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Saturday, December 31, 2016

At The Heart of the Church from the Beginning: Mary Mother of God

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, Jan. 1, 2017
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Tucson, AZ

Today our Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. We rarely celebrate
this feast on Sunday, so it is normally a Holy Day of obligation. Now it falls on Sunday, so we celebrate the Mother of God in the Sunday liturgy.

This teaching has been at the heart of the Church even before it was declared official doctrine at the Council of Ephesus in 431. That Mary is the Mother of God can be seen in the writings of the early Church Fathers who recognized the sacred truth and great gift of divine maternity that was bestowed upon Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord.

In fact, even the catacombs dug under the city of Rome -- where the first Christians gathered to celebrate Mass in times of persecution -- contain paintings titled "Mary, Mother of God."

In today’s second reading (Galatians 4:4-7), Saint Paul says that
“[In] the fullness of time God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Therefore, Saint Paul tells us that by being born of a woman, under the law, the Son of God participates in the human condition. He is one of us because of Mary.

Mary, in a way, can be seen as a bridge between God and humanity. It is through her that the divinity of Jesus enters into our world so that we can share in the life of God. God

has come in the flesh -- in our humanity -- so that we can share in His divinity! It is through Mary that we have been given the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. If there were no Mary, we would have no Eucharist. If there was no Mary, no Christmas. With no Mary, we would have no salvation.

My brothers and sisters, as we come together for this Mass on this holy day of the celebration of Mary, the Mother of God, let us honor our Blessed Mother! 

Let us be reminded that as God used Mary to bring His Son into our world, so God continues to use Mary, the Mother of God, to protect us from harm and evil as we prepare for Her Son’s return in glory. 

Today we begin a new year. Therefore, today’s celebration reminds us that there is no better way to begin then by honoring our Blessed Mother and by seeking Her protection upon us and all humanity. As we enter into this New Year, let us be prepared for whatever may come because we are indeed living in dangerous and uncertain times! 

Our Blessed Mother, herself, has warned us about the difficulties in which we are living today. In fact, this year we are about to enter marks the 100th anniversary of our Blessed Mother’s apparitions at Fatima, Portugal.
"Men must amend their lives, and ask pardon for their sins. . . . They must no longer offend Our Lord, Who is already so much offended,” Our Lady warned.

She said to "pray much and make sacrifices for sinners [because] many souls go to hell because there is no one to make sacrifices for them. If men only knew what eternity is, how they would make all possible efforts to amend their lives [and that] mortification and sacrifice give great pleasure to Our Divine Lord."

Our Blessed Mother warned of difficult times coming upon this world if our world does not convert and that nations will even be annihilated because of the spread of sin. Our Blessed Mother taught us to pray the Rosary

for peace for the world. She said, “the Rosary is my Power…It is the weapon which you must make use of in these times of the Great Battle.” 

Fr John Paul Shea
My brothers and sisters, our Blessed Mother’s message of Fatima to pray the Rosary and make sacrifices is more important today than ever! Our world is facing many struggles today and, at some point in time, probably sooner than later, these struggles will reach a climax. We will reach the peak of the tribulation that our world has already entered.

Yet, we are promised that in the end our Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Heart will triumph. Therefore, let us look toward this day with hope.

As we enter into this New Year, let us keep our hearts focused on our salvation. Let us call upon our Blessed Mother Mary, Mother of God, to keep us faithful to her Son that He may protect us from all harm and all evil. Holy Mother of God, pray for us!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sometimes God Asks Us To Make A U-Turn

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
Fourth Sunday in Advent, Dec. 18, 2016
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Tucson, AZ

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit;  and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly.  But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." 

In today’s Gospel (Matt. 1:18-24) we hear Matthew’s version of the infancy narrative. The purpose of this story is to inform us that
Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus was in fact the work of the Holy Spirit, and the drama of today’s story focuses on Joseph’s response to the mysterious working of God in their lives.

God had a plan for Mary and Joseph. His plan was carried out through God’s mysterious intervention and their openness to God. God had been preparing this plan for all humanity throughout salvation history beginning with

Genesis 3:15:  "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Yet, God’s plan of salvation not only involves Joseph and Mary, but every one of us. Mary and Joseph had a significant role God would use them to bring Our Lord Jesus into our world and raise Him. Yet, every one of us is called by God to be part of His plan for His greater glory. By our faith in Christ, we are seed of the Woman.

Therefore,  let us take this opportunity to reflect on what God is asking of us in our own lives. 

The first lesson we learn from today’s Gospel is that we need to stay close to Our Lord. Mary and Joseph were close to God. They lived holy lives and strived to follow God’s will for them.

Mary and Joseph were betrothed. Yet, they did not live together.  Joseph was a righteous man. Joseph cared for Mary and wanted the best for her. Joseph practiced self-control. He did not focus on his own passions or self-desires but what was best for Mary. Therefore, as both Joseph and Mary strived to live as God called them to live, God would
Flight into Egypt
manifest His glory in their lives in a most deep and profound way.

If we want God to work in our lives, than we too must strive to live holy and pure lives. If we are not striving to live in grace, than it will be difficult for us to hear and follow what God is asking of us.

God calls us to live in His grace no matter what state of life we live. Whether we are single or married, God calls each of us to live chastely.  Yet, how easy it is for Catholics today to stray away from living in purity?

