LESSER TO GREATER

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary TIme

As they raise their children, parents try to teach their sons and daughters the importance of making good decisions.

 

One way parents do that is to give their children a small allowance each week. Parents instruct their children that this money should be used for incidental expenses, special purchases, and some should be saved for the future. Parents hope that handling a small allowance will teach children to make good choices when it comes to handling larger sums of money in the future.

 

Knowledgeable parents will compliment their children for the good choices they make in handling their weekly allowance. And even more importantly, wise parents will permit their children to suffer the consequences of their bad decisions. They will allow children, who spend all their weekly allowance on going out with their friends on Saturday, to face the rest of the week without a dollar in their pocket.

 

Parents hope that teaching their children to make good decisions in small things will help them to make wise decisions in more important matters.

 

Children who learn how to properly handle their allowance are far less likely in their college years to incur thousands of dollars in credit card debt buying things they can’t afford or truly need.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 5:17-37), Jesus speaks about the importance of making good moral choices. He speaks about not killing, not committing adultery, and not taking false oaths. Jesus speaks about the importance of making wise decisions in major moral matters.

 

But in each instance, Jesus also stresses the importance of making good moral choices in lesser matters related to each of those major decisions.

 

The person who will decide to respect the life of another in a potentially violent situation is the person who has previously decided not to give into anger and vicious and hateful speech when he or she feels criticized or insulted.

 

The man or woman who will decide to remain faithful to his or her marriage vows is the person who has been deciding not to indulge in lustful thoughts and pornographic fantasies.

 

The individual who will resolve to speak the truth in important matters is the person who previously has chosen to be honest in everyday situations. The person whose “yes” stands without equivocation at work, at school, or at home, will not need to stand on a stack of Bibles to be believed.

 

Just as parents know that children need to learn to make good choices in small matters if they are to make good choices in more important matters, Jesus knows the same. That is the reason he directs our attention not only to major moral decisions we may face, he also challenges us to see what kind of decisions we are making in every day related situations.

 

Those who know how to make the right choice in big things are those who have learned to make the right choice in lesser things.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

BWYA

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The FIFth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Imagine firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians arriving at the scene of a raging house fire.

 

Immediately those first responders would move into action. The firefighters would start battling the flames and searching for anyone trapped inside the home. The police officers would divert traffic, move spectators a safe distance away, and evacuate threatened structures. The emergency medical technicians would begin caring for the injured and setting up a first aid area.

 

Those first responders would fulfill the roles for which they had been trained. They would be the heroic men and women we expected.

 

We would be shocked if we saw firefighters doing nothing as a fire raged, or police officers ignoring people in harm’s way, or EMTs failing to assist the hurting.

 

In Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 5:13-16), Jesus speaks about his followers as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

 

When we hear those words of Jesus, we might think they tell us what we should aspire to become. Yet Jesus does not tell us to work at becoming salt and light. Rather he says, “You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world.” Jesus tells us what we already are.

 

We were made the light at our baptism. There we were “enlightened by Christ,” the light of the world, so that we might “walk always as children of the light.”

 

Since that time, the salt of God’s word has been poured into our lives Sunday after Sunday. That word flavors our life with the truth and preserves us from being corrupted by the lure of evil and the false values of our society.

 

Just as we expect first responders to be what they are when called to an emergency, so the Lord expects us to be what we are as we go through life.

 

Several years ago, some Christians started wearing bracelets with the letters WWJD.  Those letters reminded the wearer to consider What Would Jesus Do when they were faced with a decision. 

 

Considering this Sunday’s Gospel, we might imagine there should be a bracelet with the letters, BWYA.     Be What You Are. Be the salt! Be the light! Make a difference in a society where life has been made tasteless by loneliness, despair and a lack of purpose. Make a difference in a world darkened by sin and selfishness.

 

Be what you are! If we have forgotten what that requires, Jesus makes it abundantly clear this Sunday. “You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world.”

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

IMPROVING OUR VISION
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2020

The Presentation of the Lord

Over the years, many of us may have noticed that restaurant menus have become more challenging to read, the print in newspapers and magazines has gotten blurry, and the glare from oncoming headlights has increased.

 

We notice such things because as the years go by our eyesight tends to weaken. We no longer see as well as we did when we were younger.

