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The Queenship of Mary

August 18, 2017

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August 22 is the annual memorial of the Queenship of Mary. The date was chosen to coincide with August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption, which was celebrated eight days earlier. Mary’s Queenship is remembered on the “octave” of the Assumption.

What we believe about Mary is drawn from what we believe about her Son, Jesus. If Jesus is a king, then his mother is a queen; and if Jesus is the greatest of all kings, the King of kings, then his mother ranks first above all other queens. If Jesus ascended to heaven because he did God’s will and was all holy, then Mary was assumed to heaven because she was completely obedient to God (Lk 1:38), full of grace (Lk 1:28), and blessed (Lk 1:48). If Jesus was glorified by his Father and now reigns as king of heaven and earth, then Mary was glorified by the Trinity and reigns with her Son at his throne.

When the title “queen” is associated with Mary, it should not be considered in earthly terms of imperial rank, authority over others, immense wealth, elegant clothes, and the like. Mary is a spiritual queen, she ranks first in holiness, she is “blessed among women” (Lk 1:42).

A number of Scripture passages are associated with Mary’s Queenship. The verse most frequently cited comes from the Magnificat or Mary’s Canticle, a beautiful prayer in which Mary said, “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones, but lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52). Mary has always been regarded as the lowly one, and she has been given the throne that sinful rulers were unworthy to hold. Other texts traditionally associated with Mary’s queenship include, “A princess arrayed in Ophir’s gold comes to stand at your right hand” (Ps 45:10b); she “comes forth like the dawn, beautiful as the white moon, pure as the blazing sun” (Sg 6:10a); and, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rv 12:1).

The Queenship of Mary corresponds to the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, the Coronation, and serves as a rich source of inspiration for the faithful while at prayer. Mary’s Queenship is also a popular topic in Christian art, and Mary is typically shown receiving an resplendent gold crown from God the Father and her Son Jesus together with the Holy Spirit hovering aloft, while sometimes only her Son Jesus is shown bestowing the crown.

God has given us the mother of his Son as our queen and mother. Through the intercession of Mary, may we come to share in her glory in the kingdom of heaven.

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A pastor recalls a transfigured moment

August 3, 2017

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The day was October 23, 1981. The place was the Monticello Golf Course. The occasion was the Region 5A cross country championship. Twelve boys’ teams had qualified, including this pastor’s team, Crosier Seminary. The stakes were high. The top two teams would advance. The other ten would be done. No Crosier cross country team had ever reached the state meet. The Crosier coach was a young fellow, age 29. It was his sixth season. The team was ranked in the state poll and on an impressive winning streak, but still had never made the elusive trip to state, never climbed among Minnesota’s elite.

It was a crisp, cold fall afternoon, 30 degrees, and snowflakes were in the air. Stocking caps, gloves, and tights were the order of the day. Sweats came off at the last second before the starting gun. Shivering and focused, it was off to the races, and race the Crosier boys did!

Two Crosier runners placed in the top ten. Three others were in the top twenty. It was solid, but was it enough? Results were tabulated. The wait seemed like an eternity. By now it was dark. The adrenaline kept the cold at bay. And finally, with bull horn blaring, the scores were announced, starting with the 12th place team and working up the list. One by one, nine teams were named, Crosier not among them. The next team announced would be out, the other two in.

“And finishing third,” the announcer shouted, “is St. John’s Prep.” The Crosier delegation erupted. There were high fives and hugs, glee and jubilation. Our best-ever second place region finish propelled us into our first-ever state meet appearance.

And then, the frosting on the cake, the announcer added, “The Region 5A coach of the year is Br. Mike Van Sloun.” Quite unexpectedly two of my athletes hoisted me up, parked me on their shoulders, and to cheers and applause, put me on parade. It was storybook, right out of the movies! The thrill of victory! An instant of glory! Biblically, it was a transfigured moment.

The glory lasted fifteen or twenty seconds, and it was gone in a flash. Then it was back to the ground and back to work. Round up the kids. Load the bus. Drive the bus home. Supervise the dining room. Clean up after dinner. The next day was the regular routine. After such a fantastic experience, it was easier to recommit to my duties, and my energy and motivation had been given a tremendous shot in the arm, and the effect lasted for weeks and months, actually years.

Later I came to realize that this is what the Transfiguration is about. Jesus had a glorious moment, but it came and went in flash, and then it was back down the mountain (Lk 9:37) to get back to the task at hand. His Father gave him a lift so he could recommit to the mission he had recently announced, his suffering and death (Lk 9:22), and with firm purpose, he “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51).