Instead of following what we know to be God’s will, many Catholics today instead will follow their own will. For example, instead of getting married, some Catholics today instead cohabitate. Instead of allowing God to be in the center of the most sacred act of sexual intimacy, many Catholic couples today instead use contraception.

Although, the holiness of Mary and Joseph enabled them to hear God and follow His path, this did not make it easy for them to follow God’s plan. They had to rely on faith. Yet, it was through their faith that God gave Mary and Joseph the grace to fulfill what He wanted them to do. We too must have faith in God that He will give us what we need in our lives to fulfill whatever He may ask of us. We need to trust that in God anything is possible.

Sometimes God may call us to radically change our own plans and desires.  Joseph had heard about Mary’s mysterious pregnancy, and he had in his mind to divorce
her quietly. Therefore, God intervened in a mysterious and powerful way by giving Joseph a dream. This dream would inspire Joseph to radically change his plans.

It can be a similar story in our own lives. We too may have plans in our lives that God wants us to change for His greater glory. Sometimes God may lead us into a completely different direction than what we may have planned. 

I remember in my own life several years ago I was going to a boxing club. I was planning to give my life to the sport at the time. Yet, right at the time when I was really getting into the sport, God began to radically speak to my heart. 

God began to drastically move my heart into a completely new direction. Our Lord basically told me to put down my boxing gloves and pick up a Rosary. God told me to no longer fight in a boxing ring but to become a priest and fight for the salvation of souls.

Do not not fear. When the angel appeared to Saint Joseph the first words that the angel spoke were, “Joseph, do not be afraid.” Joseph was confused. He didn’t understand God’s plan. Yet, the angel reminds Joseph not to fear, but to trust in God. We too must not fear the unknown in our lives as long as we are striving to follow what our Lord asks of us.

Fear makes it easy to cut ourselves short of who God calls us to be in reality.  In our time today, many young girls become pregnant out of wedlock because they fear not being loved. Or, some women will abort their babies out of fear. Yet, today’s Gospel reminds us that whatever may be going on in our lives that we must not fear. God wants us to be free and trust in Him because He will take care of our needs!

The first words out of Our Lord’s mouth to His disciples after He has risen from the dead were, “do not be afraid.”

Saint Pope John Paul II also told us not to be afraid. He specifically spoke to the youth telling them not to fear because he understood the pressures that our modern day society places on youth. The pope knew that many youth today are falling short of glorifying God in their lives out of fear. 

Therefore, he reminds us we must not be afraid of the things of this temporal world, but to trust in Christ who can do all things! He taught us not to be satisfied with mediocracy but to put out into the deep and let down our nets for a catch.

Pope John Paul II lived his words to the utmost. He did not fear attacks against him even after being shot. He did not fear speaking the truth in all clarity despite opposition from the world. He did not fear living in old age. No. he put out into the deep and gave Our Lord everything he had until his last breath.

Fr. John Paul Shea
My brothers and sisters, as we reflect on today’s Gospel passage let us open our hearts to God’s plan in our lives. God has a plan for every one of us. He called us to Mass this evening for a reason. He wants to lead us to salvation. He wants us to become whole.

Therefore, let us stay close to our Lord. Let us follow what He asks of us by living our faith. Let us not fear whatever obstacles may come our way but trust in God because He will lead us and take care of us. Holy Mother Mary and Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Gaudete Sunday: Go Tell Others What You See and Hear

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 11, 2016
St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya

The common theme running through today’s
readings ( Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11) is one of joy and encouragement. The readings stress the need for patience in those awaiting the rebirth of Jesus in their hearts and lives. They give us a messages of hope—for people almost three millennia ago, for people at the beginning of the first millennium and for people today. 

Today is called Gaudete Sunday because today’s Mass begins with the opening antiphon: “Gaudete in Domino semper,” i.e., “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Today, to express our joy in the coming of Jesus as our Savior, we light the rose candle, and the priest may wear rose vestments. 

Pope Francis in rose vestments
The prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, encourages the exiled Jews in Babylon to believe that God is going to save them and transform their lives. In the second reading, James the Apostle encourages the early Christians to be patient, “because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” 

Finally, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus encourages John the Baptist to cast away the popular political expectations about the Messiah and simply to accept his healing and preaching ministry as the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of Isaiah.

Isaiah tries to stir up in his exiled brothers and sisters the hope of their return to Israel by assuring them of the saving power of Yahweh in their lives. He reminds them that it was through their disloyalty to God that they had lost their liberty and had been taken as slaves to Babylon where they lived in servitude for 60 years (598-538 BC). 

The Jews were finally set free by Cyrus (who had captured Babylon), and were allowed to return to their native land, rebuild the Temple and serve their God once more as His Chosen People. 

The prophet assures them that God will lead them back to their land in this second exodus (6th century B.C.), as He led their ancestors from Egypt to the Promised Land in the first exodus (13th century BC). He is going to do three things for them. 1) He will transform the wasteland lying between their land of exile and Israel into a new Garden of Eden to facilitate their journey. 2) The weak and the sick will be strengthened for the journey. 3) They will reach their destination singing and crowned with glory. The assurance of this second exodus is chosen for Advent, because both Exodus events foreshadow the coming of the Messiah.

