Tag Archives: Jesus

Jesus: The Keystone — Bartholomew: A Foundation Stone

August 24, 2018

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Jesus the keystone

A Grand Edifice. St. Paul describes the church as a magnificent structure or a sacred temple (Eph 2:21). It is a grand and glorious building, breathtaking, a sight to behold. Jesus is the keystone, the apostles are the foundation stones, and the members are living stones. Over the centuries it has become a towering skyscraper, one generation of believers after another, one floor of living stones built upon another.

The Keystone. Jesus is the keystone or capstone of the church (Eph 2:20). Ancient buildings were made of stone blocks. Construction began with the erection of walls built with large blocks that were laid one upon another. Mortar and cement were not used. The great weight of the stones and the force of gravity made the wall rock solid. At the top of the wall, particularly over doorways and windows, there was an arch, and a scaffold was needed to build it. The scaffold supported two rows of angled stones, one row on each side. Then, at the place where the two rows came together in the middle at the top, one triangular-shaped stone was wedged between the two sides and hammered into place. This stone, the keystone or capstone, pushed so forcefully in each direction that it held the entire arch in place. Then the scaffold was removed. With the keystone in position, the building stood firm. If the keystone ever were to be removed, the building would come crashing down. Jesus is the keystone of the structure, the Church, and “through him the whole structure is held together” (Eph 2:21).

House built on a solid foundationThe Foundation Stones. The foundation is the lowest level of the building, either the basement or the ground floor. It is laid first, everything else is built upon it, and it supports the weight of the entire structure. The larger the building, the more important it is to have a sturdy foundation. The Church is massive. It spans the globe. It has a great multitude of members “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (Rv 7:9). A building of epic size requires foundation stones that will not shift or crack, but remain firmly in place. When it comes to the Church, it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets” (Eph 2:20a).

Apostolic Foundations. The bottom floor of the Church is twelve courses of stone laid by the twelve apostles (Rv 21:14). The apostles support the building with heavenly teaching. Peter, James, John, and Paul wrote enlightening letters. The apostles were missionaries and took the gospel to all nations (see Mt 28:19), and wherever they went to preach, they laid the foundation for a new Christian community, a new addition to the magnificent building that is the Church.

A Massive Building Project. The apostles traveled far and wide and laid foundations in multiple locations: Peter throughout Israel and in Antioch, Corinth, and Rome; Andrew in Asia Minor and Greece; James the Greater in Spain and Jerusalem; John in Ephesus, Patmos, and possibly Rome; Philip in Phrygia and Hierapolis; Thomas in Syria, Persia, and India; Bartholomew in India, Lycaonia, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Armenia; Matthew in Judea and Ethiopia; James the Lesser in and around Jerusalem; Simon the Zealot in Egypt and Persia; and Jude or Thaddeus in Mesopotamia and Persia. The apostles gave heroic witness with their unyielding commitment to Jesus, the fervor of their prophetic preaching, as well as their courage and determination. All but John died a martyr’s death, and through the blood of the apostolic martyrs seeds were sown and the Church experienced tremendous growth.

St. BartholomewSt. Bartholomew, A Foundation Stone. Bartholomew is an ashlar, a huge multi-ton stone in the foundation of the Church. He was a “true Israelite” (Jn 1:47a), a person who knew God’s law and obeyed it. Jesus said, “There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47b); Bartholomew was not two-faced, he was good inside and out. Jesus also said of Bartholomew, “I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48), a Jewish saying which means, “I saw you reading Scripture and meditating on it.” Bartholomew told Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God” (Jn 1:49); he made the earliest major profession of faith by an apostle. After Pentecost, he was a missionary and fearlessly proclaimed the gospel, first in India, then in the Middle East and Turkey, and finally in Armenia where he was martyred, skinned alive. Bartholomew was on Jesus’ first construction crew, and with the other apostles, he buttressed the foundation of the Church.

Living Stones. Jesus is the keystone at the top of the building, the apostles are the foundation stones at the bottom of the building, and the disciples of Jesus are the living stones that make up the rest of the building. Peter wrote that believers are “like living stones” and he taught Christians to “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house” (1 Pt 2:5). With Jesus as the head and the apostles as the foundation, the construction program can move forward.

