grace that is and can be imparted during times of great agony. And I prayed and sometimes begged then to ask for God’s grace to carry them through their suffering.

Today, I stand here and ask you to reflect on the love of God in your life. Today, I stand here and ask you to dwell on the love of the Holy Spirit that is within you. Today, I stand here and ask you to remember always that he knows you by name and will never forsake you.

It was the fall from grace of the original man that brought both discord and evil into the life of humanity – not God. But the birth of Christ brought us deliverance. It did not stop evil from existing — even the human Christ underwent a suffering that few of us can truly imagine or endure. But his emergence from that pain and that death brought us the Great Promise.

The Great Promise that if we keep our eyes fixed on the love of God for us, there is no battle, no loss, no enemy that we cannot overcome. Sometimes that Great Love also calls us home – home to be with the eternal source of love. But even in that answer there are the enfolding arms of Christ who picks us up as a child and carries us gently home to His Father.

And in all of this, there is also the call of that Great Love to be an agent of that love. There is the call for each of us to step outside of our comfort zone – regardless of age or circumstance – and to extend our arms – as if they were the arms of Christ himself – to those who are going through their own personal martyrdom.

For you see, God invites every one of us to share in the calling of the Apostles: to teach, to witness to the truth in the Gospel, to love with the love of Jesus, and to run the race. We are called to be saints, each in our own way. But this will happen only as we allow Jesus to form us. As we let His firm but gentle and loving hands break our outer shell of self-centeredness, we will be Christ-like within our family, our parish, our neighborhood, our place of work, our school, and with all those who come into contact with us.

Christ wants us to stand up for your faith. Christ wants us to profess our faith by the way we live our lives. Christ wants us to be used as instruments to draw others to him.

Let me leave you with this. Christ truly wants each of us is called to sainthood. Each of is called to rise above our failings and our flaws. Each of us is called to be like these stained glass windows that surround us. The image remains static but the sun shines through. Every time we walk in this Church, we should look at one of those windows and ask “ Have I let Christ’s light shine through me this week?” Our bodies remain the same but the light of Christ shines through us. It shines through us in the things we say and do. In the way we treat one another. In reaching out to those that are in pain – physical or spiritual. Of swallowing our self-centeredness and learning to live selflessly. Of trying to walk in the other’s footstep before we whine and complain of our own hurt. In reminding others that our love of Christ is so great that we want them to experience that love.

We came to this Church today hungry for this celebration; we heard stories of our ancestors in faith that assure and give us courage and we hunger for what nourished them. We know that the same Word and food that sustained them is ours as well.

As he faces death, Paul’s words give us wisdom. Using the perspective he gives us, we should ask “When the day comes that I look back on my life, what will I see? Will I feel satisfied, a life well spent, energies invested in the right place? Or, will I feel disappointed by the choices I made? Energies misdirected and invested in shallow places? A lifetime distracted by less important and passing things? You see, being a Christian for “the long haul” means resisting passing attractions to compromise. Paul shows us that the life of a faithful Christian does take perseverance and sacrifice. He says it is a life “poured out like a libation.” A dedicated life of discipleship does set us apart, it has us going against the stream of the majority, and consequently requires long and consistent sacrifice. Our lives in service to God are a libation that prepares us for our final journey. Such a life is only possible, Paul reminds us, because God has been there with us, enabling and helping us day by day to live out our faith despite periods of personal martyrdom that sometimes seem to cripple us. Thank God for the love of Christ that is always with us to sustain us, to support us and to love us for no other reason than to let us know of His love that is both constant and eternal..

Walking The Talk on Ascension Sunday


I must confess that, over all the years of my ministry, I have often wondered why the Feast of the Ascension is not treated with even greater joy and solemnity than it has. It’s a day that explodes with good news and a day that brings gifts. It should be, in my opinion , celebrated with almost as much joy and reverence as Christmas and Easter.

Why do I say that? Because this Feast marks the cementing of the bridge by which we, as human beings, can pass over, after death, into the Kingdom of God. It was the very Ascension of Jesus Christ, from this earth, to the right hand of the Father, that made it possible. So, in many ways, this is our Liberation Day. This is the day that the wood of the manager and the wood of the cross become fused into a bridge to the Divine.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  And that rising is for us –for you and for me.

The Ascension does not mark the end of Jesus’ relationship with His Church but rather the beginning of a new way of His relating to the world – in and through His Church. This way includes every one of us who bear His name. We have also ascended – with the Lord. When viewed with the eyes of living faith the Ascension is capable of transforming the way we view ourselves and live our daily lives.

You see, Jesus Christ bridged heaven and earth. Through His Incarnation, His Saving Life, Death and Resurrection, we have been set free from the consequences of sin, including the sting of death

But we can’t keep our eyes looking up at the heavens as we commemorate this Feast of the Ascension. Because during Christ’s ascension, into the heavens, he directed that tiny band of 11 men who accompanied him not to look upward but to look down and to look around.

So let’s set the stage a bit. Here you have a band of 11 ordinary men. Could any group of people be more human, more ordinary, more dysfunctional, more unpromising?  How much more obvious could human frailty be than in this group? Here we have a group that has committed within it  treachery, cowardice, denial–  to name but a few of the weak points – these are the same men who would become the pillars of our Church!

In verse 18, the Risen Jesus claims universal power in heaven and on earth.  Since this universal power belongs to the Risen Lord, he gives the eleven a mission that is universal.  They are to make disciples of all nations.  And Baptism is the means of entrance into the community of the Risen One – the Church.  The end of Matthew’s Gospel also contains the clearest expression in the New Testament of Trinitarian belief. It may have been the baptismal formula of Matthew’s church, but primarily it designates the effect of baptism, the union of the one baptized with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So here we have one of the first concrete steps of that bridge to the Divine.  The fact that, through our Baptism, we are brought in union with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But wait, the gifts of the Ascension don’t stop here but they continue. Because the next thing that Jesus tells them is this “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (20). Does that have  a special ring to it ? Those words have a special ring to them because (1) he leaves us the gift of the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, our Guide, our constant presence. We talked about that last week.

But  (2) it is also the Eucharist that confirms these words “I am with you.”  Christ said to his Apostles, “Go forth . . . and teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” From Christ the way of Christian initiation leads directly to the Eucharist: “I am with you,” “I am with every one of you.”  “I become part of your flesh and blood.” “I share your very existence.” That’s the second gift of the Ascension.

