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January 4, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 5

COLUMNS

Believe as you Pray »

In Light of Faith »

photo: Dn. Christopher Colville

believe as you pray

The Baptism of the Lord
January 10

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Luke 3:15-16; 21-22

This weekend’s readings are probably familiar to us. The middle part of the reading from Isaiah is quoted by John the Baptist in the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent.

We hear parts of this reading at other times during the Church Year and parts of this reading are also the basis for a number of popular hymns we sing at Liturgy.

The reading from Titus is two of the second readings for Christmas, the first part in the Mass at Midnight and the second in the Mass at Dawn. The readings are repeated because they contain two important messages that we need to heed to remember, especially as we move into Ordinary Time of the Church Year.

The messages are about living in God’s presence: living temperately and justly and rejecting worldly ways; caring for God’s people and helping them live in the presence of God.

Isaiah uses valleys and mountains, crooked and rough ways to symbolize obstacles to God’s presence. Isaiah tells us to get rid of the valleys and mountains, the rugged and crooked ways in our lives.

Jesus tells us to not only remove the obstacles in our lives but to remove those obstacles in other people’s lives.

In Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus tells us that we will be judged on how we took care of God’s people. He tells us to remove the mountains of hunger and thirst; raise the valleys of loneliness and illness; enable people to experience the joy of Christmas, the Kingdom of God in their lives.

James reminds us that we can’t just have faith, we need to act on it. Throughout his ministry, Jesus calls us to care for God’s people. We are sent forward to bring the great news of Christmas into our world through acts of love.

The reading from Titus reminds us to live temperately and justly. Living temperately with our blessings means we have more to share with those who are less fortunate.

Living justly makes us aware of the needs of others and what we can do to respond to those needs. The reading also reminds us that this gift of God’s salvation is free, it comes to us not by any righteous deeds on our part but through God’s grace, which has been richly poured out.

The reading also tells us it is for all people. It is the same message the angel proclaimed to the shepherds on that first Christmas night that the great news of Christ’s birth was for all people.

The readings begin with the request, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God” and the Gospel ends with the words, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Between these two lines we are told it is through this grace that has been so richly poured out that we become sons and daughters of God, heirs to the Kingdom and that we are called to live as heirs of the Kingdom. Jesus came to share the good news of God’s love and to share it with all people.

When we fully accept our baptismal call we live it out in our lives. When we do so and then stand before God, he will say to us, you are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.

Merry Christmas.

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in light of faith

Not Politics as Usual

“I know what I don’t know and so I would surround myself with the brightest and most knowledgeable people in the field.”

The honest acknowledgement of his limitations by Jeb Bush during the December 15 Republican debate was a welcome, though admittedly highly unusual tactic.

In the face of other candidates whose bluster would lead us to believe they have all the answers, Bush’s assessment that no one man can know everything came as a refreshingly novel approach.

It was also reminiscent of an exchange between Pope Francis and some reporters in Rome in which the Pontiff said, “A danger for the pope too, you know, is believing that I can answer all your questions. The only one who can answer all your questions is the Lord.”

The irony to all of this is that when we search the Gospels, rather than giving answers, Jesus often addressed his audience by posing questions.

Parables such as the Good Samaritan were followed by the question “who was the good neighbor?”

Or consider the parable of the two sons, after which Jesus asked who was the obedient son. The one who said yes, but never followed through or the son who said no, but later changed his mind and did as the father had asked?

And when the Pharisees asked Jesus by whose authority he cast out demons, he responded with a question of his own, asking them by whose authority John the Baptist preached? When they feigned ignorance, Jesus said “then neither will I tell you by whose authority I cast out demons.”

Even in regard to his identity, Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

Over and over Jesus reminds his followers that we are part of the process. The Kingdom of God is not some distant faraway place but is in our heart.

It is part of an ongoing journey and each of us has a role to play in bringing it to fruition.

And as much as we may dislike the rhetoric of politicians, they too are part of the process of transforming the world in which we live.

In a recent interview, one political pundit described the Republican debate as a stage of angry players. But neither party is immune from exhibiting negative rhetoric.

As candidates, when both Democrats and Republicans make the case that they are the most qualified person to hold the highest office of our land, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Pope Francis called politics “one of the highest forms of charity” since it seeks the common good.

But he also acknowledged that politics can be “dirty, frustrating and fraught with failure.”

And so, here we are. Entering another election year. Campaigns will get messy, language will get ugly and issues will bring out the best and the worst in people.

The social decorum to avoid discussing religion and politics if you want to remain friends is irrelevant in this day and age. Nevertheless, just as we are to hate the sin but love the sinner, we are called to look for the good in those who have political leanings that are different from our own, and thus avoid turning politics into hate mongering.

What would Jesus do? Actually, the Gospels give us a pretty good idea about not only what Jesus would do, but about what he actually did.

When he began his ministry, he chose a staff not of the brightest and most knowledgeable, but a group of uneducated men. Among them was a tax collector, a doubter, a betrayer and a denier.

Then there was Mary Magdalene from whom he had cast out seven devils. Throughout his ministry Jesus went among the poor, the disabled and the marginalized.

The life and teachings of Jesus remind us that God does not use the same standard for measuring a person’s worth that our culture uses, nor does he give up on people. No matter how far we stray or no matter how long ago we remain outside his loving embrace, God is waiting to take us back.

And so, as we enter into the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we pray that God will transform our hearts so that we can be a transforming influence in our world.

As we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 we do well to remember that we do not have all the answers — only God does. And then reflect on the fact that the only time Jesus was surrounded by wise men, they remained silent in his presence.

They brought the newborn King the best of what they had to offer and knelt in quiet adoration, knowing their wisdom paled in comparison to that of the Babe whose star they had followed.

May we follow their example and continue our journey in faith with our eyes on the Lord so that he may speak to our hearts and grant us the wisdom to acknowledge what we do not know so that the wisdom of God may be revealed to a world that is desperately in need of healing and forgiveness.

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