THE BLESSED AND THE WOES FROM THE WORDS OF JESUS

Homily   6th Sunday in Ordinary Time   February 17, 2019

We all are generally familiar with Jesus’ “ Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew’s Gospel.  What we have just heard proclaimed today is Luke’s version and is referred to as the “Sermon on the Plain.”  From one perspective, the  two versions are quite different.  In Matthew “the blessed” refer to those who embrace the spirituality of the Kingdom of God.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In Luke it is actually the poor and suffering themselves who are blessed.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.”  From another perspective. They are very similar for they describe those who follow Christ in the Kingdom of God.  Blessed are the poor and blessed are those who are poor in spirit.  Both are fully dependent upon God.  Both describe the reality of God’s kingdom in the world.  In the eyes of God the poor are blessed; those who hunger are blessed; those who weep are blessed; and those who are ridiculed or denounced for their belief in Jesus are blessed.  To follow Christ is to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, to comfort those in distress and to stand with those who are insulted because of their faith.
But what about the “woes” to the rich, to the well fed, to those who are happy and carefree, and to those of whom people speak well?  I would like to draw upon one of the greatest of American preachers, Father Walter Burghardt, who died this past year in his 90’s.  He preached on turning our “woes” into ‘blessings.”  “Blessed,” he said, are the rich who “can do so much for the poor.”  They do not claim to own what they hold in trust as stewards of God.  “Blessed,” he said, are the “well fed” who “can touch empty stomachs with compassion.”  They are “uncomfortable as long as one sister or brother cries in vain for bread or justice or love.”  “Blessed,” he said ‘are those who laugh now because they can bring the joy of Christ to others.”  They ‘do not take themselves too seriously” and “human living doesn’t revolve around” them.  I would add lastly that those of whom people speak well are blessed when they speak well and respectfully of others.
Christ now reigns in the glory of heaven and carries out his mission in the world through His Church on earth.  We are the hands and feet of Christ who bring blessing to the poor, blessing to the hungry, blessing to the sorrowful and blessing to those who are excluded and insulted.
Bishop Stephen Blaire

REFORM OF THE CHURCH

HOMILY   Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. February 10, 2019

At St. Stanislaus Church, Modesto 
10th Anniversary of Dedication
It was an extraordinary day for St. Stanislaus Parishioners to gather in this Church ten years ago for its dedication.  The ritual is extremely beautiful and rich in meaning because every prayer lifts up the building and its accoutrements as symbolic of the living Church which gathers within its walls for the worship of God and the celebration of the sacraments.
Today’s anniversary Mass gives us the opportunity to reflect on what it means for us to be the Church symbolized by this magnificent structure, because in the end God does not dwell in buildings made by human hands but in the hearts of those who are the living stones of the Church.
When we are baptized and confirmed we are born into the Church and consecrated by the Holy Spirit to be members of a community of believers who follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Christ is  the Head of the Body of the Church and we are the members.  All of us are one and none of us is above any other.  We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We all are entrusted by Christ with the mission of salvation for the world which includes not only the human race but the very earth and universe itself.
I believe that the underlying cause of so many of our crises in the history of the Church from the very beginning has revolved around issues of status, position, structure and exercise of authority.  All ministries in the Church – including the ordained priestly ministry -are gifts of the Holy Spirit for service and not for position or status.  We are all the holy people of God.  We are a community of believers founded on the apostles and prophets of the New Testament.  In today’s gospel passage it was not just Peter who followed Jesus but James and John and all those whom they would catch through their preaching and evangelization.
What makes the Church holy is the headship of Christ.  It is His Church.  We are the members.  The Church with Christ as its Head cannot sin because Christ cannot sin.  But the Church in her members can sin.  We all know at this time the purification the Church needs in her members as it has always needed from the very beginning.  There has never been a time when the Church did not have to reform herself.  Think about Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  Jesus’ work as the Savior in the world is no less a work of redemption in the Church where believers can fall into grievous sin.
Today the Church is persecuted around the world through ridicule and through her martyrs.  There have been more people put to death for their Catholic faith in recent decades than in the days of Roman persecution.
The blood of the martyrs and the sufferings of the Church will bear fruit in the renewal of her interior life.  The Church is ever in need of reform due to the sins of her members, the factions of division which are so contrary to the will of Christ, and to the imperfect human structures of governance which always need to be revised so as to better accomplish the mission given to the Church by Christ.
When we gather within these beautiful walls of St. Stanislaus Church we gather as a sinful people loved by God and redeemed by Christ.  We gather as believers to hear the word of God given to us by Jesus Christ and to worship God through Christ, with Him and in HIm.  We are one people through the Eucharist because Jesus makes us to be one in communion with Him and with one another.  Jesus Christ is our Lord and we are His living body.  Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever, is the corner stone of the Church and we are the living stones of Christ’s Church in the world.
Bishop Stephen Blaire