In the second reading from James, the expectation of Jesus' imminent return did not last very long in the early Church. Even within Saint Paul's lifetime, that expectation had waned. The Apostles advised the Christians to bear witness to Christ through their heroic lives without waiting for the Parousia in their lifetime. 

Hence, in the second reading, James encourages the fearful, frustrated and persecuted early Christians to be patient. Like Isaiah, James tries to show his Christian community that what they have been hoping for was already happening. Though he stresses patience and determination, James
also reminds them that
"the Judge stands at the gate." Just as the prophets believed that what they were proclaiming was already happening, the Christians needed to behave as though the returned risen Jesus were already influencing their lives. 

James uses the analogy of a farmer who must wait patiently for the ground to yield its fruit. In the same way, we must trust that God is bringing abundance into our lives, although we cannot see it yet. St. James' warning is clear: If anyone among you has hitherto neglected his duties to God, let him listen now to that warning and put his conscience and his life right with God.

Today's Gospel describes how Isaiah's vision of Israel's glorious future is fulfilled unexpectedly by the coming of the promised Messiah and by his healing and preaching mission. But the Jews in general expected a political Messiah who would reestablish the Davidic kingdom after overthrowing the Roman government. Hence, most of them were scandalized by Jesus’ peaceful preaching and shameful death. 

It has been conjectured disciples of John the Baptist continued to insist that John was indeed the Messiah, and they awaited his return, causing problems to early Christians. Hence, all four Evangelists highlighted John’s important role as the Messiah’s herald but emphasized that John’s was a secondary and subordinate role in salvation history. Matthew, in the second part of today’s Gospel, presents Jesus, the true Messiah, as paying the highest compliments to John the Baptist as his herald and the last of the prophets, and to the courage with which John proclaimed his prophetic convictions.

Scripture scholars over the centuries have wondered why John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He were the one who was to come. There are two possible explanations: 1) John knew that Jesus was the Christ and, as a prisoner, he wanted his disciples to follow Jesus as their new master. So he sent them to ask Jesus this question and presumed that, once they had met Jesus, they would see for themselves that he was the Messiah and so would become followers of Jesus. Or 2) John began to doubt Jesus’ identity as the promised Messiah. 

The silent healing, preaching, saving, and empowering ministry of Jesus was a surprise to John and to those who expected a fire-and-brimstone Messiah. Besides, Jesus had not yet fulfilled John's prediction that the One-to-come would baptize the repentant in the Holy Spirit. 

Nor did Jesus conform to popular Jewish beliefs about a warrior and a political Messiah who would bring political, social, and economic deliverance to Israel. Instead, Jesus pronounced blessings on the poor in spirit, the meek, and peacemakers (5:1-11). He called his disciples to love their enemies (5:42-48). He warned his disciples not to judge others (7:1-5). For John, these teachings might have seemed to weaken rather than to strengthen the Messiah’s cause. Furthermore, Jesus moved away from Jerusalem, the home of the Temple and the center of religious authority, and began his ministry in Galilee among the common people (4:12). 

John proclaimed the power of the coming Messiah to bring in a new age, and instead found himself imprisoned in the dungeon of Herod’s prison-fortress at Machaerus, southeast of the Dead Sea. He may have been wondering why the expected Messiah was not setting him free as Isaiah (61:1) had predicted. John may have found sympathetic doubters among his own disciples who might have wondered how the Messiah could leave their own teacher in prison, and how He could
usher in the kingdom without political or military might. This may have been why John sent his disciples to dispel his doubt, asking:
"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus' generosity to dispel doubts met John's humility to accept correction. Instead of criticizing Jesus or breaking away from him, John approached Jesus through his disciples. The disciples asked Jesus whether he was the one to come or if they should look for another. John may have had his doubts, but he was open to hearing Jesus say that he was, indeed, the one! 

John must have recognized the Scriptural allusions behind Jesus' answer. Isaiah 29:18 speaks of the deaf hearing and the blind seeing. Isaiah 35:6 speaks of the lame leaping like a deer. Isaiah 26:19 speaks of the dead becoming alive. Isaiah 61:1 speaks of good news for the oppressed, the brokenhearted, captives and prisoners. These were signs of the Messiah's coming. 

Jesus could have rebuked John for his doubts, but instead offered him a blessing. Jesus had not lived up to John's expectations, but John did not allow that to be a stumbling block (skandalizomia). Soon enough, Jesus would deal with the people of his hometown, who took offense at him (13:57). Complimenting John, Jesus says that John is the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1 ("See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me"), presenting the Baptist as the end-time messenger, the forerunner of the Messiah.

There are several life messages in these readings from Scripture.  We need to learn how to survive a faith crisis. From a theological perspective, this entire episode helps us to understand how the experience of a faith crisis can play a role in our spiritual and emotional development. If John the Baptist, even after having had a direct encounter with Jesus the Messiah, could
question, doubt and question his Faith, then so can we. If disillusionment is a necessary precondition for a more resilient faith, then we, too, must be open to its possibilities. In moments of doubt, despair and disillusionment, we are, indeed, in good company. 

Occasional doubts – even horrifying doubts – are one thing, but doubts that persist in the face of every Biblical remedy demand careful attention. Let us remember the truth that all our Christian dogmas are based on our trust and faith in the Divinity of Jesus Who taught them, and on His Divine authority by which He authorized the Church to teach what He taught. It is up to us to learn our faith in depth, so that God will be able to dispel our doubts. 

