06 February 2023

Helping Hearts Rest in the Lord

 Anniversary of the Dedication of St. Matthew Church

    [In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen].  Today we assemble to celebrate and to mourn, to rejoice and to honor.  We celebrate this beautiful edifice, this temple of God which draws us closer to Him through the intercession of St. Matthew.  We rejoice that this church is a visible reminder that God dwells among us, and that we are called to participate in His Church, as living stones of the heavenly Jerusalem, the temple not made with hands.  At the same time we mourn the passing of Fr. Frederick Harold Taggart, OSA, our beloved former pastor, and Augustinian priest who was professed for 65 years.  We honor his service to his parish, and all the souls whom he helped to grow closer to God.
    But while celebrating and mourning, rejoicing and honoring may not seem to go together well, as the author of Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything, and a season for everything under heaven.  And, in a way, celebrating this church is a great way to honor the pastor who helped beautify it, and kept this treasure going in downtown Flint.
    A favorite phrase of St. Augustine for many is from his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  This church is a place of rest, a true rest area off the highway of life.  Architecturally and aesthetically, a church is meant to bring one back to the Temple of Solomon, which itself pointed back to the Garden of Eden.  In Eden, humanity did not labor, but rested in the presence of God.  The dissonance of sin had not yet entered the world, so only harmony resonated between God and Adam and Eve, and between Adam and Eve themselves, and between Adam and Eve and the created world.  As we enter this sacred building, the design of the arches is not meant to confound the eye (making, as it were, the parishioner wonder, ‘How does this stay up?’), but to let it rest in the solidity of the building.  The precious materials used for the sacred liturgy, whether the altar, the ambo (where the Word of God is proclaimed), or the sacred vessels, remind us of the heavenly Jerusalem, which is decorated with all kinds of precious stones and metals.  The stained-glass windows remind us that the saints worship with us, and call us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.  Though we labor through pain and temptation during our daily lives, inside this building, our hearts are meant to be at rest.
    Fr. Taggart also did his best to let the hearts of all who came here to rest in Christ.  In his 57 years as a priest, only God now knows how many Masses he said for the living and the dead; how many confessions he heard so that hearts weighted down by sin could be relieved through the mercy of God; how many baptisms he celebrated, making children of God out of the children of men; how many weddings he witnessed as two hearts became one; how many families he comforted as they mourned the loss of their own loved ones and friends; how many hearts were poured out in spiritual counseling and guidance.  In the Order of St. Augustine, Fr. Fred had found a place where his heart could rest in the Lord, and his pastoral ministry was a response to that love, and a desire to help others find that same rest in Christ.  He strove to be a just man, and a light in darkness to the upright, as Psalm 112 (111) states.
    [In particular for the Traditional Latin Mass community, Fr. Fred was instrumental in helping to have a fitting place to celebrate the more ancient Roman Rite.  We celebrated the first Sunday Mass here at St. Matthew on 5 July 2015, and haven’t looked back.  While he did not, to my knowledge, celebrate the Extraordinary Form Mass after the newer Mass came long, he did, I believe, use the older forms for baptism when requested, and always sought to celebrate the Mass reverently.  And he certainly provided a church that would serve the needs of this important and necessary part of St. Matthew parish.]
    Did he do this perfectly?  Does this church always grant rest to our hearts and minds?  No.  Like any person, Fr. Fred has his own human weaknesses and failings.  As a pastor, a father of the family, Fr. Fred sometimes had to make decisions that were not popular among all his spiritual children.  One of the stories I heard about Fr. Taggart when I arrived was about his interaction with Ardith Goodroe and the choir here at St. Matthew.  What strikes me as most important about that story is that he and Ardith, after a period of tension, could still be good friends.  And that says something: when a difficult decision needs to be made, and feelings are hurt, that two people can reconcile and renew their friendship with each other.  None of us are perfect, but with grace and understanding we can overcome hurt that we cause each other.
    This church, too, is a work in progress.  We’re still working on stopping leaks in the downspouts, which cause the plaster to break-up and crumble.  There are always repairs and improvements that can be made to any church, like the beautiful floor that was installed some years ago, and the renovation of the bride’s room.  So for us: we’re never done in our relationship with Christ.  There are always ways that we can grow, emotional and spiritual wounds that need to be healed, virtues that need to be strengthened.  Just as we cannot simply let this building sit, so we cannot rest on the laurels of previous periods of growth and holiness in our relationship with Christ.  Christ calls us to deeper and deeper trust in Him, to find new ways that He wants our hearts to rest in Him, since He made us for union with Himself.  
    It is my hope, as your current pastor, and successor of Fr. Taggart, that I can continue help you find your rest in Christ.  Through my ministry, I hope that you can experience the peace and love of God for which He created humanity.  We are not the largest parish in Genesee County, but, as a family, we can help each other rest in God, and encourage others to find that same rest in God through participation in the Sacred Liturgy, service to the poor, and growth in our understanding of God’s never-changing truth.  Like Fr. Fred, I am committed to preserving this temple so that God may be glorified and the intercession of the saints may be sought.  Like Fr. Fred I will sometimes err, but I hope that, with grace and understanding, we can continue to be a family of faith the encourages each other to be the best we can be in Christ.  Every human being is made for God.  Every human’s heart desires to rest in God.  May we, the people of St. Matthew parish, the sons and daughters of our spiritual father, Fr. Fred Taggart, engage in the mission of helping every heart rest in God and find the love and peace that each desires.  Eternal rest grant unto Fr. Taggart, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May he rest in peace.  Amen.  May Fr. Fred’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God [the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit] rest in peace.  Amen. 