JESUS PASSING THROUGH OUR CULTURE

HOMILY.  Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus is presented in today’s gospel by Luke as the anointed one of God
Who came not only to his own people but for the salvation of all the nations of the earth.  He came not as a political messiah, nor as an economic messiah but as a religious messiah, anointed by God to preach the word of God so that what we hear is the very word of God.  He was sent to bring healing to the sick, to the poor,  to outcasts.  And He came to establish the kingdom of God, God’s dominion and reign over the earth overcoming the forces of evil and injustice.  Although indeed Jesus was a religious figure – the prophetic messiah of God – nevertheless all that He did and all that he said has enormous and serious implications in the world of politics, economics, business, entertainment, education, society, the family, and one’s individual life.  The Word of God, like a sword, penetrates the very depths of every aspect of human life and the reality of this world.  You cannot separate God from any dimension of our human existence.  Jesus came for the salvation of all people, with a special love for the poor and downtrodden. God is deeply concerned about our human affairs.
The sad reality of today’s world is the large number of people who are abandoning religious practice.  There are many complex reasons in our culture which help to explain this phenomenon.  However today I will only speak to one, and very briefly, therefore incomplete: I.e. the rugged individualism of those who live as if God did not exist because they do not need a God.  They have themselves.  Rugged individualism is not about the dignity of the individual within the social fabric of society and the human family.  This we honor.  Rather I am talking about those who see no objective truth  or who ignore objective truth.  They can lie about anything and say anything they want whether it is true or not because there is no objective norm.  They are toothless people of nothing.  They make up anything they want so long as it serves their interest or their success.  You never hear them speak about concern for the common good and certainly never a word about the poor whom they consider losers.  The heart of their life is improving themselves, not to be of greater service to others, but to advance to the top at others expense, with no restraint in humiliating, defeating and demeaning others.  They express themselves freely, with little or no moral constraints.  What used to be crude or inappropriate or taboo becomes entertainment (one of the worst examples being pornography).  Whatever pleases them is legitimate as long as no one else is harmed.  In summary, instead of seeking to become a virtuous person they seek to define themselves  in whatever way they want.  Their conscience is what they think, even though it be undeveloped and ill formed in the truth.   They certainly have little or no understanding that in giving of oneself, in loving others, they come to know themselves and find their true selves.
When we imitate Christ, the anointed one of  God, we become our best selves.  When we embrace the word of God we live for others, especially the poor and downtrodden and outcasts of society.  Christ brings healing to our disordered lives.  The kingdom of God engages us in the quest for peace and justice and reconciliation.  In the kingdom of God on earth we are strengthened to confront the evil forces that are destructive of the dignity of the individual, of society and of God’s earth.  
When Jesus spoke in the synagogue the people spoke highly of him and were amazed at his gracious words until He began to say things they did not like and did not want to hear.  They then wanted to hurl him down a hill.  But Jesus passed through their midst and went away.  In our culture are we letting Jesus pass through our midst and go away?
Bishop Stephen Blaire

JESUS – ANOINTED TO BRING GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR

Homily, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time January 27, 2019

