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?

Following Him or Playing The Part?

Jesus Preaching In The Temple

The Pharisees are mentioned frequently in the Gospels. They played a significant role in the public life of Jesus. What we know of them leads us to have a very negative opinion of them. We see them as legalistic hypocrites, blind to Jesus and his message. We see them becoming increasingly hostile to Jesus, and eventually seeking to destroy him. They are often presented as questioning Jesus, trying to provoke a response that will discredit him.

Specifically, in today’s Gospel, the Pharisees propose a dilemma designed to get Jesus into trouble, no matter which alternative he chooses. If Jesus said it was lawful to pay the tax, he would be in trouble with the Jewish people. If he said the tax should not be paid, he would be in trouble with the Roman authorities. As he often did, Jesus responded with a question. In doing so, he escaped the dilemma and raised the issue to a new level.

Although he was often in conflict with the Pharisees, Jesus recognized their role as teachers in Israel. He told people, “Do as they say; not as they do!” The Jewish people were people of the law as handed down by Moses. The Pharisees were the interpreters and guardians of the law. In fact, it was to their credit that they were the ones largely responsible for sustaining fidelity to the Law of Moses in Israel.

Jesus was sharply critical of the religion of the Pharisees. They often turned life-giving principles into regulations that suffocated and condemned. Over time, the great principles of the Law were broken down into literally thousands of rules and regulations. The Pharisees believed salvation was attained through scrupulous observance of those rules and regulations.

The Pharisees thought they knew exactly what God wanted of them. When Jesus told them they didn’t have it right, they simply refused to believe him. In fact, they turned strongly against him and his message. The Pharisees were dedicated legalists. For them, religion consisted in careful observance of every detail of the Law. At the same time, they were deeply religious in the sense of being desperately earnest about the practice of religion; but religion as they understood it.

There is a danger in being a legalist in our faith. The danger is as obvious as the Pharisees. There is a trap because some see themselves as so perfect in the following of our Church’s teachings that they forget that the words of Jesus Christ were directed at living a Christ centered life. I have seen this so many times in my ministry that I could weep. The overly pious Catholic, the sanctimonious Catholic, the Catholic that struts about their faith but when the rubber hits the road, there is little that shows in their living of a Christ centered life.

Much of the behavior of the Pharisees was self-serving. Deeds were performed to be seen and admired. Reflection on their behavior has resulted in the term “Pharisee” becoming a synonym for “hypocrite.” The problem of the Pharisees was not so much a lack of faith, as a lack of humility, humility that would allow them to admit they could be wrong. They had lost the capacity for self-criticism. Lack of humility is often accompanied by stubbornness. Thus, the Pharisees became fixed in their opposition to Jesus, which then became stronger and stronger.

Having said all that about the Pharisees, I still like to think of them as affording us a good example in a negative way. We must be careful not to out-Pharisee the Pharisees, i.e., not to think of ourselves as incapable of making the same mistakes they did. We can learn from them not to think we understand so perfectly what God wants of us that we never have to make any adjustment in our thinking. To put it a bit differently, the valuable lesson we can learn from the Pharisees is that they needed to change their minds, to be converted. There is a sense in which we, too, need to be converted, i.e., converted in the sense of being continuously in a process of turning away from sin, and turning to the Lord.

From time to time, the Gospels describe Jesus as challenging the Pharisees in very strong language. It helps to remember Jesus also found it necessary to challenge his close followers. We can find 17 places in the Gospels when Jesus asked his disciples: “Are you still without understanding?” It is not that the disciples were dull or of low intelligence. The real challenge for Jesus is not one of a lack of intelligence among his disciples, but for them to be willing to give up an old vision, and accept a new one. The challenge Jesus presents to anyone who wants to be his follower is not so much a matter of understanding, as a matter of radical faith, and profound trust in Jesus as Son of God, and our Savior.

I think that applies to all of us in the faith community of San Juan Bautista. It’s not a question of how often we look the part of the perfect Catholic Christian. It really is a question of how often we stand in the footsteps of Jesus. As my children were growing and there were arguments, I would ask : “ What would you do if Jesus were standing here?” We need to ask ourselves the same question every day. Do the thoughts of our minds, the words from our lips, the actions from our hands honor and imitate Jesus Christ. If the answer is “no,” then we know that we are more like a Pharisee than a follower of Christ. Pray God that each of us has the wisdom, the maturity and the true spirit to be an imitator of Christ.




