Answering The Call

Jesus Knocking

Today’s readings revolve around two themes: The call of the Lord to each of us and how we respond to that call .

Notice in the Gospel today that John’s disciples are prepared to hear God’s call. They are already looking for the Messiah, so they trust in John’s word and follow when he points out the Lamb of God walking by.

Samuel is also waiting on the Lord – sleeping near the Ark of the Covenant where God’s glory dwells, taking instruction from Eli, the high priest.

Samuel listened to God’s word and the Lord was with him. And Samuel, through his word, turned all Israel to the Lord.  The disciples too, heard and followed – words we hear repeatedly in today’s Gospel. They stayed with the Lord and by their testimony brought others to the Lord.

But that is the top line – there is an even deeper story for each of us when we dig deeper into these readings.

What are you looking for?” Is actually one of the deepest question one person can ask another. To paraphrase, “What—really, down deep—are you seeking in your life? Power? Pleasure? Wealth? Relief from loneliness? Relief from pain, hunger? Knowledge? Truth? Love?” How do you answer this question right now?

“Where are you staying?”–when asked by persons who are curious about or attracted to Jesus—is a question that is really asking, “Where do you come from, Master? What is the source of your life? Who—really, down deep—are you?” For the word translated “stay,” menein, means something deeper than what is your address. In the Gospel of John this word refer to a person’s source of being and ultimate purpose.

And Jesus’ response–“Come and see” –really, when you know the whole story, means,  “Follow me as a committed disciple and you will come to really see (understand and believe) in a whole new way.”

But do we do that in our lives? Do we ever question our relationship with God? Have we ever heard personally the Lord speaking to us? It could happen while we are before our Lord in Eucharistic adoration here at San Juan Bautista every Thursday, or praying the Rosary, or reading the Scriptures, or marveling at amazing scenery, or listening at Mass to the Word of God, proclaimed and preached to us. Have we ever genuinely said to God: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”?

Do we pay attention to the urgent invitation of the recent popes to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ in his Word, especially during the celebration of Holy Mass? Granted, it is far from easy nowadays to listen to God speaking to us in the noisy culture we live in, where the stories of violence and inhumanity, are rampant!

The Gospel reinforces the importance of the call of God, as John, the beloved disciple, relates in his own way, how Andrew and the other one (most probably John himself) met the Lord for the first time. John remembers vividly the moment of the encounter: “it was about four in the afternoon.” He and Andrew had previously been followers of John the Baptist, who himself pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.” First, they call Jesus “Rabbi” or Teacher, and Jesus invites them to “come and see” and to stay with him. And they remained with him that day.

Again, this begs the question: when we come to Mass as individuals or families, do we come to church, expecting to see the Lord and yearning to abide with him, as we listen attentively to his Word and then are united so intimately with him in Holy Communion? Notice that Andrew, right after his stay with Jesus, rushes to tell Simon Peter, his brother, “we have found the Messiah!” Jesus is no longer a mere “Teacher,” but in him, Andrew and John have found the Messiah, the long awaited Savior of Israel!

This is a tangible moment of grace for Andrew and John: they had experienced a powerful revelation, an unveiling of their eyes, a conversion of their heart, after responding to Jesus’ invitation to “come and see,” and taking time to abide with him. Andrew cannot contain his joyful eagerness to go and tell his brother about their encounter with the Messiah .Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus, who “looks at him” and calls him, “You are Simon, son of John; you will be called Cephas, which is translated Peter.”

When we are at Mass or when we are praying and/or reading God’s Word, do we allow Jesus to gaze at us, calling us by name and sending us on a mission? Every one of us has a unique mission, for, by baptism, we have been called to be “missionary disciples.”

Do we allow the Holy Spirit to stir up in us this calling to be a joyful and bold witness of the risen Lord Jesus in our own environment, in our family, at our workplace, among our friends, in our parish? Do we do everything we can to build up our parish in this community. Or do we simply take advantage of it being here for us on  Sunday?

And then there are times that God seems to upset the apple cart. Suddenly we lose a loved one, or face financial ruin, or are grievously disappointed by a son or daughter or close relative, or face a terminal illness. Those are the times when we look for the Lord. Those are the times when our faith is most challenged. Those are the times when we wish we had that personal relationship with Jesus. And THESE are the times when we need to build it. Is Jesus there for us always? Of Course. But when we have taken the time to hear his call, when we have taken the time to live out his call in our daily lives, when we have taken the time to listen to God speaking to us, calling us by name, then our faith takes on a dimension that cannot be buttressed. It may get dented, or bruised, or even shaken for awhile, but our faith is as strong as we choose to make it. The choice is always there. The choice is yours. What is yours today?