For the Right Reasons

 Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

    When I started working out over a year ago, I did so at the suggestion of a friend, who encouraged me to lift weights in order to be healthier.  Along the way, around 9 months in, I was getting pretty frustrated because, while I had lost some weight, especially around my waist, I didn’t seem to be gaining muscle mass.  I had worked out for 9 months, and I didn’t have a chiseled body!  When I complained about this to my friend, he told me that lifting weights and exercising is a good unto itself, and shouldn’t be done just to make one look more toned.  I was doing all the right things, but I had started doing them for the wrong reasons.
    We hear this list in our first reading today about the things God wants us to do: feed the hungry; shelter the oppressed and homeless; clothe the naked; remove oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech.  And this seems to be backed up in our Gospel when Jesus tells us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  So we’ve got our list of things to do.  But, you can do all those things even if you’re not Catholic, even if you’re not Christian.  And I’m sure that there are a number of people who have left the Church over the years who have heard the message preached when they were younger about all the ways that they are supposed to love their neighbor, but mistakenly thought that they didn’t have to go to Mass, or believe in the Eucharist, or go to confession, or abstain from meat on Fridays, or not live with a significant other before marriage, or anything else that goes along with being Catholic.  You can almost hear the person asking why they need to do all those other things, as long as they are doing what Isaiah said in our first reading God wanted us to do.
    That person was like me: doing the right things but for the wrong reasons.  And that person probably heard the same message I did growing up: just love your neighbor and you will be good.  Bishops, priests, catechists, and all those who taught the faith had a tendency to boil the significance of being Catholic down to being a social worker or do-gooder.  And, to be clear, we are called to do those things.  But we do them, not because we earn our salvation by doing certain things, but as a result of our relationship with Christ.  
    St. Paul said in our second reading that he resolved to know nothing while he was with the Corinthians except Jesus Christ.  For St. Paul, knowing Christ (and not just knowing facts about Him) was the most important, and he wanted to pass on the message to the people of Corinth.  Everything in Paul’s life revolved around and was a result of his relationship with Christ.  His missionary zeal came because Christ called him; his sufferings were bearable because Christ was with him; his demonstrations of the Gospel came from the Holy Spirit, who was given by Christ.  But all of it was the consequence of St. Paul’s relationship with Christ, not a replacement for it.
    Being Catholic is not about being a do-gooder, or promoting a social program, or being a philanthropist.  Being Catholic is about being in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, who saves us from sin and death, from which we cannot save ourselves.  Going to confession and Mass; abstaining from meat on Fridays; not living together before marriage; and all the moral teachings of the Church follow from being a disciple of Jesus Christ, because He has revealed to us the way to salvation and the means of true and lasting happiness.  They are not added on rules form old men who have nothing better to do with their time.  Those, and many others, are ways that we deepen our relationship with Christ and live a life like His (as St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me”).  
    And as we become more and more like Christ, being obedient to the will of the Father, not only do we want to spend time with Him in adoration and in the Church, and mortify our bodies to help us say no to our fallen sinful nature and yes to the divine nature that God implants in us in baptism, but we also want to love the ones that Christ loves, and show that love in a variety of ways.  That love is shown by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and all the corporal works of mercy.  
    If we are truly becoming more and more like Christ, we cannot help but show that love by what we do.  Think of it like a marriage: if we truly love a spouse, then we show it.  But the things that we do are results and demonstrations of that love, not replacements for it.  A person can do all the things that a spouse would do, but if that person is not the spouse, it doesn’t have the same effect.
    Pope Benedict XVI, who should be canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church for his holiness of life, humility, and extremely insightful writings, once wrote in his Encyclical Deus caritas est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”  Being Catholic is first and foremost about our relationship with Christ, which moves us to do certain things and avoid others.  As Catholics we serve others, not simply as a philosophy of service, but as the consequence of knowing and loving Jesus Christ.  Let’s not just do the “right things,” but do them for the right reasons.

30 January 2023

Rough Waters for Faithful Disciples

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  Recently, Disney World decided to do away with Splash Mountain, a water ride which followed the cartoon “Song of the South,” due to, shall we say, cultural sensitivities.  The ride has you in a boat that looks like a log, and the end of the ride (which I very much enjoyed) was a 52.5 foot drop stopped by water, which sprayed the water over those in the boat.  There are pictures of people in the ride with their hands up and screaming, like on many other roller coasters.
    Sometimes our life can feel like we’re in a 52.5 foot drop in a boat, and it makes us put our hands up and scream!  No doubt, the Apostles felt something akin to that when they were in the boat with our Lord (who was sleeping), and the storms were creating large waves around them.  They even cried out to the Lord that they were going to die if He didn’t save them.  Christ then commands the storm to quiet down, and returns to normal and calm waters.  The Apostles then make an act of faith in who Christ is.
    No doubt, they were thinking of Psalm 106.  It reads (starting at verse 23):

Some…plied their trade on the deep waters.…
He commanded and rouse a storm wind;
it tossed the waves on high.
They rose up to the heavens, sank to the depths;
their hearts trembled at the danger.
They reeled, staggered like drunkards;
their skill was of no avail.
In their distress they cried to the Lord,
who brought them out of their peril;
He hushed the storm to silence,
the waves of the sea were stilled.