Stones. Peter says “stones,” not “stone.” One stone does not make a wall, and it takes many believers to build the Church. It is a community project, not a personal endeavor. Christianity is not a private affair. Jesus gathered a diverse group of apostles and prayed that they would be unified as one. Doubting Thomas showed the error of going off alone. Whenever a sheep wanders away, the Good Shepherd wants to rescue it and bring it back to the flock. There are no individual stones in the Church; they are attached to each other.

Living. While a stone or brick is inanimate, a Christian is vibrant and energetic. A living stone is a loving stone. Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). A living stone also practices self-denial and is able to endure suffering. Jesus explained, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). A living stone follows the example of Jesus, as he instructed his apostles at the Last Supper, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). A living stone is dynamic, and Matthew Kelly, in his book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, explained the four distinguishing characteristics of a living stone: one who prays each day, studies the faith, is generous, and evangelizes by sharing their belief in Jesus and the Good News of his gospel with others.

A Towering Skyscraper. Jesus and his apostles did the groundbreaking for his magnificent structure two thousand years ago, and the project continues today. The apostles were the foundation, and every subsequent generation has added a floor. If one generation is roughly twenty-five years, four floors are added every century. The building has been going up for twenty centuries and is now an eighty story skyscraper. Our parents built the eightieth floor. Our grandparents built the seventy-ninth. We are building the eighty-first. Since one floor is set upon another, every floor must be well built and the stones must not be cracked or flawed, otherwise the strength of the building will be compromised. More floors will be added after our time on earth is done. It behooves us to be strong living stones so our floor will be able to carry the weight of the floors that will be added in the centuries to come.

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The pelican and her chicks a symbol for the Eucharist

August 17, 2018

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There is an image of a mother pelican with her chicks carved into the capital at the top of a pillar that supports a stone canopy over a stairway at the Cenacle or the Coenaculum, the upper room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the place that commemorates where Jesus shared the Last Supper with his apostles and instituted the Eucharist. It is the only artwork in the entire room, and it is singularly appropriate because it is a symbol for Jesus and the Eucharist.

A mother pelican lays its eggs in a nest, and after they hatch, the mother pelican leaves the nest to go hunting for food, and then returns and feeds the chicks. Many species of birds feed their young with worms. Pelicans usually live near the water, have webbed feet, and long beaks with pouches, and their usual prey is small fish or other aquatic animals such as frog tadpoles, crayfish, or even salamanders.

In times of drought the marshes and streams may dry up, or something may cause the fish in the lake to die, and the mother pelican is unable to find food. Her chicks are delicate, need to be fed daily, and without food are quickly in danger of starvation and death. Faced with this crisis, the mother pelican uses its beak to poke holes in its breast which causes blood to come out, and the chicks are nourished with their mother’s blood. The mother dies and the chicks survive.
Mother pelican
Christians see parallels between the mother pelican and her chicks and Jesus and his followers. The mother pelican represents Jesus, the chicks represent us. The chicks dwell in the safety of the nest, believers dwell in the safety of the Church. The mother is the head of the nest, and Jesus is the head of the Church (Eph 1:22). The mother has an intense concern for her chicks and it goes against her nature to allow any of them to perish, and Jesus has a great love for us and wants none of us to perish.

When food is in short supply, the pelican pierces its breast with its sharp, pointed beak, and the side of Jesus was pierced by a sharp, pointed lance (Jn 19:34a). Blood flowed from the pelican’s breast, and blood flowed from Jesus’ side (Jn 19:34b). The mother’s blood was drink for her chicks, and the blood of Jesus is “true drink” (Jn 6:55b). The mother gave her life that her chicks might live, and Jesus laid down his life that we might live (Jn 15:13). The mother’s blood saved the lives of the chicks, and the blood of Jesus is salvation and eternal life (Jn 6:54) to those who receive it. Because of these striking similarities, the mother pelican and her chicks have come to represent the Eucharist, as well as redemption and salvation.

A depiction of the mother pelican and her chicks is frequently on display in places associated with the Eucharist: the doors of the tabernacle, the front of the altar, a hanging in front of the lectern or ambo, a stained glass window in the sanctuary area, the decorative design on a chalice, chasuble or cope, or on the ends of pews.