 “Go and tell others what you hear and see.” In medieval times, this day—the Third Sunday of Advent—was called Gaudete Sunday, as an equivalent to Laetare Sunday during Lent. As
we pray today, we also rejoice that the Lord does not fail to show his power and might. We rejoice at the thought that Jesus is going to be reborn in our lives, deepening in us His gifts of love, mercy, forgiveness and the spirit of humble and sacrificial service during this Christmas season. During this season, let us joyfully share God’s bountiful grace, forgiveness, and mercy with others. What Jesus commanded John’s disciples, he commands us as well: Go and tell others what you hear and see.

We need to open our hearts and let God transform our lives: We, too, should be encouraged by today’s readings. They remind us that our lives can also be transformed, if we are patient and place our trust in God. The message of Advent is that God is present among us, in our everyday lives. We must prepare our hearts to recognize and welcome Him. 

“If a man is the center of his [own] life, everyone around him becomes hell for him because everyone around him interferes with
Rejoice! Fr. Joe Mungai visiting the United States in winter 
him and obstructs what he wants to do” (Jean Paul Sartre). Let us believe in our hearts the Gospel message about Jesus given by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Will we allow the Holy Spirit, through these Gospel reports, to create a
metánoia (a change of thinking about God, ourselves, and the world) in us during Advent?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Time to Repent! The Axe Lies at the Root of the Trees

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
Second Sunday in Advent, Dec. 4, 2016
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Tucson, AZ

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

As we come together on this Second Sunday of Advent, let us listen to the words of Saint
St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness
by Bartolome Esteban Murillo
John the Baptist in today’s Gospel.(Matthew 3:1-12)
Saint John the Baptist  -- considered the greatest prophet by Our Lord Jesus Christ -- 
was the real deal. He was passionate for God!  He was the last prophet of the prophets of the Old Testament and therefore would become the bridge between the Old and the New Testaments. 

Mary vistis Elizabeth. John is
sanctified in his mother's womb
He was filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he was in his mother’s womb, and he would let nothing stop him from his mission to prepare the way of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

We hear of Saint John the Baptist’s mission in today’s Gospel passage as he sets out into the desert of Judea. He is “the voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” 

Yet, let us be reminded that God called John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus in His first coming, but his mission is not ended. His message of repentance and conversion is even more vital for us today as we await the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who will come in all His glory to judge heaven and earth!

Therefore, the proclamation of John the Baptist for repentance and conversion needs to be proclaimed today with even more passion and zeal.

For, our Lord Jesus is coming again soon! “His winnowing fan [will be] in his hand! He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire!”

Fr John Paul Shea 
My brothers and sisters, let us not underestimate the importance of Saint John the Baptist’s proclamation in today’s Gospel!

The call for repentance and conversion is the central mission of our Church and it always has been. This is why  Jesus called His disciples -- to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and we need to believe in the Gospel! Yet, it seems today that many in our Church are losing sight of this message.
The reality is that many souls are lost today because of sin. Sin is everywhere! Immorality is degrading humanity and is destroying the life within many souls. 

The sanctity of marriage has become widely disregarded. Our society now accepts and encourages sexual relationships between two men or two women. Person’s cohabitate and have sex outside marriage continually. Pornography is watched on a regular basis in many households. Adultery flourishes. The Lord’s sacred Sabbath is ignored by the majority, and many simply put their own desires and entertainment before God! 

Yet, with all the sin that is taking toll on so many souls, where is the proclamation of the message of John the Baptist in our world today that says repent? Where is the proclamation of John the Baptist in our Church today that says,
“Turn away for sin, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand?”

Instead of proclaiming the message of repentance, it seems as if our Church today is more concerned with proclaiming a message of tolerance, acceptance, accompaniment, and discernment. It seems that more and more Catholics today are more concerned with appeasing the world than saving souls.

Yet, what does Saint John the Baptist say? He says, “You brood of vipers… Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” and do not presume God’s mercy!” 

The need for repentance and conversion cannot be underestimated. The message of John the Baptist of the need for repentance and conversion is more important today than ever!

For the reality is that there is a hell. There is eternal damnation, and many souls are in jeopardy. Many have forgotten about God, and many who do acknowledge God presume His mercy. 

Therefore, let us acknowledge the seriousness of the words of Saint John the Baptist in today’s Gospel passage. For Our Lord Jesus is coming again soon to judge heaven and earth.
“Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees,” and “every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire!”

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Christ's Kingship is Perfect; Others Are Not

Let Jesus Be King of Your Lives!

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
Solemnity of Christ the King, 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 20, 2016
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Tucson, AZ

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen!

Today our Church celebrates the solemnity of Christ the King. Today’s celebration marks the end of the liturgical year, and is therefore a very good way to end the liturgical cycle because the very fact that Jesus is king of the world is the culmination of Biblical revelation.

Today, we are reminded that Jesus is the one and only king that we should honour with deep devotion. It is only through the kingship of Christ that we will arrive at the eternal kingdom that is to come.

We hear of many kings throughout the Bible. Ever since the beginning of salvation history God has sought out leaders and kings to rule the world according to His purpose. Yet, none of these kings were able to fulfil role of king as He desired for humanity. None could establish the perfect kingship God has planned for His creation. 