As good Jews who would have been used to praying the psalms, no doubt they would have remembered this passage, and sensed that this was no ordinary rabbi, but the God who had the authority to calm the waters.  Perhaps they also thought back to the very beginning of the Book of Genesis, where God ordered the primordial waters of chaos and created all things.  
    In our life Christ sometimes allows storms.  Sometimes He does this as a manifestation (πœ€πœ‹πœ„πœ™π›Όπœˆπœ€πœ„π›Ό is the Greek word) of who He is; that He is God.  He also does this as a way to increase our faith in His care for us, and that, no matter how turbulent things may be, He will not abandon us.
    We’re used to hearing stories about this from the ancient martyrs, and even more recent martyrs.  But I know that it can often seem very remote from us, as something that only really special people go through.  But it can happen to even today, and those who suffer for the Gospel and persevered are great role models for us to stay in the boat with our Lord, and trust that He will calm the waters, one way or another.

    My mind turns especially to His Eminence, George Cardinal Pell.  He was Archbishop of Melbourne, Australia, and then became Archbishop of Sydney.  He was named to the College of Cardinals by Pope St. John Paul II in 2003, and participated in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.  Pope Francis chose Cardinal Pell to help him reform the Roman Curia, and named him Prefect for the Secretariat of the Economy, to clean up the finances of the Holy See.
    In 2017, Cardinal Pell was falsely accused of a series of sexual crimes, which he vehemently denied.  Though the first trial ended in a mistrial, and there were faulty evidence and visual aids that would have shown how preposterous the charges were, Cardinal Pell was convicted of 5 counts of abuse against minors in 2018.  He appealed, and the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria rejected the appeals.  Cardinal Pell appealed in 2019 to the High Court of Australia, which was his last shot.  In 2020, the court overturned the conviction because of exculpatory evidence, and Cardinal Pell was acquitted.  However, until his acquittal in April 2020, Cardinal Pell had been required to serve the sentence, much of it in solitary confinement, and had been incarcerated for 404 days.  He was not allowed to celebrate Mass while in prison, and relied on the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours, to keep him connected to the liturgical life of the Church.  George Cardinal Pell died 10 January 2023 after surgery complications.
    Here was a churchman who was respected by numerous pontiffs, who so often stood up for the truth of the Gospel and the teachings of Christ’s Church, and yet still had to withstand violent storms for over a year.  He published his journal that he kept in prison, of how he made it through, and it was due to sticking with Christ.  One might understand how a person who had served Christ and been treated so horribly could have had an excuse (not legitimate, but still, an excuse) to abandon Christ.  But Cardinal Pell didn’t.  He stayed with Christ through it all.  He stayed in the boat with his Savior. 
    Throughout the storms of our life, Christ invites us to stay with Him.  We may worry, we may cry out, but the most important thing to know is that God has us in the palm of His hand.  And if God has us, then nothing can harm our eternal salvation, which is the most important aspect of life.  In contrast to the eternity of life after death, even 100 years is like a minute in a day (if we even make it to 100). 
    What should we do when we are in storms in life?  Certainly pray and continue to communicate with the Savior.  But also, do what St. Paul said in our epistle today, what Cardinal Pell exhibited during his unjust imprisonment: love one another; follow the commandments; love our neighbor as ourselves.  Indeed, Cardinal Pell forgave his accusers and all those who had harmed him.  We prove our love for God, not so much in the easy times, but in the difficult times, and show whether or not we are truly followers of Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  

Lord, It's Hard to Be Humble

 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

    There certainly is a country song for every occasion and situation, and as I read over this weekend’s readings, one came to mind called, “It’s Hard to Be Humble.”  When I first heard Willie Nelson singing it, someone I know comes to mind.  I have to adapt the lyrics a little to make them fit for church, but the refrain goes, “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble/ When you’re perfect in every way. / I can’t wait to look in the mirror / Cause I get better lookin’ each day. / To know me is to love me. / I must be a [heck] of a man. / Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble/ But I’m doin’ the best that I can.”  The someone I thought of isn’t really that bad, but it does bear some resemblance at times, and brings a smile to my face.
    Humility is an often unpracticed and misunderstood virtue.  It sounds good when it’s encouraged by Tim McGraw in his song, “Humble and Kind,” but then we get busy with daily life, and we default to "My Way” by Frank Sinatra.  
    Often times we think of humility as putting ourselves down.  We may think we need to pretend that we’re not good at something, or don’t have particular gifts.  But that is not humility.  Humility is the acknowledgment of the truth, not the hiding of truth.  Romano Guardini, a great German Catholic author form the mid-twentieth century, wrote that St. Francis of Assisi kneeling before the pope was not an act of humility, but of honesty.  But St. Francis kissing the leper because he saw Christ in that leper was a great act of humility.
    Humility is also not puffing ourselves up, or lording who we are or what gifts we have over others.  When we think about bragging, we don’t think of that as an example of humility, and rightly so.  We sometimes also use the word arrogant as an antonym of humility.  
    Getting back to music, pride, another opposite vice to humility, is precisely expressed in the song, “My Way.”  Pride is a turning in on oneself, an elevation of the ego, an exaltation of one’s personal desires and wants over that of others.  Pride considers others, but only inasmuch as they promote the self or advance the desires of oneself.  Others exist only as pawns to be used.  Rarely does a person operate solely out of pride; we often do think of others, not just as they help us or provide for what we want, but also because they are good and we want to affirm that goodness.  But you often don’t have to dig far to find pride lurking around the corner, or coloring what can even look like selfless generosity.
    We might try to excuse pride by saying that it allows us to get things done.  Jesus taught us today that the meek (a synonym for the humble) will inherit the earth.  But we don’t usually see that.  Those who inherit the earth–power, prestige, land, etc.–are those who seek their own plans, who make sure that they rise to the top, even if it means climbing over others.  Those who do it their way seem to get their way more often than not, while the humble and kind are left behind with the scraps and to pick-up the pieces.  
    So how can we understand humility?  How can we understand meekness?  We have to examine things not from an earthly point of view, but from a heavenly one.  We need not look with the shortsighted vision of a decade, a century, or even a millennium, but with the view of life that never ends.  If all we do is work for ourselves, elevate ourselves, hold on to ourselves, then what happens when the self falls away at death?  Sure, we may have some lasting legacy of buildings constructed or other groups or peoples conquered, but what good is that when we’re standing naked before the throne of God?  When God judges us, as He will for all of us, what remains is what was rooted in God, not what was rooted merely in us.  That is why St. John of the Cross can say that, at the end of our lives, we will be judged on our love.  We will be judged on whether or not we participated in God, because all that is connected to God will last, because God is infinite.  While all that is simply earthly will pass away, because we, and everything connected to earthly existence, is finite.  
    True happiness, beatitude, we might say, is putting things in right order, with God first, others second, and consideration of ourselves and our desires last.  That is true humility, when we don’t seek to have the universe revolve around us, but to participate in the reality which God has set before us.  We can practice true humility by not considering ourselves first when making a decision, but taking our desires and considerations to God, and then thinking how those desires, considerations, and choices will affect the people around us.  Sometimes we may have to make decisions that help us get ahead in life–maybe get a better job or enjoy certain benefits–but are we doing things only for our own good, or to help contribute to the good of others and the building up of society, not to mention, is it what we understand God’s will to be.  
    Because of our fallen nature, which seeks its own good first, rather than God’s will and the good of others, it can be hard to be humble.  But can we commit to doing our best to be part of God’s plan and support others, rather than putting ourselves first and making others pawns in the games that we’re playing?  Can we do our best to be humble and kind?

