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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Among Those Born of a Woman, There is No Greater Man

St. John the Baptist

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 2018
Good Samaritan Hospital Chapel, West Islip, NY

Today we celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Among those born of a woman, there is no man greater, Jesus told His disciples. And the Church celebrates only three persons' birthdays in its calendar, the nativities of John, Jesus and the Blessed Mother.

The angel Gabriel told Zechariah that he would have a son, and would name him, John, which means "God is gracious."
(Luke 1:8-23) Even while John was still in his mother's womb, he recognized the presence of Jesus, leaping when he heard His Mother's voice greeting Elizabeth. 

This is the moment John the Baptist was cleansed of original sin. The angel Gabriel had previously promised Zechariah that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even while in the womb (Luke 1:15). When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)

John left his parents to live the life of a prophet in the desert. He preached in the desert, wearing a garment of camel-skin and eating locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6; Matt 3:4). He proclaimed the kingdom of God and
a coming judgment, and invited people to accept baptism as a sign of their repentance.

His ministry resembled that of the prophets in that he disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed. He said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming retribution? Produce fruit in keeping with your repentance and do not presume to tell yourselves we have Abraham as our father.” (Luke 3:7-8)

His message moved people. Some of the most despised of the powerful did repent. Tax-collectors asked him what they must do and he replied, “Exact no more than the appointed rate.” (Luke 3:13) Soldiers also repented, and his advice to them was “No intimidation! No Extortion! Be content with your pay!” (Luke 3:14) His message spread far and wide. Mark says all Jerusalem and Judea made their way to him and as they were baptized in the Jordan they confessed their sins (Mark 1:5).

We see John’s humility when he directed people to Jesus. People began to wonder if John was the Messiah so he told them he was not. He declared that his ministry was preparing for the coming of the Messiah,
“I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8) 

When Jesus came to John asking for baptism, John recognized Jesus at once and said, “Look, there is the lamb of God who takes
away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) These words have found their way into the prayer of Mass; when the priest holds up the Sacred Host as we prepare for Holy Communion he says, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” 

Jesus began his public ministry after he had been baptized by John. The Jews had the expectation that the prophet Elijah would return to earth once again to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah. And Jesus pointed to John as that Elijah type person they were expecting (Mark 9:13). After Jesus’ baptism, we see again John's humility as he declared about Jesus: “He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30) We are reminded of this as we celebrate John’s birthday after the summer solstice as the daylight will now decrease. We celebrate Jesus' birthday after the winter solstice when the daylight will increase.

We see John's courage in condemning Herod's adulterous "marriage." This a reminder to us that not everything that is allowed by law is morally right, e.g. divorce and abortion. Herod had John arrested and put in prison. John stood up for the truth and unfortunately like many who stand up for the truth today he had to pay a price. John’s
John in prison
courage in upholding the dignity of marriage and condemning the adulterous relationship of Herod and Herodias was to result in his death by beheading in prison.

History repeats itself, and John's beheading is  echoed in the life of another martyr for marriage, St. Thomas More. He was born in London in 1478. He studied law and entered Parliament in 1504. When no offspring resulted from the marriage of Henry VIII and his wife Katherine of Arag√≥n, Henry divorced her and married Anne Boleyn so that there would be heirs to the throne. Parliament passed a law forcing clergy to acknowledge Henry as the supreme head of the Church.

Shortly afterwards Thomas More resigned his post as Lord Chancellor. He was aware that just because something is lawful, it does not mean it is morally right. On April 14th, 1534 he was summoned to Lambeth and asked to take the oath to the king as supreme head of the Church in England. He refused and was
St Thomas More arrested & taken to the Tower of London
imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was tried for treason in Wesminister Hall and found guilty. He was beheaded on July 6th, 1535. His final words were, “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935.