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Mary and Joseph: the model married couple

July 20, 2018

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Holy CoupleIf Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the Holy Family, then Mary and Joseph are the Holy Couple, and if the Holy Family serves as the model for Christian families, then Mary and Joseph serve as the model for Christian couples that are living the Sacrament of Marriage.

Before they lived together (Mt 1:18). Mary and Joseph were betrothed, a Jewish ritual ceremony in which the bride and groom dedicate themselves to each. The period of betrothal lasts approximately one year, a time when the bride and groom live apart, usually in their parent’s homes, and abstain from sexual relations. Mary and Joseph did not cohabitate before marriage, and the moral standard that they followed still applies to couples that intend to be married today. Decisions about living arrangements before marriage are not to be governed by apartment leases, home purchases, insurance coverage, work or school schedules, or concerns about compatibility, but rather by the conscious decision to reserve one’s self totally for one’s spouse, and to share the intimacy of marriage only after their commitment to love each other for life has been sealed by God in the Sacrament of Marriage and witnessed and ratified by the Christian community gathered at worship in church.

Joseph, “a righteous man”(Mt 1:19), and Mary, “favored one” (i.e., “full of grace”) (Lk 1:28). Even before they were married, Joseph already was a righteous man and Mary already was full of grace. They knew God’s laws and obeyed them, had an established pattern of upright living, practiced the virtues, prayed regularly, and had a strong desire to please God. It was their firm intention prior to marriage to set their union on the solid rock of their faith in God and their spiritual values. Every prospective bride and groom while a child, adolescent, or young adult, before dating or while dating, should spend their days making spiritual headway as devout believers and dedicated disciples, growing in wisdom, favor, and grace (see Lk 2:40), learning and obeying the Gospel, receiving the sacraments, and becoming good and holy people, so when they exchange their vows, their marriage will be anchored upon the foundation of their faith that is deep and solid and constructed over many years.

Obedient to angels. Joseph and Mary received appearances from angels. An angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife (Mt 1:20), to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt (Mt 2:13), and once harm had passed, to take Jesus and Mary and return to Israel (Mt 2:20), and in each instance, Joseph obeyed immediately without resistance or delay. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would be the mother of the Son of God (Lk 1:31,35), and she replied, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). The angels were messengers of God and conveyed God’s will, and both Joseph and Mary trusted God and obeyed. Likewise a Christian couple, both before they are married and after, pay attention to God’s will, however it is conveyed, and without resistance or delay, obey promptly and completely.

[Joseph] took his wife into his home (Mt 1:24). Joseph and Mary began to live together at the angel’s bidding, and for them to establish a home, it also presumed that their betrothal had ended and that they were married within the Jewish faith. Wherever they were living, probably in Nazareth, they would have gone to the synagogue and exchanged their marriage vows before a rabbi according to the prescribed ritual in the presence of fellow Jews that were members of the local synagogue. Similarly a Catholic, when the engagement ends and before they live together, brings the marriage to a Catholic church, the couple exchanges their consent before a priest or deacon according to the Catholic form, and does so in the presence of their family, relatives, and friends who represent the local parish and the universal Church.

At home together. Mary and Joseph shared a beautiful mutual love. They were not married singles, individuals that happened to be living under the same roof, selfishly pursuing their own interests, with personal gain and fulfillment as their main objectives. Rather, Mary gave her life as a total gift to Joseph, and Joseph, in turn, gave his life as a total gift to Mary. Their love was selfless. Their approach was not, “What is in this for me?” and “What would make me happy?” but rather, “What would make my spouse happy?” They were not focused on compromise, “I get my way some of the time and you get your way some of the time,” but rather, “It is my aim to please you and promote your wellbeing all of the time.” They shared their lives completely. They communicated with each, shared their dreams and disappointments, joys and worries, ate meals together, willingly performed household tasks together, prayed together, and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.

