Sunday, May 30, 2021

Made in the Image of the Trinity

 Homily for Trinity Sunday 2021

Throughout history people have believed in many deities, numerous gods.  The Jewish people were unique.  God revealed Himself to them as one and only.  We see that in today’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 4: “you must know now, and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on the earth below, and that there is no other.” This one God is the Creator.  But God is not a clock-maker-god, as many people known as Deists thought.  God did not simply create, wind creation up, and then step back, putting creation on a shelf and no longer caring about creation or being involved in it. 

No, God is not simply a creator but a Father who cares about and for creation.  God is intimately involved in creation.  God does not ignore or reject creation.  In this sense, God is for us, not against us.

God is so involved in creation that when sin led to its alienation, God did not destroy creation but entered into it more deeply.  God took flesh and, in that way, became “Emmanuel,” or “God-with-us.”  Through His Incarnation and Birth, God became one with creation to the point of even suffering the death that all flesh must undergo.  But His death was not the end.  Rather, it was a new beginning.  He rose from the dead and promised, as we hear in today’s Gospel, the last verse of Matthew: “behold, I am with you always.” 

God is with us always in the Most Blessed Sacrament, a mystery which we will celebrate next Sunday.  But even that was not enough.  At Pentecost, the feast we celebrated last Sunday, the Holy Spirit came into the world and entered into all the baptized, making them, as we hear in our second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, true “children of God.”  As Paul teaches elsewhere, we are “temples of the Spirit.”  Now God dwells within us.

This is the great mystery of the Christian faith that we remember and celebrate today.  God is for us, with us, and within us.  This is the mystery of the One and Three: One God and Three Divine Persons.

Unfortunately, we tend to hear the word “mystery” and think of something that can be “solved.”  If we get enough clues we will get to the “bottom” of it.  The mysteries of our faith are very different.  We will never get to the bottom of them.  They are not problems that are to be solved.  They are realities into which we can only go deeper and grow in appreciation but, on this side of eternity, never fully understand.  They require humility and a sense of child-like wonder, rather than a “prove-it-to-me” attitude.  This is faith, rather than proof.  It requires accepting the revelation of One who loves us more than any human being can, rather than scientific analysis.  Believing, rather than fully “seeing” or understanding.

Now all this may seem very esoteric or abstract and, perhaps, impractical.  But our belief that God is One and God is Three, that God is a Communion of Love and not an assembly of isolated individuals, has profound and very practical implications for us. 

In the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we read: “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (1: 27).  In other words, human beings are made in the image of the Trinity.  We are made to be a “communion of love” rather than an assembly of isolated individuals.  We are made to be one without losing our distinct personalities. 

The Lakota have a saying with which they end their prayers: “Mitakuye Oyasin” or “All My Relatives.”  In other words, as human beings we are all related and connected.  We are not disconnected individuals but a family.  We are all God’s children, made in the image of the Creator who is One and Three.

This Communion of One and Three is the meaning of Love.  It is why St. John can write in his First Letter that “God is Love.”  God’s very nature as One and Three is Love. 

Now we humans made in the image of Love itself need to be true to our nature.  We are made by Love and for love.  It is who we are and what we do.

Years ago, the author Malcolm Boyd wrote that the beginning of love or charity is, very simply, two words: “No Them.”  In the Unity of the Trinity there is Diversity, but there is no “Them.”  There is only “We” or “Us.” 

We live in such a divided and polarized Church, nation, and world.  We see other people as “Them” and not “Us.”  Our celebration today reminds us that this is not what it means to be made in the image of God.  For a true child of God, there is only “Us,” never “Them.” 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

What is Justice?

Homily for the 27th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle A  -- October 4, 2020
Broomtree Retreat Center, Irene, South Dakota

 In our second reading (Philippians 4: 6-9), St. Paul writes: “Have no anxiety at all.”  Yet today there is so much anxiety in our world.  It accompanies Covid, the election, the state of our nation, and the state of the world.  How can we not be anxious!?