We are blessed by God with glorious moments, a college graduation, the birth of a baby, or a retirement party, all which come and go quickly, and then it is back to the task at hand, a new job, the endless duties involved with caring for a child, or the aches and pains of aging. God sprinkles transfigured moments into our lives to renew our strength and resolve, so that if we are faithful to the end, as Jesus was, we will share in his eternal glory.

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Peter’s flub ups at the Transfiguration

August 3, 2017

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The Transfiguration may have been a great day for Jesus, but it was a bad day for Peter. Jesus sparkled, but Peter failed to shine.

Peter fell asleep on Jesus. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray (Lk 9:28), and Jesus asked Peter to pray with him on this very important occasion. As Jesus began to pray (Lk 9:29a), Peter and the others promptly dozed off (Lk 9:32a). It was perfectly understandable. They had traveled from one town and village to another (Lk 8:1), they had just finished an arduous mountain climb, and they were tired. It foreshadowed the Agony in the Garden when Jesus again would ask Peter to pray (Lk 22:40), and Peter would again fall asleep (Lk 22:45). Peter disappointed Jesus when it came to praying with him and for him.

Peter wanted to do all of the work himself. Peter had a close partnership with James and John, so close, in fact, that Peter had invited them to his house in Capernaum (Mk 1:29), and they may have lived together. All three were with Jesus for the miraculous catch of fish (Lk 5:4-10), the visit to Jairus’s house (Mk 5:37; Lk 8:51), and a conversation on the Mount of Olives (Mk 13:3). They were mutual friends and fellow workers. Yet, as Jesus was transfigured, Peter brazenly suggested, “If you wish, I will make three tents” (Mt 17:4). What is with “I”? Peter disregarded and disrespected James and John with his desire to go it alone and leave them out. He was being a controller. He wanted to be in charge. It was a selfish and prideful move.

Peter offered to make three tents, not one. If tents would have been necessary, Peter had a poor grasp on how many would be needed. He may have thought that Moses and Elijah were going to stay with Jesus for a while, or that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are similar in rank and importance. Yet, “when the disciples raised their eyes, there was no one else but Jesus alone” (Mt 17:8). Moses and Elijah had vanished. Jesus stands alone as the supreme law giver and the greatest of all prophets, and if tents were going to be built, only one would have been needed.

Peter wanted the high life on the mountain. The Transfiguration was awesome. Peter had scaled the heights and been swallowed up in the clouds. There were bright lights, celebrity guests, and a heavenly voice. It was sensational, exhilarating. His spirits were soaring. When Peter offered to set up the tents, it was as if he were saying, “I wish this moment could last forever. Let’s stay up here and bask in the glory. This is fun. This is the good life. Who needs to go back to work?” Peter wanted sit tight and take it easy.

Peter was duped into tempting Jesus. Peter had been fooled by the devil once already. When Jesus predicted his Passion for the first time, Peter rebuked Jesus and discouraged him from embracing his suffering and death (Mt 16:22). Jesus knew that Peter loved him and wanted the best the best for him, yet Jesus scolded Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus knew that Satan had tricked Peter into tempting him. When Peter offered to build a tent for Jesus, “he did not know what he was saying” (Lk 9:33b). Unfortunately, like before, Peter was tricked into being Satan’s mouthpiece. If Satan through Peter could entice Jesus to allow him to build a tent, and then if Jesus would move into the tent and stay there, it would have delayed or prevented Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Jesus ignored the offer, fended off the temptation, and went down the mountain the next day.

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Saint Martha

July 28, 2017

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Saint Martha

July 29 is the memorial of St. Martha, a dear friend and devout disciple of Jesus. Martha’s story is told in three places: Lk 10:38-42, when Martha served while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to listen to him; Jn 11:1-44, the raising of Lazarus; and Jn 12:2, the anointing at Bethany.

Little is known about Martha’s family. The gospel gives no information about her parents, whether she was married, if she had children, or if she had more than two siblings. She did have a sister Mary and a brother Lazarus.

Martha lived in Bethany, a village on the east side of the Mount of Olives not far from Jerusalem. When Jesus visited there he stayed at Martha’s home. It may have been the regular place where he stayed, and it likely served as his home away from home.

