Archive for November, 2016

John The Baptist Speaks to Us Today

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Westminster Towers

Mt 3: 1-12

By Deacon Larry Brockman

So, just who was John the Baptist, and does his message apply to us today?

We know from the Gospel of Luke that John was Jesus’ Cousin, born to Elizabeth, a cousin of Jesus’ mother Mary.  According to the first chapter of Luke, when Mary visited Elizabeth  Elizabeth’s child “leapt in her womb”.  So, John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when the child in Mary’s womb came near his mother.  Wow!  There can be no doubt about it- life begins at conception. 

And what did the leaping in the womb signify?  Bible scholars have suggested that it was at this moment in time that the Holy Spirit filled John having been instilled in John by the Lord Jesus himself.  And so, John was something special.  He was graced by God and had been given a mission.  And that message was defined in Isaiah the prophet, and then predicted by his own father Zechariah.   

You see, Elizabeth was the wife of a Levitical priest, Zechariah, as is also mentioned in Luke 1.  That means that John was of the priestly tribe, and destined to be a priest himself.    Elizabeth was thought to be barren, and advanced in age.  But an angel of the Lord visited Zechariah when he was acting as the priest and offering incense in the Holy of Holies.  It is interesting to note that because there were so many Levites at the time, a Levitical priest was only given the honor of offering incense in the Holy of Holies of the temple once in his life!  So this was a very important occasion in Zechariah’s life.  And to his amazement, he was told by the angel Gabriel that Elizabeth would bear a child as he did his duties.  But he disbelieved, and was struck dumb by the angel until the child was born.

After the child was born, Zechariah regained his speech, and said this of his son (Lk 1:76):  “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”

So, John the Baptist was the son of a Priest, and thus a priest by birth right.  He was a cousin of Jesus on his mother’s side; and he was filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth!  John’s name was given to him by the angel; and the name John means: “The Lord is Gracious.”  Yes, indeed, the Lord was gracious to John, giving him a special mission and grace.  And John’s mission was to prepare the way of the Lord for all mankind, including the Gentiles.

Our Gospel begins this morning with John faithfully fulfulling the prophecy made by his own Father, Zechariah.  John is discharging his duties as a priest by conducting a rite of Baptism of Repentance, and proclaiming the coming of the Most High and the Kingdom of God.  Indeed, the rite of Baptism has roots in Jewish ceremonial services.  When someone other than a Jew wished to follow Judaism, they were “Baptized” in water, symbolizing a washing away of their old way of life, and the adoption of a new way of life.  This is precisely what John was doing, but he was offering this Baptism of repentance to everyone.

The Gospel speaks of John’s clothing and food.  John was in the survival mode.  He was clothed in a rough camel skin; and was eating the most basic of food; food off the land consisting of locusts and honey.  This indicates John is in a state of self-mortification as a way of purification.  He could not have been accused of hypocrisy- like some fiery preachers of our day, who dress to the nines and enjoy many of life’s comforts.  John was the genuine article, and his sincerity shone through.

We are told that he was angry at the Pharisees and Sadducees.  So, why is that?  Well at that time, the Jews were hoping to be saved from centuries of domination by the Syrians, Greeks and Romans.  They were looking for a savior, the Messiah; one who would herald a new Kingdom like David’s Kingdom of old.  And this anticipation was very popular at that time.  John emerges preaching in the desert, drawing large crowds because the proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom and a savior was something they were all hoping for.

But the Pharisees and the Sadducees were not there for Baptism.  The Pharisees were separated from the people because of their zeal for precise fulfillment of the letter of the law.  They wanted to check up on John and make sure his rite of Baptism followed the letter of the law.  The Sadducees were part of the Jewish establishment that was wary of political efforts to establish a new Kingdom.  They just wanted to be left alone to control the Jews as long as the state stayed out of their business.

These two groups did not get along- they despised each other.  They coexisted here because they had a common aim.  You see, both the Sadducees and the Pharisees came to John’s Baptism as spies.  They were certainly not there to repent and change.  And so, they drew anger from John.