So we have two gifts on this Feast Day. But are we to receive them and say “thank you.” ? Well, “thank you” is nice but not really enough. Because filled with the Holy Spirit at our Confirmation and fortified by the gift of the Holy Eucharist (every day if we want it), we are expected to go forward as those 11 humble men did and make disciples of all men.

Disciples of all men. Surely, you must be jesting. Me? Yes, YOU!

The Christian vocation is about learning to live this new relationship in Christ together, with the Father, through the Holy Spirit and for the sake of a world that still awaits its full redemption. The Feast of the Ascension is not some kind of Intermission but a continuation of the Redemption of Jesus Christ. It’s a call to continue that mission while we are here on this earth.

Think about it. Look around this Church today. Any empty space means that we are not doing our job.Now many have just sort of given up going to Church. Some use the pretext of saying I can pray anywhere to God, I don’t need to go to Church. Others,  have seen enough of the dark side of the institutional Church that they have just folded their cards and left the table.

But our job – yours and mine – is to make disciples of all men and women. How do we do that? We start with the way we live our lives. We live our lives in such a manner that others notice that there is something special about us. Our kindness, our civility, our concern, our compassion are all more heightened than in others,  Drawn to that kindness, compassion and concern, our friends, our neighbors, our associates must wonder why? Why are we the way we are?

And, along the way, in one form or another, we need to open the door to why we live the life we do. We need to find a way to talk about where we go every Sunday. We need to find a way to talk about why we come here every Sunday. And, we need to remind our friends and Catholics that we too believe you do not need a Church to pray. But we also need to remind them that it is ONLY in the Church that we can receive the Holy Eucharist. We need to let them know that we believe that the gift of the Holy Eucharist strengthens us on our journey, that the gift of the Holy Eucharist is the sum and the substance of what our faith is all about.

It’s not enough to just live our faith. Our faith needs to be brought out into the open. We are not closet Catholics. We are Catholics who come here, every Sunday, with open hearts and minds. Catholics who revere and treasure the gift of the Eucharist. Catholics who understand that a bridge to a divine life has been built for us through the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. His gift is beyond anything. But he also commands us : Go and make disciples of those you know. – both here and afar. Let them know through your love of Jesus Christ that their presence with you, at Mass, completes the body of Christ and brings the Ascension of Christ into its full glory.





Spirit and spirit


Spirit and spirit

If I were to title this homily this morning, it would be Spirit (with a capitalized “S” ) and “spirit” with a small “s.” Because that is what we hear in today’s readings. We learn of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus tells his disciples will be their constant companion and advocate. But we also learn through the readings of the spirit that must guide our lives and our actions.

This Gospel is part of what is known as the Last Supper Discourse. Can you imagine the emotions of the Apostles when they heard Jesus give them this farewell instruction. He would not leave them orphans and would send another Advocate to be with them. Why was he leaving them? Where was he going? Would they ever see him again? What were they to do next? Those are probably some of the questions that went through their minds. In his conversation Jesus answers these questions.

He begins by making the statement; “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But Jesus teaches them and us to view commandments in a new way, in a way that was different than merely a list of behaviors to be followed or avoided out of duty. Here, Jesus tells his disciples that commandments are to be lived as an act of love. If we love someone we do what pleases them. This love moves us to do things we might not want to do, and even things that we might see as being difficult or a sacrifice. And Jesus calls us to look at the commandments through the prism of love and to live them out of our love for God.

One of the most vivid demonstrations of this is how we view the Eucharist which is part of the central theme of today’s Gospel. I suggest to you that the Eucharist should be viewed in three ways.

First, The Eucharist Is the Sacrament of Life. Jesus is the Bread of Life. The Gospel passage of today places the Eucharist in the context of giving and receiving life. “Just as the Father who has life sent me and I have life because of the Father, so the man who feeds on me will have life because of me.” The Eucharistic sacrifice is the very action of Christ by which He destroyed our death and restored our life. Whenever we gather for this sacrifice, we are celebrating the victory of life over death, and when we receive this Sacrament, we receive the life that never ends.

Secondly, The Eucharist Is Also a Sacrament of Unity. St. Paul declares in today’s second reading, “We, many though we are, are one body, since we all partake of the one loaf”. Imagine all the people, in every part of the world, who are receiving Communion today. Are they all receiving their own personalized, customized Christ? Are they all receiving some personal, designer communion fashioned for them? Are they not rather each receiving the one and only Christ? It is through this sacrament that Christ the Lord, is drawing all people to Himself. And if He is drawing us to Himself, then He is drawing us to one another. When we call each other “brothers and sisters,” we are not merely using a metaphor that sort of dimly reflects the unity between children of the same parents. The unity we have in Christ is just as strong as the unity of blood brothers and sisters, because we do have common blood: the blood of Christ! The result of the Eucharist is that we become one, and this obliges us to be as concerned for each other as we are for our own bodies.

Imagine a person who receives Communion, accepts the Host when the priest says, “The Body of Christ,” says “Amen,” and then breaks off a piece, hands it back, and says, “Except for this piece, Father!” Because you see, this is what is done, spiritually, by the person who rejects other people—whether by hatred, anger, pettiness, unforgiveness, or a failure to recognize the dignity of another. In receiving Christ, we are to receive the whole Christ, in all His members; in welcoming Him, we are to welcome all those whom He made, whom He loves, whom He died to save—all our brothers and sisters, whether convenient or inconvenient, wanted or unwanted, liked or disliked. That’s hard. I know that. I struggle with that every day.

The Eucharist Is, Finally, the Sacrament of Love. St. John explains, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” Christ teaches, “Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends. The best symbol of love is not the heart, but rather the crucifix. Think of that for a second. The best symbol of love is not the heart but rather the crucifix. What does that tell you about the way you love your love?

Love says, “I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person. In the Eucharist we see the meaning of love and we receive the power to live it. “This is my body.” These four little words are spoken throughout the world whenever a Mass is celebrated. Christ gives His body away so others might live. Christ says, “This is my body given up for you; this is my blood shed for you.” These are the words of sacrifice; these are the words of love.

