Grab, Hold, Pass: 3rd S. 2020

Today’s reflection is for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 26, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

Today’s Gospel begins with, “Jesus heard that John had been arrested,” and it ends with “From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” John preaches the message of repentance for salvation, Jesus took up the mantle and message, and that message has been faithfully passed on by the Apostles and to us in every generation. What a gift! What a responsibility! Don’t drop the baton!

The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali were among the Northern and Westernmost kingdoms of Israel. They were the first to be invaded and conquered by the Assyrians, and were thought of as “less than” when it came to holiness and God’s love. And yet, the prophet’s words are echoed in Matthew’s Gospel today, namely that, “those who sit in darkness have seen a great light.” Even the least on earth and in human minds have God’s light and love showered upon them. The kingdom is here and the kingdom is theirs too, if but they repent.

My brothers and sisters Jesus brought the good news of salvation, the light to the darkness, with conviction and power. He was able to help people see that today’s circumstances do not determine a persons destiny. That’s good news. People without hope found it in him, and find it in him still.

I meet students everyday who desperately need to hear this good news. As a public school administrator, I don’t enjoy the luxury of telling them that Jesus loves them, but I DO get to say, “Repent, there is yet good news for those who change their ways.” And that good news is needed news for everyone.

Every day God blesses me with students, and often parents, who sit in darkness. They are getting suspended, receiving detention, have to have a discussion about truancy, or of failing grades. Sometimes they are homeless, food less, and without resources and basic needs. I may just put a poster up in my office that reads, “Welcome to Zebulun!”

The good news is that, “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.
” I try very hard to always make this my message, and it must be on the lips of every Christian.

We are hope-full, hope-filled, positive people. We are a resurrected people–an Easter people. We know that this present suffering is not the end! We know that our Lord rose again, conquering darkness, sin, and death. And that’s our message: there is hope for those who repent and actually hear the good news!

As a Holy Family that must also be our message at home. We know too well that life brings with it struggles, and darkness, and mistakes, and suffering. As an administrator, my office is the land of Zebulun, but as a parent, “Welcome to Naphtali!” From poor grades to poor results in competition, from an earlier-than-wanted bedtime, to doing chores, and from making ends meet to making time for prayer and meaningful experiences of God, families often find themselves in darkness.

The struggles at work and the problems at home all have but one answer, namely, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The most important part of that, I think, is to repent. Jesus said it first, and I think it must happen first. To repent is to change one’s mind, one’s attitude, and maybe even one’s whole way of living. If we’re going to see and experience the light of the kingdom, we must turn away from darkness toward that great light. Period. That’s it, and there’s no way around it.

That message of repentance and a change of one’s ways is not easy (I know from personal experience) but it is necessary. It’s just as difficult today as it was in Jesus’s day. In a world that tends to relativize everything from opinions to actions, repentance can become a none-sense word, as it suggests a “right way” of being. It demands an acceptance of real darkness and real light. John boldly challenged his hearers to recognize darkness and light, and even more so, to believe that Jesus is that light–the light of the human race.

Those who followed Jesus believed in darkness and light, and they grabbed hold of the baton from John and followed Jesus. Holy families today grab the baton of truth, and light, and goodness passed on through the apostles, and they pass it on to their own children first, and then to everyone they encounter in their lands of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Grabbing the baton is essential. Like a runner, if we do not first take hold of it ourselves, we will not have it to pass on to others. Each of us must repent. Each must identify the darkness in our personal, social, and professional lives, and turn toward the light. When we do so, we will not only be living in the light, but will be more authentic witnesses to others.

The truth is that we are the residents in Zebulun and Naphtali, we must see and turn toward the perpetual light of Christ, and invite our coworkers, family and friends to experience the same. The Kingdom of God is indeed at hand, grab hold of it, run with it, and pass it on to others. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

The Family Vocation: 2nd S. 2020

Today’s reflection is for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 19, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

Today John the Baptist again takes center stage and gives Jesus the greatest shout out a person can give. John tells his disciples, “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

Of course, John had been waiting to announce the news of the Messiah’s arrival for his whole life! How exciting for him to finally witness the Son of God! He told his own disciples that Jesus was the very reason why he was baptizing in the first place! John “the Baptist” had a name and a mission, not for his own sake but so that Jesus might be known to Israel.

John’s mission, ministry, and purpose is so that others might know Jesus. His life was lived so that others could be saved by his proclamation. What a beautiful calling…his vocation. The root word for vocation is “vocare,” which in Latin means “to call.” John heard God’s calling to him, knew Jesus, and shared so that God’s first child, Israel, might be saved.