 

While that is the case in our everyday life, that is not necessarily the case in our spiritual life.

 

In fact, our spiritual vision can actually get better as we age.  We certainly see that in this Sunday’s Gospel for the Presentation of the Lord. (Luke 2:22-40)

 

In that reading we hear how 40 days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph come to the Temple in Jerusalem. In accord with the law of Moses, they come to present their firstborn male child to the Lord, and Mary comes to offer the sacrifice required for her ritual purification.

 

Obviously, there were many people in the Temple that day. But only two people were able to recognize the infant Jesus, namely, Simeon, who had been told “that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord,” and Anna, who “was advanced in years…she was eighty-four.”

 

It was these two elderly individuals who had the spiritual vision to recognize the identity of the one carried in by Mary and Joseph.

 

Simeon had the vision to see this child was, as he proclaimed, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

 

When Anna saw the child, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”

 

Simeon and Anna had that sharp spiritual vision because as we read, they were righteous and devout, they were people of prayer and worship.

 

It was their time with the Lord that gave them the spiritual vision to see the Messiah, to recognize Jesus, the Light of the World, that day in the Temple.

 

If we are to recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives, then like Simeon and Anna, we need to work at strengthening our spiritual vision.

 

We need to spend time in prayer, we need to read the scriptures, we need to come to Mass, we need to be part of the Church, otherwise, our spiritual vision will become weak and blurry and we will fail to see the Lord in our lives and in our world.

 

That is certainly happening in our day. It is no coincidence that as Mass attendance has fallen, as people have moved away from prayer and from growing in the knowledge of their faith, the number of people identifying as atheists, agnostics, and of no religion has increased. Their spiritual vision has dimmed. They can no longer see the Lord.

 

Simeon and Anna would tell us that the more you pray, the more time you spend with God, the better your spiritual vision becomes!

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

WHO SAID?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the Gospels, who said, “May it be done to me according to your word”?

 

Which apostle proclaimed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”?

 

What preacher declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”?

 

If you answered that Mary said, “May it be done to me according to your word,” you would be correct. That was her response when she was asked to be the mother of the Savior. (Luke 1:38)

 

If you replied that Peter proclaimed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” you would be right. That is what he said when Jesus asked him “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16: 15-16)

 

If you responded that Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” you would be correct. We hear that proclamation in this Sunday’s Gospel as Jesus begins his public ministry. (Matthew 4:12-23)

 

However, there is another possible response to that third question. If you answered that John the Baptist said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” you would also be right.

 

We heard those words in the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent. There we were told, “In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” (Matthew 3:1-2)

 

However, though the words might be the same, each message was different – as different as the preachers.

 

When John the Baptist called people to repent for the kingdom was at hand, he was announcing that the kingdom was imminent. It was fast approaching. Now was the time to get ready for its arrival.

 

When Jesus said those words, he was proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven had arrived. The kingdom was present in him and in his ministry. It was at hand. The kingdom was not some future reality or some heavenly place, it was the power of God acting in this world to set things right.

 

Jesus demonstrated the presence of that kingdom by his preaching and miracles. As we read in Sunday’s Gospel, “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.”

 

Those miracles of Jesus highlight the difference between John and Jesus. John proclaimed the kingdom was at hand, it was coming, but its power was not yet evident. “John performed no sign.” (John 10:41)

 

The presence of the kingdom, the power of God acting in Jesus, is also seen in the call of Peter and Andrew, James and John. When Jesus summons them, they leave their nets and follow him. At his word, fishermen are transformed into disciples.

 

That kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is present today. It is present as the power of God works in the lives of those who turn from sin and open their hearts to the Lord. Their acts of kindness and generosity, their ability to forgive those who hurt them, their sacrifices for the sake of others, their love of neighbor and stranger, their ordering their lives according to the Gospel, and their willingness to share their faith are all signs that the kingdom of heaven is at hand,

 

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” those words spoken by Jesus challenge us to see the presence of God’s kingdom in our world and in our lives.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

Time AND ATTENTION NEEDED

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time


How much time does it take to really know a person, to truly develop a deep, lasting relationship with that individual?

 

Can that happen after a single meeting, or does it take several encounters or even more? Can it happen after a few weeks or months, or might it take several years?

