The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

4th Sunday Ordinary B - Teaching with Authority

In today's Gospel, we read that Jesus'  teaching "made a deep impression on the people because unlike the scribes, (that is, the official teachers) Jesus taught them with authority." Jesus spoke with such authority that even the demons obeyed His command. The bible tells us in numerous places that Jesus then passes this authority on to His Church.

Knowing that He would soon be going to the Father Jesus entrusted His mission to His closest disciples - the Apostles. He first ordained them priests who would act on His behalf when in Luke Chap 22 we hear Him tell the Apostles "This is my body" and "This is my Blood" and commanding them to "Do this in memory of me".

By commanding them to do the same He thereby gives them the power to celebrate Mass in which the Bread and Wine will be changed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ Himself. Then knowing that after He returns to heaven the faithful would be left leaderless, Jesus establishes a church with a leader who would continue His work and guide the people.

In Matthew chapter 16 Jesus makes Peter, the first Pope, the head of His church on earth when He says "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church". In John chap 21 Jesus tells Peter to guide the flock and to teach them when Jesus tells him "Feed my sheep". In Matt chap 28 Jesus tells the Apostles that He will never leave His church when He says "I will be with you always, until the end of the age."

And then Jesus gives His Apostles, who are the first Bishops, the authority to act on His behalf in spiritual matters in His church when in Luke chap 10 He tells His Apostles "Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me." In John chap 20 Jesus gives the priests of His Church the power to forgive sins in His name when He said "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. He breathed on them and said to them "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.  Whose sins you shall retain they are retained."  This breathing on them is quite significant because the only other time that God breathes on anyone is when He created man.

Jesus gives to His Church the power of loosing and binding or in other words to make decisions and to rule His church on earth on Jesus' behalf when in Matt Chapter 18 Jesus says "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven".

The apostles ordained others to help them. The church began to spread throughout the world.  Bishops were ordained here and there and they in turn ordained priests and deacons to help them.
We read in Acts 6 "the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them", and again in Acts  13 "they laid hands on them and sent them off". Paul ordained other priests to assist him as we read in Acts chap 14. "After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.

They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith saying "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God."

They appointed priests for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting , commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith." And this handing on of the faith and the authority to preach the truth in Christ's name by appointing and ordaining priests in every church continues even to this day. Father Kaz and I are both ordained ministers of the church. He is a priest and I am a deacon. We were ordained by a Bishop.  This Bishop was also ordained by a Bishop who was Himself ordained by a Bishop who was Himself ordained by a Bishop.

Bishop after Bishop after Bishop going all the way back 2000 years to the Apostles and to Jesus Christ Himself.  It is an unbroken link to the very first beginnings of the church.  Just like a genealogist would do we could trace our spiritual roots all the way back to the Apostles who were ordained by Jesus. This handing on of the teachings of Jesus Christ and His teaching authority over the centuries by ordaining ministers without a break in it's 2000 year old history is called Apostolic Succession.

What authority does the Church have to ordain minsters? It has no authority except that which was given to it by Jesus Christ.  The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus gave His authority to His Holy Church at the very beginning and that Christ' power is handed down to the Church from generation to generation through this Apostolic Succession.

The church was a reality and was flourishing 400 years before the bible even came into being.  In fact, it is through the authority of the Bishops of  the Roman Catholic Church that we even have a bible. In the 4th century after Christ, it was the Bishops of the Catholic Church who gathered together and decreed which books were divinely inspired and which ones were not. This was ratified by the pope.
1 Timothy 3:15 the Bible tells us that "the Church of the living God, is the pillar and foundation of the truth." From the very beginning the Catholic Church has been celebrating the Liturgy of the Mass with the Holy Eucharist as the central part of our liturgy. Holy Communion, where we receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ Himself. This is not a symbolic gesture but rather the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ Himself as Jesus says in Luke Chapter 22 "This is my Body".

Catholics take these words just as Jesus meant them to be taken. Quite literally and that  is why the Catholic Church considers the Eucharist as the centre, the source and the summit of our Catholic Faith. In Acts chapter 2 we read St. Paul telling us that "They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers."