John calls these people out for what they really were: a brood of vipers.  You see, a viper would have to escape and return to water after stinging a victim, or it would die.  How appropriate, then, was John’s description of these two groups.  They were there to find fault and do injury; and as soon as they believed they had found what they wanted, they would have escaped the crowd.  They were not interested in repentance.  They viewed themselves as the Chosen people; the children of Abraham.  They thought they were the people who had it right, each in their own way.

But John sets them straight as he says: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance”,   and then he goes on to admonish them of the fate of those who do not bear good fruit.  First he says:  “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.”  John is one of those rare people who can look into the hearts of men and know who they really are; what their real motivation is.   And what he sees is a lack of action from these people.  They are caught up in themselves; they are judgmental of others; but they are not bearing fruit from their actions.  They have not learned to fear the Lord and to respond to his inner voice.  And so John then says:  “Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Just to make it clear what he means by the fire, he talks about the kind of Baptism that will be administered by the “One who is coming”.  This is going to be different- it is not just a cleansing of sin, which the water was supposed to do, but it was going to be a Baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire as well.

First, the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit cleanses us from our sin, so that we are ready for the gifts of God’s Spirit.  Then the Spirit animates us; motivates us; and gives us our mission along with the gifts of the Spirit God has chosen for each of us.

But what about the Baptism of fire?  Well, we are free to choose God’s gifts in Baptism or not.  Those who choose it respond to the call and bear fruit in their lives.  These are the wheat that is harvested.  But there are some who reject it- as the Pharisees and Sadducees are accused of doing.  They are the chaff that is thrown in the fire.  That is the fire of condemnation that never leaves.  It is an everlasting fire that consumes them forever because they realize, too late, that they have turned away from God while they lived, and there is no recourse after death.

Today, we are in the middle of the Church season of Advent.  It’s the season when we prepare for the coming of the Lord.  We anticipate two comings.  First, the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas.  That is kind of like our Baptism, our original call.  And like the baby Jesus, we are introduced into life in the church.  We can respond to that call or not.    But the readings in the Church calendar actually emphasize the Second coming in the first two weekends of Advent.  The Second Coming of Christ is the Last Judgment.  That happens for all of us when we die; and it can happen at any time.  The great St. Augustine has said that those who don’t embrace the first coming of Christ are going to be very uncomfortable with the second coming.  So all of us need to be ready for it at all times.  The big question is: are you ready for it?

As we listen and analyze today’s reading from Matthew, it is easy to feel like bystanders listening to a tale from long ago.  But the reality is that we are just like the crowd that followed after John the Baptist.  Some of us are like the Pharisees, interested in the letter of the law, and looking to justify ourselves by following the law to the letter.  These people relish finding where others trip up because it makes them feel better about themselves.

Others are like the Sadducees who are looking for the Kingdom, but who are preoccupied with the rut they are in.  They think they are saved and are not interested in change.  They want to keep things just as they always have been.  They want to run away from making changes that may challenge them.

Still others are like the great crowd of followers of John.  They are looking for something new and they are open to change in varying degrees.  They are willing to listen; and they are excited about the prospects of the Kingdom.

We would all do well to think about John’s message in the context of our own lives.  Because no matter what our age or station in life is, God is continuously asking for our attention and response.  First, we need to fight complacency and self- satisfaction- the sins of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Then, we need to be open to the inner voice calling us to something new.  It can be something simple- new friends, a new environment, trying different things.  Or it can be more challenging, like coping with lost loved ones; forgiving past offenses; or accepting infirmities that limit our capabilities, so that we cannot do the things we used to be able to do.  What matters is our ability to love God and feel comfortable that we are listening to him all the time so that we are ready, and comfortable, with the Second Coming of Christ, whenever it happens.