Everyone who wants to follow Christ needs to say the same. Spouse says it to spouse, parents to children, priests to their congregations, friends to friend. We need to imitate the mysteries we celebrate. “Do this in memory of me” applies to all of us in the sense that we are to lovingly suffer with Christ so others may live. We are to be like lightning rods in the midst of this negativity and anger that we see in so many countries of the world, including the United States and Canada. We need to be able to say, “Yes, Lord, I am willing to absorb some of this violence, some of this anger, some of this hatred and transform a small part of by my love so that others may see the love that I bear in my heart
But make no mistake about it. It is a process. We don’t wake up one morning suddenly transformed (well, at least, most of us don’t” ) It is a conscious act of living the day in a different spirit. Sometimes it is hard and gritty. Sometimes, it seems pretty easy.

But there is one other thing. We can’t do it in isolation. We need to do it in community with one another. That is why Acts today stresses the unity of the Christian life and why the Gospel emphasizes how God dwells and in fact remains in us if we only stay open to his presence. Today so many people fight loneliness and the temptation to doubt whether they matter in the eyes of another or not. While loneliness is a perennial threat to every child of Adam, it seems that in today’s fast-paced and very mobile societies have heightened each person’s sense of alienation and wondering where he or she belongs. Some still carry the images of themselves when they were children and realized that they were not the most beautiful, the mot handsome, the most athletic, the most gifted. Some still carry the hurt that came from a spouse or a sibling who was not uplifting but rather demeaning. Some still carry the burden that they don’t look like the person in the fashion magazine or in a tabloid.

The commandment of love reaches out to us with a clear message. We NEED each other to lift each other up. Pope Francis recognized this when he said that he would not live in the Papal apartments but rather in union with other priests and brothers in a simple apartment. When asked why, he emphasized that community with others dedicated to Christ was an essential part of his life.

That unity, that community comes directly from the words of Jesus. There is the unity of the Trinity that he speaks about as he teaches us about the Advocate, and reveals to us when he says tht he and the Father are one. Jesus invites us to experience the Love of our Father, The grace that flows from him, and the unity of the Holy Spirit that binds them into one God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
There is also the unity of the believers in Christ. Jesus taught that, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me.” St. Paul experienced this on the road to Damascus when he heard the voice say, “Why do you persecute me.” The unity of the body of Christ – of us with Christ – should not be underrated. It is a beautiful part of God’s love that binds us to him.
All of this comes from the unconditional love God has for us. Reflect on all that God has done for us and is doing for us out of this great love. When you reflect on Christ’s overwhelming love for us, you can not help but want to reach out in love and allow his commandment of love to be the rule of your life Continue reading “Spirit and spirit”

Love To The End



Let’s talk about this beautiful day – Easter Sunday.

Easter is the feast of all feasts. The feast of Christmas did not even exist for the first two centuries of the church’s life, but Christianity is inconceivable without Easter. This feast is the contact point between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament for it occurred on the anniversary of the Exodus of Israel from Egyptian bondage and fulfills the promise in that central event in Israel’s history.

Easter is about the triumph of a positive spiritual realm over the disbelief and cynicism of a wicked world. All who are tempted to give up on God are offered hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s deliverance of Jesus from the tomb reveals the secret hopes of the human heart, that there can be love, that there can be peace, that life can be based on kindness, that wrecked relationships can be mended, that there is not only a purpose to life but that it has to do with serving a good, loving, rescuing God– that’s what Easter proclaims.

And that’s what every echo of Easter– every first day of the week, all year long, when we gather to celebrate this first day of the week–what every echo of Easter tells the world. Whoever you are, Christ has risen to encourage you, to invite you, to tell you “Here’s the life which is saved for you .” It is eternal, it is a gift that offers you a life never ending of peace, freedom from worry of any kind and the opportunity to be forever with those you have loved That’s what God has achieved. That’s what God continues to make happen, in lives all around us. People believe in Easter and it gives them power–they turn themselves over to Christ, and what God can do in Christ gives them the resurrection life, the new life here and now.

Jesus tells Mary not to hold him because he needs to ascend. He has to become universally and always available. Everyone can be rescued by the Risen Christ from peering into darkness and grasping at temporary comforts. Christ has been raised. We are set free to be Easter people. That means we can – if we choose – to set our minds on things that are above, lofty things, good things. We hold our own head up, we can take the longer view, we can trust in the power and care of the God who has made us, to believe in the power of love that Christ has for us.

The Easter Good News is, in fact, the core or center of the Gospel: Jesus Christ has died and now lives! His “love to the end” in the end has triumphed.!

“Love to the end.” I All the days of the Easter Triduum, from Holy Thursday through Easter Day, have a particular emphasis, but all of them together form one prolonged celebration of the central mystery of our faith: the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. As you and I have been reliving Christ’s Dying and Rising in these days of the Easter Triduum, we see so clearly revealed before us the love Christ has for each of us — it’s love for each member of the human family –whoever they are, whatever they are, whether they are rich or poor, healthy or sick, beautiful or just average, it is a love that surrounds, accompanies us and strengthens us, it is a love forever faithful and enduring, it is truly “love to the end;” not only to the end of Christ’s earthly life, but love continuing on, because today we proclaim that Christ is the Risen Lord, and, therefore, His love remains to the end of time into eternity.
Christ’s “love to the end” in the end has triumphed. Because He has triumphed over sin and death, He gives us newness of life. This celebration of Easter pulsates with this gift: It is and can be a radical newness! Nothing is the same again! Sin will never have the final victory nor will human death! As we pray over and over throughout the Easter season and indeed throughout the year: “Dying, You destroyed our death, rising You restored our life, Lord Jesus, come in glory!” If you are an Easter or Christmas Catholic, this is your opportunity. This is your time to seize the newness and hope of this day. This is your time to once again believe in what the death and resurrection of Jesus meant. It was for you. He rose so that you could see that there is life after death. If you are an every Sunday Catholic, this is your chance to renew and to take that renewed belief and translate into action. To allow everything you do to reflect Him in his glory. To be that light of Christ which we have heard throughout these three holy days.
This “newness of life,” the result of Christ’s “love to the end,” is made visible for us through symbols. We see before us in the sanctuary the newly blessed Paschal Candle, whose flame symbolizes Christ the Light. Yes, Christ is our Light, going before us to lead us in our pilgrimage through life, dispelling the darkness of sin and death, warming us in our loneliness and difficulties, guiding us in our uncertainty and fears.

This “newness of life,” the result of Christ’s “love to the end,” is likewise made visible through the symbol of water. Soon, you will be sprinkled with water, which was blessed last night during the Easter Vigil. This water symbolizes Christ our Life, who strengthens us to live daily according to His Gospel and the teachings of the Church His Body of which we are members.