 Which is exactly what we continue to do today in the Mass - we gather together as a community, we listen to Holy Scripture and to the Sermon and then receive Holy Communion or as they called it in the early days of the Church, " the breaking of the bread". The Apostolic or Early Church Fathers, that is those who were taught by the Apostles themselves or their immediate successors and were themselves ordained by the Apostles or their immediate successors as Bishops - the Apostolic Fathers tell us about the Mass that was celebrated in those very first days.

When we read their writings we can readily see that today's celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist models very closely the Liturgy of the Eucharist as was celebrated by the early church in the very first days. Our Sunday celebration is not so much focused on the preaching and the music as it is on the Eucharist. This is the centre of our celebration.
In the early church Paul tells us that they gathered together as a community. So do we. They listened to the Word of God and to the teachings of the Apostles proclaimed in their midst. We just listened to the word of God proclaimed in our midst and are now listening to the Homily.

 They devoted themselves to prayer and to the breaking of the bread. We also are devoting ourselves to prayer and soon we will be breaking the bread and receiving Holy Communion. From the very beginning of the church and for over 2000 years, the Catholic Church has celebrated the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

To this very day throughout the whole world, every hour of the day, 24 hours a day, and every day, not just Sunday, but every day,  the Liturgy of the Eucharist or the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass continues to be celebrated under the authority of Jesus Christ throughout the world. 

Jesus Christ gave His church the command and the authority to do this and to pass on to others the Authority to continue to do this in His name.

Jesus Christ commissions His Church and commands it to spread the Good News. In Matthew Chapter 28 "All power in Heaven and earth has been given to me....Go...make disciples of all nations... teaching them to observe all that I commanded you". So it is under the authority of Jesus Christ that the Catholic Church worldwide endeavors to continue to  do exactly that... to do this in Memory of Me and to teach, not just our local church, or not just the church in this country but all over the world, teach all nations to observe all that He has commanded us to do.

God rules, instructs and sanctifies His people through His Church. Under her teaching office, the Catholic Church preserves the Word of God. Following His command the Church is the custodian, keeper, dispenser and interpreter of the teachings of Jesus Christ. And she accomplishes all of this under the protection of the Holy Spirit.

God Bless.
Deacon Bernie Ouellette

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B - Mark 1:14-20

Somebody told me once: "it's boring and frustrating to listen to your homilies, because you have only one theme to talk about. And the topic is SIN."

And it is true. The only one topic of all homilies should be "How to save people from their sins." There is no more important and no more urgent reality of our daily life. Eventually Jesus Christ came to the earth only and absolutely only for this purpose, to save us from the power of evil, from our sins and to liberate us from the fate and condemnation of Hell. This exactly is the Good News, the core of the Euangelion, the message of Christ. It's the Good News but not the nice news. Christ news is good because it's about our liberation and salvation. Hallmark's news are nice because they are about nothing. They are simply irrelevant.

This is why Jesus is beginning His messianic mission with the urgent and strong appeal "repent and believe in the GOOD News" and He finishes with strong and clear statement "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mk 16,26)

All three of this Sunday’s readings present an urgent call.  Jonah tells the people of Nineveh that their sins have resulted in their suffering God’s wrath.  They would listen and repent.  St. Paul tells the Corinthians that time is running out and they have to change the ways of their lives.

They need to embrace the Gospel before they have no more time. Jesus begins his preaching by proclaiming, “The time of fulfillment is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  In all these three readings the main theme is??? Yes -- REPENTANCE. Did something change since then? I don't think so.

The Gospel of St. Matthew finishes with the words of Jesus:
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Mt 28; 19-20

The Gospel of St. Mark ends with the words of Christ:
"Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mk 16; 15-16)

The last Jesus' words of the Gospel of St. Luke are:
"Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." (Lk 24; 46-48)

Do you think that Jesus was obsessed by the concept of sin or the idea of repentance?