23 January 2023

Reaching Out to Untouchables

Third Sunday after Epiphany

    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  St. Theresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Theresa) was known for her work among the poorest of the poor in India.  Through reading her biography, and hearing the testimony of priests who worked with her, I learned of so many stories of Mother (as they simply called her) seeing people in the streets and loving and caring for them.  There were stories of how she would find a dying person who had been placed literally in the gutters, just left alone to die.  Sometimes there would already be maggots eating away at sores on the bodies, but Mother would pick them up, carry them to her priory, and clean them up and care for them. 
    I had a chance to work with the Missionaries of Charity when I was studying abroad in Rome.  They had a house at San Gregorio not far from the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum.  We didn’t provide medical care, but we helped prep the food that they would be served, and mopped the floors and cleaned up.  Whenever I smell overly ripe fruit or vegetables (which we had to clean before we served it), my mind often goes back to those days.  I am ashamed to say that my charity, my love of Christ for others, was not often present, and I did the work only because I was required to do so.  That is a part of my soul that still deeply needs conversion.
    As we hear about our Lord healing the leper and the centurion’s slave in today’s Gospel, we probably sanitize this story in our mind.  We know leprosy was bad, and very contagious.  And we know that the Romans were hated by most Jews, not only because of their political oppression, but because they had symbols of their pagan religion everywhere.  But do we appreciate how outcast those two groups were at the time of Christ?
    Perhaps our country came somewhat closer to understanding the shame and the isolation of a leper as we muddled our way (often in a less than virtuous manner) through the early days of the COVID pandemic.  So many, myself included at times, especially at the beginning, would be so nervous about a person coughing.  There were still other viruses present, and yet how quickly we could assume that the other person had COVID, and if (especially in the beginning) we even looked at them we might get it too, and be under house arrest for 14 days!  But even that doesn’t really get to an understanding of leprosy.  A leper’s flesh was literally rotting away.  He or she was likely covered with cloths to hide some of those sores, but those cloths were probably not cleaned that often.  Though no one had deodorant in those days (though the rich had perfumes), leper colonies were often in horrible, inhospitable places, where personal hygiene was even lower than the average standard of that time.  Perhaps maggots also were in the flesh of those who had leprosy, just like some of the untouchables for whom Mother Theresa cared.
    But the Savior didn’t shrink back.  I doubt He covered His nose, or turned away.  No, from what we hear and from my own estimation, our Lord stretched out His hand, touched the man, and healed Him.  Christ saw, not a leper, but a child of God who needed to be made whole and healed from a disease that cut one off from practically every good and wholesome part of human existence. 
    When it comes to the Romans, we do have some people that we tend to ostracize.  These days it tends to be the Russians and Chinese.  Around September 11th it was Arabs.  But to get a closer sense of the animosity, we’d probably want to think back to the way we treated Russians in the 1950s.  While I was not alive, certainly the stories about how we, as Americans, were afraid of Russian spies infiltrating our government (which perhaps they did, in some ways).  So we ostracized and persecuted anyone we thought might be connected to the Russian communists.  Better dead than Red, we would say.
    And yet, as this Roman, this hated figure came to our Lord seeking a healing for the centurion’s slave, again, Christ didn’t pull back, or say that He had no times for Romans.  The request was made for healing, our Lord offered to go, but then the Roman demonstrated faith that no such visit was necessary; as long as our Lord said it would happen, it would happen.  I’m not sure we can fully appreciate just how revolutionary and rebellious that action was, not to mention when the Savior said that many foreigners would recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, but many children of the kingdom would be outside, wailing and grinding their teeth. 
    The basic requirement for healing was faith, and as long as one had faith, our Lord was not ashamed to help that person.  It didn’t matter whether your were ritually unclean, or diseased, or even a soldier of an oppressing pagan regime.  God would act if the faith was present.
    From whom do we still make sure we keep six feet away (or farther)?  Whom do we ostracize?  How many opportunities for conversion do we miss out on because we treat the other as someone not worthy of our time or attention?  In what ways are deep conversions lost because we’re not willing to approach the other?  Our Lord didn’t say that leprosy was no big deal, but He restored that leper to wholeness, not just physically, but in terms of community and right worship.  Our Lord didn’t say that Roman oppression and the treatment of the Jews was just, but He healed the slave of the centurion.  There was a centurion at the foot of the cross, who exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”  Perhaps it was the same centurion, whom we now refer to as St. Longinus.  Perhaps that healing was the first step in that soldier rejecting pagan gods and believing in the true Son of God, Jesus Christ.
    I won’t stand before you today and say that I’ve got it all together, and willingly reach out to our modern “untouchables.”  I would be a hypocrite to say that there are not people whom I keep at a distance, of whose conversion I could be an instrument if I would put aside my own fears and stereotypes.  But I’m working at it, and I hope you will, too.  Because no matter who the person is, or what the person has done, that person, without a doubt, needs the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Captain America vs. Iron Man