 

Getting to know a person and developing a true bond of friendship and love is a process that requires time and attention. We never know someone completely. Even people we have known for years can do or say something we never expected or reveal something surprising about themselves.

 

If that is true of the people in our lives, it is even more true when it comes to Jesus, our Savior and Lord. A relationship with the Lord is something that takes time to develop and grow. We usually do not have a “Damascus experience” like Saint Paul in which the Lord suddenly reveals himself to us in a blinding moment of enlightenment.

 

We come to know the Lord just as we come to know the people who hold a special place in our hearts. We come to know the Lord over time.

 

We see that happening in this Sunday’s Gospel (John 1:29-34). There we hear how John the Baptist came to a deeper understanding of Jesus.

 

John obviously had already known Jesus. They were just six months apart in age and their families were related. Yet when John was baptizing at the Jordan River, he came to a deeper understanding of Jesus. He came to know him as “the Lamb of God” and as the “Son of God,” as he saw the Spirit come down upon Jesus like a dove.

 

But that process of John’s growing in his understanding of Jesus did not end there. In the Gospel of Matthew, we learn how later in his life John sent his disciples to Jesus to confirm that Jesus truly was the one whose coming John had predicted.

 

Just as John had to grow in his understanding of Jesus and in his relationship with him, so do we.

 

At this point in the liturgical year of 2020, we enter the Season of Ordinary Time. In its Gospels, we will learn of the ministry of Jesus, we will hear him proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom and we will see him interacting with the poor and powerless, and the rich and powerful.

 

While we can let our attention drift elsewhere since we have heard those Gospel readings many times before, we would be missing an opportunity to grow in our understanding of Jesus and in our relationship with him.

 

Each time we hear the Gospel proclaimed, Jesus speaks to us. Each time we reflect with others on God’s Word, Jesus opens our minds. Each time we celebrate a sacrament, the Lord touches our lives. Each of those moments provide another opportunity for us to grow in our relationship with the Lord.

 

We might say that as we faithfully progress through the liturgical year, we progressively grow in our understanding of Jesus and our relationship with him.

 

Like all relationships, a relationship with the Lord requires our ongoing effort, time, and attention.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

RELATABLE

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Baptism of the Lord

When individuals run for national office, they try their best to relate to the people whose votes they are seeking. They do not want to be thought of as being aloof, out of touch, or elitist.

 

When giving a speech, candidates for office will be sure to mention the top concerns of the voters. Those candidates want to be seen as sharing those concerns and ready to address them.

 

While campaigning in a particular state, office seekers will praise that “great state”, and of course they will reference its winning sports teams, its main industries, and its wonderful, hard-working people.

 

When visiting ethnic neighborhoods, those running for election will be sure to sample the local delicacies, participate in cultural traditions, and speak at least a few words of the group’s first language.

 

All candidates realize that if they want people to listen to them, to put their trust in them, to vote for them, they need to be seen as relatable, approachable, and concerned.

 

Jesus our Lord and Savior took a similar approach. When he came among his people to proclaim the Gospel and to announce that the Kingdom of God was at hand, he did not come in power and majesty as some unapproachable being from on high. He came as one of the people.

 

We see that in the feasts of this Christmas Season.

 

The Son of God is born not in a palace, but in a lowly stable. His birth is first recognized by simple shepherds and ignored by high ranking religious leaders and seen as a threat to the politically elite.

 

When he receives precious gifts from the magi, those gifts do not change his social status or that of his family. He continues to be known as the son of Mary and Joseph, members of the common people of the day.

 

He and his family follow the same religious prescriptions and rituals as the rest of the Chosen People. As an infant he is circumcised and then presented in the Temple. He is treated like any other Jewish boy of his day.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 3:13-17), we once again see Jesus seeking to identify with his people. We are told that “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.”

 

While theologians speculate why Jesus, the sinless one, came to be baptized, perhaps the reason is simply this. Jesus wanted to identify with sinners.

 

He wanted to relate to his fellow Jews who were turning from sin and anticipating the arrival of the Messiah. So, like them, Jesus goes down into the water and is baptized.

 

Associating with the common people and sharing their lives is something that Jesus did throughout his ministry. As the religious elite asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11)

 

As this Christmas Season comes to an end with Sunday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are given another example of our God humbling himself in order to be one with his people.