The penitent asked, "Does God accept repentance and is able to forgive my sins?" The priest asked in turn, "Do you throw away dirty laundry?" "No," replied the sinner. The priest said, "Neither will God throw you away."  Anthony de Mello writes, "Jesus proclaimed the good news, yet he was rejected. Not because it was good, but because it was new. We don't want new things when they involve change and most particularly if they cause us to say, 'I was wrong.'" We are told the only person who welcomes change is a wet baby.

"Repent and believe the good news" are the first words that Jesus the Christ spoke in the Gospel of Mark. So, one must conclude that this brief message must be of paramount importance to Him. They are but six words and yet they continue to turn the world upside down. And they send us into denial.

The first word of Christ's message is that frightening word "repent." The sinner has only two options - to be pardoned or to be punished. Christ defines repentance as not merely saying, "I'm sorry" but also "I will change my life." While God forgets the sin, He does not forget the repentant sinner. When God forgives us in the confessional, He suffers from total amnesia. Heaven, we are advised, is filled with converted sinners and the good news is: "there is room for billions more. But we must repent."  Christ would remind us, "No matter what your past may resemble, your future is spotless. And the saints are saints precisely because they kept on trying."

Modern culture dismisses sin removes this word from the dictionary. But the Nazarene does not buy into that message. A New Testament concordance contains a dozen columns on the subject of sin and only eight on love. God would remind us that He gave Moses on Mount Sinai Ten Commandments and not Ten Suggestions. He never said, "Keep my commandments unless of course you have a headache."

Somebody said, the difference between the ancient pagans and the new or contemporary pagans is that
-          The ancient pagans were aware of the reality of sin but they didn’t' have the means of salvation
-          The new pagans of our time they have the means of salvation but they not anymore recognise their sins.

The second term of interest in the six word message is the good news. The news is good precisely because it brings us to the truth. Until the advent of the Teacher, people could only search for God. No less a person than the mighty Job in 23:3 shouted out in pain, "Oh, that today I might find him, that I might come to his judgment seat!" But Christ says to today's Jobs, "He who sees me sees the Father."

The good news brings hope. The ancients dwelled in a culture of gloom. The Roman philosopher Seneca (3 BC-65 AD) spoke of "our helplessness in necessary things." Try as they might, people somehow could never get out of square one. They constantly found themselves behind the infamous eight ball. Their feet were forever tied together. Christ's arrival changes that scene. St Paul in Colossians 1:23 tells his readers that they must not be "shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the Gospel."French philosopher and Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin says: "The future is in the hands of those who can give people valid reasons to live and hope."  The good news offers everyone peace.

Virtue and evil are constantly fighting for the upper hand in each of us. Morally we are split personalities, moral schizophrenics. St Paul identifies with our human condition in the famous words, "The good I would do that I do not. The evil I would not do that I do."

Yet, if we surrender ourselves to the Christ, those two opposite personalities in us can at last become one worthwhile entity.  St Paul advises (in Ephesians 6): "Let the shoes on your feet be the good news of peace." If we take his recommendation, our feet will become unbound. We need not fear where they will take us. We will walk over pebbles and feel no pain.

Once Abraham Lincoln was asked what he thought of a sermon. He replied "it was good but had one defect. The preacher didn't ask us to be great." One cannot say that of Jesus in today's Gospel.  We ask the mystic, "How does one get to heaven?" She answers, "The same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice! Practice! Practice! The repentance …"

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

The notion of vocation in the Gospel should not be restricted to the priestly or religious vocation. In the case of Jesus it is a vocation to the discipleship, vocation to follow Christ, to become the child of God. We all are called to follow this path.

Jesus calls us to follow Him and finally to enter eternal live. This is the reason why He became a man. His vocation is much more serious and much deeper then we expect means the happiness in this life.

He is not a magician satisfying our desires and caprices, His goal is not to make our life sumptuous and luxurious. He is our Saviour; His goal is to liberate us from the slavery of sin, from the power of evil. This is our vocation; this is what He is calling us for.

And so, when the disciples of John are interested in the person of Jesus and would like to follow Him, He asks them an honest question: “What are you looking for?” or what are you expecting from me, what are you searching for? Are you expecting from me to fulfill your expectations or your desires, your caprices?