In today’s first reading (2Samuel 5:1-3), King David is anointed king of Israel. The Lord says of David,
"You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel." Although King David accomplished many things for God, he too was unable to fulfill God’s plan of eternal Kingship.

Therefore, God would send His Son into our world. Our Lord Jesus is not simply king of this earth, but He is king of the entire universe, and He is coming again to establish His Kingdom in its fullness. 
Fr John Paul Shea

My brothers and sisters, today’s celebration calls us to acknowledge the kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

In today’s second reading (Colossians 1:12-20), Saint Paul teaches us that Jesus Christ is
“the image of the invisible God” and that through Him, God [delivers] us from the power of darkness and [leads] us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 

Let us therefore keep our hearts focused on the power of Our Lord and His eternal kingship that is offered to each one of us who repents and lives our lives according to His plan of life! 

“in [our Lord Jesus] was created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together!”

My brothers and sisters, Our Lord Jesus is

king of the universe. He is the most perfect King. 

He has entered into our world to prepare us to live under a completely different rule than the kingdoms of this world today. Our Lord knows that the kingdoms of this current age are going to fail. He knows that this world as we know it is going to pass away. 

You may recall in the Gospel last Sunday that Our Lord spoke about the signs that would point to the end of the times in which we live today and when our Lord would come to establish His Kingdom on earth. Our Lord spoke about wars and insurrections. He said that
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." (Luke 21:10) Therefore our Lord reminds us that the kingdoms of this world today will never be in peace until His kingdom comes, and the closer we come to the end, the worse things will become.

We have had many kingdoms that have arisen and fallen since Our Lord Jesus Christ walked the earth. Yet, unlike any time, we now have a globalized world. We not only have nations that rise against nations, but we now have the technology to literally destroy nations. 

Our Blessed Mother warned us at Fatima 100 years ago that our societies are entering into difficult times. She told us that we need to pray and make sacrifices for the salvation of souls! She told us to pray the Holy Rosary! 

My brothers and sisters, we are living in a pivotal moment in human history. We do not know the immediate future, but what we do know for sure is that our Lord is coming again soon to establish His Kingship on earth, and the kingdoms of this world today will be broken down and humbled. Everything that is not of Our Lord’s kingdom will be done away with! 

Today our Church marks the end of the Year of Mercy. God is very merciful. Yet, we must keep to heart that our Lord is coming again to judge heaven and earth. Every thought and action of our lives will be brought into the eternal light and we will have to make recompense before our Lord! 

Therefore, what is most important for each one of us today is to keep our hearts focused on the kingdom that is to come. We need not to get too caught up in our world that we lose sight of the hope Our Lord has in store for us.

For this world is passing away!
Seek conversion. Repent of your sins and strive to sin no more because sin cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. If we want to live with and in Our Lord for all eternity then we must first be purified of all that is not of Our Lord’s Kingdom!

For if we think we can live a life that contradicts Our Lord and His Church then we are fooling ourselves and the devil will have the last laugh. 

As we come to receive our Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, let us acknowledge Who it is we are receiving. We are receiving the King of the Universe into our bodies and our souls!

As we acknowledge Who it is we are receiving, let us allow Him alone to be King of our lives. For, He is the only King who will save us from the wrath that is to come upon this earth. He is the only one who will save us from eternal damnation. For His Kingdom will come, His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Lord Jesus help us to be faithful to You!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Jesus, Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kingdom

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
Solemnity of Christ the King, 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov 20, 2016
St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya

To understand the significance of this solemnity, it is important to keep in mind the circumstances around which Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in the year 1925 AD. This is the time between World War I and II. 

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
Thumbing his nose at the Vatican, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini shed all pretence of democracy. He  clearly was consolidating a totalitarian fascist state. Nazi Germany was in its formative stages, and the wind of secularist nationalism -- that had no place for God -- was gathering all over the world. 

Nations were heavily arming themselves by developing sophisticated war machines, and it’s no wonder that these events degenerated into World War II. This is the war where even Africans were forced to get involved although they had no immediate interests in the war.

In this volatile situation, the Pope fired a shot of grace by reminding the whole world that
Pope Pius XI fired a shot of grace

He instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King
really only Christ is the King of the Universe. This was meant to be a sign of contradiction to the emerging political powers that had no regard for God nor for humanity.

Human beings have to constantly choose between ruling themselves and perish or allowing themselves to be ruled by God and live. In the first reading today (2 Samuel 5:1-3), the people of Israel make a covenant with David, whom the Lord had anointed saying, “I have found David my servant …. a man after my own heart.” 

Remember that the Lord anointed David after rejecting Saul as the leader of his people (1Sam13:9, 15:1-23). The Lord rejected Saul for two reasons. First, out of foolish anxiety and fear of the Philistines, Saul arrogated  to himself the office of prophet and priesthood, which the Lord had not given him. He did this by making a peace offering before the Lord. Only Samuel the Prophet was given the authority to make this sacrifice. Secondly, Saul got carried  away by greed and refused to put the spoils of war from Amalek under the ban as the Lord had commanded. In other words, Saul departed from depending on God in his political royalty and started depending on himself.