Paul goes on to tell us how.  He writes: “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then that peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ.” 

When anxious and negative thoughts come our way, Paul says we should pray.  We should petition God and bring to mind those things for which we are thankful.  In other words, we are to replace the negative with the positive.

Elsewhere (2 Corinthians 10: 5), Paul tells us to bring every thought captive to Christ. 

Today, in our reading from Philippians, Paul writes: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  In other words, fill your mind with good things.  Not T.V., not 24/7 news, not blogs and social media, but things that are “worthy of praise.” 

And the most “true,” most “honorable,” most “just,” most “pure,” most “lovely,” most “gracious,” most “excellent,” and most “worthy of praise,” – what, or rather Who, is that?  God. Fill your mind with Godly things.  Replace the things that make you anxious with what draws you closer to God.  This is not escapism.  God is the goal and end of our lives and we want nothing to draw us away from God.  In a world filled with injustices, God is the most “just.”  God’s way is the way of justice.

In many of the recent demonstrations you can see signs that read: “No Justice, No Peace.”  At times those words seem like a threat.  Yet they are true.

There is a similar phrase that over the years appeared frequently on signs and in brochures and on bumper stickers.  It comes from Pope St. Paul VI: “If you want peace, work for justice.” 

Some years ago I was preaching about this.  My congregation was a group of Jesuit scholastics (seminarians).  After quoting Pope Paul, I asked: “And if you want justice, work for …?”  They were befuddled.  One offered a circular answer, “Peace!”  “No,” I said, “if you want justice then you have to work for faith.”  I reminded them that our 32nd General Congregation in 1975 declared that the Jesuit mission today is “the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.” 

What is “justice?”  Justice is defined as giving to others what is their due.  Given human dignity, what is due to others?  First of all life, the most basic right of every human being.  What follows from this, then, is all that sustains life: food, shelter, health care, protection from violence.  These are basic human rights.  They are required by justice. 

The Church has taught that with rights come responsibilities.  We have a responsibility to care for our own life and the lives of others.  We are required to give to others what is their due, what human dignity demands. 

But what is the ground, the basis, the foundation for this responsibility to act justly, to give to others their due?  What is the basis for justice?

Giving God His due.  And what is God’s due?  What do we owe God?


Our first reading (Isaiah 5: 1-7) speaks of Israel, God’s People, as a vineyard that belongs to God.  In the gospel (Matthew 21: 33-43), Jesus tells a parable that picks up on the theme of God’s People as a vineyard.  He promises a New Israel, the kingdom of God to which all people are invited. 

No human being is his or her own creation.  There is no self-made person.  Our life and the health and talents that have allowed us to continue in existence and to acquire all that we possess—these are not our own.  They are gifts from God to whom we owe everything. 

There is no peace without justice, and there is no justice without God.  We cannot create a more just world on our own.  Justice, without the most basic justice of giving God what is due to the Creator, has no foundation.  Such justice is incomplete and is built on sand. 

Those who signed our nation’s Declaration of Independence understood this.  They wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights….”  The Declaration of Independence is actually a declaration of dependence: dependence on God who “created” humanity and “endowed” it with its rights. We are creatures who are given dignity and rights. 

Without the Creator there is absolutely no basis for human dignity and rights.  Without the Creator, the basis for justice is power.  Justice becomes a matter of  “might makes right.”  Popular opinion determines what is just or unjust.

The challenge is to see and to treat others justly.  That means seeing the human dignity of all people and giving them that which is their due.  It means seeing others as made in the image and likeness of God.  For the Christian, it means seeing others as precious because Jesus shed His Precious Blood for them.  Even those who hate us or whom we consider our enemies.

This is so important to Jesus that He sends His own Mother from time to time to tell us to pray.  At Lourdes and Fatima and Champion, Wisconsin, Mary appeared with a message of peace.  She called on us to pray for the conversion of sinners, including ourselves.  Only when the world is converted, when God and the children of God, our brothers and sisters in the human race, are given what is due to them, only then will there be peace. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Does Jesus Really Want Us to Hate?