A home filled with love. Love is a virtue (1 Cor 13:13), it was the bond between Mary and Joseph, and it permeated their home. They were consistently kind and patient with each other. They were humble and modest; polite and respectful; supportive, positive, and encouraging; appreciative and complimentary; calm, composed, and self-controlled; able to see things from their spouse’s point of view; willing to give the benefit of the doubt; compassionate, forgiving, and reconciling; open, truthful, and honest; gentle and tender; generous and grateful; joyful, peaceful, and faithful. By practicing the virtues together, Mary and Joseph made God the center of their marriage. They had the wisdom to know that one spouse goes through the other to God. The more a spouse loves the other, the more the person loves God, and conversely, the less a person loves the other, the less the person loves God.

Mary conceived (Lk 1:31,35). God blessed Mary and Joseph with a miraculous conception. Even though the circumstances at the beginning of their marriage were awkward, and the child in the womb might have been considered a hardship or an inconvenience, Mary and Joseph embraced the new life, safeguarded it, remained unwavering in their love for each other, brought the child to full term, and were overjoyed at his birth. A Christian couple eagerly anticipates the prospect of having children, and if God blesses them with a miraculous pregnancy, even if not under ideal circumstances, the couple welcomes the new life, protects it from all harm, and does everything possible to insure the child’s birth.

[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son (Lk 2:7). When Jesus was born Mary instantly shifted into service mode when she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Married love is generous. Mary and Joseph’s marriage did not revolve around themselves, their pursuits, careers, hobbies, and standard of living. They knew that a child would require time, attention, and sacrifice, and they gladly dedicated themselves to the care of the child that God had entrusted to them. A Christian married couple is not only loving and generous with each other, but eager to share their ever-increasing love with their children.

Traveling partners. Mary and Joseph made one journey after another together. During their early years they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Israel to Egypt, Egypt to Judea, and Judea back to Nazareth. After they settled in Nazareth they made an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. In addition to the long journeys, they made many short trips, to the synagogue, the markets, and friends’ homes. The journey may have been to obey a government order, fulfill a spiritual duty, or for safety and security. Some were made at an easy pace, others made hastily and under great duress. No matter the situation, Mary and Joseph were inseparable, step by step, helping each other along the way, sharing each other’s burdens. Their marriage journey continued for many years and they were ever-faithful. A Christian wife and husband are traveling companions for life, helping each other wherever they may go, particularly when travel conditions are most difficult.

Synagogue and Temple. It was Mary and Joseph’s custom to go to the synagogue on the sabbath day (implied in Lk 4:16), and each year they went to the Temple in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (Lk 2:41). They were a church-going couple and worship was the centerpiece of their week. They attended sabbath after sabbath and faithfully obeyed God’s commandment (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15). In the same way, a Christian marriage is in a spiritual partnership, and in addition to a wife and husband’s daily prayers together at home, they go to church every weekend, and their week revolves around the celebration of the Mass. It is their shared opportunity to give God praise and thanks for their blessings, to be nourished by Word and Sacrament, and to give and receive support from the other members of the community.

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Special Prayers and Blessing for Fathers

June 14, 2018

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Jesus and Joseph

Special Intercessions. After the Creed, the Universal Prayer, that is, the Prayer of the Faithful or Bidding Prayers, are offered. Typically, this series of intentions begins with a petition for the needs of the Church, for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world, for those burdened by any kind of difficulty, and for the local community. In any particular celebration, these intentions may be concerned more closely with the particular occasion (see No. 70, General Instruction of the Roman Missal). Father’s Day is such an occasion.

Father’s Day Intercessions. The Book of Blessings offers three intercessions for Father’s Day (No. 1732, page 648). They can be adapted or modified as desired. These prayers can be used at Mass, at home when the family is gathered together, such as at the dinner table, or by an individual praying alone. These intercessions are suggestions. Parishes, families, and individuals are encouraged to write or offer other petitions that prayerfully express their hopes, concerns, and appreciation for their fathers.

First Intercession. For our fathers, who have given us life and love, that we may show them respect and love, we pray to the Lord.

Second Intercession. For fathers who have lost a child through death, that their faith may give them hope, and their family and friends support and console them, we pray to the Lord.

Third Intercession. For fathers who have died, that God may bring them into the joy of his kingdom, we pray to the Lord.

Special Blessing. The Book of Blessings also offers a blessing prayer that can be offered at the end of Mass or at other liturgical services (No. 1733, page 648). It can also be used by a family at home, and it can be modified from plural to singular for one father.

