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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!