Is Jesus serious?  In today's Gospel (23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C: Luke 14: 25-33) he is quoted as saying "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."  I thought Jesus followed the 10 Commandments, one of which is "Honor your father and your mother."  I thought Jesus said to love our neighbor and even our enemies.  What's this about hating others in order to follow him?  How are we to understand this?

Not everything Jesus said is to be taken literally.  For example, in the Sermon on the Mount according to Matthew chapter 5, Jesus said that if our right eye causes us to sin, we should pluck it out and if our right hand leads to sin we should cut it off.  His point is that it is more important to be in a right relationship with God and other people than it is to have two eyes and two hands.  Jesus was exaggerating in order to make this point and the people of his time knew it.  They didn't stop following him over this "hard saying" the way they did when he taught about the Eucharist in John 6 where he did indeed want to be taken literally.

This is why it's very important to have the Church with the guarantee of the Holy Spirit for an authentic interpretation of Scripture rather than the many individual interpretations that arise if we depend on just ourselves.

When Jesus speaks of "hate" in today's Gospel he is saying that if we love another person or a thing more than we love God we have become idolaters.  We have made that person or possession an idol in our lives and thus more important than our relationship with God.  We should hate the idolatry that we are so prone to and commit ourselves to loving God above all.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment he said: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22: 37).  Notice, he said to love God totally and above all else.   What follows from that, though, is that if we love God, we will also love what God loves--his other human children.  Thus what flows from loving God totally and above all is love of neighbor.  This love is an "ordered love."  In other words, we don't love others more than we love God.  We don't "idolize" them.  We love them "in the Lord."  We love them because God loves them and we love them as God loves them--unselfishly, sacrificially, willing to even show the "tough love" that desires their ultimate good--salvation.

Jesus also speaks about the importance of planning. He wants us to make sure that we have our priorities right so that we make good choices.  There are shelves of books about being successful in business and they include clever slogans like "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."  It's important to plan our lives, our use of time, in such a way that we are loving God above all and our neighbors as God loves them.

That is true wisdom, the subject of our first reading from the book of Wisdom (9: 13-18).  Wisdom is not technical knowledge, nor the accumulation of facts and data.  Computers may have lots of that but they don't have wisdom.  You can know how a GPS or smart phone works, but if you don't know the name of the destination to which you want to go, you will not get there.  Wisdom is about knowing the purpose of our lives and where we are headed.  We're created not just for life on earth but life forever with God and neighbor in heaven.  The Holy Spirit is the source of wisdom.  The Spirit knows the purpose of human life and knows our destination.  The Spirit is that voice which speaks in our conscience, telling us when we have taken a wrong turn and need to adjust in order to get back on track.  The Spirit is not only the power that guides us on this journey through life but also the energy that moves us toward eternal life.

Finally, in today's second reading from St. Paul's Letter to Philemon, we see a concrete example of having the right priorities.  Paul is in prison and is writing to a fellow Christian, Philemon, about a runaway slave named Onesimus.  Paul met this slave of Philemon's in prison. He catechized and baptized him.  Onesimus is about to be let out of prison and Paul encourages him to return to his owner.  His letter encourages Philemon to receive Onesimus back not so much as a slave who had broken the law by running away, but as a brother in Christ.  Paul is basically telling him: If you love God you will love Onesimus and treat him with charity. 

So, back to the original question: does Jesus really want us to hate others?  No.  But he wants us to really love them.  That doesn't mean treating them as something they are not.  It doesn't mean making them an idol or treating them as a god that is more important to us than the Living God, Creator of all.  Nor does it mean hurting them.  As followers of Jesus we are to love God above all and to love our neighbor as God loves them.  That means loving them with a love that is willing to sacrifice everything for their good, just as the Son of God did when he took upon himself the punishment for sins that was due to humanity and died on the cross.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

What is Real Humility?