A holy family knows this of their own life and their children too. Parents must make it their mission to know Jesus so that they and their children can know Jesus, hear his voice, follow him, and be saved. As Catholic Christians we know of no other way to come to the sure knowledge of salvation outside of faith in Jesus Christ. (C.C.C. 1257, Acts 4:12)

For this reason, Marriage too is indeed a calling; a vocare; a vocation. God calls men and women to be married, to be open to life, and to teach their children about their Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ. Like John, holy families know it’s not about them at all–it’s always about a parent saying to their child, “Behold, the lamb of God.” And holy families pray that, like John’s disciples, their own children, upon encountering Jesus, will follow him, their Savior and Savior of the world.

The holy family’s entire identity, mission, and ministry is that through their life, their love, and their witness to Jesus, their children might discern their own calling to follow and boldly proclaim the name Jesus.

Like John, if parents fulfill their vocation to “see” and “testify” then holy children will more clearly see beyond the visible and ordinary, to the invisible and extraordinary. John did such a good job with his disciples that they were able to see more than a man when they saw Jesus–they had eyes to see the savior.

And if holy parents do a good job with their children then when Christ is raised up by the priest at Mass and he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” with wonder and awe and the faith of a centurion, they will boldly give witness to the presence of the extraordinary God under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine.

Therein lies the sole purpose of the family, namely, that their children will, with John, see and testify that Jesus is the Son of God and have life in his name. Through prayer, Mass, the Sacraments, and service, holy families teach our children, with John, angels, and saints, to boldly shout out and be saved. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Fulfill All Righteousness: Baptism of the Lord 2020

THe LawToday’s reflection is for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 12, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

There is a phrase that never quite made sense to me, and now as an adult makes even less. The phrase is, “Rules are made to be broken.” Even as a young man, often making the wrong choices and not wanting to follow the rules, I knew absolutely that rules are NOT made to be broken, but to be followed! Who makes a rule just so that it can be broken?

We play a lot of board games in our house, and my family loves playing card games too. We often have to “go to the rules” in order to ensure the game is played well, that it is fair, and the winner is just. To break the rules is to cheat, and cheating is wrong because it undermines the justice of the game and of God, in whose image we are made. Quite the opposite of “Rules are made to be broken,” in fact, rules are made to be followed.

Peter tells the crowd today gathered in the house of Cornelius that God is fair and is pleased by those who follow the rules. He says, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” To act uprightly is to follow just laws established by legitimate authority. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks clearly that we are to follow laws, although there are times where we might have disobey a law to the degree that it undermines God’s law. Both teachings are posted below.

The authority required by the moral order derives from God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (RM 13:1-2) The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will. (1899-1900)

The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” “We must obey God rather than men.” (2242)

Catholic Answers posted a thorough explanation of this teaching and it can be found here.

The Gospel today reveals those who follow Jesus’ example know that just laws are made to be followed, and Holy Families not only follow the rules, but teach their children to do the same.

There was quite an awkward moment for John the Baptist, Jesus’ herald, when Jesus approached John to be baptized as evidence of conversion and remission of sins. John even goes so far as to try and excuse himself from baptizing Jesus. John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” What a beautiful act of humility John gives to Jesus in those words. Jesus’ response, however, is what is important for us today. Jesus says, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And John relented and baptized Jesus, because they both knew how important it was to “fulfill all righteousness.”

We heard a few weeks ago that Joseph was going to release Mary quietly when he found out that she was with child. The Gospel explanation for that was because Joseph was a “righteous” man. According to the Jews, to be “right,” to be “right-eous” was to be obedient to God’s law. And in the case of Joseph, he was supposed to release a woman who had been unfaithful to him, as was his intent; he was righteous. And those who were aware of their sin, and sought conversion and to be made clean again by the forgiveness of sins were baptized by John or someone else doing the same. That’s what’s right.

And there’s the rub. Jesus did not commit any sin. Jesus did not need to be baptized for forgiveness nor did he need to be made clean. Jesus was God in the flesh! He was born without sin and committed no sin! Why in the world would he seek baptism?! The answer, is from Jesus himself, “to fulfill all righteousness.” And that was good enough for John.

Jesus very much believed in the way things ought to be. He knew that the law was good and that it was meant to be followed…by everyone. Jesus went to the temple, honored the Sabbath, prayed to His father in Heaven, and observed the law. Incidentally, he spent a great deal of time critiquing those who thought they were above the law, or that abused the law for their own purposes. He calls the religious leadership of his day hypocrites because of their abuse of the law and their twisting of its meaning and of his Father’s intent.