Father’s Day Blessing Prayer. God our Father, in your wisdom and love you made all things. Bless these men, that they may be strengthened as Christian fathers. Let the example of their faith and love shine forth. Grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always with a spirit of profound respect. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Emmaus Prayer

April 13, 2018

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Road to EmmausLord, as we walk down the journey of life,
we ask that you would be our constant companion,
particularly on those days when we are disheartened
or when we have strayed off of your path.

When we are downcast,
we ask that you lift our spirits.
When we are confused,
we ask that you enlighten our minds.
When we are disappointed,
we ask that you give us hope.

You, Lord, have blessed us with your gospel.
Open our minds and hearts to receive your word,
and send your Holy Spirit to give us understanding.
May your teaching take root in our lives
and guide us in your ways.

While we have faith in you, Lord,
we also have our moments of doubt.
We ask that you would deepen our faith,
so that rededicated to you,
we would give bolder witness,
and freely and gladly give generous service.

You gently ask us to invite you into our hearts and homes.
With a spirit of welcome and humility,
we invite you to dwell with us always.
We offer our praise and thanks for the many ways that you feed us
and provide for our many needs.

Keep us closely connected to our brothers and sisters in faith.
Help us to see others with the eyes of love.
Fill us with your compassion.
May we work tirelessly to foster relationships in our community
built on the foundations of truth, mutual respect, cooperation, and trust.
Amen.

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Jesus: the Divine Physician, the Great Healer

February 2, 2018

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Divine PhysicianThe gospels in early Ordinary Time of Year B are taken from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, and the texts from Week Four to Week Seven constitute a vertical thread, a spiritual concept or theme that connects a set of readings over a series of weeks. The thread is that Jesus is the Divine Physician (see Mk 2:17), an astounding miracle worker, a phenomenal healer, one who possesses the creative and restorative power that belongs to God alone.

In ancient culture, people had four main fears: natural disasters, demonic possession, illness, and death. No human being has power over any one of these injurious or lethal forces, yet Jesus had power over them all. Collectively, these gospels make a convincing statement about who Jesus is. His cures far exceeded human power. He wielded unparalleled power. It was divine power. Jesus is the Son of God.

Week 4B: The Cure of the Demoniac (Mk 1:21-28). In this gospel Jesus encountered a man possessed by an unclean spirit. People knew nothing of metabolic disorders, neurologic disease, or mental illness. If a person demonstrated a peculiar behavior, had seizures or spasms, or went into convulsions, people thought that it was caused by an evil spirit because demons make bad things happen. Jesus sternly rebuked the demon, “Come out of him!” (Mk 1:25), and once Jesus issued his order, “the unclean spirit convulsed him and … came out of him” (Mk 1:26). If someone else had given the order, nothing would have happened, but when Jesus gave the word, the man was cured. It was power that the people had never witnessed before.

Week 5B: The Cure of Peter’s Mother-In-Law’s Fever and the People at the Door (Mk 1:29-39). Later the same day Jesus went to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law had a fever. People knew nothing about bacteria and viruses. They did not have antibiotics, fever reducers like Ibuprofen or Tylenol, or IV fluids. People dreaded fevers because they quickly raged out of control and often caused death. All Jesus did was to grasp her hand, and the fever left her immediately. His power was simply astonishing. Later the same evening, the sick were brought to the door. There were no hospitals, diagnostics, or surgical options. Those with disease were hopeless and left to languish, but Jesus cured many of them (Mk 1:34).

Week 6B: The Cure of the Leper (Mk 1:40-45). People were petrified at the thought of leprosy. Without accurate medical information, skin disorders were lumped together and considered highly contagious. The victims were forced to live in colonies in isolated places and people “avoided them like the plague.” When Jesus cleansed the leper, not only did he cure his infirmity, he also restored him to his family and the wider community. The miracle changed the man’s life forever and was cause for tremendous joy.

Week 7B: The Cure of the Paralytic (Mk 2:1-12). A paralytic was brought to Jesus on a mat. Paralysis can be caused by a spinal injury, and it often is a permanent disability. There were no MRI or CT scans, no rod or pins, no reconstructive procedures, and no orthopedic surgeons. There was no hope for a normal future. Jesus told the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home” (Mk 2:11), and he was able to do so. Jesus did the impossible; he reversed an irreversible condition. It was awesome to behold. The people were so astounded that they immediately glorified God (Mk 2:12). The possessed, sick, and injured were blessed with life in his name.