This “newness of life,” the result of Christ’s “love to the end,” is also made visible in the reality of the Eucharist, both sacrament and sacrifice, the Eucharist we celebrate with such faith and joy today, where in our midst the dying and rising of Christ is made present, where Christ’s Real Presence continues among us in the Blessed Sacrament. In the Eucharist, Christ’s “love to the end” is revealed in a unique way and He remains to be our nourishment on the journey that ends at our Father’s House.

On this Easter Sunday Jesus calls us to be his messengers. At the same time let us thank God for the gift of the risen Jesus given once again to us. This Resurrected Jesus gives us his message of peace as he gave to all the disciples every time he met them. Today as we celebrate his rising from the dead he gives the same message of peace. We pray that this peace will remain in our hearts always to make us his messengers in the world of today. We pray that peace will triumph over what seems to be the madness of the secular world.

But, the celebration of Easter is a call

He was born in order to become, by His dying and rising, the One Savior of the world, our Savior! Today. And his call to each of us is to renew our commitment to live in closer union with the Risen Lord Jesus. Let us ask the Lord to deepen His life within us and to make us His witnesses of Easter joy and hope. Let us promise our Risen Savior and Lord that we will follow Him, our Light and our Life every day and invite others to come to Him by the witness of our lives — our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends — everyone we meet! With Christ the Risen One, let us make all things new — with the joy and hope He gives! With Christ the Risen One, Let us be Easter People! Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

The Water of Life


WOW! That’s the one word that came into my mind when I meditated on his Gospel. It is so full of imagery and, at the same time, it is full of meaning for each of us in this Church. Any priest or deacon could probably do 6 homilies on each part of this Gospel.

But throughout the Gospel there is one primary action that is occurring. Jesus is drawing the Samaritan into a more self-introspective look and gently leading her to a fuller conversion of heart and mind.

Here we have a Samaritan woman – not only from a sect that the Jews would not mingle with but a Samaritan woman who is a sinner. Yet, Jesus turns to her and begins to teach. He takes her from her adulterous life and earthly preoccupation to a deeper meaning – to a place where she realizes her thirst for water is more than that. He teaches her that her thirst is for a deeper spiritual presence in her life.

The pain of loneliness, and thirst for fulfillment in life, has led her down a path of heartache. In response, he promises to give her living water that will quench her thirsting soul for good. This water of life is his love, his presence in her life. Just by being with Jesus, and experiencing his compassion and understanding, the woman’s life changes for the better. Once she comes to realize he is the Messiah, there is so much joy in her heart—joy that overflows into her inviting others to meet him. She embarks on a new journey of peace and intimacy with God after encountering Jesus.

Isn’t that what Lent is supposed to be about? Isn’t it supposed to be a time when we look more deeply into ourselves and our relationship with God? Lent is meant to be a time when our senses – our hearts and minds – are pulled into a closer realization of what our spirituality really is.

Most of us here today have been through anywhere from 30 to 60+ Lents in our life. But I wonder how many of us really do use this period to sensitize ourselves to the presence of Christ in our lives and what that means? I wonder how many of us do or could follow the example of the Samaritan woman. Her heart is softened and she goes forward on a new journey of peace and feeling of oneness with Jesus.

But, what gets in our way is the very world we live in. A world that is so material that it consumes our every day. And, judging from the state of the world today, it seems as if materialism wins most days,

From my perspective, that is what drove our beloved Pope Francis to preach to the clergy that they should be out with the sheep – that they should have the smell of sheep about them. In this case, he is calling for the clergy to be out amongst the sheep that are lost.

Because, in reality, there are people who are far more lost than we think. There are countless souls who are lost to the real message of Christ because of the guilt or the inadequacy they feel. In the world that surrounds us we know that many people are thirsting for love. In their loneliness and isolation they are thirsting to belong and thirsting to know the meaning and purpose of their lives. Here is where we can give them good news; here is where we can evangelize them. After all, the whole meaning and purpose of evangelization is to share God’s Good News with those around us, especially those who are living on the margins of God’s love, those who are spiritually impoverished.
But when called by the Pope to minister to the lost and to share the good news of the Gospel, most Catholics would say “But that’s not for me – I am not worthy enough to do that or I don’t have the courage to do that.” After all, isn’t evangelization the job of the clergy?

My answer to that is “no.” Bringing others to Christ is the responsibility of all of us. And evangelization does not necessarily mean going door to door or trying to convert someone from their belief. Rather it is showing others through our words and deeds that we have discovered something special in our relationship with Christ.
But what holds so many of us back is not just the reluctance to evangelize but more our own sense of not being worthy enough or not knowing enough.

Look at the case of today’s Samaritan woman in the Gospel. She felt dead inside. That’s what sin and guilt do to us. They make us feel like we are dead. But Jesus had promised her living water. She received it. She received forgiveness. And she went into town exuberant, full of life, full of love and full of hope.

That hope exists for us too. We have the hope that despite our sins, God’s compassion and mercy has restored us to life with him. His forgiveness is infinitely more powerful than our guilt. If we believe that, then, we do evangelize through our words and deeds. People see a difference in us because we are freed from our guilt and feeling of inadequacy.

For our well-being, our emotional, physical and spiritual health, I am convinced it is crucial for us to perform three simple meditations every morning. I suggest that we all do these as we get ready for the day, maybe while showering, or doing hair, or shaving, or whatever. The first is: God loves me with an unconditional love. He loves me for who I am, not for what I do. Jesus loved that woman at the well for whom she was, a daughter of God, a sinful daughter of God perhaps, but still, a daughter of God. So we begin by saying, “Lord, you love me. Why? Because I am your son; I am your daughter.”

Then we say, “God forgives me.” The Divine Lover does not hold grudges. He forgives us. We need to forgive ourselves. Ah, but you say: “The extent of my sins are deep, the results of my sins are wide,” Think back to that lady at the well. How many people were hurt by her immoral lifestyle? But Jesus still forgave her. His forgiveness was deeper and more powerful than her sins. It is also deeper and further reaching then any of our sins.
So, first, “God you love me with an unconditional love because I am your son, your daughter. And, second, “God, you forgive me. Help me to need to forgive myself.”

Then we come to the morning offering. The third meditation is simply, “God you are with me today. Whatever I do, I do with you and for you.” That lady ran into town, glowing with love, knowing that God was with her. When the others saw the one who had been shamefaced full of joy, they ran out to meet Jesus. They wanted some of this, this love, this forgiveness, this presence. “Could He be the One who is the hope of the ages?” they asked. Then they came into his presence, and let him into their lives. “Yes, he is,” they exclaimed. “Yes, He is,” we agree.”