Today we begin reading from the Gospel of Luke and will do so on most Sundays throughout this year.  Luke presents Jesus as the anointed one of God.  Jesus is the prophetic messiah which means that when Jesus teaches it is the word of God that we are are hearing.  The word ‘messiah’ means ‘anointed one’ and is translated into Greek as ‘christos’ from which we receive the English word ‘Christ.’  ‘Christ is not Jesus’ last name  but signifies his mission which is to reveal the will of God to us through His teaching.  
Jesus did not teach as a political or economic reformer.  He was not a political leader.  He was not an economist.  Rather he was a religious leader whose work was to free people personally by teaching them how to live, by healing them, and by freeing them from enslavement to sin.  
Jesus fulfilled the prophetic passage from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Jesus indeed came for all, but in a special way for the poor and downtrodden.  The poor refer not only to those without sufficient economic means but to anyone who is placed on the margins of society as an outcast.  Also in the broadest sense the ‘poor’ embraces anyone who humbly acknowledges the need for God in their lives.  The biggest obstacle to accepting Christ the anointed one of God is arrogance, self righteousness, and an ego which proclaims oneself supreme.  The self-made man or woman, the successful or wealthy person,  will have great difficulty in  getting to heaven unless he or she acknowledges that all things come from God and all that has been accomplished with the help of God’s grace and by the power of God.
It is also necessary in light of Luke’s gospel to note here how important it is for the Church to speak about the responsibilities of those who are political and economic leaders.  The most central criterion for them in carrying out their duties is to meet the needs of the people especially those who are poor and on the edges of society.  Government is not only “of the people” and “by the people.”  It must always be “for the people Government has a responsibility for the common good.  The same holds for the economy.  The economy does not exist for the rich to get richer.  It exists for the good of the people.  The economy cannot be so free that people are getting hurt extensively.  There must be rules for the common good.
Jesus, the anointed one of God, has come for all people, for all of us, but in a special way for the poor and oppressed of all nations.

WHO IS JESUS?

Homily   Second Sunday in Ordinary Time   January 20, 2019

Since the celebration of Christmas the Church in her Sunday liturgies has presented to us three public manifestations of who Jesus is.  On the Epiphany the magi from the east symbolized that Jesus had come for all the nations of the earth.  On the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord a voice cried out from heaven that Jesus was His beloved Son.  Today the gospel passage from John on the Wedding Feast in Cana reveals that Jesus is the one sent by the Father to bring salvation to the world.  The first sign that Jesus worked of the water become wine, according to John, “revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”
As the wine replaced the water, Jesus replaces all previous religious institutions, customs and feasts which were good wine.  But Jesus is the new and very best of wines.    Jesus is revealed as the way to the Father.  Jesus is the beloved Son of God who has come to bring all people to God.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, symbolizes the Church when she says “Do whatever he tells you.”  This is the fundamental message of the Church: DO WHATEVER HE TELLS YOU.   I think of the words in Psalm 95 “Oh, that today you hear his voice: ‘Harden not your hearts.’”  If we drink the good wine of Jesus our hearts will be transformed from selfishness into generosity; from self centeredness into love; from weakness into courage, and from anger into peace.  In turn we can bring the joy and happiness of the wedding feast to others who may be living in a world devoid of joy or meaning, where they are not drinking good wine.  A kind word, a considerate deed, an act of caring, a respectful encounter gives people a taste of good wine.
To embrace Christ, to drink the best wine, is to believe in Him as the disciples did.  To be a Christian is to believe.  Living the Christian life may be hard but it is not dreary.  It is a wedding feast with the joy of knowing that Christ is with us in all things and at all times.  When we suffer and hurt he suffers and hurts with us.  When we are happy he is happy with us.  Jesus is the good wine that the world needs today.  Jesus is the good wine that we need today.  Let us listen to the words of Mary, Jesus’ mother and our mother, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Bishop Stephen Blaire  

DISCRIMINATIOIN AGAINST CHRISTIANS IN THE HOLY LAND

My summary of the Communique issued by the Co-Ordination of Episcopal Conferences in support of the Church in the Holy Land, January 17, 2019.