The first reading for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, from Sirach chapter 3 and the Gospel from Luke chapter 14 are about humility. 

Do you have friends or family members who have a hard time accepting a compliment?  When you praise the delicious meal they have served they say, "Oh, it was nothing."  I'm tempted to respond, "You're right.  It really was pretty mediocre.  I've had a lot better." 

Why do some people reject compliments or deny them?  The reason is called "false humility."  It's false because it denies the truth of the goodness that's being recognized and praised.  It's false because it's often motivated by a desire to receive more attention and praise.

But what about the parable Jesus tells in today's Gospel?  In it he recommends taking the lowest or worst seat at a banquet so that the host will come along and seat you in a better place and "you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table."  Isn't that "false humility?"

The key to understanding all this is to ask about one's motivation. 

True humility is honest.  It's truthful, not false.  And the ultimate truth is that we are nothing.  There is no "self-made person."  We didn't create ourselves nor did we endow ourselves with the talents we use to do things that gain us recognition and praise.  All that we are and have is ultimately a gift from God. 

We are nothing and we are great.  We are great because we are important to God.  We are so precious to God that the Son of God shed his Precious Blood "that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel" (see the second reading).  The blood of Abel, the Bible's first murder victim, called for justice, for vengeance.  The Blood of Jesus calls for mercy.  It says to each human being: "You are precious to me.  Precious enough to die for.  I would rather die than to live without you." 

Because Jesus underwent what he called a "baptism"--his suffering and death--we are freed from sin and death.  We are saved and baptized into God's family. We are joined to the Body of Christ.  Now, as God's beloved daughters and sons, we share in the same relationship with God the Father that Jesus has.  The Father loves us with the same infinite love with which he loves his only begotten Son.

This is what makes us great.  Not our looks.  Not physical beauty.  Not what we do or accomplish.  Not the awards we win.  Not our wealth or power.  Not what others think of us or say about us. 

False humility is motivated by insecurity.  We wonder, "Am I really good.  Am I really lovable?"  Seeking praise from others tries to answer those questions in the affirmative.  But we can't depend on what others say or think about us for our sense of self-worth.  Human praise disappears like the sound of the words. Physical beauty does not last.  Success comes and goes. 

Our true self-worth is much deeper and secure.  It comes from a daily and prayerful awareness that I will always be precious to God, that I am a beloved son or daughter from whom God will never take away his love.  It's been said, there is nothing you can do to make God love you less. Nor is there anything you can do to make God love you more.  God's love for us is infinite and there is no more or less when it comes to infinity. 

True humility can admit: I am not perfect.  I am weak.  I am not God, but I am beloved by God.

Ultimately true humility leads to gratitude.  With it I can say: "I am nothing, but God has done great things for me.  I am great in God's eyes so I don't need to prove anything to anyone."  True humility can accept compliments and give the glory to God. 

That's what the Blessed Virgin Mary did.  According to Luke chapter 1, when Mary went to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth she was greeted with: "Most blessed are you among women."  Mary accepted the praise and gave all credit and glory to God, saying, "Behold, from now on will all ages called me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me." 

God has looked on all of us in our lowliness, our nothingness, and has done great things for us. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost Homily

Last evening and today I celebrated four Masses in South Dakota prairie towns--Faith, Red Owl, and Mud Butte.  These places are served by a Polish priest who is part of the Rapid City Diocese and who went back home to visit his family.  He has quite a trek every weekend.  He lives in Faith and on Saturdays he drives over 60 miles to Red Owl for 4 PM Mass and then on Sundays he drives 40 miles to Mud Butte for 10 AM Mass.  Here's the homily I preached:

I want to begin with a question, but you're going to have to listen closely to it.  Do you have any "thems."  You know, as in "us" and "them." 

In the late 1960's when I was in high school, I was given a little reflection book by Malcolm Boyd entitled "Are You Running With Me Jesus?"  One reflection went like this:  "The definition of charity: No Them."