He is our hope. And His hope is the one hope that will never disappoint.

The Oldest Cleanse of All


You know, it’s kind of interesting that, over the last few years, there has been a whole industry formed based on various cleanses – whether it be colon cleansing, total body cleansing or whatever, it has now become a multi-million industry.

Yet, the idea of cleansing goes far back in history. But it often refers to a spiritual cleansing rather than parts of our anatomy. And when you think about it, this whole journey of Lent is really just that. It is a period when we are sensitized to the fact that we must deepen our relationship with God, cleanse our spirit and ask where God is in our daily living.

Now, I do not debunk – rather I encourage the examples of “giving things up” for Lent. It is good to give ourselves a bit of annoyance or abstinence. But I think Lent is also about a total spiritual cleansing. A time when we stop and say to ourselves: “ Let’s get real here. How much of my daily life is in fact centered AND focused on God?”

Now since, in today’s world, we all have to have a device, or an aid, or a prescription to conduct a cleansing, I won’t disappoint you. Because today I am selling The Ultimate Cleanse. It is a prescription that you take each day. It is a process that you follow each day. And I promise you that, if you take this to heart, and follow it, you will be cleansed and your spirituality will be heightened. And, guess what? It is free! No trial subscriptions, no opt outs, no coupons to collect, and sadly, it has no Puntos from Romero’s to accumulate.

Where do you buy it? Where do you find it? Right here. In today’s Gospel. I submit to you that the three major temptations that are laid before Jesus are the same temptations that we face in our life. They are the same ones that pull us away from a deeper relationship with God. The key is whether we choose to follow the example of Christ or to give in and, without realization, follow Satan.

Let me begin with the first temptation. The first temptation was to turn stones into bread. Satan knew how hungry Jesus was. He knew that the Son of God could derive the nourishment he needed for his journey ahead. But Jesus refuses that. He responds that a person does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. What about us? How often do we spend more time worrying about what we have or what we need or what else can we accumulate. How much more time is spent on that rather than turning to scripture, or prayer, or any of the sacramentals that the Church offers us to help strengthen our faith? Why do some of us believe that an hour once a week suffices? Knowing that our time here on earth is a lot shorter than our time in eternity, why do we spend so much time focusing on earthly things rather than preparing ourselves spiritually? Why can’t we use the things of this earth to help and assist others thereby acting in a Christ-like manner? Why?

If the first test was in the realm of the physical, the second is a test of a spiritual nature. Satan wants Jesus to do something spectacular to demonstrate that He is spiritually perfect. His sudden appearance in a public place from nowhere will give evidence of being the messiah and his mission is complete. But Jesus responds to Satan saying, he will not test God’s word by doing something foolish or unnecessary. In our life, how often do we test God? How often do we perform the sly wink? You know, when we think that maybe we got away with something? We are tempted to force God into action instead of simply trusting in Him to care for us. We may not be standing on the edge of a building deciding that God must save us if we jump, but we may be toying with that which can destroy us, alcohol, sex, drugs, lies, self-delusions of how important or how pious we are etc, and we think, erroneously, that if we fall, God will catch us. After all, isn’t our God a forgiving God? Well. Let me set that straight. It is a presumption to think that God will take care of us if we live on the edge. God is All-Merciful, but He is also All Just. We trust in God, but, as Jesus told the devil, we don’t put God to a test. We have to resist the temptation to live life on the edge of eternal damnation.
Let’s face it, aren’t there times in our life when we engage in a bit of self- deceit? Aren’t there times in our life when we do something that we know is against the will of God but somehow we think we can get away with it. Or we sound good in the things that we say but our actions or words are to the contrary. What about the times that we use our outward acts of piety to look “religious” while our words and actions belie that? Isn’t that putting God to the test? Aren’t we really putting ourselves in a position where we think we can put one over on God? Folks, this is not about getting away with anything. Because we can’t get away with anything with God. Yes, it is true that we might not feel, at that moment, the displeasure of God. But the scorecard of our life is what matters at the end of our physical journey. It really is a question of how often the Word of God rules our actions rather than the word of man. Why? Why do we do that?

Now the final temptation. Satan took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Him all the Kingdoms of the world and their splendor. Now this temptation is amazing in its boldness. This temptation had to do with fulfilling the plan of God with a shortcut, not following God’s ways. Luke adds that Satan claimed he had been given these kingdoms and it was his right to give them to whomever he wished. Satan was saying to Jesus, “Look, you came as the king to inherit the nations. Here they are. Why go through the trouble of being the suffering servant to get to the crown. Give me one moment’s homage and I will abdicate and all is yours.” What the tempter offers is the human craving for power, fame and wealth. The mission of Jesus was to fulfill the call of the Kingdom and Satan shows him the easy way. Jesus absolutely rejects the offer and tells Satan to go away from him.

And like Jesus, we can fight the temptation to be bought by the world. There are many people who have sold their souls for wealth and power. The devil tempts us to join those who do evil, tune down or turn off our consciences, and reap wealth beyond our imaginations. There is a lot of money to be made selling junk bonds, a lot of money to be made working in the low industries of our society, a lot of money to be made cheating our way to the top of the business world, but most of us refuse to sell our souls to the devil. We live for One and One only. We live for our Heavenly Father, not for ourselves. The goal of our lives is not to amass a fortune. The goal of our lives is to live for God. We have bought into the Kingdom, not sold our souls to the devil.

All the “doing” of Lent is expressing what is meant to be happening inside each of us during Lent –dying to our old sinful way of life and rising to new life with Jesus. The focus of Lent is on renewing our lives in service of the Lord, becoming more like Jesus. Jesus in the desert is our model during Lent, inspiring us to die to ourselves so that the Father’s plan can be accomplished.

The holiest people in our tradition are those who are most aware of their sinfulness. Whether it be St. Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila or Mother Theresa, the saints are those who are convinced of their inadequacy. G.K. Chesterton once said: “ A saint is someone who knows he is a sinner.”

May this Lent be a time of special grace for each of us. The high point of our Christian year is our celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus during Holy Week. During the next six weeks we should be preparing for that celebration by acknowledging AND dying to our sinful ways and rising to a new and better life with Jesus. That, my friends can be the result of the spiritual cleanse that we perform over the next 40 days.

