Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
We are now in ordinary time – ordinary only because there are no major feasts until Ash Wednesday, which will not come until February 26th. Yet during “ordinary time” is when we primarily live out our lives as Christian men and women.
In this Sunday’s Gospel citation, we discover that Jesus has withdrawn to Galilee and moved into the town of Capernaum. Capernaum is now in ruins but in Jesus’ time, it was a thriving town with an economy based on fishing in the Sea of Galilee. It is located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee in the ancient tribal lands of Zebulon and Naphtali. Because of various invasions over the centuries, it was a mixed area. The population was both Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile). The quotation from the Old Testament calls the area “Galilee of the Gentiles”. In Jesus’ time, the area was under the rule of Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod The Great.
Next week, a number of our parishioners will accompany Father Greg on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and one of their stops will be at Capernaum. They will see two major ruins. One is the ancient synagogue. Directional signs conveniently inform the visitor that the upper ruins constructed of marble are built upon the ruins of an earlier synagogue which was constructed of basalt. Many of those foundation stones are visible and Jesus would have seen them!
The second noteworthy building is a large modern church which closely resembles a flying saucer. This church has a glass floor. For centuries tradition held that Peter’s house was on that site. Early Christians had naturally preserved a tradition indicating the location of the house of the “prince of the apostles” and eventually the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire built a small eight-sided chapel over the site. Octagonal chapels were often constructed over important sites. Over the centuries Capernaum was overrun several times by invading armies and the original church was destroyed.
During the last half-century an archeological dig was mounted by the Franciscan Friars, who have the “custody” of the Holy Land. The funds were provided by the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. The ruins of the original octagonal church were found and under it the ruins of a small house in which were found ancient fishhooks. As today’s Gospel tells us, Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen.
Galilean fishermen were often members of a co-op type organization and it is quite possible that Andrew, Peter, James and John and their father Zebedee were partners in a fishing co-op. It is possible also that their families lived close together. We know from the Gospels that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Was she cured in that very house under the Franciscan church? As today’s Gospel tells us, Jesus made Capernaum the “headquarters” for his preaching missions, so is it also possible that He occasionally lived in this same house? Though there is no way of telling for sure, but was this place made sacred by the footprints of Christ? Did He stand on the same shoreline and see very much the same scene as He gazed south over the waters of the Sea of Galilee?
The call to the Apostles seems very quick but there are indications in the Gospels that Andrew was first a disciple of John the Baptist and through him came to know Jesus. Andrew introduced his brother, Peter, to Jesus (John 35:40-43). It stands to reason that these toughened, hard-working, manual laborers would not abandon their old lives to follow an itinerant Rabbi unless they had experienced the power of His preaching and seen God’s healing power in Him. But follow Him they did. Despite some backsliding, after the Resurrection and Pentecost they began a process that changed the world. We too were led to Jesus and identified with Him in our Baptisms. With the strength of the Spirit, we too can continue the
transformation of the world.
Little did Isaiah know, when he voiced the words of our first reading many centuries before the birth of Jesus, that the “people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light, upon those who lived in a land of gloom, a light has shone.” That light was Jesus and His ministry would begin in the land of the ancient tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali, the land of Galilee of the Gentiles!
Monsignor John McGuirl
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the priesthood there is no such thing as retirement; however, there does come a moment when a priest can step aside from administrative obligations. In our Diocese of Brooklyn/Queens, the first opportunity to request “retirement” comes at age 71 (seventy-one). At age 75, retirement from administrative responsibilities becomes mandatory. When seventy one arrived three and a half years ago, I had no intention of submitting my resignation to Bishop DiMarzio. Now I have passed my seventy-fourth birthday and have had the privilege of being your pastor for over thirteen years. Consequently last March I did write to the Bishop and request what is called “senior priest status” as of June 30th, 2020. In fact, that date will bring me within four and a half months of the mandatory retirement age of seventy-five. The Bishop has agreed and has given me permission to continue to reside at Our Lady of Mercy rectory and to give some assistance much in the same manner as the late Monsignor Gerald Langelier did for me before his untimely death six years ago. As the Bishop stated in his letter of permission:
Allow me to inform you that I am pleased to grant you permission
to formally enter the ranks of our “senior priests” and with the approval
of the newly appointed Pastor of the Parish, I also grant you continued
residence at the Parish of Our Lady of Mercy in Forest Hills. The new
assignment becomes effective June 30th, 2020…as you know, we
never “retire” from our God-given priestly vocation, and with the increasing need
we have for priests, our ‘senior priests’ can be of great assistance…”
That assistance I intend to give, for as long as God grants me relatively good mental and physical health. Frankly, at this point in life, relief from the financial and material care of the parish will be welcome. To be able to take life at an easier pace with a little more free time will also be welcome. Nonetheless, it will require me to change. For a very long time, I have held leadership positions in this Diocese, so the new status will require an
alteration in my attitude and expectations.
All the same, my roots were planted here. Baptism, First Communion, my First public Mass (12:15 P.M. – May 28th, 1972) as a new priest, were all celebrated at Our Lady of Mercy. So too were the funerals of my parents, paternal grandparents, and several aunts and uncles. This parish is home; though, when I left Manse Street in 1966 for the last two years of college and the subsequent four years of theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, I never dreamed that I would one day be assigned here. Now the home parish has become my longest assignment!
Our parish is home to many people. There is much to recommend it, not the least of which is, the generosity and kindness of our parishioners. They take second place to none. Visitors to our parish regularly comment on the familial friendliness they experience when they participate in the Sacraments here. I think they are correct. Our parish is a real family. Like all families, we have had our ups and downs, so if, in any way, whether deliberately or inadvertently, I have contributed to those “down” moments, I apologize to those whom I may have offended and do ask their forgiveness.
The identity of the new pastor is unknown and in fact, the Diocesan Clergy Personnel Board and the Bishop may have only just begun the process of selecting him. We are still five months from June but I wanted to advise you now of this prospective change of status because I do not want you to read of it first in the pages of our Diocesan Newspaper, The Tablet. The new status of “pastor emeritus and senior priest” can be likened to being the parish grandfather and when appropriate and requested, I intend to be of assistance to the new pastor. The late Monsignor Langelier will be my example in this matter, since he was discreetly helpful when I became pastor here in February 2007.
In five months we will enter another era in our parish’s ninety-year history. I ask for your continued prayers, advice and support. Please be assured of my prayers, especially at the Eucharist.
Monsignor John 1. McGuirl
The Baptism of the Lord
The liturgical season of Christmas officially ends this weekend with the celebration of the baptism of the Lord as recorded by St. Matthew. As this Sunday’s Gospel citation informs us, Jesus was baptized by John (the Baptist or Baptized) in the River Jordan. All four of the Gospels narrate this event; and yet, it seems so odd. Does Jesus need baptism? Even John tries to dissuade Him. John thinks that Jesus should be baptizing him, not the other way around. Jesus is sinless and the baptism of John was specifically seen as a sign of the repentance of sin. As water washes dirt off the body, the repentant sinner “washes” away his/her sins.
In Chapter 3 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, the unspoken question is answered: Jesus undergoes this ritual bath in order to “fulfill all righteousness”. In other words, this Baptism was to reveal what our relationship with God was meant to be. While Jesus may not have needed to repent, we do! Jesus stands with sinful humanity. The Word became flesh and lived among us, but not simply among but as us. He experienced all that we experience, except sin, but even there He makes our plight His own.
The Baptism of John is not yet the sacrament which we undergo, but it heralds the arrival of the Messiah, who will establish the sacramental system. When John dunks Jesus in the waters of the River Jordan, it is reported that as Jesus came up out of the latter, the heavens were opened and a voice says: “This is my Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” At the same moment, the Spirit of God hovers like a dove above Jesus. The Gospels seem to differ as to who heard these words and saw the manifestation of God. Was it John, or Jesus only, or the onlookers? But all the Gospel writers include this incident though they may differ in minor details. The four of them recognized this moment as the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, hence the beginning of the Messianic Age, which the prophets,
especially Isaiah had foretold.
In the beginning of creation, God’s Spirit hovers over the formless void, the darkness over the deep waters which symbolize unformed or uncreated emptiness. (In Hebrew: tohubohu = trackless waste and emptiness.) The Spirit brings forth creation like a dove hovering over the nest of its creation, its young fledglings. The dove hovering over Jesus has the same notion. Here now the new creation begins with the ministry of Jesus. The right relationship with God is as “Abba” (Dad) to his sons and daughters. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. That Son is united with us in our humanity so that we might be united with Him in His divinity. We are invited to be members of the circle of God’s very family. The true “righteousness” is a relationship of filial love between Abba and His children. To enter that relationship, that righteousness, one had to enter fellowship with the Son, Whose Baptism in the waters of the River Jordan we celebrate this day.
Over the last two weeks, we have celebrated the Birth of the Promised One, the Baby at Bethlehem, now we make ready to follow that Child as an Adult, Who is the “Righteous One”
Over the last several weeks, we have read about a number of Anti-Semitic actions throughout the country but especially here in our own City. It is important to remember that our Blessed Lord, His Mother, Saint Joseph, the twelve Apostles, Saint Paul, and almost all the earliest followers of Jesus were drawn from the Jewish community. They were Jews living among Jews.
Jesus’ followers saw Him as the fulfillment of the ancient Hebrew prophets. To have a true appreciation of Christianity, it is necessary to have an understanding of the First (Old) Testament, especially the prophets and psalms. Jesus Himself was immersed in the Scriptures of the First Testament and He quotes from them regularly. He engaged in the synagogue worship in Nazareth and other towns. He was called “rabbi” (teacher) and He engaged other rabbis in a proper perception of the Law. He went up to the Temple in Jerusalem for the great feasts.
Even our liturgical forms owe a debt to Judaism. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass includes readings (on Sundays and major feasts one of these is always taken from the First Testament), psalms, a homily and then the sacrificial rite of the Eucharistic Prayer, which recalls that first Eucharist at a Passover-like meal. The first Eucharist was either a Passover meal or a meal based on it.
A Christian who exhibits anti-Jewish sentiments is renouncing his/her own heritage. Religiously the Jews are our older cousins. They are the senior members of a long-line which finds its origins in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (whose nickname was “Israel”). Even individual squabbles or disagreements between members of the Christian and Jewish communities are in no way a justification for the condemnation of a whole group. There is good and bad among all people and usually each of us a complex mixture of both. One of the major reasons for the Incarnation was to help us overcome our darker nature not to wallow in it.
Our Church has used the adjective “catholic” from the beginnings of Christianity. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word “catholic” means “universal” – the Church open to all people professing the same faith. At the very least, the use of that title obliges us to an openness to all people, not the least of whom are our older cousins in the procession that traces its origins to “Abraham, our father in faith”. (Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer #1.)
Fourth Sunday of Advent
This Sunday is the last Sunday of Advent. Christmas is Wednesday, so this will be the last bulletin before the great feast. There is richness in the Christmas readings but it is impossible in this short space to review all of them. For example, the Gospel for the Christmas Vigil, which also conveniently contains part of the citation for the last Sunday of Advent, is the genealogy and birth account of Jesus in St. Matthew’s Gospel. The Gospel for the “Night Mass” of Christmas is from St. Luke and presents the familiar story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and its announcement to the Shepherds. The early Christmas Day Mass is part of the same Gospel from St. Luke. The Mass for Christmas Day features the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel, which introduces the mystery of Christ as the Word present with God in the beginning and identified with God.
With such a richness of readings, it behooves us to read them carefully in order to form a full picture of the great gift God has sent us – His very Self- Communication, His self-utterance, the Word of God made flesh in Jesus born at Bethlehem in Judea!
We miss the richness if we do not read all the Gospels for Christmas. For instance, in the genealogy with which St. Matthew begins His Gospel, there seems to be a tedious recital of names. But what a wealth of meaning is hidden there! Matthew is revealing fundamental truths about the Lord, Jesus. He was writing originally for a Jewish/Christian community. These Jewish men and women had accepted Jesus as the Messiah but they were concerned that He was the fulfillment of the prophecies of the First (Old) Testament or Covenant.
The genealogy was not to meant to transmit each and every generation; rather, the ancients used genealogies to establish relationships and continuity. With that in mind, Matthew begins with: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham”. From the start, Jesus is immersed in the Jewish tradition. He is a descendant of the patriarchs: Abraham and Abraham’s son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob (also known as Israel). Jacob fathered twelve sons, among whom was Judah. Jesus would be born of the tribe of Judah. Centuries after Judah, there would be King David, who also figured among Jesus’ remote ancestors. King Solomon, David’s son, also finds a place in the genealogy.
Jesus is placed solidly as a descendant of the Jewish Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is also a “son of David” as one of the king’s remote descendants. But Jesus is also related to all people, (the Gentiles). St. Luke’s genealogy illustrates that relationship by tracing Jesus’ ancestry right back to Adam. Matthew does the same by uniquely including five women in his genealogy. At that time, genealogies were traced through the male line. Significantly Matthew also situates these women in his genealogy. All the women, but the last, were non-Jews. Several had “interesting” backgrounds.
For instance, Rahab had been a prostitute at the time of the Israelite settlement of the promised land. She favored the new-comers and in a way was a traitor to her Canaanite people. Yet she is in Jesus’ background! Though not mentioned by name, the mother of Solomon and wife of King David, reached her exalted position by conniving with David in the death of her first husband, Uriah. Yet she too is in Jesus’ background! This indicates several points. Jesus had both the good and the bad in His heritage. He also had non-Israelites in His ancestral line. The last woman mentioned is Mary, “of her is born Jesus, Who is called the Christ”
Matthew divides his genealogy into three sections, each of fourteen generations. As a multiple of seven, which was a number symbolizing divine fulfillment, Matthew indicates that this birth is the perfect fulfillment of God’s long plan. It is the “perfect” time.
Finally Mathew narrates the story of Jesus’ birth through the eyes of St. Joseph (Luke’s narration is more through the eyes of Mary) and he presents Joseph like his namesake, Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob. Through dreams, that earlier Joseph had discerned God’s will and was able to save his family in Egypt during a time of famine. Joseph, Mary’s husband, also receives God’s message in a dream and complies with it. The result will be the birth of the Savior, the Lord Jesus!
In a few verses, Matthew has prefaced his entire Gospel. Through His ancestry, Jesus is related to not only His own people but also to non-Israelites. In His family line are saints and sinners. He is born a subject to the Torah and fulfills the ancient prophecies. Yet, His birth is for all people! For this reason on Christmas, we can “forever sing the goodness of the Lord”. (Psalm 89)
On behalf of our entire Parish and Academy staffs, a blessed Christmas & a Happy New Year to all our parishioners and their visitors and friends!
In Christ, born in Bethlehem of Judea,
Monsignor John A. McGuirl
Second Sunday of Advent
The following is a reflection from a guest author.
A young girl hears the voice of an angel and trembles.
What can these words mean, “Hail, full of grace,”
Who can be graced before the mighty God?
Who can stand in purity and innocence?
What is this, how can that be
To mother the Living God:
Bear in her womb the Lord of all creation?
In silence the Word came down,
In silence the Word was made flesh,
In silence the Virgin received,
In silence heaven kissed the earth,
In silence the Presence grew
In silence the Word came forth.
The voice of God is heard over the ages,
Who will mother my Son,
Who will now bring Him forth?
From every land and nation they are invited,
“Be still and know that I am God.”
In silence the Word will come forth.
In silence He can be received,
In silence He will kiss the heart,
In silence His presence will grow,
In silence the Word will come forth upon the earth.
Who will be silent to receive Him?
Today is the feast of Jesus Christ , King of the Universe. It marks the end of the Church’s liturgical year of 2019 and it ushers in Advent, which not only begins the new liturgical year but also is the season of immediate preparation for Christmas.
It’s an odd holy day, isn’t it? We live in a nation that is rooted in a rebellion against a British government then headed by King George III, the great, great, great, great grandfather of the present Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II. Yet, many of us are still mesmerized by the activities, travails and adventures of George’s present day relatives. Prince Charles and Camilla, William and Kate Middleton, Harry and Meghan are names
familiar to everyone in the country.
So are we to view Jesus’ kingship in the way we view the British, or for that matter, the Spanish or Dutch or Danish or any of the modern royal families? Even when the feast day was inaugurated by Pius XI in 1925, many of the remaining royal families were losing their political power. So where do we go?
The readings give us a hint. The first is taken from the Old Testament Book of Samuel. After the death of the first king of Israel, Saul and his son, Jonathan, the Israelites declare David as their king because he is “their bone and flesh”. He is one with the people and he is anointed to shepherd them. The job of a shepherd is to lead his flock away from predators and into verdant fields replete with clean flowing streams. So in the dream of God, the ideal king is related to the people and acts as their shepherd.
Many centuries later, St. Paul writing to the Church he founded at Colossae, indicates that God’s Son, like a shepherd, will lead His people into “…the inheritance of the holy ones in the light”. (Colossians 1: 12-20 ). This Shepherd is the image of the invisible God, yet everything was created through Him and He is before all else. He is the head of the church, the gathering of His disciples; He restores life through His resurrection and establishes peace through the perfect sacrifice of Himself for our sake.
That sacrifice of self is the topic of the excerpt from the Gospel of St. Luke. Jesus’ enemies sneer at him while He endures the agony of the cross. Even one of the two men executed with him joins in the mockery. Yet the other condemned man intervenes. He acknowledges that Jesus is innocent and has been condemned unjustly. He utters the universal prayer: “Jesus, remember Me when You come into Kingdom.” (Luke 23:35-43). That man becomes the first “canonized” saint! His presence in heaven is assured when Jesus responds: “Amen I say to you, this day you will be with Me in paradise.”
So then Jesus is a king in very specific ways. He is the Good Shepherd, watching out for His sheep. He shares the nature of the flock. He shares their humanity. But while sharing their humanity, He is the image of the invisible God! Sharing our humanity He too dies, and dies in a particularly hideous way. Through the Resurrection that follows that death, Jesus invites us to share the very light of God and in doing so becomes head of a new people united in His cause. A people, who, like the thief on the cross, are also sinners, but who pray that He will remember us when He comes into His kingdom. We are the people who yearn to hear the words that the “good” thief heard: “Amen (Yes or so be it!) I say to you, this day you will be with Me in paradise”. Implicitly in his death throes, the good thief has acknowledged Jesus’ kingship. He voices our desire that we be counted among the citizens of that kingdom!