Weekly Clergy Devotions

 

 

Called To Be Prophets.

Today our meditation has two very important elements in the first and second reading. These elements are a call to be prophets at all times and places and to use the spiritual gifts received to give glory to God by serving and loving our brothers and sisters. Let us see when we were given this gift of being a prophet. Friends, these gifts began at the first moment when we received the sacrament of baptism through the words of the priest in the anointing after baptism, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” The question that rises in our call to be a prophet is precisely, what does it mean to be a prophet? The English word prophet is derived from Greek prophetes, “one who speaks before others”; almost always denotes one who communicates divine revelation, to call, and speak aloud. The prophet is also a person called to be a witness of God to proclaim the good news, “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me and woe to me if I do not preach it! (1 Cor. 9, 16) We hear the clearest interpretation of the mission of a prophet in the voice of the priest or deacon when at the end of each Eucharist he says, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”, “go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” My friends, the people around us, in the places we visit or work, provide us with good opportunities to talk about the wonders of the Lord, everywhere. Therefore, our call is to bear witness to God’s love here and now. How? Using and activating the gifts, we have received through the sacraments. We can find the second moment in the second reading in the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians in regard to the spiritual gifts, such as an expression of wisdom: faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophesy, discernment, and interpretation of tongues, “but one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.”

We must remember that God has given us all a special gift, for the common good. In summary, let us ask God to allow us in this New Year to be the prophets who live and practice love and mercy with our families and in our communities in all seasons. May the Holy Spirit guide us to always have a generous heart and the will to serve. We must remember that God has given us all a special gift, for the common good. Blessings to all.

Fr. Robinson Aza

 

Baptism of the Lord

In the 2010 movie The Kings’ Speech we meet Prince Albert the father of present day Queen Elizabeth. Albert has had a stuttering problem since his earliest memory. He has tried every doctor and therapy to correct this impediment but to no avail. It has a tremendous impact upon his self-esteem. One day his wife discovers a therapist named Lionel, who ultimately helps Albert in a most creative, fun, challenging and humorous way to cope with, and overcome to some degree, the stammering. This is done by confronting the inner voices that cause his voice to stammer.

As the movie reveals, and history attests to, Albert’s elder brother David abdicates the throne upon the death of their father King George V. David is in love with the American socialite Wallace Simpson who seeks to divorce her second husband to marry him. With that intention David relinquishes the throne and Prince Albert is called upon to be King and takes the name George the VI. Influenced by his low self esteem, as related to his stuttering, he is overwhelmed at the magnitude of his duties at that time in history. He is horrified in having to address the people of England and its territories about the impending Second World War in which they will find themselves engaged due to Hitler’s occupation of Poland. Lionel assists the new King in delivering this first and most powerful message of unity in the face of war.

What was striking about the film, for me, was the power of the voice. Namely, the power of his father’s overbearing, critical and debasing voice that no doubt contributed to Albert’s stammer; and the power of Albert finding his own voice freed, in most part from his stammering, and his ability to reassure a nation.

Today on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord we hear the voice of the God the Father proclaim “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” This voice of our heavenly father is a confirmation that the divinity and humanity of Jesus are one. In his first appearance at his baptism Jesus immerses himself in humanity as he goes down into the waters of the Jordan. He does not need the baptism of repentance that John offers, but he insists that it be done. There Jesus finds his voice, in response to the father’s voice proclaiming his “yes” to his humanity and his oneness with us. He is one of us, the suffering servant chosen by the Father to renew the covenant of God with us.

Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7 (optional second reading today) presents this beautifully in the first reading as the answer to our longing: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit.”

God speaks from heaven this day because Jesus needs to hear the voice of his Father. Jesus though divine is on a human journey. His mother has told him the extraordinary events surrounding his birth and he has read and re-read the scriptures and at times recognized himself as the One.

At his baptism Jesus now steps out into public ministry—finding his voice—but does not have the next three years scripted. Remember he is like us in all things except sin. He enters the waters fully human and rises up to hear the words of his Father rejoicing in him.

Friends, any baptism is a celebration of love and a visible sign of God’s embrace. There is no mistaking God’s love here in the baptism of Jesus as it bursts forth through the heavens and the voice proclaims: This is my Son, the Beloved. That word “beloved” evokes a myriad of deeply human emotions. We all yearn to have a beloved and to be the beloved. For many this experience seems far from reach. Today’s scripture readings, however, teach us that our yearning has been fulfilled.

If God loves us so much why do we sometimes feel disconnected? If God loves us so deeply as to enter into human history through his Son Jesus, then why do we sometimes feel so lonely?