Jesus had a special love for Martha (Jn 11:5), and she had a special devotion to him. When Jesus arrived at her village, “Martha welcomed him” (Lk 10:38). She was exceptionally cordial. She warmly and eagerly brought him into her house and was delighted to have him as her guest. She dropped whatever she had been doing and focused all of her attention on serving him. She went to the kitchen to prepare a meal, and her work was a labor of love.

Martha’s hospitality is heartwarming, a sincere and authentic act of kindness, and it serves as a stark contrast to the cold reception that Jesus received from so many others. When Jesus came into the world, “his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11b), but to those who do accept Jesus, as Mary did, Jesus gives the “power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). Martha clearly was a child of God, and her faith and inner goodness serves as a beautiful example. As Martha welcomed Jesus, so should we. Martha’s hospitality is an inspiration for us to welcome Jesus into our homes, minds, and hearts, and to devote ourselves completely to him.

Martha, the cook, dedicated herself to service (Lk 10:40), and in doing so she modeled herself on her Master who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mt 20:28). Jesus also explained that on Judgment Day he would have special criteria for those who will be given a place on his right, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink” (Mt 25:35). For those who serve as Martha did, the king says, “Inherit the kingdom” (Mt 25:34). For Martha and all disciples, service and sharing is the path to eternal life.

When Lazarus was ill, Martha sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love is ill” (Jn 11:3). Martha interceded with Jesus on her brother’s behalf and by doing so, Martha shows us that it is commendable for us to pray to Jesus for the welfare of others.

John wrote his gospel to lead people to believe in Jesus (Jn 20:31), and throughout his gospel a number of individuals profess their faith. It begins with Andrew (Jn 1:41); continues with the woman at the well (Jn 4:19,29,42), Peter (Jn 6:69), and the blind man (Jn 9:17,38); and concludes with Thomas (Jn 20:28). But of all these, Martha’s statement stands out as the boldest, strongest, and most complete. She began by professing her faith in the resurrection (Jn 11:24), and then she declared to Jesus, “I … believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27). Martha’s courage and the depth of her faith stand as an ideal and an encouragement for all believers.

St. Martha is the patron saint of cooks and dieticians, restaurants and hotels, waiters and waitresses, homemakers and housekeepers.

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St. Sharbel Makhlouf, Priest

July 21, 2017

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St. Sharbel Makhlouf

St. Sharbel Makhlouf (1828-1898) was born in a small, remote mountain village in northern Lebanon in 1828, and he was baptized in the Maronite Rite, the rite of the Catholic Church based in Lebanon.  Young Sharbel had two uncles that were monks in the Maronite Rite and, inspired by them, he also became a monk.  Later, in 1859 at the age of 31, he was ordained a priest.

For the next fifteen years, from his ordination in 1859 until 1874, Father Sharbel lived in a monastery with other monks.  Then he moved to a hermitage near the monastery where he spent his last twenty-three years as a hermit.

Father Sharbel’s day revolved around daily Mass.  He took great care in his preparation for Mass, particularly with his extended reflection and meditation on Sacred Scripture.  He celebrated the Mass with deep reverence and respect.  Then, after Mass, he offered prayers of thanks and praise for the graces and blessings received.

In addition to his deep devotion to the Eucharist, Father Sharbel had a great love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and when he is depicted in religious art, he is often shown with an image of Mary near him with the Blessed Mother holding the Christ child in her arms.

In isolation as a hermit, Father Sharbel had to fend off waves of temptations, particularly the attraction of a more comfortable lifestyle with better food, clothes, and furnishings, as well as the constant inclination to put one’s personal desires and preferences first.  With prayer and determination, he resisted worldly desires and adhered to a life of simplicity and material detachment.  Because of his personal holiness, others were drawn to him, which enabled him to give powerful witness to the value of the Eucharist, prayer, Scripture, Marian devotion, poverty, humility, perseverance, service, and submission to God’s will.  Visitors asked Father Sharbel to intercede on their behalf, and a number of remarkable miracles are attributed to him.

Father Sharbel died in 1898, and he was buried in a tomb at the monastery of St. Maron in Annaya, Lebanon.  Because he is so deeply revered by Maronite Catholics, the monastery quickly became a pilgrimage destination.

Pope Paul VI both beatified and canonized Father Sharbel.  His beatification was on December 5, 1965, during the Second Vatican Council, and his canonization was in 1977.  The Maronite Community has named St. Sharbel the Hermit of Lebanon, and Christians everywhere pray through his intercession to make spiritual headway in singular devotion to God.