And  they ask another question: «where are you staying». We would like to know where you are, who you are. This is quite honest request. And so, His answer is "come and see".

This is exactly the same or similar situation when Jesus is calling me and you. He asks precisely the same question: "What are you looking for?” what do you expect from me, what do you expect from God? If you would like to see what I can give you, come and follow me, come and see.

But the misery of our times is that people nowadays answer: "I don't have time, I am too busy, too tired, I have so much to do to assure the financial security and prosperity of my life …" or very often in our society of immediate gratification the answer is: "you Jesus cannot offer me anything, because I need what you won't like to give me and I need it NOW !!! I am not interested in your proposal; it's not answering my expectations and my idea of a happy life. If you won't make my life happy according to my standards so ... I am not interested and I will not buy it.

In the first reading Samuel called by God answers: "Speak, for your servant is listening." In the Gospel the two disciples of John the Baptist "they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day." And as we know they stayed with Him until the end of their lives, until their death.

We, we are doubting, we are reasoning, discussing, waiving or ignoring. We have some serious problem in trusting God. We declare that we believe in God, but at the same time don't believe God, we don’t trust Him.
In the wordy declaration we repeat in "Our Father … may your will be done" and at the time we try to do always so He follows our will.

I am not accusing anybody, I am not blaming anybody, I am just trying to find the reason why we are so unhappy having apparently everything to make us happy?

And this is true for the priestly vocation when some people are searching their self-realization only and if it doesn't work they quit, they abandon; they are disappointed, frustrated and angry with God.

This is the same for the religious vocation where some people are deciding to enter the religious life only to satisfy their expectations and if this doesn't work they are upset and depressed. God didn't follow their expectations, so they abandon Him.

But this is the same with the vocation to the family or marital life. If this is not answering our "immediate gratification" mentality, we quit, we divorce, we abandon.

So when Jesus is asking you: "“What are you looking for?” or what are you expecting from me, what are you searching for?" answer honestly. When He is proposing: "Come and see" don't delay, go and see where He is and stay with Him, like Simon, and Andrew, and John, and Matthew, and so many others.

Because as St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1: 27-29):
"God chose (called) rather the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
he chose those who by human standards are weak to shame the strong
those who by human standards are common and contemptible -- indeed those who count for nothing – He choose (called) to reduce to nothing all those that do count for something,
so that no human being might boast before God."

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Mary, Mother of God January 1, 2012

Is Mary the Mother of Jesus Christ? Yes. Is Mary the Mother of God?  To answer that question we first have to answer the question "Who is Jesus Christ? Our purpose today is not to prove that Jesus is God or that Jesus is man. Given the numerous references in the Bible, as Christians, we take that for granted. Jesus Christ is both God and man. Our purpose today is to look at Jesus Christ in order to answer the question how can Mary be the Mother of God?

The Bible says that Jesus Christ, He who is God by reason of His divine nature, became man by taking unto Himself human nature. That is to say, God – a divine person – took unto Himself a human body with the same structure and functions of the human body which each of us knows so well.

He took unto himself a human soul, a human mind, human feelings and emotions, no different from those with which we are endowed with at birth. And when He did this, He did not thereby cease to be God. God, whose nature is entirely spiritual, into whose make-up nothing bodily enters, whose will power is omnipotent (that is to say all powerful, Almighty), whose mind is omniscient (that is to say all knowing) and whose life had no beginning and no end.

Jesus Christ is both God and man – As God Jesus Christ is infinite, omnipotent, omniscient and eternal. At the same time, Jesus Christ – as man is also mortal (as a human being he must eventually die), Jesus is limited in His physical powers, capable of fatigue and pain, subject to growth in bodily stature and human knowledge. The same as every other man in everything but sin.

This does not mean that His Divine nature became human or that the infallible mind of God became fallible, or that the immortal nature of God became subject to death. At the incarnation the divine was in no way changed into the human. It does mean though that a Divine person really possessed human nature with all of its limitations because a human being, Mary, was His mother.