God therefore anoints David and establishes  him as a figure of the Kingship of Christ. We know that David is only a figure of Christ because prophet Nathan said to David that his dynasty shall endure forever (2Sam 7). But it is the prophet Isaiah who puts the record straight when says that “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse." (Is 11:1-9) -- he will be king of Justice and Peace. In other words David became king of Israel and a figure of Christ because of his obedience to the Lord as opposed to Saul’s disobedience.

It is here that a stark difference between the kingdoms of this world and God’s Kingdom stand out. In the kingdoms of this world, men
follow their own designs, but in the kingdom of God, all the children submit themselves in obedience to God out of love. Christ is our first model of love and obedience to the Father. My brothers and sisters, this is the reason why in the Gospel today (Luke 23:35-43), Jesus is given to us as a crucified Messiah.

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And

"Jesus, remember me when you 
come into your kingdom."

indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  
(Luke 23: 39-43)

He is crucified out of love for the Father and love for those given to Him by the Father. He sacrifices himself for His people. While kings and rulers of this world can swiftly force physical submission by guns and tanks, Jesus conquers the heart with love. If guns and tanks do it swiftly and ruthlessly, love does it slowly and soothingly. Therefore the method of Christ may appear inefficient, unreliable and even a disillusionment. The  difference is that the former is short lived and the latter is everlasting. The kingdoms of this world may win one battle buts it's Christ who  wins the war.

People may feel ashamed of identifying themselves with a crucified Messiah, but that is exactly what Paul meant when he told the Corinthians (1Cor1:23) that “We preach Christ
Fr. Joe Mungai preaching to his people in Kenya 
crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks."
Again he says that to those being saved, the cross is an expression of the power of God. 

How do we know that Christ is winning? First, we know it because He is God. Secondly, we have 2000 years of history to look at. We have seen Jesus walk with and deliver His people from numerous clashes with the devil. All those earthly kingdoms that were so mighty  at the time of Pope Pius XI  were hell bent on exterminating the Catholic Church from the face of the earth. But she still stands, and they no longer exist. 

Dear brothers and sisters, it's up to you to chose with whom you want to align yourself.
"Today, you will be with me in Paradise."
Do you want to join those who look glorious today but will wither tomorrow, or do you want to identify yourself with the crucified Messiah
, and say, “I have no king but the Lord”?
Happy New Year ( Liturgical).

Friday, November 18, 2016

I AM the Light of the World; He Who Follows Me Does Not Walk in Darkness

The Theme of Light in the Gospel of John 

by Lawrence Fox
Author Lawrence Fox
"Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the Dawn from on high will break upon us, to shine on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."  (Luke 1:78-79)

Sacred Scripture often uses images from created nature and human relationships to explain who is God. In the Psalms and the Prophets, the Lord God is associated with the themes of Rock (Ps. 95), Light (Ps. 26), Shepherd of Israel (Ezek. 34:15), Israel’s Husband (Isaiah 54:5) and the Vine Dresser (Isa. 5:7)

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus Christ is associated with the theme of light no less than twenty-eight times. Usually when words and themes are repeated within Sacred Scripture, something important is happening. With the abundance of "light" associations in John's Gospel, the author is emphatically calling disciples “to see and understand” the significance of the Person of Jesus Christ. During this time of Advent waiting (starts Nov. 27, 2016), it is good to reflect on the Light of

Christ Who comes into the world and "shines on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death."

We will respond to John’s invitation to "see and understand" the theme of light and Christ's weighty words,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Scripture's use of "light" stands above the notion of simple metaphor or figure of speech. It instead literally reveals the Person of Christ Jesus within Whom dwells the fullness of Divinity. (Col. 2:9)

Light and Sacred Scripture

Scripture opens with the revelation of created light and closes with the revelation of un-created Light. Light 
Two bookends with "light" sabers
effectively acts as two book ends for the pages of the Written Word of God. Genesis opens with God saying,
"Let there be light.” (Gen. 1:3) This is the first reference to light in Sacred Scripture. God’s spoken light breaks upon a darkness that covers the surface of the deep while the earth was still empty and without form. This light precedes the creation of the stars, sun, moon, and an event identified within Sacred Scripture as the separation of light from darkness. The apostle John opens the 4th Gospel with a similar theme stating,
“In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4)

The Eternal Word of God – through Whom and for Whom all things exists - became flesh so as to bring the life of light to men walking in the darkness of sin. God who dwells in unapproachable light becomes visible through the Incarnation of His Eternal Word. God was made man an dwelt among. The author John emphasises this truth by writing, “for the life was made visible, we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us.” (1 John 1:2) The apostle John demonstrates the literal meaning of those words by introducing the man named Nicodemus who visits and listens to Jesus’ words at night.

Teacher of Israel Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, visited Jesus under the cover of darkness. (John 3:1) Like a moth
Nicodemus visiting Jesus

attracted to the light shining in the dark, he is seeking to understand the nature of Jesus’ teaching. He fulfils in himself the promise made by God through the prophet Isaiah,
“Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” 

Later on in John’s Gospel, the Pharisees are recorded as saying to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him.” (John 12:19) This fulfilment begins with Nicodemus who comes so as to avoid being seen by his fellow council members. Jesus explains to Nicodemus that he must be born anew in order to enter the Kingdom of God. 