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The Sower: Perseverance in the face of disappointment

July 14, 2017

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Parable of the Sower

Often when we hear the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1-9), the point of emphasis is the disciple as rich soil.  The metaphor is that the sower is Jesus, the seed is the Word of God, and the soil is the person who receives the Word.  The desired outcome is for the listener to be rich and fertile soil, cultivated, soft and receptive, eager to welcome the seed, to let it take root, permeate one’s life, grow and flourish, and produce astonishing results.

Another angle for reflection is the disciple – not as soil – but as the sower.

Jesus is the first sower, and we are supposed to imitate the Sower.  As Jesus scattered seeds, as he preached the gospel to others, we as his disciples are also supposed to be sowers, to share the gospel with our children, students, and others.

There is a notion that Jesus, because he is the Son of God and all-powerful, was incredibly successful as a sower.  But he was not, at least in every instance.  Sometimes Jesus was able to achieve wonderful results, yields of a hundred or sixty, or thirtyfold (Mt 13:8), but there were many occasions when his results were downright disheartening.

Jesus had tremendous challenges as a sower.  One group of potential listeners was totally resistant, hard and rocky, dismissed him, refused to listen, and completely ignored him.  It must have been very depressing to Jesus.  Another group at least paid attention to Jesus’ preaching.  While they had a bit of initial fervor and enthusiasm, they were not very motivated, and when it came time to implement the Word that Jesus had spoken, they had so little determination and commitment that they fell by the wayside.  Again, this must have been very discouraging.  There was yet another group that listened carefully to Jesus.  They liked Jesus, were intrigued by his gospel, and were ready to give it a try.  But when those in the third group encountered obstacles, either their own inclinations to wrongdoing, or the evil forces of the outside world, or the antagonism of others, they gave up and quit.  It must have been a very bitter pill for Jesus to swallow. It was only with the fourth group that Jesus had success.  Jesus was successful twenty-five percent of the time which is a surprisingly low average.

What did Jesus do in the face of such disappointment?  Did he get angry?  Did he become bitter?  Did he pout?  Did he quit?  No.  Jesus refused to give up.  He had amazing resiliency.  He persevered.  With an indomitable spirit, Jesus went on to other towns and to other people to proclaim the Good News (see Lk 4:43; 8:1).

Every Christian is a sower, parents and grandparents, teachers and catechists, neighbors and priests, and we scatter the seed of God’s holy Word to our children and grandchildren, students, friends, and parishioners.  If Jesus had many disappointments, we should anticipate similar results.  When we share our faith, there will be occasions when it seems no one is watching or listening, and other times when it seems like we are having a positive impact at the beginning, but with little lasting effect.  Hopefully some of our “scattering” will have tremendous results.  When we are unsuccessful, which may happen more often than not, like Jesus we must keep scattering and never lose heart because of discouraging results.  We must be resilient and persevere.  The seed is such a treasure that it must be sown.

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My yoke is easy, my burden light

July 7, 2017

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JesusCarpenterShopGet serious, Jesus!  You say that your burden is light (Mt 11:30).  Hardly!  There are many times that I feel crushed by the burdens of life.  I have so many responsibilities.  There are so many jobs to do.  The days are so long.  I have to work so hard.  The demands are so constant.  There are so few breaks.  You say the burden is light.  I probably should not disagree with the Son of God, but I say that the burdens are huge, sometimes oppressive, and more than I can manage.

The yoke is a symbol for the burden.  A yoke is a wooden frame or harness attached to the shoulders of a pair of oxen to pull a plow or cart.  The yoke enables the oxen to pull much weight and do much work.  For a Christian, the yoke can symbolize the gospel, which the believer chooses to harness to their shoulders, with all of its duties and obligations, or it can symbolize one’s God-given vocation in life, with its endless tasks and responsibilities.

The yoke is far from easy.  It is a burden to live the gospel, such as to speak and insist on the truth in the midst of distortion and dishonesty, and then to bear the burden of the consequences.  It is a burden to accept the vocation as a parent with the endless jobs that follow:  getting up at night, feeding the baby, changing diapers, giving baths, doctor appointments, and everything else that goes with being a mother or father.

How is it, then, that the yoke could be easy?  Jesus and Joseph worked in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth (see Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3).  Carpenters are woodworkers, and much of their craft is to make items for the home:  tables and chairs, door and window frames, and doors.  Nazareth is surrounded by farmland, and farmers went to the carpenter’s shop to get yokes for their oxen.  Jesus would have made many yokes over his long career in the carpenter’s shop.