Having Faith in the Kingdon of God

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Christ the King

2 Sam 5: 1-3; Col 1: 12-20; Lk 23: 35-43

By Deacon Larry Brockman

It’s all about Faith!  And speaking of faith, how about the depth of Faith that the good thief had?    Here’s a man, guilty by his own admission, hanging on the Cross next to Jesus.  This man recognizes that Jesus is innocent of any wrongdoingThat was probably fairly obvious just by listening to the trumped up charges and the distortion of the truth that the authorities used to convict Jesus.  The good thief was most likely a shrewd man who could size a situation up quickly.  He could read between the lines and discern the truth.  

But what couldn’t have been obvious to him was that Jesus was the Son of God and even shared in God’s divinity.  That certainly wasn’t obvious for a thief hanging on a cross next to Jesus.  Just what was it that gave this man his insight; his faith?    And look at how strong this man’s faith was.  First, he chastises the cynical thief for a lack of fear of God.  Why?  Certainly the cynical thief didn’t fear God; and indeed, probably didn’t even believe in God.  But the good thief senses that the man has seriously sinned in not fearing God.  What gave him that fear of God, that insight.  Then he boldly asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his Kingdom.  How could he have known that?  Just what gave the good thief the inspiration to both fear God and to recognize Jesus as a God and King? 

Contrast this scene with the one in the first reading.  David had led the Israelites into battle; had fearlessly shown good example in battle himself; and had won victory after victory for the Israelites, returning the army safely home.  Everyone recognized him as the one they wanted for King.  He was a leader; he had delivered for them; he was the archetype of what the Jews expected for a Messiah. 

But Jesus failed those kinds of tests.  He was not winning battles; rather, he had been captured, humiliated, and put to death.  And He was not doing the kind of thing that he was famous for- working miracles.  The cynics believed it was all a hoax all along- hence the ridicule from the sneering rulers.   

Of course, we can only speculate what converted the good thief.  But I suspect it was the same thing that converted the disciples that followed Jesus.  Jesus was a herald of the good news; of a new covenant with God.  Jesus was fundamentally different.  He was a herald in word and deed; the premier personal example for all to see.  Those who were blessed with contact with him just sensed the difference between Jesus and other people.  It was the way he looked at you; the kindness in his eyes; his body language; the conviction of his message; the truth exposed; and yes, even the way he responded and carried himself during his passion.  Likely the good thief had unwittingly been a witness to much of the trial and Jesus’ journey to the cross.  There was just something about it all that rang true.  And so, he believed, he really believed.  Jesus could look into his heart and see that; so Jesus pardons the good thief right then and there, and tells him he will be in Paradise “this day” with him.   Wow! 

All of us have the same choice that the two thieves on the cross had.  We can respond as cynics, children of the ways of the world.  The message of the Gospel is just too much for the cynics;  they are untrusting; unwilling to sacrifice their own self-interests; impatient with God’s plan and speed.  If we act this way, we are like the bad thief.

Or we can respond with faith to the word of God.  While Jesus way seems contrary to the ways and wisdom of the world, it has a ring of truth to it that promises true happiness in an everlasting Kingdom.  And so, we seek God’s will for us; become trusting and patient with God’s pace; and hope for the promised Kingdom. 

That is the good thief’s response- firm Faith in Christ the King and everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.

The Fruits of Perserverance!

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mal 3: 19-20a; 2 Thes 3:7-12; Lk 21: 5-19

By Deacon Larry Brockman

So, we should not be afraid of the end! For, as Jesus says: “By your perseverance, you will secure your lives”. 

For the last several weeks, we’ve been hearing about the Kingdom of God. And while Jesus seems vague about it, it’s just because we have a tendency not to listen to what He says. He has said the kingdom is already here; it is amongst us. That’s because if you follow Jesus by doing his will and defending your faith; then you already have everlasting life in you. It simply can’t be taken away from you. And that’s something we can all be joyful about.

But the kind of life we have in the Kingdom of God is not the kind of life we typically seek in this world. We seek comfort; good things to eat and consume; fun things to do; leisure time; the path of least resistance; and ways around suffering and pain.   While none of these things is bad in themselves, they are a problem if that is all we seek. They are a problem if our focus is only on self-gratification; they are a problem if we are not focused on others; and they are a problem if our main focus is not on pleasing God.