Our first reading (Acts 2: 1-11), the story of Pentecost, shows how diverse "Jews and converts to Judaism" from all over heard about "the mighty acts of God" in their own language as the apostles, uneducated Galileans, preached the good new of Jesus Christ to them.  The Holy Spirit had performed a miracle that brought about unity in the midst of the diversity of many languages.  All were able to hear and understand the Gospel.  All were included.

In the second reading from chapter 12 of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, we hear that all--"whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons"--are chosen to be part of the Body of Christ.  No one is excluded.  The Church has no "them." 

This is God's plan for humanity--a unity amidst diversity.  Humanity is made in the image and likeness of God.  God, as we will reflect upon more in next week's feast of the Most Holy Trinity, is a mystery of  One and Three.  God is Three Persons and One God.  There is diversity in the Divine Nature and unity.  Thus humanity, made in this image, is meant to be diverse but one.  We are not created to be the same or to be isolated individuals. We are made to be a communion of persons.  In God there is no "them," only "us." 

This unity amidst diversity is the work of the Holy Spirit, the bond of Love between the Father and the Son.  The Spirit unites us to God and to one another, making us one.  No "them."

In the Gospel (John 20: 19-23) Jesus said that the Father sent him. He was sent to reconcile humanity to God and with one another. 

The word "reconcile" comes from a Latin word which means "to make friends again."  Where sin separates us from God and one another, causing a break in our friendship, Jesus came to restore friendship.  Friends do not see each other as "them." 

As members of the Body of Christ we are now sent by him and empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue his work.  The apostles and those ordained after them continue this work through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  However, all the baptized are sent to bring about reconciliation.  We do that by forgiving one another, by works of mercy, and by our penance.  The idea of penitential prayers and acts is to balance out the wrong in the world with good, to repair the damage of sin. 

But what about the last line of the gospel: "whose sins you retain are retained?"  What sins are retained? 

It takes two to reconcile.  People may hurt you and you go to them to tell them that you forgive them.  But if they look at you and say, "I didn't do that; I didn't say that" or if they minimize the hurt by saying "Hey, that was nothing; get over it," then reconciliation has not taken place.  The hurt, the sin, has been retained.  You were ready to forgive but they were not ready to receive your forgiveness.

There may be instances where reconciliation doesn't happen because people do not admit their sin or excuse it.  They are not able to receive mercy.  Neither God nor we can force them to accept it without their realizing they need it and want it. 

Our responsibility is not to impose reconciliation on others.  It cannot be forced.  However, we must always  be ready to forgive, to make sure there is no obstacle in our hearts to reconciliation--no resentment, no bitterness.  In other words, we must never see others as "them."  We must pray for their conversion so that they will see their need for mercy and receive it.  God wants everyone to be reconciled--to be friends of God and one another. 

In the end, in heaven there will be no "them."  There will only be "us"--humanity reconciled in the Body of Christ. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Union with God and One Another

I am at St. Nicholas church in Valentine, Nebraska this weekend.  All of Nebraska celebrated last Thursday as a holyday of obligation, the feast of the Ascension.  So today we are celebrating the 7th Sunday of Easter.  Here's my homily:

Imagine: at the Last Supper Jesus thought of you and prayed for you.  That's what today's Gospel (John 17: 20-26) tells us.  It says: "Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: 'Holy Father, I pray not only for them [the apostles], but also for those who will believe in me through their word...'"
And what was Jesus' prayer for us?  "That they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.  And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me."

These are Jesus' last words to his apostles, his farewell address, before going to his death. Jesus prayed that they and we might be one with him and one with each other.

That makes sense.  If, as the first book of the Bible Genesis says, we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we are made not to be isolated individuals.  Rather, reflecting the loving communion that is the divine nature, we are made for communion.   We are created for union with God and the communion of saints.

And this communion is essential to evangelization, to spreading the good news of God's love.  Jesus said that the world will believe that Christianity is true when it sees Christians in loving union with one another, a union that is grounded in their union with God.