The DNA of The Holy Trinity


Here we are on the day that the Church celebrates The Most Holy Trinity.

But let me assure you that I am not going to use a Shamrock to try and explain the Holy  Trinity. Nor am I going to talk of a mirror with three sides reflecting  one person with three different perspectives. In fact, I am not even going to try and explain the mystery of three persons in one. Why? Because we all accept it, we start our prayers by announcing it, we recite it in the Nicene Creed and we just finished celebrating 50 days after Easter, the third nature of God – the Holy Spirit. It is a mystery of our faith that we accept and take into our Christian consciousness.

So what am I going to do? I am going to try and take you deeper into the mystery of the Holy Spirit so that you can appreciate the effect of the Holy Trinity in your daily life.

And I am doing that because of the Gospel that the Church has selected for this Sunday. It is probably one of the best known verses in the Bible.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” You probably sang a paraphrase of this as a child in Sunday school or CCD when you sang: “ Jesus loves me, this I know, because the Bible tells me so.”

It’s also such a great summary of the Christian message, for it tells us of God’s love, it tells us of what that love did for us, and it tells us how we are able to receive that love.

You see the underlying DNA of the Holy Trinity is love but we need to understand that.

We find the love of God, so expressed in the Holy Trinity as God the Father who watches over us and loves us; Jesus, His Son, who died for us so that we might have eternal life and still lives in us or as Mother Theresa once said: “ The cross reminds us of how much Christ loved us and the Eucharist reminds us of how much Christ loves us. Finally, we have the love of God expressed in the Holy Spirit, that constant, internal presence that lives within us, guiding us and helping to remind us of the better path.

We all have different views in our head about who God is and what God is like. God does reveal himself to us throughout the Bible and we learn a few key things about him. We know that he has a bit of the disciplinarian in him, as any good parent has. He has suggested certain things that people should do if they want to live good and healthy lives. He gave us the Ten Commandments. He set up rules for his people to live by. Again, I like to think of this as good parenting. God also tells us in the Bible that he is a jealous God. He wants his people to follow him. God also tells us in the Bible that he is all powerful, but that he gives us control of our own lives. And again and again, he tells us that he loves us. Just what are some of those key indices?

“But that he gave his only begotten Son” — Jesus came into this world for a reason. It wasn’t just a fluke, and Jesus wasn’t just a great teacher. Jesus tells us himself that he was the Son of God. And Jesus did things that only the Son of God could do. But again, Jesus being the Son of God and Jesus coming to this world is a sign of God’s love. Jesus was special. And his coming to this world, which we celebrate each and every Christmas, and his living in this world and teaching us how to live, and his dying for our sins and rising on the third day which we celebrate at Easter time, all were done out of love.

“That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” — Here is the hope and the part where we come in. If we believe in Jesus, if we accept him as our Savior and Lord, then we shall not perish but have everlasting life. We’ve spent some time at this church talking about what it means to “believe in” Jesus. It’s important to realize that to believe in Jesus doesn’t just mean that we are to accept some facts as true. Instead, our actions and our faith are much more connected. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior we discover that our lives are changed, we discover that we are not living for ourselves anymore but living for him. This is what it means to believe in Jesus. It means that we are to follow him and love him and submit to him. And submission is tough for a lot of people. Because God also gave us free will. Sometimes I wonder whether it was a way of God having fun with us. He gives us free will almost as if He is daring us to choice: use that free will to follow him or use that free will to follow another, darker path – one that alienates us from Him.

And so humanity discovered sin, we discovered unfaithfulness, we discovered selfishness, and we discovered the things that go along with this like pain and death. And we can see throughout history and even in our own lives that these things have a control that sometimes seems overwhelming. We condemn ourselves by living lives of selfishness, by refusing to love our neighbors, by worshipping materiality more than our spiritual relationship with God, by letting pride and fear rule our lives. When these things are in control in our lives, our relationship with God is hurt. There is a divide between us and him that these things cause. And the fact is that we cannot cross that divide. But God, in his wisdom and in his love, sent his Son to cross that divide and show us that we don’t need to let pride and selfishness and fear rule our lives. Instead we can follow him. Instead we can live again as his children and have that good relationship that he created us for. Instead we can allow him into our lives to change our lives. But these things, pride, selfishness, sin, they have power over us, they have a hold on our lives that they aren’t ready to give up.