 

God is not aloof, distant, and beyond us, God is with us. He became one of us. He is “Emmanuel.”


© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

THE CHRISTMAS GIFT

Sunday, January 5, 2020

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD

 This Christmas season that began on December 25th is the time for giving gifts. During this season we typically give gifts to our relatives and friends, to our coworkers, and to those who have helped us this past year. We also give gifts to people in need, to various charities, and of course to our parish – our spiritual home.

 

The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas has its origin not in the story of Santa Claus, but rather in the feast we celebrate this Sunday, the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

 

Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) tells us that led by a star, the magi, those travelers from the East made the long journey to Jerusalem to offer homage to the newborn king of the Jews. Then, directed by the prophecy told them by the chief priests and scribes, they continued on to Bethlehem.

 

On entering the house over which the star was shining, “they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

 

Those magi presented the very first Christmas gifts, the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those three gifts not only honored this newborn king of the Jews but also revealed who he was.

 

The gift of gold pointed to his royalty. The gift of frankincense used in worship indicated his divinity. While the gift of myrrh used for burial hinted at his future suffering and death.

 

But those three gifts were not the first Christmas gifts ever to be given. The very first Christmas gift was the one given to the magi themselves.

 

They were given the gift of faith. It was that gift that caused them to notice the shining star in the heavens. It was that gift that spurred them on as they journeyed to the land of Judah. It was that gift that caused them to recognize the child of Mary as the newborn king of the Jews.

 

Without that first Christmas gift, the magi would have remained at home. Like the chief priests, scribes, and people of Jerusalem, they would not have taken a step toward Bethlehem.

 

We would not be celebrating this Christmas season unless God gave us that same gift of faith that he gave the magi of old.

 

It is that gift of faith that enables us to recognize the child born in Bethlehem as the one whose coming was announced by John the Baptist. It is that gift of faith that allows us to know Jesus as the Word made flesh. It is that gift of faith that empowers us to profess Jesus to be our Lord and God.

 

This season we give gifts to those who have a special place in our hearts and we also bring gifts to God, the gifts of our praise and worship, the gifts of our love and obedience.

 

This Feast of the Epiphany reminds us that we who give gifts during this Christmas Season share in the first and best of all Christmas gifts. Like the magi, God has given us the gift of faith to recognize Jesus, the one born that first Christmas, as our Savior and King.

 

© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Best Wishes for a New Year Filled with God’s Presence and Peace!

NOT LIKE OUR FAMILY

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Holy Family of Jesus, mary and Joseph

This Sunday we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – one of the great feasts of the Christmas Season. This feast centers our attention on that holy, perfect family into which Jesus was born.

 

It is not surprising that this family was perfect and holy. Mary had a special place in God’s heart from the moment of her conception and throughout her life she was free from the corrupting influence of sin and selfishness. She was full of grace.

 

Joseph was a righteous man who made perfect decisions for he was guided by messages from God. We see that happening in Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23). There an angel of God appears to Joseph in a dream and warns him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus in order to escape the murderous plot of Herod. Later that same divine messenger reappears and tells Joseph to return home for the threat was gone.

 

Most significant of all, the child in that family was divine, the Son of God himself. How could this family not be perfect, not be holy?

 

Sunday’s feast, while it highlights this perfect family, also reminds us of something that we often forget. It tells us that there was only one holy, perfect family and there will never be another one like it.

 

Yet most of us keep searching for other holy, perfect families,

and we do that searching especially in our own homes.

 

Children want their mothers and fathers to be perfect. Or at least to be perfect according to their understanding of what makes the perfect parent.

 

Parents want to have perfect, holy, obedient children who cause no trouble and are a credit to the family.

 

Siblings want their brothers and sisters to be kind, sharing, and supportive and to cause them no trouble or embarrassment.

 

Yet as we know from our personal experience, families are not perfect. Even families that produce priests and religious have their failings and imperfections.

 

That is why the scriptures this Sunday speak of what family members owe one another. The Second Reading (Colossians 3: 12-21) speaks of the things that imperfect families, like our own, need to work on.

 

Paul tells us, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love.”

 

Families are made up of imperfect people like you and me, who try to muddle through, who sometimes succeed, and sometimes fail. That is why our families need to be rich in love, forgiveness, and understanding.