 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

    It is a natural phenomenon that we tend to have favorites when there is a group of people.  Not long after starting at St. Matthew I got into a good and holy discussion with some young men while eating dinner at a family’s house about who was better: Iron Man or Captain America (the correct answer is Captain America, in case you’re wondering).  We, of course, discussed why we each thought the way we did, and I tried to help the young man understand why he was wrong in asserting that Iron Man was the better super hero.  Luckily the discussion did not resort to physical attacks, though some verbal jabs were exchanged here and there.
    St. Paul, in our second reading, talks about such rivalries, not concerning super heroes, but about leaders in the early Church.  Some were on “Team Paul,” others on “Team Apollos” (an early preacher who didn’t have the full Gospel at first, but then came to learn about it from other disciples), or “Team Cephas,” (St. Peter’s Aramaic name).  You can just imagine the smarty-pants who, after hearing discussions about belonging to Paul or Apollos or Peter, said, “Well, I belong to Christ.”  
    The draw to individuals is likely based in natural affinities to certain personality types.  Others can draw us by their charisma, or the way they present themselves, and we end up liking what they like, and feeling a sort of belonging to them.
    And when it stays at a surface level, then that draw to particular personalities does not need to be problematic.  But, when that draw to a church personality starts to divide us against each other and make us exclusive, then it becomes a problem.  Because, as St. Paul said, Christ is not divided, and no one else saves us except Christ, not even the greatest leaders of the faith.
    To have the mind of Christ, we would do well to remember that Christ called diverse apostles and disciples.  We heard about Jesus calling the a few of the Apostles today as Simon Peter and Andrew were called, and then James and John.  While Jesus called two sets of brothers, anyone who has raised two or more boys can tell you that, while there are similarities, there are also numerous differences between brothers.  I’m sure Peter and Andrew were, in some ways, very different people, just like James and John were, in some ways, very different people.  And yet, Christ called them all.  He called them to conversion, to be the best that they could be, but He called different types of personalities to follow Him.  
    It is so easy in the Church, even today, to pledge our allegiance to this or that group, to this or that ecclesiastic personality.  Again, to the extent that this priest or bishop draws us to Christ: praise God.  To the extent that we seek to divide and exclude those who don’t follow this or that priest or bishop, then we need to repent.  Sometimes priests and bishops don’t help things.  I don’t know a priest or bishop who begins by seeking fame and celebrity, but once attained, those things can draw one away from the humility that is required if one wants to serve Jesus, rather than one’s self.  How do you know someone has become too concerned with his celebrity?  How does that person react when a superior starts poking holes in that status, or curtails speaking gigs and event?  That says a lot.
    But it’s not just about priests and bishops.  The lay faithful, that is, you, sometimes also make it difficult for a unified Body of Christ approach, rather than a tribal approach to living the Gospel.  How often do people attend a parish because of this or that priest, or pass by a parish because of this or that priest.  Now, certainly, you have a right to hear the Gospel proclaimed, and not some dribble that is a priest’s personal soapbox or agenda.  You have a right to the celebration of the liturgy as the Church gives it, not as some priest decides that he wants to add words, or dancing, or his own form of celebration.  
    But how often is the refrain, “I don’t like that priest,” heard among Christ’s faithful?  When one of my uncles, as a child, complained to my grandfather (God rest his soul) that he didn’t like his teacher, my grandfather told my uncle he didn’t have to marry her, but he did have to respect her and behave in class, and do his best to learn.  You may not like a particular priest.  But as long as that priest preaches the Gospel (not his gospel), then we shouldn’t seek to divide the Body of Christ by putting this or that priest down, or giving our allegiance to a priest or bishop, rather than to God.  
    I would also say that a good priest, while preaching the Gospel, should make us take serious stock of our souls, at least from time to time.  If a priest is only preaching the things we want to hear, then he’s not really preaching the Gospel.  Jesus called all to conversion.  It was the Pharisees who only wanted to hear how good they were.  And that is not a good group with which to be associated.  
    Affinities naturally arise.  We rely on others to help bring us to Christ, because faith is never a purely private affair.  But we are part of Christ’s Church, and we have been called to be faithful to Him, not to any apostle or disciple.  Stay in that Church, no matter what priest comes or what happens to a parish, and so be a part of the diverse crowd that Jesus calls to become fishers of men.