Look deep in your hearts and tell me that it isn’t so. If your answer is that it isn’t so, then you are truly an exception. Because all of us – all of us – fight that battle every day. And so there needed to be a sacrifice to conquer that power that sin has over us. So God himself offered the sacrifice, in the death of his own Son. And because of this, the condemnation can end. Because of this — the death and resurrection of Jesus– not only can our sins be forgiven, but their power over us is gone.

THISis the freedom that God offers. THIS is the power that God has. THIS is the love that God shows. We all have sins, we all have things that have power over us, even today. We all have problems that we cannot work our way out of. Don’t be ashamed of this, for you aren’t the only one like this.

But wait. There is one other side to this free will coin toss. It comes in the form of the Holy Spirit.

If you want to understand just how creative God can be, look no further than this Sunday’s readings. This is Trinity Sunday, when our minds are challenged to comprehend something that is, frankly, incomprehensible: one God in three persons.

But God’s creativeness so far exceeds our own. And His love overwhelms us.

He is a God who loves us so much…He created us, as God the Father.

He is a God who loves us so much…He became one of us, as God the Son.

And He is a God who loves us so much…He remains with us, as God the Holy Spirit — abiding with us and continuing, in astonishing ways, His creation.

God wants to share Himself with us – to give all that He has.

Here is a God so generous…He gave us Himself, in flesh, to suffer with us and die for us.

Here is a God so generous…He continues to give us Himself, through the appearance of bread and wine, here at this altar.

Here is a God so generous, He shares with us gifts of the Holy Spirit:: wisdom and understanding…courage and piety…knowledge and counsel and fear of the Lord.

Here is a God who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings – three distinct persons, but with limitless possibilities.

And He wants us to discover that, and celebrate that. He is constantly calling out to us.

Now some of you may be saying: OK, nice message about how much God loves us but we know that. You are talking to the choir here.


God created you to live in a special relationship with him. He created you to have a special purpose, a special meaning to your life. He created each of us for this. You don’t need to work yourself to a certain point before he will have anything to do with you. Give him control. Allow him in. He will fill you, he will make the changes he needs with you. You don’t need to get to a certain point before he will say yes to you. He’s saying yes to you right now. He loves you.

It is truly that simple. Accept Jesus, allow him into your life, and you will find salvation, not only from hell, but from the sins and trials that plague you here on earth. God is offering this to you out of love. He is offering this to you because he wants you to live a better life, because he wants you to know the joy that his love brings.

Years ago, a dear friend did a needle point sampler for me, it read “Lord, may my life be a prayer.” Think about that. What a gift if each of us could live our life as a prayer.

You can be a better person. Not because you are able yourself to conquer the sins and difficulties in your life, but because God will conquer them for you. This is what he offers to all who know him and follow him. This is what he offers to all whom he loves. Let him love you, let him be the focus of your life, let him work in you, let him show you the unique special gifs that he gave you, let him make you new.

All of this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen






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.





What Is The Church?

 The Cross


Today’s readings give us a strong instruction on what the Church is and where we fit as members of the Church.

The first reading gives us a glimpse into some of the key hallmarks of what Church is. The community was upset because it was felt that the wives of the gentiles who converted were not being treated equally as the Jews. So the order of deacons was first instituted.  In order to establish a just balance in the community, the apostles decided to appoint seven men as “deacons” or “servants” who would be ordained and recognized as having a share in the work of the apostles, but whose special task was to see that all needy persons were treated with charity and justice. The community prospered under this arrangement and moved closer to their objective of imitating his way of life through a just and righteous decision. They saw the need for love and true community in the Church and that was one of the first hallmarks of the Church.

But it’s the second reading that delivers a truly powerful message. Peter chooses a message that is both new and somewhat startling in its conclusion. He tells the followers of Jesus that they cannot participate in the spreading of the faith or in any other spiritual activity unless they first grow in personal holiness. Personal holiness. How many of us really spend any time on that? How many of us ever take an inventory of how holy we are. Like the disciples, we too often live troubled lives. We are so absorbed by everything we have to do or cope with that we often forget the truth that our destiny is heaven. Too many of us are absorbed by our material possessions, how large our homes are, how much money we made or still need to make. Yes, we go to Church on Sundays or even daily Mass. Yes, we receive the sacraments and believe that we are united with Christ in a special way. But when we leave this Church, do we take it with us? No matter how pious we may look, no matter how spiritual we may sound, if we do not get the message that we are the living stones that the Church is built on then we fail as true Christians. Because that is what the Church is. It is not bricks and mortar. It is a living body. It is a communion of living people.