John’s courage in giving his life for the truth challenges us in a time when it is not popular to speak or live by the truth. Both he and St. Thomas More remind us that just because certain behavior is enshrined in the law of the land does not mean that it is morally right. John turning his focus on Jesus and away from himself reminds us to do the same in our lives. Each of us is called to decrease so that Jesus may increase in each of us. St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

Fr Joe Mungai is trying to find drink for the thirsty in Central Kenya — Gatura,Thigio in Kiambu County. To read about this important project go to A Deep Down Thirst

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

I Planted, But God Made It Grow

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 17, 2018
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Tucson, AZ

Today’s Gospel passage (Mark 4:26-34) calls us to keep our hearts focused on the Kingdom of God in the new life we have received in Christ. 

Our Lord speaks in parables using nature so that we can better understand what He is trying to teach us. Today, He speaks of seed being scattered on the land. The seed sprouts
and grows. Yet, the man who scatters the seed knows not how it grows. This emphasises that the growth comes about not by man’s doing but by God. Therefore, God gets all the credit. 

Today’s message can be seen as a reference to the growth of the Church. Saint Paul refers to this parable in his letter to the Corinthians where he speaks of the early Church. Paul says: “I planted, Apollos watered it, and God made it grow." (1 Corinthians 3:6). So, we are reminded that we work with and in God, but the building of the Kingdom is reliant upon His grace.

Today’s message can also relate to the work of God’s grace in our souls. The Kingdom of God has been planted in our souls in Baptism. Our Lord reminds us that the
Kingdom of God grows in stages like nature itself. He says that the seed first sprouts and grows,
“first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”

When we are baptized and strive to live our baptismal call, it is then that God provides the growth. In other Gospel passages, there is more insight. In John 15:1-10, we learn whatever branch does not bear fruit must be cut off and burned. What branches that do bear fruit will be pruned to bear more fruit. In other words, we must be purified of what is not of God’s Kingdom if we want to live in God’s Kingdom.

Many saints give us good insight into how Our Lord works in our soul. One such saint is the 16th century mystic Teresa of Avila. She saw the soul as a castle representing a journey of
faith through seven stages, ending with union with God.

The first mansions begin with a soul’s state of grace, but the souls are surrounded by sin and only starting to seek God's grace through humility in order to achieve perfection. Through continued love of God and prayer the soul has an aversion to both mortal and venial sin and grows in a desire to do works of charitable service to man for the ultimate glory of God.

The fourth through the seventh mansions are represent contemplative prayer as the soul becomes purified of it
s earthly desires and God infuses Himself more deeply into the soul. The fifth and sixth mansions can be compared to betrothal as the soul prepares for Divine Union with God which is the seventh mansion. Teresa relates that the highest mansions can only be gained by being in a state of grace through the Church’s sacraments, fervent devotion of the soul’s will to Him, and humbly receiving a love so great it is beyond human capability or description. It is this great love of God dwelling in the soul that is the goal of all Christians.

My brothers and sisters, each one of us Christians is called to union with God. This goal of union is why we practice our faith, why we pray, why we do penance. Our Lord has taught us that the kingdom of heaven is within. This kingdom is planted into our hearts in baptism. Yet, this kingdom must be preserved through holy living so that God’s grace may increase in us.

It takes a lot of faith and dedication and prayer for one to grow spiritually. Yet, when we give ourselves to God then He increases His grace in us so that we may become full of His grace.

Our Blessed Mother is the most perfect example of one who received the fullness of God’s grace. When the angel Gabriel
appeared to her she did not know how God would live in Her though the Incarnation of Jesus. She said,
“How can this be?” Yet, she trusted, and thus the Holy Spirit came upon her, and the power of the most High overshadowed her, and the Son of the Most High developed in Her womb, He Who would be called the Son of God! 

It is through our Blessed Mother’s yes to God that we too are able to share in God’s Divine life. This is being fulfilled in us right now as we are saying yes to God by striving to live His commandments. It is through Our Blessed Mother’s yes to God that we are able to receive the Holy Eucharist where God Himself dwells within our human nature.

brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel
Fr John Paul Shea
passage calls us to acknowledge the new life we have received in our souls and to live this new life with all our hearts so that we can live with and in God for all eternity! We live in a world dominated by original sin. We live in a world that has lost its relationship with God. But, God has redeemed us through Our Lord Jesus Christ. He has given us a new life in Him. We must therefore allow this new life to grow in us so that we can become one with Our Heavenly Father.

May each one of us strive to live in God’s grace so that we can become all who He calls us to be. Amen.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

To Fulfill His Mission

Jesus Waited 33 Years
then Stretched Out His Hands on the Cross

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 17, 2018
Prince of Peace Catholic Church, Hoover, AL

Happy Father's Day! 
Our readings (Ez 17:22-24; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34) remind us that our Father in heaven is the planter and sower of seeds.

In some imitative way all fathers on earth are called to be an image of the sower of seeds and it will take great courage to live this way of life, patiently forming our children. Pride in the "historic man" often leads us to dominate and grasp. These are not the values Jesus presented in the parables of the sowing of seeds.

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus gives us two parables of the seeds to describe the reign of God. The first is the Parable of the Growing Seeds. It tells us that God’s kingdom, like the seed, will definitely come, regardless of any human intervention. The second is the Parable of the Mustard Seed, “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.” Yet when it is
sown, it grows and become the largest of plants. Why did Jesus use the image of the seed in these parables? Certainly, the seed has significant qualities that will help us understand the mystery of the kingdom of God.

First, the seed is small and, in the eyes of most people, insignificant. Only farmers truly appreciate its value. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus pictured God as the farmer who sowed seeds on the ground. And that is precisely how God works – always from humble and small beginnings: from the
manger in Bethlehem to the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth and to the cross in Calvary; from twelve unlettered disciples in Galilee to the great forums of Rome and throughout the whole world.

This teaches us the lesson on humility and littleness. Fallen human nature tends to seek for recognition and appreciation. Hence, people aspire to become big – rich, famous, and powerful. But experience tells us that this is not the way to true greatness and happiness. The seed is a reminder that being little does not mean being powerless or insignificant. In fact, as shown by the example of God, it is the way to true greatness. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A great man is always willing to be little.” In other words, it takes a lot of greatness to become little. The way of God is humility; the way of the devil is pride.

Second, the seed grows slowly. It follows the process of nature, which is gradual and slow. There is no shortcut to growth and development. This is the way the Kingdom of God unfolds. Unfortunately, many people nowadays do not subscribe to this truth anymore. Being used to the comforts and convenience in this age of technology, they think that success can be achieved quickly and easily. Everybody is in a hurry and
impatient. They hate to wait. But the seed teaches us that the way to greatness and success is a long and painstaking process – “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” 

Again, this is clearly illustrated in the life of Jesus. He has come to save the world. But he had to undergo the complete process of birth, growth and maturity. He had to patiently wait for thirty-three years before he stretched his hands on the cross to fulfill his mission. Indeed, as the famous director, Mario Puzo, said, “Great men are not born great; they grow great.”

Have we ever thought why during these times there are so many people afflicted with cancer?  Most of these cancer cases, apart from heredity, are caused by the food we eat. In the recent past, people raise chicken and hogs in their backyards that feed on organic grains, fruits and vegetables. Fish were caught in the pristine oceans. 

Nowadays, poultry, fish and meat products are farmed and raised artificially, with the use of chemical-laced feeds so that they grow fast. Even fruits, vegetables and rice are genetically engineered and bombarded with fertilizers and chemicals for fast growth and maximum harvest. All these are done for only one obvious reason: huge and quick profits.

This greedy human intervention invariably results in the unprecedented rise in the number of cancer victims and the emergence
Pope Saint John Paul II
of many other diseases. Pope Saint John Paul II is correct when he declared, “The greatest misfortune of this age is that people consider money as the highest good.” 

This sad reality teaches us the lesson, not only on the evil of greed, but also on the need to obey the laws of nature, and on the value of patience as we wait for the slow but sure unfolding of the Kingdom of God in our midst.

Third, the seed is totally dependent, not on the power of any human being, but on the providence of God. It is God who supplies the minerals and nutrients in the soil, and sends sunshine and rainfall on the seed until it grows and bears fruit.