16 January 2023

Proving Who We Are

Second Sunday after Epiphany
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  For whatever reason, I regularly get confused for other priests.  I have been told that I am Fr. Gary or Fr. Todd Koenigsknecht, or Fr. Mathias Thelen, or Fr. Mark Rutherford.  Since they are all good and holy priests, I can’t really complain too much, though I don’t see any close resemblance.  I then have to tell people that I’m not who they think I am.
    These days to sign in to many banks or online websites, not only do you have to use the right username and password, but you also have to give some tertiary form of identification, whether it be a fingerprint, or facial recognition, or even a simple code sent to you your phone.  Because of the many hackers who try to steal identities, businesses want to make sure that they know who you are.

Church at Cana
   We heard in our Gospel today how our Lord revealed Himself by the miracle at Cana, and the disciples began to believe in Him.  Nine days ago we celebrated the Epiphany, or manifestation of our Lord.  The Apostle and Evangelist John takes great pains to demonstrate who our Lord is by the signs that He performs.  In chapter 4, our Lord again is asked to perform a sign in Cana, and he criticizes that they will not believe without signs.  In chapter six, after the feeding of the 5,000, the Jews ask for a sign (as if one beyond the feeding of so many was necessary) to make them believe in the Savior.  And in chapter 10, as our Lord is describing Himself as the Good Shepherd, and saying that the Father and He are one, Christ says, “‘If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize [and understand] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’”
    So this first sign, this first miracle, as our Lord changes water into wine, is a demonstration that He is not simply another rabbi, another teacher, but someone greater.  And that demonstration calls for each person to make a decision: to believe or not to believe; to follow or to walk away.
    But the signs of Christ are not restricted to things that happened in the past in the Gospel accounts.  Christ continues to work through His Mystical Body, the Church, and through the Holy Spirit, which is the presence of Christ in our daily lives.  God is working in your life each day.  But it does take some reflection to recognize how Christ is working in your life.  It often doesn’t come to our minds right away, because God doesn’t always do big works, but works in small ways.  But they are no less powerful, and they show that He is who He says He is. 
    Examples of how God works, whether directly or indirectly, could be: getting that green light when you’re in a rush; a friend unexpectedly reaching out to you; a memory comes to mind about something good that happened; a dream about a loved one that you weren’t expecting.  Or it could be that something works out well that you have been praying for, or some personal trial or suffering is shortened with our without us asking God to be merciful and limit the trial or suffering.  Again, if we don’t take time at least weekly, or even daily, to think about it, those moments will pass us by, and we won’t recognize how God is operating in our daily lives.
    But in addition to Christ being manifest by His signs, He also desires that we make known that we are followers of Christ by the things we do, by the deeds that we carry out.  St. Paul lists different ways that this can happen in our epistle: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, donating, governing, and being merciful and cheerful.  Some of those words might sound a bit intimidating, or “churchy.”  But they are not all that complicated, when we break them down.  Prophecy is not so much about telling the future, as it is speaking for God.  We speak for God when we communicate His word in our daily lives.  Ministry is about serving in the Church, using our gifts and talents to help build up the Mystical Body of Christ.  Exhorting is encouraging others to do what is right and just.  Governing is about making sure that we are not ruled by our passions, but rather ruled by the spirit of God, and exercising whatever legitimate authority we have over others in a Godly way, rather than by lording it over others.
    St. Paul continues that, to show that we are followers of Christ, God wants us to be filled with hope, be patient in suffering, and constant in prayer, as well as being hospitable.  We are to bless those that persecute us, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  When we are witnesses to hope, when we are patient, even though we are suffering or being unjustly punished, we we accompany others in joy and sorrow we show that we are living a Christ-centered life.  And that witness draws others to Christ, especially when connected with the earlier gift of teaching and exhorting. 
    Of course, to do these things is not always easy.  It is much easier to be downcast and melancholic about the world; to complain when we suffer; to avoid walking with others, especially in times of sorrow.  As GK Chesterton once wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and left untried.”  Perhaps that is why so many have walked away from faith in Christ, because we have not demonstrated in our own lives what it means to follow Christ daily, to take up our cross and follow Him.  Others do not see Christ in us, and so do not believe.
GK Chesterton
    The world is hungry for Christ, but the world, especially today, wants authenticity.  They want to see Christ manifest Himself.  God does that on His own, but He also utilizes us.  May our lives as followers of Christ help to manifest our belief in the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