The Commandment of Community

The Master Teacher by Michael Dudash

The Commandment of Community


Today’s readings remind me of that hair shirt that you have heard me reference in the past. The hair shirt that some monks and hermits used to wear. The continual scratching of the animal hair against their skin reminded them of their need to always be aware of the presence of God in their lives.

So it is today. The common theme of today’s readings is our responsibility towards the salvation of others in our community because they are God’s children and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are the “keepers” of our brothers and sisters, for each one of us is important to all others in our faith community.  This individual responsibility in a Christian society includes, as today’s readings remind us, our responsibility for each other’s actions and words.

Perhaps the most painful obligation of watchful love is fraternal correction as well as the generosity in forgiving and forgetting injuries.  In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel that he is a “watchman for the house of Israel,” obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers.  If Ezekiel should refrain from speaking God’s word intended to convert the wicked, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for the death of the wicked.  In the second reading, St. Paul points out that the love we should have for one another should be our only reason for admonishing the sinner.  Love seeks the good of the one who is loved. Thus, we should watch over and, if need be, teach one another so that we all may repent and grow in holiness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that true Christian charity obliges a Christian not only to assist his neighbors in their temporal and spiritual needs with material help and prayer, but also with correction and counsel for an erring brother or sister who has injured one if his or her sins are public.

Now that is a tall order and perhaps even one that many shy away from. There is in many the attitude of “minding our own business” or “not getting involved.” Yet, that is not what we are asked to do.

Nowhere is that more important than in this small community of faith. Whether it is the tiny English speaking community of San Juan Bautista or the larger community of Panamanians and North Americans that is the Church of San Juan Bautista.

Looking at the smallest portion first – the English speaking community.  – we must stop and realize that we are involved in a once in a lifetime opportunity. Just like those early Christians who gathered in homes or underground, we – because of our size – are given the opportunity and the obligation to take care of and to love one another. To do so in a way that this community grows and grows. We are very much in the same situation as those early small gatherings of Christians who were building their church and their own community of believers.

Scripturally, they were and each of us is commanded to become the “keeper” of one’s “brother” and “sister. We are our brother’s/sister’s keeper and this is even more critical in a small community. There are those who tend to think that they have no right to intervene in the private lives of their fellow believers. Others evade the issue saying, “As a sinner, I don’t have the moral courage or the right to correct anyone.” But Jesus emphatically affirms that we are our brothers’ keepers, and we have the serious obligation to lovingly correct others. Have we offered advice and encouragement to our friends and neighbors and co-workers when it was needed, and loving correction in private for a personal offense where that was possible? Correcting, caring and promoting are the ways of applications.

The key of course is the manner in which it is done.

There is the story of the woman who was bitten by a rabid dog, and it looked as if she was going to die from rabies. The doctor told her to put her final affairs in order. So the woman took pen and paper, and began writing furiously. In fact she wrote and wrote and wrote. Finally the doctor said, “That sure is a long will you’re making.” She snorted, “Will, nothing! I’m making a list of all the people I’m going to bite!”

Or there is still another way. Years ago, I was given the distinct honor to be appointed by President Ford as a Civilian Advisor to The United States Military Academy at West Point. In one of my conversations with the Superintendent of the Academy, he told me this story.  He said there was a general understanding among the  cadets that they were all working hard to make the entire Army better and sometimes that meant confronting others. He told me that it didn’t do much good to say to someone: “You messed that up” because all it did was shame the cadet. Instead he would say: “You didn’t perform to your abilities.” That acknowledged that the cadet was capable, but came up short this time. Instead of shaming the person to admitting he messed up, this allowed the cadet to try harder and live up to his own abilities. That’s the course that needs to be followed.

Last Sunday, at the 11:00 Mass, I said in Spanish that I believe the Lord brought me here to San Juan Bautista so that, in the last years of my life, I could minister to a people whose love of God was so great. I then went on to say that I love this Church and its people – that includes both English speaking and Spanish speaking. While the Panamanian community is much larger, we are one community – one community of people who love Jesus Christ.

We gather in Jesus’ name and we can work miracles: Today’s Gospel reminds us of the good we can do together, and of how we can do it. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If any group of us gather, work, and act with the Holy Spirit guiding us, we will become much more than simply the collective number of people we are. Today, Jesus makes it clear how important we are, one to another. One in Christ, our community can use God’s power to make His healing, life-giving love more effective among His people.