What makes this union possible?  First of all, the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and the Son.  This is the mystery of the Holy Trinity which we will celebrate in two weeks.  Next week we will celebrate Pentecost, recalling the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary gathered in prayer in the upper room.  The Spirit came with great power in the form of tongues of fire.  It was the fire of love that united those who received that outpouring of the Spirit.  Those who saw the effects of the Spirit were amazed to hear the apostles preaching the good news and to understand them, even though they came from diverse countries and spoke and understood diverse languages.

The Spirit brought them together.  The people understood the preaching because the apostles spoke a universal language, the language of love.

Love usually involves feelings, but it is more than an emotion or sentiment.  It is ultimately an act of the will in which one desires the ultimate good of the other person no matter how one feels about him or her.  We see this in the First Reading (Acts 7: 55-60), the story of St. Stephen's martyrdom.

I don't know how Stephen felt about the people who stoned him to death, but I would suspect he didn't like them.  Yet, he loved them.  How do we know this?  Because he prayed for them, saying "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."  He prayed for their salvation, not their condemnation.  He prayed that they would experience God's mercy and be converted.

This was a powerful prayer for their conversion that was joined to Stephen's sacrificial suffering.  And it had a great effect on one of those present--Saul.  Stephen's prayer was a channel for God's mercy to one day reach into Saul's hear.  It led to a conversion.

Do you remember that conversion?  Saul was on the road to Damascus intending to round up Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains to be imprisoned and tried.  He encountered a blinding vision of the risen and ascended Christ on that road.  And what did Jesus say to him?  "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"  He didn't say, "Why are you persecuting my Church?"  Nor did he say, "Why are you persecuting my followers?"  He asked "Why are you persecuting ME?"  He was confirming a teaching that he gave in a parable that we find in Matthew 25: whatever we do or do not do for or to one another, we do or do not do for or to Christ himself.  Jesus was teaching Saul that we and Jesus are one.  He is the Head and we are the Body.  We are in union with Jesus and one another just as the parts of a physical body form a one flesh union.

And that brings us to the second way that we enter into union with God and one another--through the Holy Eucharist, a mystery that we will be celebrating three weeks from today, after we have celebrated Pentecost and the feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

See how it all fits together, these three feasts?  We have the mystery of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit to whom Jesus was referring when he said in today's Gospel: "Righteous Father, ... I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them."  The Holy Spirit is, as we said, the love between the Father and the Son. The Spirit reveals to us the mystery of God, Three in One, the Holy Trinity in whose image we are made.  And in addition to the Holy Spirit bringing us into union with God and one another, there is the Holy Eucharist which brings about a one flesh union with Jesus, God-made-flesh, and communion in the Body of Christ, the Church.

Now the challenge is to live this oneness with God and God's other children.  This is what Jesus prayed for at the Last Supper.  There are so many divisions among Christians. There is so much conflict in the world.  The answer to Jesus' prayer begins here, with you, with me.  Like Stephen we are called to pray for our enemies, those who have hurt us.  We are called to let go of resentments and pray that there may be healing in our relationships.  And we are to pray for those people in other parts of the world who hate us and want to see our destruction. We pray for their conversion, that they may come to know the love of God, receive that love, and be brought into union with God and us.  We pray for their ultimate salvation..

This was so important to Jesus that in his final words to his apostles, before going to his suffering and death, he made this his prayer.  It is so important to him that from time to time he sends his own Mother to beg us to pray for the conversion of sinners.  Only when the prayer of Jesus is realized in us, in the Church, and in the world will there be peace.

Sunday, January 27, 2019


In today's first reading at Mass (from the Book of Nehemiah, chapter 8) the Israelites gather to listen to Nehemiah proclaim the Word of God.  They hear God's Law, the way that God showed them to live so that they would be safe and prosper.  What was their reaction when they heard the Word proclaimed?  They break into tears.  Why?  They grieve because they realize that they had not followed God's Law and the result was disastrous. God's Law gave them directions but they ignored the directions and lost their way.