08 January 2023

Holy, Not Easy-Living, Families

 Feast of the Holy Family
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  The Book of Job is one of the great books of the Old Testament.  The main message of the book is that one can do everything right and still have bad things happen.  It was the prevailing wisdom that if good things happened, God was blessing you, and if bad things were happening to you, God was punishing you for something you did wrong.  
    I think that we can often fall into that same mindset: if something good happens to me, then I must have done something good, or God is rewarding me.  If something bad happens to me, then I must have done something bad, or God is punishing me.  This can certainly creep in to our understanding of family life.
    It can start with even searching for a good spouse: if I cannot find someone to love, someone with whom to spend my life, then I must be doing something wrong.  If I fall in love and the other person reciprocates, then I must have done something right.  Honestly, sometimes finding the right person takes time, and God can allow you to go through lesser relationships in order to learn more about yourself, or about the qualities that you would want in a spouse.  The key, of course, is to be willing to commit your entire life (better and worse, sickness and health, prosperity and poverty) to a person whom you will help to get to heaven.  And some couples who look perfect together sometimes are just infatuated, which they hopefully find out before the enter into the life-long commitment of marriage.
    It can continue with trying to have children.  Over the past two years, I have become more aware and more sensitive to the realities of miscarriages.  Whether it’s my best friend and his wife, family friends, and/or parishioners, I have come to understand better the deep pain and heartache that come from a miscarriage.  I have spoken with mothers who simply want to have a child, but it doesn’t seem to happen; mothers who love their unborn baby, but whose baby, nevertheless, dies in the womb; mothers who try to avoid all the things that could lead to a miscarriage but who still have to go through that agony.  How easy it can be to ask the question, “Why is God punishing me?  What have I done wrong?”  In the midst of that pain and heartache, we know that God would never kill a child to prove a point, or to get back at a parent.  Why some miscarriages happen or why God would allow it can remain a mystery.  But we know that God walks through that valley of the shadow of death with parents, and never leaves them without His consoling love.  
    Or, it can happen when the children are grown and are making their own decisions.  Despite the best parenting, children can make bad decisions and choices.  It is so easy for parents to take those decisions and choices personally, and presume that the bad choices are because of bad parenting.  But even in the best of circumstances, people can sin and can do things that they shouldn’t.  Look at St. Peter: he was one of our Lord’s closest friends, the leader of the apostolic college, and had great zeal for protecting the Lord.  And he still denied that he even knew the Savior during His Passion.  Would we accuse Christ of skipping over something that He should have taught Peter?  Or not loving Peter enough?  Of course not!  Children, especially adult children, have free will.  We can give them every good thing, and they can still walk away from those good things.  I think especially of the uncountable number of Catholics who have walked away from their Catholic faith, even though their parents did their best to give them a good foundation in the faith.  Or consider an adult child who, while being raised to say no to drugs and underage drinking, makes a choice to try a controlled substance or decides to drive drunk and ends us dying.  Free will is meant for us to say “yes” to Godly things, but it can also be misused to say yes to death and no to the life God offers.  
    So what do we do as families?  Do we give up?  Do we let our lives be governed by fate or the pagan idea of karma?  No.  We give our families the best chance of success by being strong in our faith in Christ.  We hold fast to the Church, trusting that, if we do our best, then hopefully others’ free will can be used for God’s purposes.
    If you’re seeking a spouse, we pray, like Tobiah and Sarah, to find the spouse that God wants for you so that you can come together, not out of lust, but out of doing God’s will.  If you’re seeking a spouse and not having much success, you might recognize that God wants you to grow in your trust of Him and His plan, rather than forcing things with your own plan.  You trust that God will reveal, at the right time, a person who can help you grow in holiness as a married person, if that is God’s plan for your life.
    If you’re married and trying to have children, by all means, use the knowledge of the human body that God has given to doctors and scientists.  But if your attempts at conception are not fruitful, or if you have to mourn the loss of your child who did not survive outside of the womb, know that the love that you have for your child is not wasted.  God is love, and so the love that the child in your womb received was a participation in God, and God will help you, either to conceive a child, or God may call you to adopt and share that love with a child whose parents could not support that child that they conceived.  Don’t give in to the temptation to play God by in vitro fertilization or surrogacy, which are both gravely contrary to God’s plan for human conception, but seek God’s will and God’s plan for sharing the love you have for a child.
    And if, after having children, they wander away from a virtuous life, whether the human virtues or the theological virtues, don’t give up praying for your children.  Don’t blame yourself, either.  Free will allows us to love, but when used poorly it can be very painful.  Still, it is better that we can love than not to be free.  Do your best to draw your children back to a virtuous life if they have strayed, and lead by an example of joyful and loving obedience to the truth.  Use prudence on when to protect adult children and when to let them experience the consequences of their actions.  But love them always, even if that love has to be from afar.  

    As we celebrate the Holy Family, it can be easy to think that if we simply do the right things, life will be easy and without burdens.  But look at the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Joseph died before Christ was 30 years old, making Mary a widow; Mary had to allow her son to perform His ministry of preaching, which led to His death on a cross; our Lord did everything right, and yet was rejected by His People, and even abandoned by most of His closest friends.  If the Holy Family had struggles, even though two out of the three of them never sinned, then we, who are sinners, will also have trials and tribulations.  But, like the Holy Family, bring them to our loving Father, who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, world without end.  Amen. 