Again, this truth does not resonate with many people nowadays. Progress in the fields of technology and science has made people think they can be self-sufficient, and can now conveniently put God aside. Pope Benedict XVI made this apt observation: “The crisis we are living through carries with it signs of the exclusion of God from people’s lives, a general indifference to the Christian faith, and even the intention of marginalizing it from public life.” 

It is best, therefore, to remind us of the Lord’s words: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

Finally, the seed, though nurtured by nature and God’s providence, still needs the caring hands of the farmer. God seldom operates directly in the affairs of the world. As a rule, He always uses the instrumentality of human beings who cooperate in His plan to bring about His Kingdom in the world. When people obey God’s will, the advent of His kingdom is hastened: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

God gives only the seeds of peace, progress and salvation. And He expects us to plant and nurture them to full fruition. This we do by faithfully obeying His will.

Ultimately, it is God who brings about His kingdom, and He invites us to join Him in building it here on earth until it reaches perfection and fullness in heaven.

Fr Joe Mungai is seeking his own harvest -- a source of water for his people in  in Central Kenya — Gatura,Thigio in Kiambu County. To read about this important project go to A Deep Down Thirst

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Eucharist is the Source and the Summit of the Christian Life

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, June 3, 2018
Hospital Chaplaincy, Long Island, New York

“By the Eucharistic Celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all” (CCC 1326)

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ popularly known as Corpus Christi. It was introduced in the late 13th century to encourage the faithful to give special adoration to the Holy Eucharist.

Later, it was extended to the entire Latin Church by Urban IV in 1264 and became a mandatory feast of the universal church in 1312. Traditionally, this solemnity is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. However, where it is not a holy day of obligation, it is celebrated on the Sunday following the Trinity Sunday.

As we celebrate Corpus Christi today, both our first and second readings (Ex 24:3-8 and Her 9:11-15) talk about covenant, sacrifice, and blood. According to the first reading, the old covenant was sealed with the blood of animal sacrifice which Moses sprinkled on the people. Subsequently, the second reading reminds us that the new covenant was sealed with the blood of Christ. 

The sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ is the game changer. While the first covenant never guaranteed eternal life, the new one does because it was sealed with costly Blood through a perfect sacrifice offered once and for all.

In the Gospel (Mark 14:12-16, 22-26), Christ celebrated the First Holy Eucharist. Here He is both priest and victim. This is another
difference between the new and the old covenant. As the Priest, Christ offered Himself to God for our salvation. So, it is important to note that whenever we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, Christ is fully present both as the Priest and as the Victim.

He accomplishes his priesthood through the actions of the human priest, who is alter Christus (another Christ) and, who acts in persona Christi (in the Person of Christ). On the other hand, He accomplishes His role as a victim in the form of bread and wine. All these put together is what we refer to as the “action of grace.”

The church teaches us that: “The Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Christian life…For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself…The Eucharist is also the culmination both of God’s action, sanctifying the world in Christ and, of the worship men offer to Christ… In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith.” (CCC 1324-5).

Therefore, today’s celebration is a celebration of life, salvation and grace. It teaches us that as real food, the Eucharist is the True Body and Blood of Christ which nourishes our soul. It is a concrete way through which Christ is divinely present with us every day and moment.

So, when we share in the celebration of the Eucharist, we share in the life of Christ the Head and, in the life of the Church, His Body. This means that we must pay more attention to the Holy Eucharist by spending more time in His Divine Presence. If we present ourselves before Him daily, He will fill us with wisdom and show us the best way to approach life.

This means that we should adore and offer Christ the reverence due to Him. Any moment
spent in the Presence of the Most Holy Sacrament is both a golden moment and a moment of grace. Let us adore Christ saying: “Oh Sacrament Most Holy; Oh, Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be yours in every moment and time.”

Please read about Father Joe's home town in Africa, which is literally dying of thirst in the dry season and needs a way to drill for water underground. A Deep Down Thirst

(As I conclude I urge you to Pray One Our Father, One Hail Mary and One Glory Be..for me as I celebrate my 4th Priestly Anniversary on 7th June).