 

There was only one perfect, holy family. As much as we might hope, there will never be another one. Since that is the case, perhaps the best gift we can give the members of our families this Christmas Season, and throughout the coming New Year, is a little more forgiveness, a little more understanding, a little more love.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Best Wishes for a Joyous Christmas

and a New Year Filled with God’s Presence and Peace!

THE ONE WORD

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Fourth Sunday of AdVENT

Advertisers will often use a single word to capture the feeling, mood, or idea they are trying to convey in their messages. That is especially true during the Christmas season. For many years Macy’s highlighted the single word “believe” in its holiday advertising.

 

Other companies use other words. For example, they might emphasize a word such as joy, hope, love, share, peace, giving, wondrous, or magical. A single well-chosen word can be more effective than a string of words that are quickly forgotten.

 

If we had to choose just one word to convey the spiritual meaning of the Christmas season, we might pick the word that appears in this Sunday’s First Reading (Isaiah 7:10-14) and is repeated in the Gospel (Matthew 1:18-24). That word is Emmanuel.

 

In the First Reading, the prophet Isaiah tells King Ahaz, who doubts God’s protection, that God would give an unmistakable sign of his providential care. “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

 

Then in the Gospel, Matthew relates how Joseph comes to know that Mary’s pregnancy is not the result of her unfaithfulness but the result of the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.

 

This happens, Matthew tells us, to fulfill the prophecy found in the reading from Isaiah. In quoting that prophecy, the word Emmanuel appears again.

 

The word Emmanuel is the ideal single word to express what we celebrate this Advent and Christmas Season. The word means, God is with us.

 

As Christians we believe that the God of infinite power and majesty, the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe, decided to take on flesh and come among his creatures.

 

God did not simply want to tell us about himself, God wanted to reveal himself in a human face.

 

God became one of us that first Christmas and walked among us. Amazingly God continues to walk among us through Word and Sacrament and through the members of his Church. God is involved with our lives and with this world. That wondrous mystery is captured in the word Emmanuel.

 

God is not above us. God is not beyond us. God is not far from us. God is not removed from us. No, God is with us. God is Emmanuel. That one word proclaims what we celebrate at Christmas and it gives us the reason for our joy. EMMANUEL!

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

Best Wishes for a Joyous Christmas, Filled with God’s Presence and Peace!

DO YOU WANT TO BE SAVED?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Third Sunday of Advent

“Do you want to be saved?” If you were asked that question, you would certainly respond with a definite YES. Yes, I want to be saved.

 

But what if you were asked, “Do you want to be saved right now?” You might hesitate to say YES since salvation is often thought of as gaining eternal life. While eternal life is something we hope to obtain in the future, most of us would prefer to have as much time as possible in this world before being “saved.”

 

As we prepare to celebrate the coming of the one who was acclaimed as the savior of the world, we need to realize that the salvation Jesus came to bring is not limited to eternal life.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11), we read that while he was in prison, John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" John wanted to know if Jesus truly was the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Savior of the World.

 

Jesus responded by telling the emissaries from John to report what they were hearing and seeing. “The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

 

The salvation Jesus was bringing was not limited to the future but involved the present as well. He was bringing healing and wholeness to the suffering in this life. He was not just “saving” people so they might have a place in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was making their lives better as he encountered them and showed them his mercy and compassion.

 

Today, the Church continues Jesus’ work of salvation.

 

It saves people from seeing their lives as meaningless, as merely the result of chance. It proclaims the meaning of human existence found in the scriptures and in Jesus, the “way, the truth, and the life.”

 

It saves people from the power of sin and from believing they can never move beyond their past failures. It offers them God’s forgiveness and the opportunity to start again.

 

It saves people from the fear of death and from thinking they are nothing more than a momentary spark in the immensity of the universe. It declares that those who put their faith in Jesus are caught up into God’s eternal life and love.

 

It saves people from hunger, homelessness, disease, exploitation, ignorance and loneliness. It makes the compassion and healing of Jesus present in our day through its many social services, charitable endeavors, educational institutions and advocacy for justice.

 

Jesus assured those sent by John the Baptist that he was the one who was expected. He was the one who had come to save the people. He did that by pointing out to them what he was doing to bring healing, wholeness and mercy to the suffering. Today, the Church makes present that saving mission of Jesus Christ.