Oxen come in different sizes and shapes, particularly the bone and muscle structure of the shoulders.  If the yoke does not fit properly, it hurts to pull and the oxen refuse to work.  Therefore, each yoke has to be tailor-made, individually form-fitted.  Jesus was an expert both at measuring the oxen and customizing yokes that fit just right.  When the yoke fits properly, the oxen will pull and do an enormous amount of work.

When it comes to a person’s calling or vocation in life, a person’s “yoke,” each one is individually tailor-made by God.  One is called to be a parent.  Another is called to be a school teacher, a nurse, a technician, or a cook.  Every calling is burdensome, but because the yoke is form-fitted to the individual by God, and when a person accepts their vocation, the person gains a sense of purpose and determination, which makes the burden lighter.  God supplies the energy to carry the load, and renews the energy day by day, all which makes a heavy burden lighter.

The main factor affecting the weightiness of the burden is love.  If a parent loves their infant child, the burden of getting up at night, feeding the baby, or changing the diaper instantly becomes light.  Similarly, when teachers love their students, health care professionals love their patients, and workers love their customers, their workload becomes light, not because the job is easy, but because the burden is carried willingly and joyfully.  When love of God and neighbor is the driving force, what would otherwise be a burden is light.

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Independence Day

June 30, 2017

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USSeal

July 4th is our greatest civic holiday.  It commemorates the unanimous Declaration of Independence of the thirteen colonies that comprised the United States of America in General Congress on July 4, 1776.  With the Declaration, a new country was born, and July 4th serves as our nation’s annual birthday celebration.

July 4th is a time to honor our country, and there are many splendid traditional hymns to do so.  There is The Star-Spangled Banner, the National Anthem, by Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) and John S. Smith (1750-1836); Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, the Battle Hymn of the Republic; America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee; America the Beautiful; and God Bless America; to name some of the best known and most used.

July 4th is an important day to pray for our country.  The Roman Missal contains a Mass for the Dioceses of the United States, and it contains two options for each of the orations (Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, and Prayer after Communion) and the Preface, as well as a Solemn Blessing (pages 744 to 749).  The special Mass for peace and justice is highly appropriate, and a number of suitable readings are recommended in the Lectionary (Nos. 831-835).

There are several recurrent themes in the prayers.  There are multiple references to true justice and lasting peace.  Justice is the pathway to peace.  It is our fervent prayer that both the leaders and citizens of the United States will be guided by the principles of justice and truth and uphold them both at home and abroad, for when all are treated fairly, all can live together in mutual respect and harmony and enjoy safety and security.

The prayers also mention that our nation was drawn from many peoples of many lands, both the Native Americans who have lived in America for centuries, and countless waves of immigrants who have come since before the founding of the country to the present.  We pray that as diverse as we may be, that we will recognize that all are made in the image and likeness of God, all fellow human beings, all fellow Americans, brothers and sisters, and that God would continue to mold us into one great nation where all live together united as one.

The prayers also recognize how those who live in America have been richly blessed by the providence of God.  Ours is a land of plenty.  God has provided in abundance.  For those who have been given much, much is expected.  These blessings are not to be kept for ourselves alone.   The prayer makes a special petition:  “Grant that our country may share your blessings with all the peoples of the earth.”  We implore God’s help for an ever-increasing spirit of generosity.

While the orations make no mention of those in the armed forces, every national holiday is an opportune time to pray for those in the military, past and present. For those who have served loyally and bravely, we give thanks for the sacrifices they have made, we offer our appreciation, and for those who have died, we commend their souls to almighty God.  For those currently serving, we ask God to grant them wisdom, courage, and protection, and after the successful completion of their tour of duty, that they would be returned home safely to family and friends.

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Zechariah, an inspirational father figure

June 15, 2017

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St. John the Baptist. His name is John

Father’s Day is an occasion to reflect on the vocation of fatherhood.  Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, is most remembered for not believing the angel Gabriel’s announcement and being struck speechless as a punishment, but he has many admirable qualities for fathers.

Zechariah was married to Elizabeth, and both of them were advanced in years and still together.  Zechariah loved his wife and he was completely faithful to their marriage covenant.  Fatherhood is not a married man’s first vocation, but rather being devoted to one’s wife and being an excellent husband.  Good husbands make good fathers.