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Jesus: the Divine Physician

September 15, 2017

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The Doctor from Heaven. In addition to being known as Son of God, Messiah, Lord, Teacher, Lamb of God, Good Shepherd, Savior and Redeemer, Jesus is also known at the Divine Physician. This title comes from Jesus’ statement: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Mt 9:12 and Mk 2:17; see also Lk 5:31).

Not Your Average Physician. While many doctors specialize in a certain aspect of medicine, Jesus is a generalist. Jesus is a primary care physician and a family doctor, the one who attends to us first with our ordinary ailments, but he is also on call at all times, the doctor at urgent care or the emergency room, the one who is there for us in times of crisis when the situation is serious. Jesus is also the neurologist who attends to our feelings, the pulmonologist who is the breath of life, and the cardiologist with a Sacred Heart who heals those with wounded or broken hearts. He is a holistic doctor that attends to a person’s total well-being, body and soul.

Triage: Address the Most Life Threatening Illness First. When it comes to healing, Jesus, the Divine Physician, is more concerned about a person’s spiritual well-being than physical well-being. Jesus came first and foremost for salus, the Latin word for health, and his top priority is a person’s eternal health, salvation. The most urgent cure, then, is the forgiveness of sins so the person can be recreated, born anew, and enjoy perpetual perfect health in the heavenly mansion in the new and eternal Jerusalem.

The Sin-Sick Soul. Jesus demonstrated the priority that he places on the wellness of the soul when a paralyzed man was lowered in front of him. The first thing that Jesus told the paralytic was, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mk 2:5). Jesus knew the man would like to be able to walk from place to place, and Jesus was very concerned about his long term physical disability, but Jesus was far more concerned about his ability to walk into heaven. Jesus cured the paralytic’s spiritual infirmities with his healing words, and he extends his spiritual cure to each and every person with the blood that he shed on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:28).

The Sick Body. Jesus also cured the paralytic’s paralysis which shows that Jesus has great compassion for the sick in their suffering. He focused a great deal of his time and energy on the sick from his first days in Capernaum (Mk 1:21-28,31,34) to his last day at his arrest in Gethsemane when he healed the severed ear of the high priest’s slave (Lk 22:51). Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever (Mk 30-31), many who were sick with various diseases (Mk 1:34; 6:56), a leper (Mk 1:42), a man with a withered hand (Mk 3:5), a woman with a hemorrhage (Mk 5:29), a deaf man (Mk 7:35), a blind man (Mk 8:25), and blind Bartimaeus (Mk 10:52).

Sacramental Grace. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is an encounter with Jesus, the Divine Physician. Jesus’ first concern is spiritual well-being, and the sacrament imparts the forgiveness of sins and the special grace restores spiritual health. It is important to note that when Jesus performed his miraculous healings, “He cured many who were sick” (Mk 1:34a) – not all. A physical healing does not occur every time because suffering is redemptive and each person will die eventually, but the sacrament often confers a marvelous miraculous grace, either physical improvement or a total cure.

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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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Why did Jesus rise from the dead?

April 14, 2017

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Resurrection

After Jesus died and his body was placed in the tomb, he could have ascended to heaven without appearing to anyone.  But Jesus rose and he appeared to his disciples, and he did so for a number of very important reasons.

Triumph and Victory.  The Resurrection was emphatic proof that Jesus had decisively and convincingly conquered sin and death.

Glorification.  God raised Jesus to glorify him.  God was pleased that Jesus had become obedient, even unto death on the Cross, and to praise him, God greatly exalted him with the name above every other name (see Phil 2:8,9).  Furthermore, the Father bestowed additional glory upon his Son by exalting him with a place at his right hand (Acts 2:33).

Fulfillment.  Jesus had foretold that he would rise from the dead:  “And three days after his death he will rise” (Mk 9:31; see also Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk 8:31; 10:34; Lk 9:22; 18:33).  When Jesus rose, he proved that all that he had promised was reliable and true.