How do Nehemiah and Ezra respond?  They say, "Do not be sad, and do not weep."  They tell them to celebrate: "Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength."  Basically they are being told: "Don't look back.  Don't dwell on the past, nor on your failures.  Learn from your mistakes but don't dwell on them.  Be joyful because now you know better.  You can make a fresh start."  

Every Sunday God's Word is proclaimed in the Church.  In fact, every day we have an opportunity to hear or read God's Word.  But do we listen?  The statistics say "no."  In 2008 the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) took a survey of U.S. Catholic adults.  The good news is that when asked if they had a Bible in their home 87% answered "yes."  The bad news is that when asked how often they read that Bible in the past year 32% answered "never" and 31% answered "a few times."  Apparently their Bibles were heirlooms in which to record significant family events and then to sit on a shelf gathering dust.  

Another, informal survey found that the average Christian, including those who described themselves as "Bible-based" Christians, spent more time in one evening watching T.V. than the rest of the week reading the Bible.  In other words, if one watched 3 hours of television on any given night, 3 hours or less were spent during the entire week reading God's Word.  What does that say about what is forming the minds, the hearts, the attitudes and values of the average Christian?  

We need to hear God's Word as much as the people of Nehemiah's time did.  I have a CD that was created with music from the Great Jubilee Year 2000 World Youth Day.  It's called "One" and it includes a song written by Steven Delopoulos and John Philippidis called "Basic Instructions."  The "basic instructions" are found in the Bible which can be said to stand for "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth."  The Bible--God's Word, God's Law--is our guide book for how to live in a way that leads to the Kingdom God has prepared for humanity from the beginning.  

The Bible is not the sort of book that one can say, "I've read it several times.  I know what's in it.  I know the story and how it ends.  There's nothing new there for me."  The Bible is unlike any other book.  We do not read the Bible for information nor for entertainment.  We prayerfully read the Bible for "formation"--to have our minds and hearts formed by the "living Word" (see Hebrews 4: 12).

With today's technology there are new and convenient ways to make Scripture more a part of our lives.  I have an app on my phone that can be found at  I also receive  two daily email messages that briefly reflect on the Mass readings.  One is from a group called "Presentation Ministries" ( ) and the other is from Bishop Robert Barron  ( ).  

But the Eucharistic celebration is a special time and place where Jesus is alive, speaking to us through the Scriptures.  Then, having our hearts set ablaze by the Word present in the Scriptures, Jesus opens our eyes to His special presence in the second part of our celebration, the breaking of the bread (see Luke 24: 30-32).  The Word becomes flesh on our altars.  The bread and wine are transformed into Christ's Body and Blood.  

In this way today's Gospel (Luke 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21) is fulfilled.   Jesus proclaimed a passage from the prophet Isaiah and announced "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."  It's as though Jesus is saying: "Today you are not only hearing the Word of God you can see that Word in the flesh.  You can see the one about whom Isaiah was speaking. You can see this Word standing in front of you accomplishing what was described."  

At Baptism we were joined to the Body of Christ.  This was not a mere enrollment into a human organization.  A divine and organic union took place.  And when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, His very flesh, in Holy Communion, that baptismal union is nourished and strengthened.  We are not individuals alienated from one another.  We are, in the words of the second reading (1 Corinthians 12: 12-30) parts of One Body, the Body of Christ.  We belong to one another.  We need one another.  We cannot exist apart from one another and our Head, Jesus.  We are one and a sign to the world that unity and the peace that follows from it are possible.  Only sin separates us from the Body, from Christ and one another.  

Hearing this Word that God speaks to us today and seeing this Word made flesh and joining Himself to us, we go forth to fulfill the Word as Jesus did.  We go and live the Word that is spoken, seen, and received.  We hear God say to us through Nehemiah "Do not be sad."  Do not look back.  Do not live in the past regretting and resenting.  Be joyful.  Live in the present and be God's Word in the lives of others, one day at a time.