Salt and Light


What is your Gospel reading like these days? What did it say about you yesterday? What will it say about you for today? And what is it going to say about you tomorrow?
Did you ever think about the fact that every day, each of us writes his her own Gospel? The words from our mouths, , the deeds that we do – every day – define and write our own individual Gospel about us. People read us every day – they see us, they hear us, they interact us with us. Sometimes they become part of our Gospel. Is it all Good News?
I don’t know about you but there are a lot of chapters in my Gospel that I would prefer not to read again. I prefer not to read them again because they do not speak to me about who I am or, more precisely, who I am CALLED to be as a Roman Catholic Christian.
Yet, Jesus reminds us in this part of the Sermon on the Mount that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” What beautiful, motivating and commanding words those are. He tells the disciples, the multitudes gathered around him, and ultimately us that we are two of the most precious commodities in the world.
He is reminding us that salt, which was a valuable commodity in his time , and was even the pay of Roman soldiers – by the way, that’s where the phrase came from – he isn’t worth his salt– Jesus reminds us that each of us is valuable. We are as valuable as salt was and is today. He reminds us that, as salt, we can savor the world by how we live our lives. We can affect the way people react to the way we are around them. Now we can keep our salt in a shaker and leave it in the spice rack. Or we can use salt as it is meant to be – active and taste imparting. Just as we can do with our life. Now, we can sit behind a book, or a TV, or hide out in our home in Panama and never interact. Or we can be reminded that as followers of Christ, we need to be the salt that changes the taste of the things we do. We need to remember that it is does not have to be giant task that we accomplish but rather it can be a small gesture – or better yet, a series of small gestures – every day that define us and write our Gospel for us. It can start here, in this moment, in this Church or it can start as we step from here. But to be the valuable salt that Jesus says we are then it has to start or, more precisely, it has to continue every day of our lives.

And what about light unto the darkness? Is there anything that is more apt than that today? Now I know that, in Panama, we have a number of expats who have fled the United States because they believe they are political refugees or they believe that the government they once believed in no longer exists. I won’t go down that path because there are too many fiery political debates that can be had on that subject. But I will say that it the world, in general, has grown darker than the world we knew as children. Wherever we turn, there is a patch of darkness. Whether it be war in still another country, or hunger or famine, or spousal or child abuse or simply human neglect.
Well Jesus stops us and says , “Yes, darkness exists but you and you and I are lights to combat that darkness.”
These are God’s words, defining the way we should live, calling us to act with deeds of concern for others. Salt is active and light is active — not passive. Being salt and light for others is essential to being a follower of Christ.

For each is called to strive for personal sanctification, but what we need to remember is that in order to be holy we must be about the task of bringing others to be a part of the One who is holy.
Living for others and caring for others as Christ did is the clearest expression of love. The Second Vatican Council emphasized the Christian’s duty to be apostolic. Baptism and Confirmation confer duties upon us because in Baptism and Confirmation we are anointed to be a part of the Body of Christ on earth and, like the Apostles, to bring His presence to those around us.

All of us have countless opportunities to be salt and light for others. The very nature of the Christian life consists in doing good things for others in a supernatural spirit, in the life and motivation of Jesus Christ. That is why He told us, “Let your light so to shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

But what if your salt goes flat? How can you restore it? And what if your light is hidden under a bushel? Jesus knows how often we are tempted to be timid; how often we are motivated and controlled by concerns about what others may think of us, how often we are controlled by fear. As a result, sometimes we keep our faith and our religious values hidden. Additionally there are many voices around us telling us to keep our faith in private and away from the public square. They do not want us to “impose our values” on them even by expressing them in public. Faith, they say, is a private matter. What they are attempting to tell us is that people of faith are not supposed to make a difference in our society — that our faith isn’t supposed to be recognized in our secularized, multicultural society. In other words, we are allowed freedom of religion in our Sunday worship services but not when it comes to living out our beliefs in public. How many times in the United States have we seen that refrain played over and over again.

Can we, then, give witness to an evangelical faith in our public lives? YES, I say, we can! But it requires that we have the courage to stand out in our crowded public square. Like salt, the flavor we can give to our society must be sharp and noticeable, not so bland and flat that we are hardly noticed at all. And our humility must be such that we realize that what we believe and say and do is not for our own honor and glory, not for the gratitude we receive but for the glorification of God.

Jesus does not allow us to determine for ourselves what it means to be His followers – He tells what we must be doing and us who we are. This idea of comfortable minimalism is something He will not tolerate. Just doing the “Church thing” is not what our faith is about. The Eucharist gives us strength – His strength – to boldly go out and live our lives as Christians – not as Sunday Catholics.

Our faith in Jesus Christ is not simply so that we can save our own skins. Our faith calls us to work with Christ to reveal God’s kingdom here on earth for the salvation of our world. Anything less serves only ourselves, not others.

Each day, if you do not want to write a Gospel than keep a scorecard. How many times did you – and I—stand up for Christ. How many times did we let His light shine through us? How many times did we flavor the life of another through an act of concern, an act of charity.

Pope Frances reminds us that that the physical building of the Church is not what we are called to. We are called to be about building the presence of Jesus Christ in our society. We are called to build our lives so that others see us as “different.” See us as people who live a life that is marked by compassion in action, loving in action, caring in action, reaching out in action – letting others know that we do more than believe in Jesus Christ, we try to live the words of Jesus Christ.

The Greatest Love


At the end of the Gospel today we hear the opening words of Jesus’s ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” How fitting it is that these are the words that mark the beginning of his ministry.

Because these are not words that deal with doom and gloom. These are not words that are designed to strike fear in our hearts or souls. Instead, these are words of both comfort and love. These are words that invite us to love.

Remember the first time you were in love? It was a novel experience for you. Because, if you are like me and most of us, we found ourselves acting differently. We wanted so much to please this person who caused such a positive emotion in our lives. When you fell in love for the first time, it affected everything you did. It affected the way you faced each morning, the way you dressed, the way you acted during the day, the way you treated others, what you read, what you saw at the movies, how you reacted to situations that arose during the day and on and on. As The Prophet once said: “Fall in love, stay in love and it will affect all of your life.”