Nicodemus considers the words of Jesus solely on a natural level, prompting Jesus to reply,
“You are Israel’s teacher and do not understand these things?” Jesus is offering Nicodemus, who represents the dark spiritual condition of the shepherds of Israel in Jesus’ time, the hope of the long-awaited coming of the Kingdom of God. Ezekiel prophesied: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.” (Ezek. 36:25)

Without the Gift of Water and Spirit (John 3:5), a darkness remains within Israel which hounds Jesus all the way to Calvary. Nicodemus represents Israel’s natural search for God in law and temple sacrifice. Jesus is calling Jacob to a New and Everlasting Covenant where Israel worships the Father in Spirit and Truth within a temple not made by human hands. (Acts 7:48)

In Genesis, the Lord God said,
"Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day
from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years.” (Gen. 1:14) The descendants of Adam and Eve worshipped God within the cosmic temple by observing the presence of created light. 

The second bookend of Scripture manifests uncreated Light as the worship of God within the temple not made by human hands. John writes, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The City does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the Glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Rev. 21:22)

The Triune God who lives in unapproachable light (1Tim. 6:16) is gazed upon by the “pure of heart” now able to see God. (Matt. 5:8) How is this possible except by their abiding in the light and life of God in Jesus Christ? (Jesus of Nazareth - Holy Week p. 58) The
fact that Light is first and last in Holy Scripture reveals Jesus Christ is the “First and Last.” (Rev. 1:17) The theme of light is not simply a metaphor but a substantive revelation of Jesus Christ; one Divine Person, two natures — human (created) and divine (uncreated). The revelation of the Glory of God and the Lamb of God together as both light and lamp closes the pages of Sacred Scripture. 

In between these two book ends, the theme of light flows from the throne of God into the hearts of men and back again in the form of prayer, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 26) and again “Thy word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my paths.” (Ps. 118:105) In these prayers, the theme of light is associated with “life, truth, and way” which now brings this essay to the association of “Light and Life.”

Light and Life

John writes that “in Him was life and that life was the light of men.” (John 1: 4) On a natural level, sunlight enables plants to grow which then provides men with food, oxygen, and the raw materials necessary for constructing tools, shelters, and temples. This relationship between natural light and life from the sun and supernatural light and life from the Son is not a coincidence. The Catholic Catechism teaches, “God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason.”(CCC art. 36) By the natural light of human reasoning, man is able to observe the “sign of nature” and in doing so ponders the mind of God. (Rom.1:19-21) 

Jesus marvelled at the peoples’ lack of faith, since they could read the signs of nature but could not read the signs of the times, namely,
the coming of the Kingdom. (Matt. 16:3) The Magi on the other hand observed the lights of created heaven and the lights found in their sacred writings as one divine revelation. The Magi, by being open to the natural light of reason, the light of faith, and the created light of the star, were able to find the light and life of the world dwelling as an Infant in Bethlehem. On the other hand, Herod — who knew neither the signs of the times nor the prophecies of Sacred Scripture (Matt. 2:4) -- only considered things that lead to darkness and the culture of death. He was unable to receive the Light of the world dwelling within the Infant Christ.

Natural light forms a powerful analogy showing man’s absolute dependence upon the supernatural Light of Christ. Jesus said:
“I am the light of the world; he that follows me, does not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Pope Benedict in his book titled, Jesus of Nazareth points out that the term life used here in John’s Gospel is not (bios) meaning material life but (Zoë) which means the life belonging to God. The use of the term Zoë supports a literal understanding of Jesus’ words, “I came into the world that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) We participate in Life to the fullest in God’s own Life. Such participation begins at Baptism (faith in Christ); and bears fruit in disciples who are “pure of heart.”

There is both theological and philosophical significance to the theme of light. Light is something; darkness is the absence of light. Life is something and death is the absence of life. The nature of God is existence and creation depends upon God for its existence. When Jesus states emphatically, “I am the light and life of the world,” he is echoing the Voice emerging from the burning bush on Mount Sinai. Moses asks God to reveal His name and God responds emphatically, “I AM WHO AM.” (Ex. 3:14) Jesus is literally the light and life of God come down from heaven.

Sacred Scripture states that God sustains all things through His mighty Word. John the apostle captures this divine echo by reporting Jesus’ dialogue with the Jews: “You are not yet 50 years old, what do mean Abraham saw your day?” Jesus replies, “Amen, Amen, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58) The Jews picked up stones in an attempt to kill Him for committing the sin of blasphemy, “You being a man make yourself equal with God.” (John 10:33) Jesus’ words “AMEN, AMEN” are meant to convey that Jesus is emphatically the light and life of the world; he is also “the true light which gives light to every man.” (John 1: 9) This brings us to the next association identified in John’s Gospel as “Light and Truth.”

Light and Truth

In Sacred Scripture associates the theme of light with truth. The Psalmist writes, “Send forth thy light and thy truth; they have conducted me and brought me to your holy hill and into thy tabernacles.” (Ps. 42:3) John identifies Jesus as the true Light, which gives light to every man. The existence of the expression “true Light” might imply that a false light exists. A “false light” is akin to a false Gospel, which is no Gospel at all. (Gal. 1:7) In other words a false light is the absence of truth; not a form of truth, which begs the question, “What is truth?”

Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) Pilate responds cynically, “What is truth?” What is revealed in this question is God hidden within Christ’s humanity. St. Augustine of Hippo identifies truth as “what something is versus what something is not.” The Muslim Ibn Sina states that “truth exists when man’s understanding is in agreement with the thing being observed.” Aristotle defines truth as “What something is, is and what something is not, is not.” St. Hilary of Poitiers defines truth as “revealing and making clear what exists.” 

For the classical world, truth was related to being (existence). That which exists is good. Truth exists and is good. Both truth and goodness are beautiful. Jesus came into the world to make clear what truly exists so that men would live in objective truth, that is reality, which is good and beautiful. It is not good to live enslaved by fantasy in one’s subjective imagination. This leads to the murder of truth, the death of goodness, and the path is mired in shamefulness. Jesus came into the world so that men would worship the Father in “Spirit and Truth.” (John 4:23)

The search for objective truth is a search for God since all things which exist do so first in the mind of God, “I knew you before you were born” (Jer. 1:5) and secondly, “God spoke and it was,” (Ps. 33:9) and thirdly, “in God there is no darkness.” (1 John 1:5) Jesus identifies Himself as man’s search for God by saying, “I am the light and truth. He who has seen me has seen the Father.” When God reveals that something is, it truly is. And when God reveals that something is not, it truly is not.

God the Father said to the apostles on Mount Tabor, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”
(Matt. 17:5) This understanding of truth rooted in the mind of God has been lost on the fallen world, which now sees the good as something evil and evil as something good. Jesus identifies this condition as follows: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil…But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.” (John 3: 19-21)

Again for the classical world, truth was related to being. The modern man understands truth as human facts. The post-modern man understands truth as what is willed and shaped by man. The ultimate darkness is man identifying himself as the creator and God as made in man’s image. Jesus Christ comes as Light to remove the darkness and to fill man with the life of grace. Light and Truth are not metaphors when Jesus uses the terms. They are supernatural realities.

Jesus told Pilate that He came into the world to witness to the truth. In that statement, he first bore witness to God the Father, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing,” (John 5:19) and secondly, “Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent,” (John 17:3) and thirdly, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another comforter to be with you forever – the Spirit of Truth.” (John 14: 16) 

To paraphrase St. Hilary of Poitiers, Jesus became flesh and dwelt among men to reveal and make abundantly clear the source and revelation of truth itself — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A person searching for light and truth is seeking the Father through the Person of Jesus Christ,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) This brings us to the third association of “light and way.”

Light and the Way

Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them. He promised to return and bring them back to where He was. (John 14:3) Jesus says, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas replies that the disciples do not know where Jesus is going and they cannot know the way. Thomas’ question is fundamental with every person who ponders; “Who am I and where am I going?” 

Jesus told his disciples,
“I have come from the Father and I am returning to the Father.” (John 16:28, 29) It is interesting that with these words the apostles respond, “Now you are speaking clearly and now we know you are the Son of God.” (John 16: 29) Each person’s vocation is to return to the Father’s House not as slaves but as children of Light. “While you have the light, believe in the light that you may be children of the light.” (John 12:36) The apostles understood that each created person comes from the Father and in Christ Jesus returns to the Father. Christians are “people on the way” because the light of Jesus Christ guides them. (Acts 19:9; 22:4). The blind (as in the case of Bartimaeus) receive the gift of sight, and thereafter become pilgrims following Jesus “along the way” to Jerusalem. (Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week p.3)

I must admit that apart from any other context the language “children of light” is nebulous. And yet the theme of light guiding the people of God, can be seen in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isa. 2:5). The prophet is encouraging the descendants of Jacob to become children of light. He is reminding them that God guided their forefathers out of Egypt towards the Promised Land by light, “By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.” (Neh. 9:12) Jesus Christ is the visible manifestation of God’s Divine Presence in the world separating day from night, and light from darkness. 

Final Thoughts

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) By considering the theme of light alongside these notable words, the thought it expresses is more glorious than a metaphor or figure of speech. It literally becomes a revelation of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Person of the Light is the means by which anyone can come to the Father. He is the way to the Father because “no one has seen God except the only begotten of God who dwells in the bosom of the Father.” (John 1: 18) It is only in and through the Person of Jesus Christ that a person becomes “pure of heart” and able to see God. Jesus is light and life since “All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17, 18) As light is the source of life in the natural world, Jesus is the supernatural Light bringing eternal life to men. Jesus is God’s one eternal Word, One in being with the Father. Jesus is “the radiance of God’s Glory and the exact representation of His Being sustaining all things by His powerful Word.” (Heb. 1:3)

Disciples encounter the Light of Christ in many ways. They ponder His Words in Holy Scripture. They study the lives of His saints, who each uniquely modelled Christ’s life in their own time. Disciples remain in communion with His Church,and participate in His Sacraments. They recognise the divine purpose within nature. In all these, the

countenance of God’s Glory is manifested in and through the Person of Jesus Christ, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2Cor. 4:6)

He is the Light; the Dawn from on high, which will break upon us to shine on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. He will guide our feet into the path of salvation. Come Lord Jesus.

Lawrence Fox is working on a master's degree in Sacred Theology at the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria. 

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Aquinas, Thomas, Selected Philosophical Writings. Translated by Timothy McDermott. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1997.

Ratzinger, Joseph (Pope Benedict XVI), Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Translated and edited by Philip J. Whitmore. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

Ratzinger, Joseph (Pope Benedict XVI), Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. New York: Doubleday, 2011.