In John 17: , verse 21 really pounds this point home. He quotes Jesus as saying:

“My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as you and I are one, Father — that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.”

We MUST understand that to live within a fractured or a conflicted relationship with another believer – to another brother or sister in this Church – gives license to the unbelieving world to dismiss the reality of Jesus and the mission he was given from his heavenly Father.

Somehow, we must overcome our hesitancies to reach out, we must love each other, no matter how we disagree, so that the mission and the ministry of the Christ continues and returns to the forefront. We must allow our agendas to take a backseat to the LORD’s calling for us. This is the path to a true practice of the faith.

If we do this, then this beautiful Church of San Juan Bautista – North American and Panamanian – will be the shining light on the hill that invites others to become one with us – a people dedicated to the love of God and to each other.





the well 

It’s The Act That Could Change Our World

Our world, especially our culture, has changed a great deal in fifty years.  Women and men still suffer physical and/or emotional abuse, but with far less frequency and far less submission.  For most people more education has meant greater maturity in their relationships.  Both genders have learned to communicate more honestly.

Now  join me in reflecting on this moving scene in Matthew’s gospel.  Jesus and his companions are on vacation north of Galilee in Tyre and Sidon.  This is where Canaanites and Phoenicians lived.  Normally Jews did not come there.  Matthew tells this story to teach his community about their proper attitude toward Gentiles.  That is important but consider what this text tells us about Jesus of Nazareth.

A woman comes out to meet Jesus.  She was a woman in desperate need, but there are two problems, two hurdles.  First, she does not belong to the chosen people and Jews never associated with pagans.  Second, she is a woman and women had very low status in the society of the time.  That she was alone and without a name implies she was a social outcast.

The details of the story leave little doubt about the humanity of Jesus.  His lack of maturity is evident.  He reacts out of the cultural bias he has inherited and his attitude toward the woman is negative.  She forces him to confront his narrow prejudices that prevent him from loving her.

In this story Matthew subtly describes Jesus changing and growing.  The Spirit is at work both in the woman and in Jesus.  The woman does not accept the explanations he offers. She does not accept the ethnic, political, religious and gender exclusion that marginalizes so many women.

She called Jesus to think outside of the Jewish box.  She called him to expand the circle of his love.  I suspect Jesus laughed out loud as she confronted him and his immaturity with the bold statement, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”  If he did laugh, surely it was at himself.  He knew the woman was right and all other explanations are of no use.  She forced him to recognize “the God of compassion is the God of all people” and he changed.  As he reached out to her with genuine love he became more fully alive and more fully human!

His growing maturity is evident in the very next paragraph of Matthew’s gospel.  “After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up on the mountain, where he sat down.  Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others.  They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing.  And they praised the God of Israel.”

Today there still are women among us who are alone, marginalized, ill-treated and forgotten.  Like the Canaanite woman their presence calls us to imitate the “unconditional love” we experience in Jesus.  As we do we also will become more fully alive and more fully human.

Like all of us Jesus engaged in the daily struggle to be more fully human and more fully alive.

But our point today is faith. God created everything, the universe, men, women and everything else in it. God embraces all people. God did not create evil, that was from humanity. God looks for all and calls for all. He expects that we should do the same. We should be concerned for all, welcome all. You might say it is not so easy, but think about it. Sure we don’t meet all or even great numbers of people, we’re not all world travelers, or missionaries. But how many do we meet or encounter in a day, in a week? How do we act? What is our demeanor? Do we walk with blinders or are we kind and friendly. Do we see the homeless, the hungry? Sure there are phonies out there, but not all are. My thought is that if we did one good thing a week, encouraged or influenced only one person a week, Christ and faith in him would increase and our reach would be more than we would see. .

Pentecost Is A Call To Each Of Us


The lesson of Pentecost—fifty days after the Resurrection (in fact, Pentecost means 50 days)—is that the Word of God will not be contained or diminished or reduced—but will go out—in every language and dialect and in every corner of the world until the end of time—because it is the word of Love, the Law of love—the gift of God Himself.

We received the Holy Spirit at Baptism. We are told that this Spirit is within us as we grow up. But, so many of us do not really appreciate this presence. We have an opportunity to grow in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, which has been called our own “personal Pentecost.” However, for many, Confirmation has just become a “rite of passage” or even worse, for some, the last time they will attend religious education or even Mass!! So we go through the preparation choosing a Saint’s name, getting a nice outfit, and planning a little family reception. The day comes and we go through the liturgy just hoping the Bishop doesn’t ask us a question. Admittedly, I too at the time of my Confirmation did not appreciate it or think about it much afterwards.