Is it any surprise then the invitation of Christ to be his follower, to prepare to follow him into the kingdom of Heaven, is similar to that? Christ does not say, Love me because if you don’t, you face the fires of hell. Instead, he says simply: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and, if you wish to enter it, then you need to give up your old ways. It is no different than when we fell in love and changed the way we thought, acted and reacted. We realize that being a lover of Christ means that we cannot live the way we used to. We cannot live a life where we are the center of our lives, We must become other directed. Christ has to be at the center of our lives. And it’s not just The Christ that we encounter in Church, or in the Eucharist, or in a beautiful icon or a stained glass window, instead it is the Christ that we see around us every day – the broken, the despairing, the lonely, the sick, and the oppressed. And the beauty as well. Every time we open our eyes and see Christ in another, we move a little closer to seeing Christ Himself. Every time we see Christ in an act of beauty or an act of forgiveness, we move a little closer to seeing Christ Himself. Every time we stretch our arm or our heart to another, we move a little closer to seeing Christ himself.

Remember it all started with our Baptism. We were chosen by God, we were called a child of God. He has been pursuing us all of our lives, and He wants nothing more than to help us move from being merely committed to our religion and going through the motions, to experiencing true intimacy with him. If we allow him to do this, our lives will never be the same again. As our Holy Father Emeritus Benedict wrote in his first encyclical, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

What usually stands directly in our way are our own designs and desires and ourselves. Not all are called to live in a religious community or be a priest or deacon or a nun, but certainly we are called to the beliefs that Christ taught and we are called to living out the gospel according to the life we lead. Look around, to your left and to your right, every person is different but we are also the same in one significant way. The love of God is present to all of us and we are each called to that love in the very particular manner that makes us different from one another..
Each of us has been gifted in a certain way and using our own particular gifts is how we respond to Christ’s call. Our lives and all the moments we have to share are opportunities to give back the love we have received. Like Christ our concern should be to bring a little light into the darkness of the world. In today’s world, that is a a challenging task, for there is so much darkness present. All we have to do is look around and see the obscenity of homelessness and poverty side-by-side with wealth. You know, the other day I read a startling fact – that the 85 richest people in the world own more than 50% of the rest of humanity. Perhaps that was part of the motivation behind the message that Pope Francis had carried to the world elite at Davos this past week.

This does not mean that Christ’s message is a failure, but simply it means we are falling short of carrying it out. As with any thing in life, it is easy to get satisfied and comfortable and say I have done all I can. Like the man who built the extra store houses, we can be the fool by looking too far ahead when as God said this very night you will die.

You know, there is a bit of uncertainty to living our faith. In loving we must remember that there is always the requirement for giving more. The more we give, the more there is to give. When have we given enough? I’m afraid only you and God can make that judgment. You are the only two who can know for sure. But what more points us out as followers of Christ is that we give more than the care and love that we have received. That is why we are called to forgive because we are quick to forgive ourselves, and so we should just as quickly forgive others. What love can there be if there is any ill will present? So today we are again called to repent and to once again answer Christ’s call.

This Sunday’s Gospel invites us to remember that our personal vocation is founded on God’s original and absolutely free choice. His invitation towards us is an invitation to make a final decision to let Him conquer or re-conquer us to mark a turning point in our lives.

Let us ask the Lord, for us and the whole Church, for the gift of a true conversion of our hearts enabling us to receive Christ as the only Light to follow. For it is Christ who is the only one that really dispels the darkness within and around us.

Living With Our Baptism

It was 37 years ago, on December 12, that I received the sacrament of ordination as a Permanent Deacon. It was, and will always be, a memory that is vivid within my soul and my heart.

As part of that ordination, each of us received a Bible and each of us received the same instruction:

Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are.
Believe what you read.
Teach what you believe.
Practice what you teach.”

That was the seminal moment of my ministerial life and, for 33 years, I functioned as a permanent deacon, doing my secular job during the day, and my diaconal work at nights and on the weekends.

But it was that day, 37 years ago, that my public ministry began. It was both a seminal moment for me and a transformational one. Today, we witness in the Gospel the seminal moment of the public ministry of Jesus Christ. The readings of today underscore that the Baptism of Jesus was a major turning point in His life. Prior to it, we know very little of His life between age twelve and thirty. Jesus’ public life began with His Baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan.

But why is The Baptism of the Lord so major and what is the significance of all of this for us. Why did Jesus even need to be baptized and what does it mean for us? After all, baptism did not start with John the Baptism. The Jews used baptism for centuries. It was used by them as an initiation rite for pagans who wished to become Jews. Even in today’s Gospel, you hear John the Baptist almost shying away from baptizing Jesus. Yet, Jesus knew that it had to be done not just to fulfill the prophecy but he also did it for a far more personal reason – he did it for you and me. By lining up with the sinners to be baptized, Jesus set himself aside from the exemption he could have claimed as the Son of God. Instead,  he completely identified with the sinfulness of humanity and became one like us. 

In this humble submission, we see a foreshadowing of the ‘baptism’ of his bloody death upon the cross. Jesus’ baptism is the acceptance and the beginning of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allowed himself to be numbered among sinners. He submitted himself entirely to his Father’s will. Out of love he consented to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins

No matter how many times I have chewed on that thought in 37 years, I have never ceased to be overwhelmed by it. 

But there is even more. This extraordinary event was also an epiphany —. a revelation of who Jesus was – it was the Divine witness to Jesus’ standing as the Son of God. In fact, it is only 1 of 2 times in all the gospels that God speaks directly – the other, if you are curious, is The Transfiguration. But The Jordan scene was one in which the threefold presence of God was manifested. The Gospel Reading of today tells us that after the baptism of Jesus, when he came up from water, the heavens were opened and the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove and a voice was heard – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

Here we see that Jesus is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit and is declared by God the Father as His beloved Son. And this is what happens to us when we are baptized, –. at baptism we are filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit and obtain a new life; next, we also become a child of God in Jesus Christ. In baptism, we too are named by God. All of us have different names, signifying our uniqueness before God. Yet in baptism, all of us are given the same name, i.e.. ‘child of God,’ signifying our oneness with God and our unity with one another in God. God says to Jesus at his baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God says the same thing to each one of us in our baptism, ‘You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son.’ 

Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we begin a new life by establishing a union with the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and receiving the gift of faith. In this new birth, we receive remission from sin, receives the Spirit of son-ship which us to become a child of God, a member of the Church, and a citizen of heaven. This way baptism becomes the gateway to the life of grace and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. 