Our newly canonized saint, St. John the 23rd knew that when he opened the second Vatican Council. That was the central message in his encyclical Lumen Gentium – The People of God. He emphasized that we must both believe and become a Church that is not known by bricks and mortar but rather known as a Church which is seen as  “Christ dwelling in men and women.”  Let me repeat that: Christ dwelling in men and women. THOSE are the living stones. But are we? Do we think of ourselves as people in whom Christ dwells? Do we?

This should be the true source of our joy. We were created by the Father to be his children. Our first sin took us out of the plan God designed for our good and blessing. Out of love for us, Jesus came to bring us back into the Father’s original plan. By his life, suffering, death and resurrection Jesus reconciled us to the Father. He took away the sins that separated us from him. He opened up the gates of heaven, closed against us by our sin, so we could enter into heaven itself. Jesus gives us the power to become children of God) and to be receivers of the Spirit so that we can live in God’s presence all our days and then, after our death, be with God forever and live in his light and love.

But that growth comes with a price. This growth is possible only when we let Jesus become the foundation stone of our life. As living stones of the church we become by the power of Jesus and his love, members of a chosen race, sharing a royal priesthood. Like the Israelites of old we become a holy nation, a people set apart. It means that through our sacrament of Baptism we are specially selected and reserved for God as holy people. Even when we are rejected by others, deprived of all privileges, beaten down, we become God’s people, the chosen recipients of his mercy. Though we come from different races, nations and social backgrounds, we are united in Christ. Therefore we must realize our dignity as members of the church and live our vision to the full. The word “royal priesthood” has a special connotation. As priests we become mediators between God and man and therefore we bear the task of reconciliation. We bear the task of healing the wounds of others – be they physical or spiritual. No, let me rephrase that. As followers of Christ we are commanded to be not just reconcilers but people who offer love and hope through to others. Living stones who seek out – who seek out – EVERY day – a way to bring love and hope to another. Whether it is simply making another feel good about themselves or something more substantial like adopting a less fortunate family in Boquete. We can not – CAN NOT – call ourselves true followers of Christ unless we bear the task of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Unless we too – each and every one of us – share his light through our actions.

Today’s Gospel delivers that message in a very profound manner. Jesus calls his apostles to a deepened faith and tells them that they must believe in him when he says that he is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. He invites them to believe this on the evidence of his work, if for no other reason. Jesus has now been with them for three years, had taught them continuously and they had seen him teaching and working among the people. Now when he tells them that he is going away to prepare a place for them, they find difficult to accept. When Jesus made this statement, it was to emphasize to His disciples that they should not worry when He will be gone. They will not be forgotten but he is going there to prepare a secure place for the apostles. Further he adds that the person of faith will do greater works than he did. Once more, listen to the message: the person of faith will do greater works than he did. The Church and every member of the Christian community are called on to continue the mission of Jesus. We have all read and believe that Jesus fed thousands of people. Today his followers do the feeding and healing of many more through their acts of charity to bringing the divinity of Christ to all. Sometimes it is a simple act such as San Juan Bautista Church proving the food for the representatives who supervised the recent elections. Sometimes it is more substantial such as adopting a poorer family here in Boquete. Sometimes it is an act of charity or kindness that seems “other worldly.” Each time, each circumstance, is an example of the living rocks of the Church proving the underpinnings of what Church is about.

In the end, our primary response to God’s self-revelation is one of faith, faith in the one who cares about us, about our well-being and needs, about our joys and sorrows. Let us remember that we have been called as members of the royal priesthood of God which is a very special and free blessing that is undeserved because of the many times that we slip into sin. This week, let us reflect on this blessing of being a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and god’s own people. In thanksgiving, we should proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called us out of darkness into His light. Let us remember that Jesus is our true way to the Father through the Church which He established and through which He continues His saving mission in the world.

But key to it all is the realization that our relationship with God is not merely an individual relationship. As the people of God, we belong to a community in continuity with those who have gone before, those who have passed on to us the traditions of faith. The Church is not a mere organization, but a community of faith over which the risen Lord presides and through which the baptized make their pilgrim way to the Father. Faith is a response to the person of Jesus, a personal and individual response to His presence in us and in our world. Translating that faith into the daily actions of our lives is proving that we are deserving of that relationship.

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.