Take a few moments right now, having already come to Church today to celebrate this feast, and reflect on how God speaks to you through someone who loves you as God loves you unconditionally. And when you emerge from your thoughts, in your mind’s eye following Jesus who emerges from the Jordan, claim your heritage as beloved sons and daughters of God in Jesus Christ— and finish your brief reflection saying to yourself “I, too, am the beloved of God.”

Fr. Adam

 

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Mary, in the movie The Nativity, is protrayed as a 14 or 15-year-old girl from Nazareth who is a Jewish teenager and virgin of her day. She is forcibly engaged or (betrothed) to Joseph perhaps out of her family’s need to secure a future against the background of oppression under Roman occupation.

Mary, now engaged, may not be in love with Joseph. She may have been attracted to a younger man closer to her own age. Joseph’s generous spirit, however, does touch her heart.

When the angel announces to her that she will soon conceive Mary finds herself in psycho-spiritual chaos. She does not know how this can be since she has not had relations with a man.

And since she was told by the angel that her cousin Elizabeth would have a child in her old age Mary travels to visit her. She is both seeking a word of confirmation from an older, wiser woman and wishing to offer her support staying with Elizabeth for three months.

That Mary went in haste, halfway across the country, to make this visit to Elizabeth is a clear sign of Mary’s generosity and goodness. And through the light of the Holy Spirit Elizabeth confirms Mary’s privilege as the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.

The fact that both Elizabeth and Mary had this divine intervention is a reminder that our own lives too are a gift of God. It is from this understanding that the Church takes its position on all issues related to human life.

At some moments in our lives we, too, may recognize the hand of God. Maybe at the point when we finally decided who would be our partner in life or even felt a vocation to special service in the church.

Maybe it was at the birth of a child, a change in job circumstances or the death of a parent where we experienced the work of God. Maybe it was a moment in prayer, the grace of a sacrament, advice in the confessional, wise words from a friend or relative at a critical moment. It was Elizabeth’s words to Mary that confirmed and affirmed her in embracing this awesome task of bringing forth Jesus the Savior into the world.

This is testimony that God is always working within us for our good; and that God can help us through times of trouble knowing that our troubles are part of that drawn-out gestation which is our life here on earth.

That was Mary’s experience. Even though her teenage mind could not fathom this great miracle it was in faith that she answered God’s call and offered her “fiat.” This was her “yes” to do God’s will once she found an affirming word from Elizabeth. Yet her troubles were not over.

When she returns to Joseph, and is showing herself as several months pregnant, he is humiliated and outraged and does not know what to do. Joseph, by law, can divorce her or have her stoned to death for adultery.

Then an angel comes to him in a dream to confirm that he is to be the foster father of this child. He is to be the child’s protector and nurturer. With tender compassion towards Mary Joseph now understands and begins to touch her heart. Mary begins to see that Joseph does love her because he honors and respects her. Joseph now shares in this awesome task of bringing forth the Savior.

I think many times over each of us comes to a crossroads in our lifetime wondering if we should proceed with a certain challenge in our work, our relationships, perhaps health care options or other issues facing us and our families. We need someone to come along and confirm God’s will for us just as Elizabeth and Joseph confirmed for Mary her unique role in the history of salvation.

Who has that person(s) been for you? Who has offered you a confirming word and supported you, affirmed you, loved you when you most needed the inspiration and encouragement?

The affirmation of my family, friends, parishioners, spiritual director and confessor have often helped me to recommit myself to the challenges of the priesthood I so cherish.

So who has been that person(s) who have supported you on your journey of life and faith? Give it some thought. Perhaps it has been a family member, spouse, friend, neighbor, confidant, relative or co-worker.

With that in mind let us take some time before Christmas Eve to offer thanks to God for those in our lives who offer us an affirming word as did Elizabeth and Joseph to Mary. It is because of them, who confirm and support us, that like Mary we too can say “nothing is impossible with God.”

Fr. Adam Forno

The Synod on Synodality

Pope Francis has invited the Churchacross the globe to the Synod on Synodality which is a two-year process of listening and dialogue that began in dioceses across the world Sunday, October 17th.This Synod, which follows in the wake of the Church’s “renewal,” proposed by the Second Vatican Council, is both a gift and a task.By reflecting together on this journey God’s people, the Church,
will be able to learn through its experience which processes can help us to achieve three Synod objectives: Communion,Participation, and Openness to Mission.

BishopGerald Barbarito offered an opening Mass the before the Synod beganon the 17th and his office will be proposing ways in which as a diocesan church we can contribute to this process of discernment toward the objectives of this Synod.

There is a prayer that is attributed to St. Isidore of Seville (560-636), which has been traditionally used at Councils and Synods for hundreds of years. The following version was specifically designed for the Church’s Synodal journey from 2021 to 2023 and can be prayed throughout the Synod.

We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together
to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.
All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen.


Fr. Adam Forno

 

Christ The King

The gospel reading today seems a bit strange for celebrating the kingship of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.

The rulers of the Jews were mocking Jesus as was Pilot who put the inscription above Jesus stating that He was the King of the Jews. The only one who recognized Jesus as a true king was the criminal who saw that Jesus was innocent, and something more than a man when he rebuked the other criminal and asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into His Kingdom.

When we think of a king who is raised up and enthroned we usually do not think that he is raised up on a cross, but this is how our King was treated. However, through the blessing of the Resurrection, the cross now becomes the symbol of His triumph! The symbol of the crucifix now adorns our churches and homes as a reminder of what God has accomplished for us in His passion death and resurrection, our very salvation. Who would have thought that an instrument of torture and death would become a symbol of triumph over death itself! What a genius God is using a symbol of death to triumph over death and to make it now a symbol of eternal life!

So as we reflect on the Kingship of Jesus today, the King of the Universe, the King over all that exists we are compelled to ponder the love that God must have for us, giving His beloved Son to us not only as a sacrifice for our salvation but also that food from Heaven that satisfies our spiritual hunger as well. Amen

Deacon Bill Watzek

 

Live in Hope

We, as Christians are called to live in hope; because better times will come. Friends, from the perspective of the gospels, it is what we call, “Good News”; and although the Gospel of this Sunday sounds a bit dark, but it is not;
It is an invitation to be prepared and alert at all times, because our Lord will come clothed with great power and glory. Now, someone could ask, why this is so confuse. According some commentators, we need to realize brothers and sisters that in the scripture, Mark is usually referred to as this evangelist’s “apocalypse” because its theme, symbolic language, and images.

What Jesus is here is announces that cosmic disturbance will herald the universal realization of God’s kingdom on earth. This means that the forces that these lights and signs exert over earth or represent in various religious-forces that are greater than human but lesser than divine power- will be shaken. This exhortation compares Jesus’ disciples to servants of a household whose master left them in charge (God’s creatures) until he returns. He reminds his followers, (that include us)that their mission is to watch constantly for his coming, that is, to live like he will come back this evening, or this midnight, in covi time or not, or drawn tomorrow, or tomorrow morning.

May the Advent season that is just around the corner help us to review our relationship with God, with the Church, and with our brothers and sisters so that we definitely get infected with the virus of love, faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

“But of that day or hour, nor one knows, neither the angles in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

 

Fr. Robinson Aza

In 1934 German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) continued his ministry underground and eventually became involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler. He was imprisoned for two years and hanged in 1945 for his role in the plot.

His writings, which have had considerable influence on postwar ethics and theology include The Cost of Discipleship (tr. 1948), Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison (tr. 1953) and Ethics (tr. 1965).

In a 1933 in a sermon to fellow believers Bonhoeffer was asked, “Where are our dead?” and “Where will we be after our death?” These are appropriate questions as we honor our faithful departed this month of November and perhaps our not-so-faithful departed.

As his text Bonhoeffer chose the Book of Wisdom (3:1-9) which is so familiar to us at funeral Masses. It affirms that our dead are at peace and at rest in the hand of God. God’s peace means the battle is over; that there is refreshment for those whom life has made weary. It means security for those who have wandered through this life unprotected. It means a home for the homeless and dignity for those who had theirs stolen by injustice, violence or the apathy of those who could have made a difference.

“They are in peace” helps those who mourn and grieve over fallen soldiers. “They are at peace” encourages the parent of a child who died too soon. “They are at peace” brings some comfort to those who survive acts of hatred and ethic cleansing as they wonder how so many in the world can be uncaring or not mark their passing.

As the Church, insisted Bonhoeffer, it is our responsibility to hold out this assurance of peace when people question death and dying. Indeed the Church exists in order to answer those questions. If it did not know the answers, and if it failed to speak them, then the Church would be little more than a gathering of the hopeless. But that is not the Church. On the contrary, the Church is a people of unshakeable hope — a hope, as St. Paul points out in his letter to the Christians in Rome, that does not disappoint, because it is founded in the love of God, whose mercy for sinners knows no bounds.

At times, however, even the most unshakeable hope harbors a little doubt about those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. As if to anticipate these worrisome wonderings, John the Evangelist assures us that the risen Lord Jesus rejects no one. He further insists that Jesus doesn’t lose any one of us. Rather all are gathered into him through his cross. There, in that moment when life meets death and emerges victorious, we are assured that we shall one day share in that same victory.

The fact that Bonhoeffer could share such an attitude about death in the midst of the atrocities being perpetrated upon the innocent by the Third Reich, attests to his faith and summons forth our own. Therefore, we do not ask “Why,” “When” or even “How” in the face of death. We simply ask “Where?” and we are assured they are in peace. A German proverb affirms this fact of our faith: “Those who live in the Lord never see one another for the last time.”

Fr. Adam Forno

 

Today we will talk a little about the vocation of service and about those who are ready to help our brothers and sisters when their lives are in danger or when they need to be helped, not only physically but also spiritually.

All of us at some point in our life have gone through a situation where our health or our lives have been at risk and we need the help of someone to assist us. Well, these men, women and institutions that are dedicated to helping those who have an emergency are called first responders. Who are they and what do they do? Do they have a particular mission?

A first responder is a person with specialized training who is among the first to arrive and provide assistance at the scene of an emergency; such as an accident, natural disasters or terrorism. These people are trained properly when they are responding to a critical situation. Friends, a first responder is somebody who cares for others, who is responsible for the protection and preservation of life. Our deep gratitude and prayers are for those who dedicate and risk their lives for us.

On the other hand, there are also people who dedicate their entire lives helping others in the spiritual concerns, and the care of souls; I call them “spiritual first responders”. They are our priests who dedicate their lives in servicing and assisting God’s people, administering the sacraments for the salvation of souls and giving Glory to God for the gift of life, faith and love.

Now, where do they come from? We can find the first clue in the scriptures. Let’s see: “Although, in truth, all the holy people of God share the royal priesthood in Christ, nevertheless, our high priest, Jesus Christ, chose some disciples who in the Church will carry out, in his name, the priestly office for the good men. He himself, sent by the Father, in turn sent the Apostles throughout the world, to continue without interruption his work as Teacher, Priest and Pastor through them” (homily of ordination) It is in the reading from the letter to the Hebrews that we have heard this Sunday that vocations chosen by God come from our families, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” Hebrews 5:1-6. It is therefore in the family, which is the nucleus of every society, the domestic church, where men and women emerge to help us when our physical and spiritual integrity is at risk and need assistance.

My friends, in this month of October which very soon will end, was dedicated to prayer, for the veneration of the Mother of God through the recitation of the Holy Rosary. Also, we learned about angels and the life of saints, missions and vocations. Therefore, it is a great opportunity to pray and support our children and youth in their call to service and vocation. Let’s not be afraid to speak to them and invite them to reflect and pray for their future vocation. Keeping these thoughts in mind, perhaps in your home there is potentially a first responder or there is a potential minister of God, called to the priesthood or religious life. We do not know, but God does. The Church is calling you to support and pray for them. Let us pray to Saint Joseph, that by his intercession, he allows us to be good testimonies of love and service for our children and young people in a world that needs men and women of good Heart and goodwill.

In that regard we could continue building the kingdom for the salvation of souls and God’s Kingdom, too, Amen.

Fraternally in Christ our Lord.

Fr. Robinson Aza

Certain images have been burned deep into our memories. I remember where I was when Fr. Connors announced on November 22, 1963 over the PA system of our parochial grade school that President JFK was killed by sniper fire. I  did not even understand what sniper fire meant at thetime. I went home and was glued to the TV; and in the days that followed, watching the funeral, I remember John-John’s salute to his deceased dad. How sad!

While I was in graduate school at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and leaving lunch on January 28th, 1986 on the way to Latin class it was announced that the space shuttle Challenger exploded with the astronauts aboard. Tragic!

On September 11, 2001 when I was preparing for the 9 a.m. Mass my staff called me to the rectory to watch on the TV the assault on the first World Trade Tower. The hours and days that followed came with searing images of unimaginable suffering.

These are only three examples of the suffering that many of us as Americans have in our mind in addition to the personal, familial, community and global suffering we have endured. What is the point of all this suffering? If God is so good why are we subjected to so much pain? It is a question asked throughout the ages. Many of the answers are found within our own religious tradition. Suffering is punishment for sin. It is a trial to test the grit of our virtue. Suffering is an opportunity to strengthen our inner being or, as we find in the Book of Job, it is a mystery beyond our comprehension. Are we satisfied with such answers?

Our scriptures today do not bring much comfort as well. The prophet Isaiah tells us that the servant was actually afflicted by God. The passage from Hebrews says that Christ too was tested. Then in the Gospel, two of Jesus’ closest companions are told that they must drink the cup of suffering that he drinks. These pictures do not offer a very consoling message.

Was God really “pleased” to “crush” the servant of whom Isaiah spoke? Or did God allow the servant to be crushed so that others might somehow be saved? Likewise, the author of Hebrews says that Christ, the great high priest, was tested so that we might receive mercy and find grace. In these readings, one person suffers for the sake of others. Is that really fair? Is that the message placed before us today?

The message of these first two readings has little or nothing to do with the why of suffering. Rather, they focus on the value that might be derived from it. This theme is developed in the Gospel. James and John realize how privileged they are to be numbered among Jesus’ closest friends, and they seek the glory that they presume accompanies such privilege.

Much to their surprise Jesus offers them a share in his own cup of suffering. They are told that the way to exercise authority over others is through service to them. Jesus’ words should alert us to the reversal of perspective that following him so often requires. If discipleship and leadership are to be understood in a new way, perhaps the same is true for suffering.

“Offering for sin” or “tested in every way” or “give one’s life as a ransom for many”—this is not the kind of theological language that we normally use today. We do, however, understand unselfish service, the willingness to risk one’s life for another and commitment to others beyond the call of duty. In such circumstances a heavy price is usually exacted, even though we might not give a second thought to the suffering involved.

Suffering of various kinds and intensities explodes in the life of every human being. We cannot stave it off regardless of how innocent we may be. If we are to be true followers of Jesus we will have to learn how we might use it to accomplish something good. When we make this decision, we might find ourselves saying, “Take my arm and lean on me, let me help” — “I will not retaliate” — “The anger and violence will stop with me” – or — “I will do whatever I can so that no one else will have to endure what I have endured.” The grace of God helps us see that there can be a point to suffering.

Rev. R. Adam Forno

Friends, for the first time the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion have jointly warned of the urgency of environmental sustainability, its impact on poverty and the importance of global cooperation.

Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Justin Welby urge everyone to play their part in ‘choosing life’ for the future of the planet. Here is a summary of the full text:

In a joint statement, the Christian leaders have called on people to pray, in this Christian season of Creation, for world leaders ahead of COP26 this November. The statement reads: ‘We call on everyone, whatever their belief or worldview, to endeavor to listen to the cry of the earth and of people who are poor, examining their behavior and pledging meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the earth which God has given us.’

The joint declaration strikes a clear warning — ‘Today, we are paying the price…Tomorrow could be worse’ and concludes that: ‘This is a critical moment. Our children’s future and the future of our common home depend on it.’

The three Christian leaders spoke against injustice and inequality, saying: ‘We stand before a harsh justice: biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and climate change are the inevitable consequences of our actions, since we have greedily consumed more of the earth’s resources than the planet can endure. But we also face a profound injustice: the people bearing the most catastrophic consequences of these abuses are the poorest on the planet and have been the least responsible for causing them.’

The statement calls on people to:

• Pray for world leaders ahead of COP26

• For individuals: To make meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the planet, working together and taking responsibility for how we use our resources

• For those with far-reaching responsibilities: To choose people-centered profits and lead the transition to just and sustainable economies

As a people of faith, here at St. Joan of Arc, may we join our prayers and actions with all who seek ways to be responsible stewards of the earth that has been entrusted to us by our Creator-God. Our first course of action is in sharing this message with your extended family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues and other people of good will. As the statement notes: ‘This is a critical moment. Our children’s future and the future of our common home depend on it.’

For the full text go to: press.vatican.va and search for the joint statement.

For more information on the United Nations COP26 go to https://ukcop26.org

Fr. Adam Forno

Every Mass is a Welcome Blessing

When we come to mass, something beautiful and unique takes place at that moment, and it is that God is wel-coming us and giving us his love and mercy. It happens specifically when the priest says, “The Lord be with you”. In this greeting we are invited to open the door of our heart to the Lord to receive His blessings and grace. That encounter with God in the Eucharist is as well a great opportunity to shut down doors like: Evil thoughts, unchas-tity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly (Mark 7: 21-21.) Those behaviors disturb our lives and our relationship with our creator and with our brothers and sisters. So what could we do?

In today in the book of the prophet Isaiah (50:5-9a) we can find some practical clues that will help us. By praying we can receive God’s blessing, for example: Opening our ears that we may hear his voice and message, trusting that God will come to our aid and believing that He never will put us in shame. Why? Because he is near to those who want to receive this blessing in freedom. Therefore, friends our prayers and actions this coming week after each Eucharist will be like Peter’s answers, “You are the Christ”. Christ wants to welcome you and bless you if you seek and open the door of you heart to Him. Allow Jesus to transform you here and now. Blessing in Christ our Lord.

Fr. Robinson Aza