With baptism our new life of grace begins; it is a fresh start and the gateway to the rest of Christian life. But what we should be prepared for is that our journey of faith, much like Jesus’ journey, continues to unfold long after our baptism as we try to discern what our baptism means in our daily living. 

And in so doing, the Church invites all of us to renew our own baptismal promises, so that we can live ever more transparently as a disciple of Jesus, trying to do what is right, and true, and good, and beautiful. 

By being baptized, even though he had no need to be cleansed from sin himself, Jesus takes our place. And we in turn, when we are baptized, are called to take Jesus’ place, to become ‘sons in the Son.’ Thus through baptism, we put on Christ; we are clothed with Christ; we become one with Christ; we become another Christ. 

That is the key for us. It is His mandate. He asks us to become Christ-like in all that we do. And that, my friends, is a tall order for all of us. 

It’s probably one of the many reasons that Pope Francis is as popular as he is. Because this Pope says to put aside our preoccupation with our worldly goods — be it priest or lay person. Recognize that the more we are attached to what we have – the more toys we feel obsessed with having, the more pride we take in demonstrating our worldly wealth, the harder it is for us to become Christ-like.. 

You know, all of us in Panama, have a unique invitation. The invitation is to look around at this beautiful country and, at the same time, to see all that can be done. There is so much that we can do to help the average Panamanian grow in his/her dignity; so much that we can do to help the average Panamanian continue their growth either professionally or as a tradesman. We can’t do that by sitting in our enclaves. We do that by recognizing that, as guests who take much from this country, we can also give much. It all begins with recognizing that we are all sons and daughters in Christ. It all begins by recognizing that every day, as difficult as it may be, we are called to conform to Christ. We are called to find ways that we can help, we are called to let the light of Christ shine through us so that in all that we do, in all that we say, so that we can be recognized as Christians. It is easy? No way. Do we stumble and fall each day. You bet. But you know what? It wasn’t easy for the human Jesus. He stumbled. He despaired. He questioned why. But he knew that in his human failings, we could identify more with Him. 

Our baptism is never a one-time event. We are called to live and keep our baptismal promises throughout our life. We who have received the grace of baptism must endeavor always to live up to our baptismal promises throughout our life.  And that is the Good News of today – the question for all of us is whether we accept the challenge to allow the grace of baptism to shine through our actions today and every day.



John 6: 24-35

Fascinating gospel reading because it describes for us our own personal journey of faith – when it begins, how it works and where it will end.

Let’s start with the beginning of our faith journey – Jesus says: “You are not looking for me because you have seen signs but because you have eaten your fill of the loaves.” That happens to all of us who call themselves Christians. At some point in our life, we recognize that there is something missing. Our stomachs and minds may be full of material things but our spirit still seems to be hungry. We notice a void and look to fill it. Or perhaps we have been through a bad turn in our lives and we reach out for something bigger than ourselves for comfort or strength. Whatever the case, we seek and, at that moment, our journey of faith begins.

And as we begin to seek, we realize that the objective of our searching is to find something – someone – that is bigger than ourselves – someone who will always be there for us. Listen again to the words of Jesus: “You should not be working for perishable food but for food that remains until life eternal.” It’s because at that point in our faith journey that we realize that our bodies are mortal and our days numbered and our natural urge is to extend that mortality. We recognize that eternity is beyond the grasp of our mortal bodies and minds. But we discover that eternity could be within our grasp if we look toward Jesus Christ.

But then we come to the next leg of our journey. We have acknowledged that we want more from our life – that we are hungry for something greater – we realize that “something” could be our belief in Jesus Christ. But how do we come to the point of believing? Listen again to the words of Jesus: “This is the work of God; have faith in the One he sent.” In one sentence, Jesus tells us that the work of God is to give us faith and that faith comes from the one person he sent. In one sentence, our eyes are opened to the mystery of faith. We are led to understand that the work of God is to give us faith and its faith that brings us home to him.

Have you ever thought of that before? Have you ever thought that the purpose of God is to instill faith in each of us so that He can bring us home? I don’t know about you but I somehow thought that God was about greater things. . . you know, ruling heaven, making sure that all was right in his kingdom, maybe even watching over all those millions of angels to be sure that all their harps were all on key. But instead, we are told that God really is about us.  God’s purpose is to be sure that we are given the gift of faith so that we can, one day, be with him. WOW!

For me, that is an enormous revelation. God is about me. God is about you.  That is humbling. And when you think about it, every Gospel passage really leads us to that. The entire Bible—both Old and New – is about that. We are paramount in the mind of God. He loves us so much that his purpose is to have us believe enough in him that we are given faith – that we become faithful – and through our faith we begin a journey that brings us to eternal life with Him.

 And now we can begin to feel and to understand what Jesus is about and why he came. Listen again to the words of scripture: “This is the work of God: have faith in the One he sent.”

 We all know who is the One he sent. It is, of course, our friend Jesus Christ. Now we understand how the mission of God is fulfilled. His mission is to bring us home to him. His messenger was His son Jesus Christ. Now we understand why it is that God gave us His son. So that we could believe and be saved.

  In our own humanness, we could not discover God on our own. In the Old Testament, we hear of God giving signs and sending messengers but it was not until He sent his very son, Jesus Christ, that we were fully capable of grasping the message and starting our journey home.

 Think about the enormity of that revelation. First that God’s purpose is to give us faith so that we can be united with Him and that God’s love for us was so great and his longing for us to be with Him was so deep that he then sent his son, Jesus, to lead us home.

 Just think about what that says to each of us.  Do we ever feel as if we are not very important to anyone? The answer is that we are so important to God that his whole mission is to make sure we find our way home to Him.

Do we ever feel as if we are alone and, that ultimately, no one really cares what happens to us? The answer is that God cares. He cares so much that he gave us His son to bring us home.

Do we ever doubt our faith? Have misgivings about trying to live a faith filled life? The answer is don’t have those misgivings. Our entire life is predicated upon a belief system that says: I believe in God and I accept his son Jesus as my savior so that I can live forever with him.

 Do we ever wonder about our acts of kindness? Do we ever think that maybe they are not worth something? They are important because every act of kindness mirrors God’s love for us. Every time we perform an act of kindness, we are allowing someone else to see a small piece of God revealed.

 For you and for me, this gospel passage has to be extraordinarily important. In it is revealed God’s plan. In it is revealed God’s messenger. In it is revealed the enormity of God’s love for us. In it is revealed the promise of our faith, we believe because we know our belief gives us the promise of everlasting love and life.