Zechariah was righteous.  A righteous Jew is law abiding.  This does not refer to his observance of civil law and his status as a citizen of his country, but rather his observance of the Mosaic Law and his spiritual standing before God.  Zechariah carefully and conscientiously obeyed the Ten Commandments as well as all of the other 603 precepts of the Law.   A good father observes God’s laws and has high moral standards, and then teaches these laws to his children, first and foremost with his example, and also with his instruction, house rules, and implementation.

Not only was Zechariah righteous, he was righteous in the eyes of God.  God sees everything, not only public and external things, but also private and internal things.  Zechariah obeyed God’s laws whether people were watching or not.  His observance was not for show.  He was good inside and out.  He was authentic, a man of integrity, truthful and honest.  Fathers like Zechariah help their children understand that God’s laws apply at all times under all circumstances, and that the top priority should be to please God in every instance, not to win the approval of others.

Zechariah was old and had no children.  This was a tremendous disappointment to him, but he did not turn sour, negative, rebellious, or cynical.  Zechariah was stable and he handled his troubles with grace and composure.  All fathers are faced with various setbacks, and fathers like Zechariah are able to remain calm and levelheaded, and able to carry on with purpose.

Zechariah went to the Temple where he prayed, and he took regular turns doing so.  He had a personal relationship with God which he nurtured with frequent prayer which was an intimate conversation which kept them closely bonded together.  Fathers who go to church and pray on a regular basis are guided by God in how to raise their children, and they receive God’s help.

When Zechariah’s son was born, he insisted that his name would be John.  This choice violated the custom of naming a child after his father or another relative.  Zechariah was not swayed by pressure or the expectations of his neighbors and relatives.  The angel had conveyed God’s wish, and Zechariah was adamant and unyielding when it came to obeying God.  There are many opinions and social expectations for how to raise children.  Fathers like Zechariah take their cues from God and are not unduly influenced by other people, old customs, or modern trends.

Finally, Zechariah offered a canticle of praise (Lk 1:68-79).  Zechariah was able to see and count his many blessings, and with faith and gratitude, he honored and glorified God with words of thanks.  Fathers like Zechariah are alert enough to take stock of the good things that God has given them, have an appreciative attitude, and frequently lift God’s name in praise.

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The theophany of Pentecost

June 2, 2017

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Pentecost

On Pentecost “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house” (Acts 2:2).  It was sudden, startling.  It came up like a storm.  The noise was loud.   The wind roared.  Presumably, the house shook.  For the disciples, it was frightening yet awesome, glorious and enthralling.  They were immersed in a mystical experience, the powerful presence of almighty God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.  It was a theophany.

A theophany is an appearance of God accompanied by astounding signs and wonders that attest to God’s divine majesty, supreme authority, and infinite power.  A theophany involves one or more major forces of nature:  an earthquake, crushing rocks, dark clouds, storm, thunder, lightning, torrential rain, hail, howling winds, raging fire, billowing smoke, and blaring sounds.

The theophany of Pentecost recalls the great theophany of the Hebrew Scriptures, the appearance of God when Moses and the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai.  The sequence of occurrences was phenomenal:  peals of thunder, lightning, a heavy cloud, and a very loud blast (Ex 19:16); rising smoke, fire, and a quaking mountain (Ex 19:18); and the blast of the shofar that grew louder and louder, and yet more thunder (Ex 19:19).

The combination of natural signs pointed to a supernatural reality, that the omnipotent God was truly with Moses and the Israelites in the desert, and that this would be an encounter of epic proportions.  God created the world with a mighty wind (Gn 1:2) and put into place all of the forces of nature.  Then, with the forces of nature making a dramatic and impressive display, God confirmed Israel as the Chosen People and renewed the covenant through the conferral of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.

On Pentecost the disciples were all together in one place for a theophany that was similar, yet different.  God had appeared in the desert.  This time God appeared in Jerusalem.  The former appearance took place at Mount Sinai.  This appearance took place on Mount Zion.  Previously the Lord came down upon the mountain in fire.  This time the Holy Spirit came down over the heads of the disciples as tongues as of fire.  The former appearance enabled Moses to speak on God’s behalf.  This appearance enabled Peter and the other disciples to serve as God’s spokesmen.  The former involved spectacular natural signs.  This appearance involved fewer and smaller natural signs.

Like the appearance at Sinai, this appearance would be an event of epic proportions.  The coming of the Holy Spirit established the Church as the People of God.  After Jesus, both priest and victim, sealed the new and eternal covenant with the blood that he shed on the Cross, the Holy Spirit joined the Son in the institution of an everlasting unbreakable covenant extended to all of the nations on earth.

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