But because these two natures, Divine and Human are possessed by the same person, Jesus Christ, then Mary who is Mother of His human nature, is rightfully called the Mother of Jesus Christ, and since Jesus Christ is God, she is rightfully called -  Mary, the Mother of God.
Many, however, who speak freely of Mary as mother of Jesus, are hesitant to call her the Mother of God. They shouldn’t be. Otherwise they do not have a full understanding of the meaning of the incarnation. There is no good reason why a divine person, Jesus Christ, who is truly man, could not be conceived and born according to this human nature.

This does not mean that His mother Mary, like some goddess, would bring His divine nature into existence. It also does not mean that as the mother of a divine person, she existed before him. Christ told us that He existed before Abraham was born. As God, He is eternal; as man, He began to live a human life when Mary conceived Him. Mary did not exist before God.

Catholics get this information concerning Mary and Jesus – not from the Church teaching us as though the Bible did not exist, but rather from the Church teaching us the full significance of what the Bible says about Jesus and His mother Mary. About their relationship and what significance Mary has for us today.

Mary as the Mother of God has an important relationship to you and me in the world today. She is our Mother and as our Mother she continually intercedes for us and leads us to her Son Jesus Christ. Since the early days of the Church Christians have expressed Mary’s relationship to us by addressing her with the title “Our Mother”. This, of course, does not say that she was our mother in the natural sense of the term, but rather it is a real spiritual relationship.

Just as St. Paul in speaking to the Corinthians said “In Christ Jesus, through the Gospel, I have begotten you.” Mary could just as truthfully say to all of us “In Christ Jesus, through my consent to your redemption, I have begotten you”. She was associated in our regeneration by giving us Jesus Christ. And when Jesus Christ on Calvary said to Mary “Woman, behold your son” and to St. John “Behold your Mother” Jesus was proclaiming this truth.

Mary is our Mother. Christians have always considered St. John as representing in person all those who are redeemed and who look upon Mary as their “Mother”.  And so this scene at the cross is really the origin of our devotion to Mary. Holy Mary, Mother of God, conceived without sin. Yes, conceived without sin and sinless throughout her life. Full of Grace.  God’s Grace.

If you wonder why this freedom of sin at the outset of her life is so important and why Christians have always acclaimed her to have been immaculate and unstained, the reason is that she was sinless in order to be fit to become the mother of the Redeemer. Sinless, she was then worthy to be associated with the Son of God in a most intimate relationship. In Mary there was no shame of sin to reflect on her child. The flesh which the Holy One took from her as His mother was the flesh of one who had never been – in any sense – a sinner.

The absence of sin in Mary meant holiness – a holiness in which she steadily grew. When the time came for the angel of God to visit her, he would salute her as “full of Grace” and “blessed among women.” Never had a messenger from God addressed a human being in such language. There had to be a good reason. There are two important points which must be kept in mind in finding that reason. The first is that – God does nothing by chance or on the spur of the moment. The Eternal God simply does not act that way.

What God does in the world He has planned from the beginning of time.
God did not just happen to send an angel to a small Judean town looking for a nice Jewish girl whom He then selected to be the Mother of the Messiah  - after taking a quick omniscient look over all the others and then making a quick decision – there she is – she’s the one. No, the Virgin Mary, was in His mind from the very beginning. When she came into existence it was to be as the Mother of God. God only needed her approval. It was the first and only time that a son got to choose his own mother.

The second point is that when God gives anyone a task to do, He also gives them the ability and wherewithal to do it right. In other words, God, by His grace, makes us fit to fulfill all that He calls us to do. We need only give our “yes” to God. God, then, who chose Mary to be Mother of Jesus the Messiah, gave Her the grace, the blessedness and the holiness that made her worthy of that great dignity. She was fit to be the Mother of God and to receive God Himself into her bosom. All that was needed was her assent. Mary said “Be it done unto me according to thy word” and the incarnation was achieved.

Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ. She is not the Mother of the Trinity but she is the Mother of Jesus. She is the Mother of God. As the Mother of God and as our Mother she continues to intercede for us in Heaven. She continues to lead us to her Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

May God, through the intercession of His Blessed Mother Mary, bless you abundantly in this new year.
Deacon Bernie Ouellette