The disciples in the closed room may have had the same mixed feelings before their Pentecost. They had been waiting and praying for ten days. The doors were most likely locked for fear of the Jewish leaders who had crucified the Lord. Then, all of a sudden a “strong driving wind” (like a tornado) comes upon the building. “Tongues of fire” come to rest on each of them. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth proclaiming the Gospel in different languages with great courage.  We may ask ourselves: Why doesn’t our own personal Pentecost have the same effect?

First, the Scriptures tell us that “the Spirit blows where it wills.” God chooses to work most often through the ordinary events and circumstances of daily life. The Spirit is present and working, but only a prayerful and humble soul can see His great works done in ordinary events. Secondly, we often do not open ourselves up to the grace given to us by the Sacrament of Confirmation to use the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Do we really desire to spread the entire Gospel message? Do we even believe that the Catholic faith is the truth? Or, do we even believe in any objective truth at all?

The disciples, for all their foibles, loved Jesus and the message that He taught them. They wanted to spread the Gospel to all nations, because they believed that it was the life changing revelation of God! When the tongues of fire came upon them, they embraced the Holy Spirit as a great gift. These 11 weak men were open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, which told them to proclaim the Gospel to all nations.

The amazing “power” that was given to the Apostles after they received the Spirit was a reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel.  In that story everyone spoke one language until through their pride they thought they could build a tower to heaven so nothing they wanted would be out of their reach. God punished them and suddenly they could no longer communicate with each other and different languages were born.

The reverse happens at Pentecost – God restores the ability to communicate and each hears the Word of God in his or her own language. Finally, in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we get, not a story, but a theological interpretation of the event. It seems that Paul had been writing to Corinth because there had been arguments in the Corinth community about the relative importance of the different graces or gifts given by the Spirit. They thought that some gifts were more valuable than others, and that speaking in tongues was to be most valued. Paul response to this is to lump all the gifts together and describe them in their totality as graces given by the Spirit in order to build up a community. This is also one of the passages where we get some idea of early theology on the Trinity. The one Spirit gives gifts in many varieties; we give service, as a result, in many ways, as Christ did, and there is but one Christ; and we take action and evangelize in many ways, but in the name of the one God.

The idea Paul suggests is that being a part of the body of Christ, we each have a function for the common good.  We need to find out what that function is that the Spirit has given us, develop it, trust God the Spirit to activate it, and then appreciate and not be envious of the gifts of others which work to further our own good.

I am suggesting  that each of you has been given a gift to advance the community here. You may not have discovered that gift yet. You may have been afraid to discover that gift. But with your confirmation, it can be discovered and activated. It may even surprise you. This week I would love for you to think about what gift or gifts you may have been graced with, and whether you are using them for the good of this community or in building Christ’s kingdom beyond us. You may want to think of it as a talent for something or just simply something you are good at, but it is important to bring it to our table, to use it, to function as part of Christ’s body.

The work of Christ in sending us his Holy Spirit is that of making us His blood brothers and sisters. The work of Christ and the Spirit is that of reconciling, of forgiving, of loosening that which binds us up in our own isolation and our sterile self-centeredness. The work of Christ, now raised in power by the Holy Spirit, is the work of bringing a holistic communion to a people that are alienated, fractured, shattered, and divided by the waste of not loving when they could have loved. The work of Christ and the Holy Spirit is that of overcoming human sin. Sin is the name of all that has caused us to waste our chances to be better persons, to hurt, divide, and separate us from each other and from God.

Our task, is to be that source of healing for others. Ours is the mission of speaking  God’s language where we work, among our colleagues and associates, friends and neighbors. Ours is the ministry of healing that which was divided, of inspiring those who have become jaded and cynical, of animating those who have lost hope, and of telling all who have missed chances of being better persons that there is a Second Coming of Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work in the mysteries of life, death, love, suffering, and beauty.

It’s essential to be available to God, to be open to God, to bring Him your mind and let Him infuse His presence into your thoughts. Awareness of the nearness and of the love of God is vital for you spiritually. But equally as important it’s awareness of that nearness that helps us realize the gift of the Holy Spirit within us and allows us to be Christ to one another. After all, isn’t that what we are called to be?