Our readings clearly reinforce this today. First, Malachi chastises the clearly bad doers of this world. If you do evil, and are consumed by it; then in the end you will be swept away in an eternal fire, and nothing will be left of you. It is such a vivid description of the hell that awaits the truly evil doers and unbelievers. They are the people whose focus is entirely empty of God.

Paul then talks about some people this way: “We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others”. Don’t you just love it! The pictures that came to my mind were the multiple “demonstrations” around this country by folks who are upset with the results of the election. Where do they get the time? Aren’t there more productive things for them to do? Paul says it this way: “Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food”.  And Paul backed up his assertion by talking about his own situation. He was a visitor; but did not expect to be kept by the people he was visiting. Rather, he says: “On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you.” That is our responsibility. To work quietly according to God’s plan to do God’s will; and that means minimizing the burden that we are on our society. These are people whose focus is on themselves.

And then there is the Gospel. People are impressed by the elegance of the Temple adornments. Jesus set’s them straight. It will all come to nothing. So it is with all of us. Whatever we seek in this world in the way of things and comfort; it will all come to nothing in the end. What matters is whether we believe in Jesus Christ and stand up as His witnesses.

Now the authorities ask Jesus an interesting question as Jesus says that it will all come to nothing in the end. They ask Jesus “when”. They want to know when the end will really come. These are people who have a glimmer of faith and concern, but who are diverted somewhat from their goals. So, they want to know when, presumably so they can be prepared.

Jesus’ answer is very sobering and has two parts to it: First, don’t be taken in by those who claim to know when the end will come. Nobody knows; and those who claim they know mislead. They often have their own interests in mind; and very frequently advocate things that detract from what our real goal should be- to live God’s plan for us and trust in him.

Second, be prepared always. That’s really the essence of Jesus’ warning to be prepared to defend your faith always. All of us who believe need to be tested in the crucible of this world. All of us will be challenged or persecuted or tested in our faith sometime during our lives. For some, it comes down to making the right choice in the midst of temptations. And there are plenty such temptations- cheating in money matters, relationships, or tests for example. For others, we will be directly challenged in a matter of faith: whether to have an abortion; or whether to follow our conscience when a boss or authority tries to get us to do something wrong. Still others will be directly persecuted just for their faith, like the Christians in ISIS held territory.

Rather than try to anticipate the end, we just need to hold firm when we are tested. Fortunately for most of us, we are given a chance over and over to reconcile with God whenever we do slip up. That’s what the Sacrament of Penance is for.

So remember this always. Be ready at all times to live your faith. Then “By your perseverance, you will secure your lives”.

Honoring Who Really Matters!

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016


Col 3: 16

Dc. Larry Brockman

Well, it’s all over! This terrible, contentious election is over in the state of Florida, and in a few hours, for the whole country. It has sapped us of our energy for months because all of us are concerned. Our choice was between two people who have too many faults each.

Tonight, we gather to pray for our country before the one person who matters the most- Jesus Christ. We are here to adore him, to praise him, and to ask him to bless the person chosen for office with wisdom and zeal for doing God’s will for all of our people.   And we are also here to thank Him. Yes, thank Him. We need to thank Jesus for so many things- First, the wonderful country that we have all been blessed to be live in; second, for the faith that we all have as Catholics; and third, for the opportunity to show that faith no matter what happens today.

Indeed, we will have more opportunities in the future to show our faith than in hundreds of years because many of our elected officials support attacks on our Faith and Religion. They support gay marriage, abortion, and euthanasia; they support “vested interests”, corruption, and various forms of discrimination. And so, unlike generations of Americans before us who were once protected from Religious discrimination by our government, we will be put to the test. We will need to stand up and be strong when our own government persecutes us. And that is a huge opportunity.

But most of all, we need to be joyful tonight because we all know that we are God’s children; and that no matter what our leaders do, nobody can take that away from us.

And so, let us rejoice together in Jesus Christ in psalms and songs knowing that we who are strong in our faith are destined for the Kingdom of God because Jesus Christ will ultimately prevail. No secular power, law, or movement can take that away from us. Amen