Like John, many would like to make ourselves an exception to the rule or to the law, but Jesus would have none of it—and neither should we. Most people are okay with the law until it’s applied to them. I am horribly guilty of this myself and have much room to grow in this regard. I know the speed limit is good, was created by legitimate authority, and is posted for my safety and the safety of others, and yet oftentimes I am unrighteous. I want to make exceptions. I think that my situation somehow demands that the law not apply to me today, but I am wrong. Whether at school or at work, in our government, or in our dealings with others, the law is good and is meant to be followed. Leaders of Holy Families lead by example. Period.

If there was anyone who ever deserved to be excused from the law it was Jesus, but he is obedient all the same, if for no other reason than to provide an example to all his followers of what righteousness looks like. And the response from Jesus’ Father in heaven are the words that make music in our ears, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Each of us has a lot of room for growth in this area of pleasing God. The gospel demands that we fulfill all righteousness, and so we must. In every part of our day, we should do what is right, follow the law, and follow the rules, that we too might be God’s beloved and by our life, and our children’s lives, He might be well pleased. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Be Wise When Gift-Giving: Epiphany 2020

two wise men and mary

Today’s reflection is for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 5, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

Today we celebrate three wise men who sacrificed greatly so that they might first see the newborn Christ, but also so that they might give him good gifts. As parents, we have a lot to learn about wise gift-giving! But first, we need to seek the Christ for ourselves and for our children.

Scholars have taught that the three “wise men” were probably wise because they were learned. They studied the stars, and some have even gone so far as to call them astronomers. I think that’s a bit of leap though. The wise men didn’t just study the stars for the sake of the stars, they believed that when a king was born that a new star appeared in the heavens. The stars pointed the way to God. They were learned about past kings, knew the Scriptures, and studied the world around them to discover the Christ. They must have had some good parents!

As a parent, it’s my job to point out the beauty of the world around us so that God may be glorified in it. Everything speaks of the glory of God. All of the created order was created by God and reflects God’s beauty, complexity, strength, justice, and love—though these truths are not always readily discernible at first glance. I once heard of a play dough activity where a person creates something (can be anything), and when it is complete, the creator’s (that the person making it) fingerprints can be seen all over it—because it’s clay. As it goes, the creation reflects the creator’s imagination, creativity, and fingerprints. The same is also true of works of art. The artist can be easily recognized by the art they create! And theologians have discovered the same about God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it like this, “When he listens to the message of creation and to the voice of conscience, man can arrive at certainty about the existence of God, the cause and the end of everything. ‘The Church teaches that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty from his works, by the natural light of human reason'” (#46-47). See also Romans 1:19-20, Acts 14:15,17; 17:27-28, and Wisdom 13:1-9 for Scriptural evidence that God can be known through creation.

I think sometimes as adults we either do not reflect enough about the ways that the created world speaks of the glory of God, or we don’t make it explicit to our children. Something as simple as the three-leaf clover (thank you St. Patrick) reveals the inner life of the Trinity. A window with two panes reveals the dual nature of Christ, and when combined with two other windows, reveals the Trinity. Holy Families are ones that point out the presence of God everywhere they look. We say God is always present, we should be more explicit in our pointing it out. And we also agree that we, as God’s creation as well, also create in a way that reflects God’s beauty and goodness and love.

So, how ’bout these gifts that the wise men brought to the baby Jesus today? While many have reflected upon these gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and what they mean, I recently heard of a great way to give these three gifts to our children (and to others) each year.

Gold was given to Jesus and his family to provide for them and their needs while they were in Egypt. The first gift can be given as a gift of value for the person. My nieces want gift cards, my sons want money, or something off their Christmas list. Give the gift of Gold. Frankincense was used in the temple to impart a fragrant offering to the Lord. As wise gift-givers, we can give a gift that increases and builds up our relationship with God. Bibles, rosaries, candles, saint statues or medallions, crosses, or religious gifts are all great ways to remind the receiver of the importance of keeping God at the center of our holy-days. Give the gift of frankincense. Finally, the wise man brought myrrh. Myrrh was used for purification of the body, and for preparation for burial. This is a great opportunity to get junior high boys deodorant, Axe, manly soaps, and other smell-goods! For the girls it’s bath balms, oils, perfume, hair care, and the like. This might also be a place for a massage for your bride or mom, or a pedicure or a manicure maybe. For your man, some shaving materials, some beard oil, fingernail clippers, or a beanie. This, incidentally, was typically where my mom scored well with underwear and socks! She never forgot the gift myrrh.

The wise men were wise because they were forever searching God’s created world for hints of his presence. But not only that, when they discovered the Lord, they brought him the good gifts of the earth. Holy families seek out opportunities to encounter God in nature, in Churches, in the Scriptures, and through the Sacraments of faith. Holy families also never show up empty handed—knowing that it is always more blessed to give than to receive. On this celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord, may you seek the Lord, encounter him in even the lowliest of places, and always be prepared to give good gifts to him through generosity towards others. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos