Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Feast of the Holy Family

Gospel: Luke 3:10-18

Each year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the feastof Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.As they were returning from the feast, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.Thinking that Jesus was in the caravan, they continued their journey for a day, looking for him among their relatives and acquaintances. But not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.After three days' search they found him in the temple,sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When Mary and Joseph saw Jesus, they were astonished,and Mary said, "Son, why have you done this to us?Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And Jesus said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in God's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. After that, Jesus went down with them to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.Mary kept all these things in her heart, and Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and people alike.

December 30, 2012 (Year C)

 On this day (the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph) we celebrate the gift of family.

Each reading today gives us a slightly different slant on what is required for good family life. The first reading from the Book of Sirach, speaks of the authority of parents and the requirement of children to obey them. Part of a larger section on family life in general, this section is considered a commentary on the fourth commandment to honor our father and mother, to honor those who are parenting our soul to wholeness, to honor those who through sacrifice and teaching have brought us beyond self-centeredness to the decent human self we are today. This reading seeks to show that family life can be a source of holiness when lived in accordance with God’s will for us. The father and mother were set in honor and authority over the children because they were mutually responsible for imparting God's way of holiness to their children, while the children who respected their parents atoned for their sins and stored up riches in heaven. Obedience, honor, and reverence for parental authority were strong family values for the Hebrew fact in most Hebrew circles, one mourned longer for parents after their death, than one did even for a spouse. No parents are typical; no parents are perfect -- but we do not honor them for that.

We honor them because they did what they could in making us what we are and when we mature, we realize that we were meant to do the rest for ourselves anyway. Not to honor those who gave us life and have carried us through any part of life is a sin against the Creator who goes on creating us through the work of others. And hopefully, those whose lives we shaped in any parenting role, will remember our efforts as being a blessing to them. The Jewish promise of shalom (a perfectly harmonious life) is realized for those who live in right relationship with their families. The second reading actually lists the qualities necessary for this right, harmonious relationship within families, and it's no surprise that it's a list of qualities necessary for harmonious relationships within any community of human beings -- compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.

Ironically enough, we don't readily see these virtues at play, in the verbal exchange between Jesus and his mother when his parents finally find him in the temple. Mary and Joseph have been besides-themselves freaking out at having realized their son has now been alone for four days and possibly in the hands of bandits or even dead; they are full of fear, grief, sorrow, and guilt and all Jesus can say to Mary is, "Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I must be in my Father's house, about my Father's business?"At first impression, this seems rather smart-mouthed of Jesus, and hardly a fitting response for one we believe to be God. But let us note that this the very first time Jesus speaks in the Scriptures, that he speaks in the Temple and that this is the only time for another 18 years, that the evangelists note that he speaks at all. Since these few verses recount the only episode of Jesus' 1st 30 yrs of life (ie., after the infancy narratives and before the accounts of his public life), let us consider the very special significance Luke intended in telling it. Let us consider that Jesus, being who he is, was more spiritually inclined and interested than the average boy of his time. After all, despite the Jewish requirement of boys having to observe Passover in the Temple at age 13, Luke makes it a point to say that Jesus was only 12 and that this was Mary and Joseph's it's likely that Jesus had pressed them

to accompany them in previous years as well. So in this Temple scene, we see Jesus, a precocious twelve-year-old, who is so engrossed in discussing and learning the Scriptures that he hasn't realized the caravan had left without him. Perhaps he has found a place to sleep with friends who hadn't gone home so early. Perhaps he didn't believe that his parents would have gone home without him -- that they must still be in Jerusalem. Maybe, when he discovered they had already left, he decided to stay put where they could find him. And, surely, they should know where to find him -- in the Temple, in the place that was central to their lives, as a devout, praying-together family. At Jesus' question, "Why were you looking for me?", we, like Mary and Joseph, are led to remember the Holy Family's history to this point, some of which they must have certainly shared with Jesus by now and he would be aware of--his birth in a stable in Bethlehem, the angels and shepherds rejoicing at his birth, the Magi and their gifts, Herod trying to kill hi, their flight into Egypt and 2-yr exile there.

So Jesus' "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" is kind of a 'duh' question, but it is much more than that. After 3 days of Jesus' being more intensely immersed in God's word than he has ever been in his life, this question represents a turning point in His life. Mary speaks about "your father and I" in verse 48. But in verse 49, Jesus takes the word "father" and applies it to the God of the Temple.
These are the first words coming from the lips of the Word Incarnate to be recorded in the Gospel. In these words Jesus sums up His whole person, His whole life, His whole mission. They reveal His Divine Sonship; they testify to His supernatural mission. Christ's whole life will be a total, purposeful clarification and magnificent exposition of the meaning of these words......I must be about my Father's business. This personal intimacy of the phrase "my Father" referring to God is unprecedented in Jewish literature. And it is this amazing claim of intimate filial relationship to God that gets Jesus accused of blasphemy later in life. This passage gives us a glimpse that at age twelve Jesus was feeling a unique necessity and a compulsion to do God's will--the mystery remains to this day, though, just how fully he comprehended his Divine-human nature at this point. What we do know is that Jesus was sensing a call to obey the Father. But he knew that part of that obedience involved submitting to his parents. The Gospel tells us "Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them" (2:51a). The call was there, but it was not yet time to fulfill it. And being fully human, and not just play-acting, he realized that he must wait, learn, grow, and allow his parents, friends and neighbors to prepare him for that time when he would enter into his ministry.

. And what about Mary and Joseph, how do they raise a son whom they believed to be the Messiah? With Max Lucado (God Came Near, p. 25) I wonder if under any circumstances they ever did really have to scold him? what he and his cousin John talked about as kids? if Mary and Joseph ever felt awkward teaching him how he created the world? if they ever tried to count the stars with him....and they actually succeeded? if when he saw a lamb being led to the slaughter, he acted any differently? So, we are left pondering, treasuring in our hearts, with Mary and Joseph, the Mystery of God's Incarnation into the world. We are left with the example of their Holy Family .....a family that prayed and played and stayed together through their most amazing evangelizing life in all of human history. And finally, we are left with a call to be 'holy' and to be 'family' live contemplative lives centered on God and to live caringly for each other.

Deacon Mary Wagner

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Light of Christmas

Christmas Day
                                  Gospel: Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

The Nativity of the Divine Light

Christmas Eve, sometimes called Holy Night, celebrates the ageless storyof the birth of Christ. As the divine light of Christ incarnates in a tiny babe in a lowly manger, to us this story represents the nativity of the divine light within the Gnostic soul, the coming of the royal light into the lowly frame and darkness of this world. When the outer world grows cold and dark it is even more necessaru to keep the spark of divine light kindled and bright.

Though the light shines in the darkness, the darkness can not itself give birth to the light. The earth would be naught but cold damp clay without the life coming from the light of the Sun. Even so, the spirit which gives life comes from somewhere else, a mystical dimension beyond time and space. The alchemists assure us that “nature unaided always fails.” Without divine assistance in the Hermetic art the alchemist can not achieve the goal of the Great Work, the Philosopher’s Stone. In the same way, our human natures can not transform our ego personalities without the assistance of that spark of our Divine Self and the birth of that consciousness within us.

It is reported that during delivery, as a baby’s head just breaks through from the birth canal, that for a brief moment an otherworldly light fills the room, like the light of a golden dawn. That light is soon obscured in this world but serves to remind us of the glorious aeon from which we have come and the darkness into which each new life comes. Our task is not to bewail the existential facts of the matter but to aid those who come into this world to keep the memory of that light alive and kindled within them.

Christmas, coming as it does upon the winter solstice, is a time of paradoxes. We see the light shining in the darkest season, the fire blazing in the cold of winter, life stirring in the fallow of the year. We participate in the paradoxes of the season when we acknowledge the infant light at the darkest point of the year. As stated in one translation of the Gospel of John, “The light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.” Just as the light of the sun is secretly rekindled and reborn, so are we given an opportunity for our divine spark to wax and grow in light. Christmas is a feast of the interior light, a rekindling of the spiritual spark within us, even as we see the fire blazing in the cold of winter.

Fire is the center of all Yule activity: the Christmas lights on trees and houses, the Yule log blazing on the hearth, and candles on the advent wreath. The fire signifies the flame of joy and charity in our hearts and the spiritual fire that has been sown into this earth. As stated in the Gospel of Thomas, “ I have cast fire upon the world, and behold, I guard it until the world is afire.” A line from the Chaldean Oracles echoes, “Behold the formless fire flashing through the hidden depths of the universe.” The life of our planet is a fire sown into the darkness of material creation. The light of Christ is a “fire born of water.” The fire born of water has been a mystery to all peoples from the beginning of time, and it is that light, with a renewed dispensation, which stirs in this season.

Christmas is also a time of sacrifice in that we often participate in the giving of gifts and contributing to charities at this time. The nativity and birth that we celebrate at Christmas Eve is a sacrifice as well. The Logos sacrifices the glory and light vesture of the celestial aeons in order to take on human form and dwell upon the earth. As Gnostics we recognize that the incarnation not the crucifixion was indeed the true sacrifice of the Logos. Certain Gnostics of the past claim that the Perfect One never took on a physical body, yet humbled himself to be born and live in the appearance of humanity all the same. Whether a physical or phantom body, or purely a literary tradition, the birth of the Christ child is a sublime and timeless mystery. There is no book, no scripture, no authority outside of one’s Self that is an authentic source regarding such a mystery. It is a mystery that can only be witnessed individually in each one’s own heart. Then one knows, one knows in a crack between the worlds, what the mystery of Christmas is all about.

Christmas is not about the celebration of an historical birth. Christmas is about becoming conscious of the renewing light that streams into the soul on Holy Night, that kindles into flame, the soul spark witihin us, the birth of the Christ-Light within us. “Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, But not within thyself, thy soul shall be forlorn.” (Angelus Silesius) This consciousness is the heart of Gnosis, the Self-knowledge, the recognition of one’s true and royal Self, a magnanimous radiance of inexhaustible beneficence and compassion. As the Gospel of Thomas states, “If you know yourself, you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the Living Father.” This is a Gnosis of the Heart, a certainty beyond faith, as the Hermetic philosophers have said, “the wisdom that is essential for peace profound.” This is the peace of which the angels sang, “Peace on earth; goodwill to all mankind,” a universal blessing poured forth upon the earth.

Christmas belongs not only to a few who call themselves Christians but to the entire earth. The lowly animals, birds, plants and trees all participate in this nativity of the divine light at Christmas. An old French legend tells how all the animals were given the gift of speech on Holy Night; so that they were granted the ability to give outward expression to their consciousness and recognition of the light. Our compassion for our human brothers and sisters is increased when we realize that the animals and trees are also wondrous light-beings in even more humble, limited and unrecognizable form than ourselves.

Corrine Heline describes the universal blessing of Christmas Eve as a descent of the divine energy of the solar logos. The Christ energy shines down and reaches the heart of the planet where it concentrates in the form of a six-rayed star. This is also an inner process within each of us, an inner conjunction of the sun and the earth. As the Logos descends into the earth to bring Light to the world, so we can see in ourselves the light, life, and hope of the world descended into the darkness of matter to redeem the fragmented sparks of divinity scattered throughout the universe.

The ancient Roman festival celebrated near this date is the Saturnalia, involving the ceremonial marriage of Cybele (the earth Goddess) and Attis (the sun-God). The marriage consummated in a cave, even as the Christ child is sometimes said to have been born in a cave, again symbolizes the conjunction of the sun and the earth. The ceremonial emergence of the representatives of the God and Goddess from the cave sanctuary represents the new birth of the Mystae in the sacred bridechamber and the birth of the inner light. In the Egyptian mysteries, the Mystae emerge from the inner shrine chanting, “The Virgin has brought forth! The Light is waxing!”

In the Biblical story, the Christ child is born in a cave or stable used to shelter animals and is laid in a manger— a humble birth for the proclaimed King of kings. We also share that humble existence in this world. We also experience the sacrifice of the glorious light of the aeons and see our light power as a tiny spark of its original flame. The holy birth of Christmas represents the birth of the Christ-Sun within us, an awakening of our consciousness to who we are and the light from whence we came, an awakening from the sleep of forgetfulness.

The manger where the holy babe is laid is a place for keeping grain and fodder. Grain is a symbol of the seed of life that endures through the winter, a symbol also for the birth of the solar God in the Eleusinian mysteries. As the shaft of wheat was presented the Mystae would exclaim, “Brimo has given birth to Brimos!” That shaft of wheat might be represented as well in the host of the Eucharist, “the Heavenly Bread, the Life of the whole world, which is in all places and endureth all things.” The city where the holy child is born is called Bethlehem which means “House of Bread.”

The life represented in the bread and grain was a very important part of the Christmas celebrations of times past. The last sheaf of grain from the harvest represented the life spirit of the entire field. In earlier times the folk custom was to carefully save the last sheaf, both the grain and the straw. The grain was ground and made into Christmas cake, sweet porridge or pudding. The straw was woven into the figure of a tree, a man, a bird or a goat.

The straw goat, which some families still include in their Christmas celebrations, represents the seed of life that endures through the winter and signifies the holy light that still shines through the cold and dark of winter to appear to us on this Holy Night of Christmas Eve. There is a small rent in the veil before the Treasury of the Light. A magical light shines down into the heart of dark winter wherever there are gathered those who have prepared a vessel for it on earth. That vessel is the pure heart, a heart of compassion and forgiveness, a heart made ready after the pattern of our Holy Mother of Compassion and Mercy. Such a heart gives birth to the light of Christ. It shall always remain a virgin birth; for her love remains forever itself, pure, undefiled, unsullied and unadulterated, regardless of its myriad forms of expression on earth. Her love eternally sanctifies itself and all it touches. It is the mystic rose of her love in our hearts that is the immaculate vessel that gives birth to the Christ child within us. As expressed most beautifully in a poem by Gertrude Farwell.

Soft candle stars the gloom
About a single rose:
Flower and bough of pine perfume
The twilight hour; in flame that throws
A nimbus round the evergreen.
Whilst fragrance breathes the Living Name
Of Love Incarnate yet unseen,
Rising from petal, pine and thorn.
Mary the pure is kneeling fair,
Of Gabriel’s “Ave!” now aware,
Wondering if aright she’s heard
“Blessed art thou”—unsought acclaim,
Immaculate vessel that the Word
Made flesh may shine on Christmas morn.”

Merry Christmas to you all!!!!!

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Are you prepared for the coming of Jesus?

Prepare the way of the Lord!!

The 4th Sunday of Advent


LUKE 1: 39-45

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah,where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.In a loud voice she exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who believed that what our God said to her would be fulfilled!"

 How do you express your joy? Do you clap your hands, laugh loudly, scream out, react to someone nearby with a face or gesture? In our Gospel today the infant John “leapt for joy”. To someone with a body image that is not good – such as I have had throughout my life – jumping for joy is NOT the way I would describe my reaction to happiness. To me, it seems a person who would jump for joy is a physical person, someone comfortable with his or her own body. But this was in a womb. John, in his mother’s womb expressed both an emotional and physical reaction, according to Luke.

Even though Luke is being very imaginative here, we always tend to ascribe what happens to some emotional reaction in babies. I am told that babies don’t laugh till they are a few months old – before that it is just gas. But we like to think they are laughing at us, and happy. Similarly Elizabeth experienced a jump in her womb and Luke ascribes it to John’s recognition of Jesus. Pretty far-fetched, but it captures beautifully the emotion and feeling of that meeting between the two pregnant women.

Luke provides the richest Gospel account of the pregnancy of Mary and the birth of Christ. In the twenty to thirty years after Mark’s Gospel which hadn’t mentioned anything about Christ until he was an adult, Luke combined or imagined many details to create the infancy account. If you have read the four Gospels, you know that they contain very different stories in the details about Christ’s birth. This is because they wanted to stress different things about Jesus and wanted to relate Jesus to Old Testament stories and traditions. Luke was no different. He read in the Torah, in Micah, as we do in the first reading today, that the savior would come from Bethlehem, so Jesus must have been born in Bethlehem. Whether that is an historical fact or not is beside the point. If he is the Savior then he fulfilled the Old Law and so the authors create details to point that out.

In the Gospel today Luke is setting up the eventual encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist. He may have been bothered by the fact that in Mark’s account Jesus got baptized and that might mean to some people that he had sin. By Luke’s time, the theological understanding of Christ was that he was sinless. So even in this early narrative Luke is setting us and the early Christians up to understand that John was a precursor of Christ, a prophet of Christ and was baptizing, as we saw last week, not for the remission of sins, but for repentance. It was only Jesus who could forgive sin.

In any case, we have a beautiful story told to us today. It is a little out of context so let’s bring back the context. We first meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, an old couple, who are childless. The angel Gabriel comes to Zechariah and tells him that he is going to have a son, but Zechariah refuses to believe it and loses his voice because of his disbelief until the son was born. Elizabeth gets pregnant and is thrilled because she saw her childlessness as a curse, but she decides to keep the pregnancy secret.

Mary, meanwhile, has her own secret. She has been told by an angel that she will conceive and bear a son, even though she is not married. She is told that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive, making Jesus the actual Son of God – again a declaration of the theology which had early developed in the Church. We begin then today with the meeting of the two pregnant women. They did not know that each other was pregnant. But when they meet, the Holy Spirit comes upon Elizabeth as was foretold, and John leaps for joy, the Spirit letting Elizabeth know that Mary is also pregnant in a very special manner. “ Blessed are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth was the first to speak the words which so many of us recite every day. We stop our reading at this point just before the incredibly beautiful prayer of Mary that we call the Magnificat.

We call the story we read today “The Visitation”. The word most used in this story is the word ‘blessed’ assigned to Mary three times. Many non-Catholics criticize us as worshipping Mary almost as a goddess, but the real reason she is universally admired and prayed to in the Catholic church is explained in this reading. Mary is blessed because she was the vessel that bore our savior, blessed because she had the faith enough to agree to God’s very strange and frightening happening to her, and not because she was or did anything in herself. She is honored because she is the mother of Christ and thus God.

In Luke, all of the movement is toward the future. The events of our redemption all really begin at the meeting of John and Jesus in the desert and so this early history is just setting us up for that event. Both women in the Gospel offered their bodies for God’s purpose. This is what ties the Gospel reading to the second reading today because just as Mary and Elizabeth offered their bodies, so did Jesus. Jesus, too, offered his body up for our salvation. We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: Behold, I come to do your will. ”By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. To be blessed and to be consecrated have the same meaning. Through the body of Christ we ourselves have been blessed, just as Mary has been blessed, and we too are able to carry the body of Christ within us. The Incarnation can take place within us each time we go to communion.

In Advent we have been preparing ourselves to accept this Incarnation in us again. As the daylight became shorter in the last few months we were more and more in darkness, but starting today on this last Sunday of Advent, the daylight gets longer each day. How appropriate! Where is the darkness within us that needs light? Do we find ourselves jealous of others, do we have strong moments of anger or impatience? Are we blind to the feelings of others? We work in Advent to bring light to those places inside us so that we can let the Incarnation take place in us on Christmas Day. We need to be like Elizabeth and Mary and say ‘yes’ to his coming. We need to wait – the birth of a child takes a set amount of time, the people of Israel waited for a savior for a period of time. For the men here today, we need to imitate the courage of women in preparing ourselves for this child – how demanding a child can be on one’s ego, one’s privacy, and one’s plans for the future. It is even painful at times.

Hopefully, if we have waited and prepared ourselves well, if we have let the light in, something inside us will also leap for joy this Christmas, and we can celebrate the coming of our Savior 2012 with the same innocence and joy that Luke describes in his Good News today. And so, this is the Good News I also bring you today – Christ is coming. Let us ready ourselves through the Spirit to receive him.

 St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Spirituality of the Essential

The 2nd Sunday of Advent


               LUKE 3: 10-18

The crowds asked John the Baptist, "What should we do?" He said to them in reply, "Whoever has two cloaksshould share with the person who has none.And whoever has food should do likewise."Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He answered them, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed."Soldiers also asked him, "And what is it that we should do?" He told them, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely Accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages."Now the people were filled with expectation, wondering in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.John answered them all by saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but One Mightier than I is coming, whose sandals I am not even fit to untie! He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff will be burnt in unquenchable fire." Exhorting them in many other ways,John preached the Good News to the people.

The message of John the Baptist in the gospel text of last Sunday (2nd Sunday in Advent – year C) was, “Prepare a way for the Lord…” (Lk 3:4). After hearing this message, we see in the gospel text of today people going to him and asking him, “What must we do” (Lk 3:10). How do we prepare for the coming of the messiah? His general message to everyone is ‘Charity’. His message to the tax collectors is, ‘Justice’. And to the soldiers, “Be content!” John the Baptist seems to be well aware of the situations of each group and quite down to earth in his proposals.

 During the season of Advent one of the themes that we often reflect about, is the theme of the messianic times. What would it be like? The prophets eloquently describe those times as being similar to the world before the fall: the paradiso. Prophet Isaiah says, “I will make rivers well up on barren heights, and the fountains in the midst of valleys” (Is 41:18). And elsewhere (Is 11:6-8), the prophet says, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the panther lie down with the kid, calf, lion and fat-stock beast together, with a little boy to lead them.”

The paradise that is painted here analogically is the ideal world that we hope for, and it is also a task to be achieved, as a believing community. At Christmas we contemplate the mystery of incarnation: “And the word was made flesh” (Jn 1:14). God is found in the form of a little babe. The Christian God is not only a transcendent creator, but He became part of creation. The world is sacred not only because it was created by God, but also because it becomes the very altar of God. This calls for celebration. This calls for commitment. This calls for an ‘Incarnational spirituality’ in which we once again commit ourselves to an appreciation our responsibility to our world. This calls for a meaningful appreciation of our body. This calls us to situate our Christian faith in the context of contemporary history.

Jesus constantly invited his followers to a simplicity of life. Jesus challenged the wealthy to live simple lives. It was a call to freedom and a sensitivity to the needs of the poor. In the Acts of the Apostles (Chap 2 & 4) the early Christians took this seriously. “They sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed” (Acts 2:45). When this ideal lifestyle was lost in the history of the Church in the 4th Century, Religious Life began as a radical form of living Christian life.

 Today, I think, religious poverty lived out radically, can take greater significance in terms of its implication to our world. The simplicity of St Francis (of Assisi) could give him a status of the citizen of the universe. He could sing the praise of the Lord together with the “brother sun and sister moon.” In a similar vein, St John of the Cross could sing: “Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations … And all things are mine.”

This is the paradox of Christian renunciation. Renunciation makes me own the whole world! This can be extended to our Christian life in what I call, ‘a spirituality of the essential’. On the one hand this spirituality is based on needs rather than wants. On the other hand, it implies that we are owners of none yet we are stewards of all. As pilgrims on this earth we are called by God to till the earth and to care for it. We do not own the earth; we look after it for the next generation.

This spirituality of the essential calls for a simplicity of life and remembering that we are placed here by God to be the custodians of the Earth. It is a counter-witness to the culture of consumerism, extravagance and the superfluous. Perhaps the contemporary slogan of 3R’s could work: Reduce, Reuse, Recyle (in that order)! Perhaps making this Christmas a little more spiritual, rather than commercial, could help! Perhaps the 2nd reading of Christmas liturgy could inspire us too: “we must be self-restrained and live upright and religious lives in this present world, waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:12-13).

 St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Monday, December 10, 2012

How is Advent going for you?

The 2nd Sunday of Advent


In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, L ysanias was tetrarch of Abilene. In those days, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the Word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the desert. John went throughout the entire region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as is written in the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley will be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all humankind will see the salvation of God."
How is Advent going for you? Are you preparing a way for the Lord? Are you giving yourself a chance to see the presence of the Lord? God gives a different grace in each season of the liturgical year. During this season of Advent God has a grace to give you. When Jesus was entering Jerusalem for the last time he cried because the people of Jerusalem did not recognize the time of their visitation (Luke 19:41-42). They would miss out on the grace of God. Let us not miss out on the time of our visitation. To use the words of John the Baptist in the desert, are you making a straight way for the visitation of God? Are you receiving the grace God is offering you this Advent? This Advent is a time when God will visit you if you allow him. So how is Advent going for you? If you have not yet begun to make a straight way for the Lord to receive his grace begin today. It is never too late to begin.

 How might you receive the grace God is offering you this Advent? Spend more time in prayer with God this Advent. Spend time with God searching for the answers to your problems. You look forward to spending time with a loved one. Look forward with anticipation to spending time with God in prayer each day during Advent. Instead of just going through the motions during this season of Advent can you celebrate Advent with your heart? May I suggest that you use the Scripture readings for daily Mass for your prayer and meditation. There are also many books available with Advent reflections. If Advent is only a time of consumerism and buying gifts for people that they don’t really want or need, it is flying in the face of what Jesus is all about. There is only one gift at Christmas, that gift is Jesus. (Where’s the line to see Jesus?) Jesus is the grace that God wants to give to you this Advent. God is always willing to give, but it is up to you to unwrap God's gift of Jesus to you. Advent is a time to renew and deepen our relationship with God. It is a time of patient waiting for God, prayerful and trustful waiting for God. Because this season of Advent is so important the Church gives us four weeks to celebrate it and in the Orthodox Churches the season of Advent is even longer, it is 40 days like our season of Lent. Celebrate Advent with your heart, it is an opportunity to step back from the consumerism of the materialistic world and make a straight way for the Lord to receive the special grace God has planned for you this Advent.

 To receive the grace God is offering us this Advent let us also reflect on whether we put God first in our life always. If God is not first, we are missing out on grace God is offering us. Many people do not like Christmas because their wishes for happiness are never fulfilled and many are happy when Christmas has passed. It is a time of year when some people are lonely or depressed and they try to fill up that loneliness with things. They do not give the impression of having received the grace that God is offering. Are they seeking the grace of God or instead seeking something worldly that will never satisfy like the grace God gives? Nothing in this world will fill the longing in our hearts for the grace of God. Only Jesus will fill our emptiness.

Various Psalms remind us of this,

“Like the deer that yearns for running streamsSo my soul is yearning for you my God.” (Ps 42:1)

O God, you are my God, for you I long;for you my soul is thirsting.My body pines for youlike a dry, weary land without water. (Ps 63:1-2)

In God alone is my soul at rest;my help comes from him.He alone is my rock, my stronghold,my fortress: I stand firm. (Ps 62:1-2)

 That longing will not be fulfilled by anything you find under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning but only by Jesus whom you will meet in the Eucharist on Christmas Day.

God gives us a different grace in every liturgical season and God has a grace to give you this Advent. If Advent is only a time of consumerism and buying gifts for people that they don’t really want or need, it is flying in the face of what Jesus is all about. There is only one gift at Christmas, that gift is Jesus. Jesus is the grace that God wants to give to you this Advent. Let us spend time with God to receive this grace. As we examine our consciences this Advent and see our shortcomings we are privileged to receive the mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When Jesus was entering Jerusalem for the last time he cried because the people of Jerusalem did not recognize the time of their visitation (Luke 19:41-42).

 Let us not miss out on the grace God is offering us this Advent.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

All Advents are times of Preparation

The 1st Sunday of Advent

     GOSPEL LUKE 21: 25-28, 34-36

Jesus said to his disciples [concerning the end times]:"Signs will appear in the sun, the moon, and the stars.And on the earth, nations will be in anguish, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright, in anticipation of what is coming upon the earth, for even the powers of the heavens will be shaken.After that, people will see the Chosen One coming on a cloud with great power and glory. When these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads,because your redemption is near at hand."Be on your guard lest your spirits become dissipated with indulgence, drunkenness and worldly concerns.For that day will catch you by surprise like a trap, and that day will suddenly assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray constantly that you have the strength to escape whatever tribulations come and to stand before the Messiah.

Advent is a wonderful season of the Church year, a penitential season that is also joyous as we anticipate the joy of Christmas. We look forward to decorating our houses and cities, of visiting and having visits with friends and family, of beautiful music in church; but we often miss the meaning of this season in the here and now as we anticipate the joy of Christmas. There are some things we need to do to get ready, not just for Christmas, or even for the entire year. Advent is here to help us get ready for the rest of our lives.

Let me tell you a parable. Old friends and neighbors know how you live. If one of them is going to come over for a cup of coffee, you may not do much to tidy up. You know they understand the local conditions and how they affect how the inside of your house may look. If you live in the dry and dusty southwest, you may have a problem with dust in your house, especially if there is a dirt road near your house. If you live someplace where snow covers the ground for as much half of the year, you are familiar with the fact that they have five seasons instead of just four, that fifth season is the one that comes between winter and spring sometime between late March and early May when the snow cover melts. It is called Mud season. Even if you don’t have dogs, it is very hard to keep the floors clean during Mud season. Whether you have any of these problems or not, now lets add another problem into the mix.

After many years of being apart, an old friend is coming to visit you, a friend whom you deeply respect and love, but was someone who always had a reputation as something of a perfectionist. What do you do? How do you prepare for this visit? What if it turns out that this honored guest doesn’t really care how your house looks, that He only cares about the state of your heart and soul and whether you truly love Him? Suppose you knew this. If you knew that who was coming was Jesus and that He really cared about the state of your house, you would probably try to make your house look perfect. There are two problems here: The first problem is that not only is He not really interested in the state of the physical house. The second problem is that He has told us that no one except the Father knows when He is coming (Matt. 24:36).

If we don’t know when Jesus is coming, that ought to tell us that the house needs to ready for at all times. This is one of the purposes of Advent – to remind us of this. For anyone who does not know this, an Advent is a coming, a coming toward, or an arrival. The Advent season of the church is generally thought to have two purposes: First to prepare us spiritually for our celebration of Christmas, the Birth of Christ, which is considered to be His First Coming, and then Secondly, to remind us and help us to prepare for His Second coming; or maybe it is the other way around.

Because of all the secular emphasis on gift-giving and supporting the economy at Christmas time, it might seem that the most important function of the Advent season is to prepare us for Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Jesus. In the past that is what it has seemed to be – a preparation for Christmas. That is certainly important, but is it the most important?

Somehow, I don’t think so.Jesus’ birth would not have the importance it has unless there were some other events in His life that could some-how overshadow it, namely, His Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection; and those three events really need to be looked at a single event. It was in those three days that He opened the Kingdom of heaven to all believers. His Ascension sealed the truth of all that went before it – that He was in truth the Son of God Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, who is in fact, God. We have His words recorded from before the Crucifixion and those of an angel recorded at the Ascension that he will come again.

 The only event of any real significance that has happened since the Ascension was the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Since that time, nothing of any significance has happened that might somehow change what we must do to be saved. We seem to be in a period when God is silent, just as He was during the 400 years between the Prophet Malachi and the birth of Jesus.However, there are some other comings of Christ that we also need to take a look at: Advents that are not usually thought about or discussed as Advents, and which are not usually thought of as being tied to the Advent season.

There are those appearances of “an angel of the Lord. Any time we gather in this church to worship God and God's Son, Jesus Christ, He is here among us. When there are just two of you at the table and someone asks the blessing in the Name of the Lord, He is there. What’s more, He is here even more so in His mysterious presence in the Holy Eucharist. These are true Advents. Are you made uneasy that God might be that close to you all through your life? It doesn’t matter if that makes you uneasy or not; He is there. However, that does not deny the spiritual Advents we all experience.

At those times, and many others, God comes to us; and when He does, that is an Advent. To come to us in those ways, God does not have to go far, because God is already here. God’s knowledge of us and what we do far transcends that Christmas song, “Santa Claus is coming to Town”, says about Santa Claus, where it says, “He knows when you are sleeping; He knows when you’re awake; He knows if you’ve been bad of good, so be good for goodness sake.”

Jesus Christ knows everything there is to know about each of us. If He did not, He could not judge us in righteousness and truth, and with mercy. When Jesus comes to us at the final Advent, He will come unexpectedly. We shall have no warning. If we had warning, He would expect to see a flurry of activity in an attempt by each of us to put our spiritual houses in order. What we do know is that no person’s spiritual house is ever ready for Jesus’ inspection and judgment. For the church, today is New Year’s Day. This is a good time to make some resolutions and to begin to put our spiritual houses in better order, to put on the armor of light so that we can see the dust and dirt in the corners and under the rugs, now in the time of this mortal life, which is the only chance we have to do it. Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.With repentance and the broom of prayer and washings with the Blood of the Lamb, we can make our spiritual houses a little cleaner each day, so we shall be ready for all the Advents of Jesus.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King

The 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Feast of Christ the King

Gospel John 18: 33b - 37
Pilate said to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?"
Jesus answered, "Do you say this of your own accord, or have others told you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not Jewish, am I? It is your own nation and the chief priests who handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world.If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Temple authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not here." So Pilate said, "Then you are a king?" Jesus replied, "You say I am a king. I was born and came into the world for one purpose-- to bear witness to the Truth. Everyone who seeks the truth listens to my voice."

On this, the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year, the Feast of Christ the King, we have heard the Gospel reading about the Last Judgment. It is an extraordinary text which is not just about a future moment in history, but about the very essence of being a follower of Jesus Christ today. It is a challenge to each of us and to our Christian community to remember that being a Christian is never just something inward looking. The Christian life is never self-centered. God is love and the Christian life can only be a life which reflects that love. The Christian cannot be unconcerned about or uninterested in those around us, especially those who are marginalized.

There are many examples in art and literature which would tend to depict the last judgment as a terrible and frightening moment in which God appears as a cold judge, separating people into different categories and separating them from him and from each other for all eternity. The first thing that we have to remember is that the judgment is not about how we respond to a collection of abstract or arbitrary rules and norms; it is primarily about how we respond in love to the God who is love.

The judgment is about love, rather than just being about rules and norms. We will be judged by how we have loved and especially about how we have loved not just those near and dear to us but by how we have loved the most marginal, the people with whom we would often not normally have any contact. Jesus lists those who in his own time were the most marginal: those who suffered hunger or thirst, the naked, the stranger, the sick and those in prison. That original list is certainly not off the mark regarding our own times: we can think of those who hunger and are without nurture, physical our spiritual or those who thirst for meaning and hope in the confusion of our world.

We can think of those who those who are exposed with little cover and protection to the rough elements of our times, not just climatically but also economically, or emotionally; we can think of those who are treated as strangers, when they do not fit into how we define the categories of respectability and being like ourselves. We can think of those who are physically in our prisons but also of those who are trapped in the many prisons of human suffering or oppression or anguish or distress. These are the ones with whom Christ identifies himself. If we do something for the most marginalized then we do so because we encounter Christ in them.

The Gospel is however telling us something deeper: if we wish to look for symbols of God, if we want to know who God is, then we should not turn to the powerful, but to those who have no outward earthly support. The poor and the marginalized reveal to us who God is; they are symbols and sacraments of God. The marginalized are also, one can say, sacraments of sin, not in the sense that finding oneself on the margins is the fruit of personal sinfulness, but rather that the plight of the marginalized and our lack of concern for them reveals to us many of the fruits of sin and evil that still exist in our world and about which we as followers of Jesus Christ must be concerned.

The Gospel of the Last Judgement is not just about our own life but about the care of the Christian believer about the roots of marginalisation. The believer cannot but be concerned about models of society which alienate men and women from attaining the fullness of their dignity. In this context I cannot but express my own concern about the plight of prisoners in today’s The judgment mentioned in the Gospel is not just about a future surprise for those who have failed to respond to the call of Jesus.

There is no evidence in our Gospel reading to imagine that those who come to the valley of judgment come already designated or identifiable as sheep or goats. They all enter identical; just human beings one like the other. It is the encounter with the Lord which brings discernment into what their lives are about: any encounter with the Lord results in a judgment, discernment about where our lives are focused.

Put in another way, the judgment about how we lead our lives is not something which takes place in the distant future and which leaves time for us to put off decisions. The encounter with the Lord today and in our everyday circumstances shows up in the light the many notes of darkness in our lives, the darkness which springs when we fail in love.

Today, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. On the final Sunday of the Liturgical Year we remember that the history of salvation, the story of our God who accompanies us on our journey here on earth and throughout history, will only come to its conclusion when the salvation won for us by Jesus on the Cross is fully realized all over the world and within the entire creation. Christ’s kingdom will only be fully realized when our world fully witnesses to God’s kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice love and peace. The injustice and inequalities of our world tells us that we have truly much more to achieve.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, but it is not outside this world entirely either. Jesus’ kingdom is already present in seed within our world, through the redeeming power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a kingdom which can be anticipated, even in our time, through grace and holiness, when we as believers attempt to shape our lives in terms of that truth and life, that justice, love and peace which are the signs of the kingdom and of God’s presence.

The Feast of Christ the King is a celebration of community, of community living in harmony and rejecting all forms of division and violence. For many generations this Church has been a place where the values of God’s kingdom have been taught and lived out. As we dedicate this refurbished Church we thank God for the good things we have inherited from those who went before us. We commit ourselves to keep the values we inherited from them alive into the future. We commit ourselves to pass on to the coming generations the same vital Christian values.

The judgment narrative reminds us that the sinfulness in our lives is what causes division and thus separates us from God and from each other for all eternity. The Eucharist is what unites us. The theme of the Eucharistic Congress shows us how the unity which is built up in the Eucharist is the opposite of such separation with God and such division among ourselves. It is communion with Christ and with one another.

May this renewed altar be the place where for years to come this Christian community will be a place of sharing and communion for all, of renewal in our Christian life and of great blessing for all who come here.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Genuine Christian Spirituality

The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 13:24-32

Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. "And then they will see the Promised One coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then the angels will be sent to gather the chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. "Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Promised One is near, right at the door. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."But as for that day or hour, no one knows it--neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son--no one but the Father .

As we have heard both Daniel and Jesus today, we can see the main significance of the end-time in the fact that it'll be the time of God's final judgment.

There will be a great separation: the people who have lived in conformity with God's commandments will enter into the fulness of salvation. Individuals who have only lived for themselves, who remain hardened in a completely self-seeking stance, will be barred from sharing God's life in eternity.

I don't think we can deny that Jesus regarded this prospect of final judgement, and the possibility of either redemption or damnation, as an important aspect of his whole message, and he often appealed to people in vivid and urgent language to stand ready, to prepare themselves, and to live in such a way that they might confidently face God's judgement if the end of the world were to happen tomorrow.

We don't have to be literal-minded about the lurid and violent images of the "time of distress". But the core meaning of apocalyptic preaching is something that we should take seriously and our spirituality as Christian believers and disciples should always have an apocalyptic aspect.

Christian spirituality should always be conscious, for example, that the purpose of human life doesn't lie, ultimately, within this world. We're destined for eternity, and that means an authentic Christian spirituality never places an ultimate value on anything that belongs to this world: material wealth, the achievements of worldly power or social status, even the emotional ties that naturally mean so much to us. At the end, we leave them all behind.

 Religion, then, for us, properly understood, is more of a journey towards our final destination: fulness of life with God. Our life on earth is an opportunity to render our duties towards God, the source of everything that exists. It's not a matter, as religion seems to have been re-construed in modern consumer culture, as a sort of pleasant pastime, a set of vague activities that foster human warmth and community spirit.

Secondly, the apocalyptic dimension of Christian faith should help to make us aware that our life could end at any time. Every day we should live, as Jesus implies, as though we might meet God before we reach the end of it.

This has always been an aspect of genuine Christian spirituality: that life is short and the hour of death unknown, as we say in the prayers of the funeral service. Many people used to say prayers before going to bed at night made explicit reference to the prospect of death, and they asked God to be merciful and to receive them into his company if they died before the morning.

Again, you can get the impression that many church people now don't give much serious thought to the prospect of their own death or anyone else's, and are spiritually ill-prepared to face it when it happens, especially when it happens suddenly.

A third aspect of apocalyptic spirituality which is valuable is that it encourages us to interpret disasters and catastrophes in the light of our faith in God. In the early centuries of the Church's history many men and women got so weary of the corrupt state of society that they withdrew to the remote desert areas to spend their lives in prayer and reflection, searching for God and preparing to meet God. This was their response to the disaster of a society in terminal decline: to concentrate their energies more single-mindedly on God.

 Nearer our own time, after the end of the Second World War, there was a surge in applications to the contemplative orders of men and women because having witnessed the destruction and cruelty of the War, many people became very reflective about the purpose of life and life after death. Again, this had an apocalyptic tenor to it: reacting to disaster with a more careful fostering of spiritual life.

 We can ask ourselves: how do we follow these examples in the collapsing culture of our own time? It's certainly right that Christians should line up with other people to protest - for example - about unjust wars, threats to civil liberties, efforts to create a political climate that tolerates torture and brutality, the destruction of the environment, and so on. These are the apocalypses of our own day.

 But at the same time let's not underrate the value of small, individual gestures. The person who responds to the corruption of surrounding society by quietly saying his or her prayers every day, by refusing to go along with dishonest practices in the workplace, by living simply and renouncing the whole indulgent philosophy of consumerism, is also getting ready for God's judgement in the way Jesus invites us to.

A lot of these small actions might seem futile to people with no faith, but for us it's a question of doing what God wants, not what impresses other people or achieves "results". The real significance of our small efforts of faith is often hidden and goes unnoticed. But they're no less valuable for that.

 Last of all, let's not lose sight of the fact that the main emphasis of apocalyptic preaching is hope, not disaster, God's love and will to save, not anger at human sinfulness. If we genuinely treat our lives here and now as a preparation for our future destiny, and behave accordingly, there should be no need to worry about God's negative judgement. But it's surely also true that we can't behave selfishly, cruelly, blindly towards other people's suffering, and expect God not to discriminate against us.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Law of Love

The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time


Mark 12: 28b-34

One of the religious scholars who had listened to them debating and had observed how well Jesus had answered them, now came up and put a question to Jesus: "Which is the foremost of all the commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this: Hear, O Israel! God, our God, is the One God! You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.The second is this: You must love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."The scholar said to Jesus, "Well said, Teacher! What you have said is true: 'The Most High is One and there is no other.' 'To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." Jesus, seeing how wisely this scholar had spoken, said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."And after that, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

 Today we continue to read from the Gospel according to Mark. Today we are reminded of the core of the Old and New Testaments. Over the years we have developed and added much to the core through the study of Scripture and through tradition, and so, we sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees. Today we look at the forest.

Both the First and Gospel readings today give us the core principles, commandments, mission statement – call it what we will – of all of Scripture. It can all boil down to two statements actually, as Jesus states in the Gospel of Mark, and that is the case in the Moses’ tradition as well. Although we call them the Ten Commandments, we can note all the first three commandments deal with our relationship to God, and the last seven deal with our relationship with others. So what is that relationship and what are the two great commandments, the two things that we must do so that it may, in Moses’ words, “go well with you” and “so that your days may be long”, and so that we may be in a place “flowing with milk and honey.”

 The section of our first reading today from Deuteronomy only deals with the first great commandment, and is about our relationship to God. We are told that “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” In other words, there are no other gods – there is one God, the God of our Fathers. And the command is this: that we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our might.

A little side trip, now. How can we be commanded to love something or someone? Can we just decide we are going to love someone and do it? I think this would be almost impossible to do. But if we look at love, not as a feeling or ‘being’, but as a “doing” then I think we can. Isn’t it true that we can say that we love someone all we want, but the proof lies in what we do. If we never do anything for that person, how will they even recognize our love? It must express itself in action.

Think of that beautiful list of St. Paul’s: “Love is patient, love is kind..” and so on. These are all action verbs: to love means to take action, to show itself, to express itself. So it used to bother me when we were commanded to love God, but now I know that by doing God’s will, by keeping his words (as Moses says today) I will be loving the Lord God. And the interesting thing is that the more we take action, the more we do, the more we begin to feel love and it becomes a state of being. So after we do things to show our love, we can then state with psalmist today: “I love you, Lord, my strength.”

So in today’s Gospel, a scribe has been listening to Jesus. By the way, a scribe in Israel may have been a person who copied Scripture, but was also a very educated person, comparable to a lawyer today, or a government official who was able to interpret documents. The Scribe today asks Jesus a question because he has been impressed with Jesus’ answers to the religious authorities. He knew the answer to the question he was asking, but he was testing Jesus to make sure that he knew Jewish Law, and could distinguish what was most important in it. So he asks Jesus simply what was the greatest or the “first” commandment. Jesus makes sure to answer the question correctly, but because he feels it is not enough, he addresses the second great commandment as well.

 For the first commandment Jesus recites the very words of the Deuteronomy that we read today, although he does add one thing. Deuteronomy says that we must love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul and strength. Jesus adds “mind” as well. We must love God with all our minds. In other words if love is action, we must attempt to get to know God, understand God and the will of God.

This is the answer that the Scribe was expecting to hear, but it seems like he was also expecting more, and Jesus gave it to him.

The second great commandment involves other people… our neighbors, and it, too, is a command to love. We must love our neighbors as ourselves. Again, this must translate into action. It is no good to say we love our neighbors unless we show that love for our neighbors. This is certainly one of the reasons our church is trying to do more and more in the community and the world, to help those who are needy – to show that we love them, to take action towards them.

The Scribe was pleased with Jesus’ answer because it was precisely what he understood the Law to be. The Scribe adds that following this law of love is far more important than burnt offerings and sacrifice, which is what the religious authorities were concerned about. After all, they couldn’t pay for the upkeep of the temple and their salaries unless people continued to buy animals in order to make sacrifice.

Jesus’ response to the Scribe was a beautiful one: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”. Again, we get the impression that the Kingdom of God is not just after we die, but is here and now, and by our proper understanding, and our taking action to show love, we can be very close to it here and now.

So the main point that I would like you to take home and think about this week is ‘how am I taking action to show my love – both towards God and towards my neighbor. Is my own need for money, for power, for worldly pleasure, causing me to forget that others want and deserve good things, too. Can we show our love by sharing a little more the bounty God has given us. And as far as the first commandment, can we show God our love by trying to find some time to listen to him, to find him in prayer and companionship at church, to host him in the Eucharist. What can we DO to make God more in our heart, in our soul, in our strength and even in our mind’s awareness? My prayer is that we all can take action a little more in our relationships with God and our neighbors.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)