Reconciliation.  The disciples estranged themselves from Jesus when they fled and abandoned their Master at the time of his arrest (see Mt 26:56 and Mk 14:50).  Moreover, they did not testify on his behalf at his trial, were absent during the crucifixion, and when it came to being faithful friends, they were miserable failures.  Jesus rose so he could forgive them and reestablish a positive relationship with them.  Reconciliation was such an urgent necessity that only moments after his Resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and said,   “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26), words that are tantamount to “I forgive you.”

Teaching and Re-instruction.  The disciples were still confused about Jesus’ true identity.  “They doubted” (Mt 28:17).  Jesus rose and appeared to Cleopas and Simeon on the road to Emmaus to reinterpret for them all that referred to him in the scriptures (Lk 24:27; see also Lk 24:45).  For forty days Jesus spoke to them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3b).

Faith-Strengthening.  After Jesus died, the faith of his disciples continued to waver.  Seeing is believing!  The risen Jesus appeared in the Upper Room and said, “Look at my hands and my feet” (Lk 24:39) to confirm and strengthen their faith.  Jesus showed himself to Thomas (Jn 20:27) so that, with faith strengthened, he could make his profession of faith, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28).  “For many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:31; see also Acts 10:41 and 1 Cor 15:5-8).

Commissioning.  Jesus rose to commission his disciples. He told them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15); “make disciples of all nations,” “baptizing them,” and “teaching them” (Mt 28:19,20).  He also instructed Peter [and the others] to “Feed my lambs” (Jn 21:15), “tend my sheep” (Jn 21:16), and “feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17).

Reassurance.  Jesus rose so that he could reassure his disciples that even though he would ascend to heaven and be physically absent, he would always be their constant companion:  “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20b).

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Worry not

February 24, 2017

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SermonMount

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us not to worry, not once, not twice, but three times (Mt 6:25,31,34).  Repetition is the key to learning and it places greater emphasis.  Jesus wants to drive a major point home.

We worry about many, many things.  Jesus mentioned some of our main worries:  our life in general, what we are to eat, what we are to drink, our body, and clothing.  The list could be expanded to include worries over family and friends, child safety, germs, a medical condition, our reputation, the burden of the workload, unfinished jobs, the house, the car, the weather, road conditions, traffic, getting to work on time, troubles at work, the economy, job security, taxes, health insurance, and the threat of terrorism.

A worrier is nervous and stressed out, anxious and troubled about this, fretting and stewing about that.  Worries can grow increasingly larger and become overwhelming.  A troubled thought can escalate into a preoccupation and then into an obsession.

Worry is not helpful.  Jesus asks, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Mt 6:27).  Worry does not add to the length of life, and in many instances may actually subtract from it.  Worry can lead to high blood pressure, circulatory problems, digestive disorders, skin conditions, and a weakened immune system.

Jesus knows that everyone worries, some to a greater degree, others to a lesser degree, but all worry.  Worry is pointless and unproductive.  It burns energy with nothing to show.  Worry poses a serious threat to a wholesome and holy life, because for the worrier, concerns for worldly things can become all-consuming while the spiritual realm receives little or no attention.

Jesus offers a three-part plan to balance our lives properly:  have faith, seek first the kingdom of God, and live in the present moment.

Have faith.  It is an act of faith to trust in God.  If God is so great as to give us the gift of our life, we can trust that God will also give us what we need to sustain our life.  God does not give and then pull back and stop giving.  God is reliable and dependable.  God gives and continues to give, and we can count on God to provide for us.

Seek first the kingdom of God.  First is the key word.  Jesus wants God to be our first thought.  If we are to be preoccupied with anything, it should be with God.  Our desire should be a close relationship with God, to learn God’s will, and then to dedicate ourselves to carrying out God’s will.  Our predominant thought should be to live a life that is pleasing to God.  When we are righteous and live according to God’s ways, peace and serenity follow, and worries vanish.

Live in the present.  Jesus wants us to focus on the here and now.  Worries are distractions.  They diminish our ability to be fully engaged in the moment at hand.  Whether it is a person, a conversation, a task, or an activity, what is happening right now deserves our full and immediate attention, and when we are alert and concentrate, when we live in the present, we are doing our best, the quality of life improves dramatically, and peace and tranquility follow.

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