 

So, do you want to be saved, and saved right now? If we truly understand the fullness of salvation Jesus offers, our answer will be a definite YES! Save me Lord and save me now!

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

AN APPEALING MESSAGE!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Second Sunday of ADVent

Some authors write best sellers, while others write books that end up for sale at the dollar store.

 

Some songwriters compose songs that are downloaded millions of times and become Grammy winners, while others produce music that no one remembers.

 

Some painters produce works of art that are collected and hung in galleries, while the creations of other artists end up on tables at garage sales.

 

Why is it that some people become successes in their profession, and others do not? We might conclude that those who succeed are those with the most talent. Yet, we all know of talented people who never make it big.

 

The key to success is not just talent. People who succeed are those whose works appeal to the public. An author, for example, might write a story that is grammatically and technically correct, but if that story has no mass appeal, that author will fail. The opposite is equally true. If people like what they read, that author succeeds, despite any critical reviews.

 

In Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 3:1-12), we hear of a person who was a great success as a preacher. We are told that “at that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him.” John the Baptist obviously had mass appeal.  

 

Yet it seems surprising that a preacher whose main message was repentance and a public acknowledgment of one’s sinfulness would be attracting large crowds. In our day, a preacher with such a message would see many empty pews before him.

 

There had to be something in the message of John the Baptist that appealed to the public. There had to be something in his words that made people leave their homes and go out to him in great numbers. That something was hope - hope that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The power of God was breaking into this world and the one who embodied that power and presence of God was about to appear.

 

Now was the time for people to repent and to turn away from those behaviors, those attitudes, those ways of thinking, those relationships that would keep them from welcoming the one who would usher in this time of hope and transformation.

 

That hopeful time is poetically described in Sunday’s First Reading (Isaiah 11:1-10). It would be a time when “the cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.”

 

Whose attention would not be caught by such a hopeful message of peace and harmony? Who would not want to be ready to welcome the one predicted by John who would bring the power of the Holy Spirit and the fire of God’s love into this troubled world?

 

Yes, John was a successful preacher because he had a message that the crowds wanted to hear – a message of hope, harmony, and peace. His message truly had mass appeal. So much so that we are still coming to hear it today.

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

ALREADY READY?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The First Sunday of Advent

“Are you ready for Christmas?” That is a common question at this time of year.

 

It will be asked even more frequently this season for Christmas seems to be coming more quickly than usual. That is the case because typically there is a week or so between Thanksgiving and December 1.

 

However this year, the fourth Thursday of November, Thanksgiving Day, is the 28th of the month, the latest date possible for the holiday. That means the month of December begins just two days after we clear our Thanksgiving table.

 

So, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

 

Have you selected the people who will receive gifts from you this year? Are those gifts already ordered or purchased? Are they wrapped? Are your Christmas cards written out, addressed, and ready to mail? Is your home decorated for the coming holiday? Have you decided where you will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Have you thought about the people you will invite to your home? Are your finances ready to handle your holiday expenses?

 

“Are you ready for Christmas?” For most people, the answer is NO.

 

Christmas always has a way of sneaking up on us, especially this year. But the advertising and media world are working overtime to remind us to get ready. Even the lighting of the candles of the Advent Wreath can be a reminder of the decreasing number of weeks to prepare for Christmas Day – more light, less time!

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 24:37-44), Jesus is also at work, warning us to be ready for his coming. That requires continuous effort on our part since, unlike the date of Christmas, the date of the Lord’s arrival at the end of time and at the end of our lives is not marked on any human calendar.

 

How much time we have to ready ourselves to meet the Lord remains unknown. That being the case Jesus tells us that we “must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

 

We see that lack of preparation in the Gospel where we read, “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.” In that example, only half of the people are ready to be taken into God’s kingdom, the rest are left behind in their sinful state.

 

We ready ourselves for the day of the Lord’s coming by following the advice Paul gives us in this Sunday’s Second Reading (Romans 13:11-14). “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy.” We are to live in the light of the Gospel and follow the example of Jesus. We are, as Paul tells us, to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

During the coming days whenever we are asked “Are you ready for Christmas?” we should picture ourselves being asked the more important question, “Are you ready for Christ?”

 

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski

 

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