This year in what is an annual visit an international group of representative  Bishops focused on Christians living in the State of Israel.  They also visited Palestine.
Recognizing “that Israel was founded on the stated principles of equality between all citizens” they stated that Christians face profound difficulties and have heard that they find themselves discriminated against and marginalized.  Of particular concern is the ‘Nation State Law’ which “creates ‘a constitutional and legal basis for discrimination’ against minorities.”
The Bishops stand “with Israel’s Christians and all those challenging discrimination, in support of their call to protect the country’s pluralism.”
Christians make outstanding contributions through their schools, hospitals and involvement in public life in both Israel and Palestine.
Of particular note is the misery of occupation experienced by the people in Palestine which has been exacerbated by severe cuts to humanitarian funding by the the United States Government.
The Bishop delegates called upon their own governments to meet the funding gaps faced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and to redouble their efforts towards “a diplomatic solution with two democratic states of Israel and Palestine existing in peace.”
They concluded their report with these words:
“We admire our sisters and brothers in the Holy Land for not losing hope and we commit ourselves through prayer, pilgrimage and practical solidarity, to helping keep that hope alive.”
I would add that this is a message that needs to be heeded by our own government.

BAPTIZED AND CONFIRMED INTO THE CHURCH WITH A MISSION

Homily  Baptism of the Lord    January 13, 2019

On the Feast of Christmas we celebrated that Jesus, a descendant of David and the Son of God, was born of the virgin Mary.  The Word had become flesh – fully divine and fully human, the one person of Jesus Christ.  Today’s Feast of the Baptism of Jesus follows quickly in the Church calendar even though in historical time there was a differential of about 30 years.  We might say that the Baptism of Jesus is like another birth in which Jesus is presented to the world.  As He came out of the waters a voice from heaven proclaimed: “You are my beloved Son.”  Just as the magi on the Feast of the Epiphany represented all the nations of the earth, so today’s feast presents the “Son of God” for all peoples.  
Jesus sanctified the waters of the Jordan River which have become for us a symbol of the living waters of baptism.  We who are baptized came out of the waters of baptism into the Church as the adopted sons and daughters of God.  You could say that a voice from heaven spoke to each of us saying:  “You are my beloved son,” or “You are my beloved daughter.”  
At the Baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended upon him, anointing Him for His mission to bring forth justice to the nations over the face of the earth.  Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah who spoke for God in these words: “I, the Lord…formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”
At some point after our baptism we were confirmed in the Holy Spirit, anointed  to continue in our time as members of the Church the mission of Jesus Christ to bring justice to our world.  As Catholics we have a mission:  to live as Jesus taught us in the way of integrity, truth, honesty and love; and to transform the face of the earth.  Our world is darkened by cruelty, lies, greed, lack of civility, name calling, harshness, nationalism, selfishness, revenge and abuse.  The Christian is a person of compassion and mercy.  The Christian speaks the truth.  The Christian accepts accountability to God for all that is entrusted to one’s care.  The Christian  speaks respectfully and acts for the common good, the good of all the people and the good of the earth.   The Christian judges every public action in terms of whether or not it contributes to building a more just society and a peaceful world.   The Christian seeks healing and reconciliation.  Of course, we know that we are all sinners, but that will not keep Christ form working through us, His beloved sons and daughters in the Church.
There were two responses to Jesus the Son of God from the moment he was born.  He was either rejected (e.g. by Herod, the scribes and teachers) or He was embraced and accepted (e.g. by the magi and the shepherds).  And so it remained throughout the ministry of Jesus to the end.  And so it is with us.  Some will ridicule us for our faith and say we are deluded or irrelevant or hypocritical and others will join us in finding the star that enlightens our world.  
On this Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, let each of us renew our own baptism and confirmation in the Holy Spirit, asking God
 to give us the grace to live fully the mission entrusted to us to serve God in this world, working for justice and peace in our hearts, in our families, in the Church, in our communities and in the world.
Bishop Stephen Blaire