Don't Take It For Granted

Solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord

    [In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.].  One of the great country music singers (in my humble opinion) is Merle Haggard.  One of those hits was a song called “You Take Me For Granted,” and was a number one hit on the country charts.  The song talks about being taken for granted in a relationship, doing everything he can to make her happy, all the while she doesn’t seem to care (sounds like a country song, doesn’t it?). 
    One of the things that we may take for granted is being a part of God’s people.  Because the Church has been around for 2,000 years, we are used to a truly Catholic Church, a church that welcomes anyone to join her ranks, regardless of race or ethnicity.  But what we take for granted was quite novel in the beginning of the Church, and one of the ways that Catholicism started to peel away from Judaism early on.
    Because the Old Testament is clear that God chose a certain people.  God chose Abraham, and then promised to be his God and to make of Abraham a great nation through his son, Isaac.  And then Isaac had Jacob, and Jacob (also named Israel) had twelve sons, who became a nation great in numbers.  From that point on you could talk about a Chosen People, a People God had made His own.  And it was God’s original intent that, through this Chosen People the nations would see the glory of the Lord and be joined to them, and so salvation for all those God had created would come.
    From this Chosen People God raised up a Savior, Jesus Christ, a son of Abraham and Son of God.  And most of His ministry was among the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  There are a few foreigners who receive healings and miracles from the Lord (the Samaritan woman, the centurion, and the Syro-Phoenecian woman to name a few), but mostly Christ ministered among the Jews.  The first proclamation of the Gospel after the Ascension was to Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost, and thousands were baptized.
    But then Peter had a vision from God, where he was instructed to eat unclean animals, which Peter says he had never done, and God said not to call unclean what He had made clean.  Then messengers from Cornelius, a non-Jew (Gentile is the word) came and asked Peter to go to Cornelius’ house, and, upon arriving, Cornelius and his household showed signs of the Holy Spirit at work among them, so Peter baptized them, thus opening Christianity up to those who were not already part of the Chosen People.  The Apostles met in Jerusalem to confer about this, with the newest Apostle, Paul, who had also been spreading the Gospel among the Gentiles, and they agreed not to make Gentile become Jewish in order to call themselves a follow of Christ.
    That major change (Gentiles being able to become the people of God), however, was prefigured in what we celebrate today: the visit of the magi to the Holy Family.  The magi were non-Jews, Gentiles, likely from Persia or there about, and yet they were led to Christ as the newborn King of the Jews.  The Persians probably did not care much about the Jews.  They certainly had not cared about King Herod.  But something draws them to worship this newborn King, and offer Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Joseph and Mary, probably taken aback, do not, however restrict them, but accept their gifts with appreciation.  Who knows?  Maybe Mary kept the myrrh and was going to use it for our Lord’s burial.
    We probably take for granted that we can be welcomed into the Church, even though we are not Jews.  But we shouldn’t.  We should give thanks that salvation was opened up to all nations by the new sign of the covenant, Baptism, which is also celebrated today in the Epiphany.  God did not need to open to salvation to those outside the people He had chosen as His own, but He lovingly did.  We do not have a right to be saved, and yet God extends His salvation to us because of His great love for us.  In the magi, all of the pagan nations that surrounded Israel were represented, and Christ’s mission to all peoples began, even as a small seed that wouldn’t bloom for some 30 years.
    The mission of the Church is to continue to bring into God’s People, the Church, all nations and peoples, so that they can be in a saving relationship with God.  Can God save people who are not baptized?  Certainly, He can if He wants.  But the only way we know we can start that process of salvation is through Baptism, and so our mission is to welcome others who are seeking the King of the Jews.  Often times, they are led by means that may be foreign to us, just as a good Jew would have never attempted to practice astrology, the means that the magi used to find Christ.  But it doesn’t mean that we should reject their searching, anymore than Mary and Joseph rejected the magi.
    In fact, our mission as Catholics, no matter what our vocation, is to draw people to Christ, and to help them see how Christ is already working in their life.  We call this prevenient grace, the grace that comes before.  No one ever seeks Christ on his or her own; Christ always manifests Himself in shadowed ways that draw the person to see the light of Christ’s life.  That person could be a Protestant or Evangelical who sees a need for someone to authentically interpret the Scriptures.  That person could be a Jew, who starts to recognize the ways in which our Lord fulfilled the prophecies connected with the Messiah.  That person could be a Muslim who is drawn to not only be a slave of God, but a beloved son or daughter in the Son of God.  That person could be an agnostic, hoping that there is a God, but not knowing if He can be found.  That person could be an atheist, who asserts that there is no God, but yet knows that our universe cannot explain itself.  All of those people need us to draw them closer to Christ.  We become like the star for the magi, leading them to worship the true God in His fullness.
    We can often take for granted how great our faith is, and what a treasure we have in the Church.  But God’s choice, His election of us, is pure gift, something that we could never earn, and to which we were not entitled, because we were not part of His Chosen People.  But God desires all to be save, and He asks us to cooperate in that work of salvation, by drawing others to Him.  Be a star to those around you, and lead them to Christ[, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is God, for ever and ever.  Amen].

03 January 2023

Cut It Out

 VIII Day of the Octave of Christmas & Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  God, in calling Abram out of Ur in modern-day Iraq, said many amazing things to him.  We hear at the beginning of Genesis, chapter 12, that God tells Abram, “Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.”  That, in itself, took a giant leap of faith.  Abram was being asked to leave the fertile crescent, the birth-place of civilization, as scholars call it, for an unknown land inhabited by unknown, and possibly hostile, people.  It’s hard enough for us to pack up our entire life and move to a different place.  Imagine doing it without having a home to which you were going, not knowing exactly where God was going to settle you (and whom you might have to dislodge to stay there), and doing it at the age of 75 years old.

    God also promised Abram, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”  Abram and Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah) were well past the childbearing years.  They had no children.  And yet God promised that he would make of them a great nation.  This must have seemed odd to them.  And yet Abram trusted in God to do the impossible.  This makes Abraham’s almost sacrifice of Isaac much later even more incredible.  God had finally given Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac, and so perhaps they thought that becoming a great nation could actually happen.  But then God asks Abraham to sacrifice that son, that fulfillment of the promise, that promise of hope for the elderly couple.  And yet, Abraham is willing to do it (though God stays his hand at the last minute).
    Before that, in chapter 17, God appears to ninety-nine year-old Abram (who had conceived Ishmael with his slave, Hagar, but was still childless with Sarai), and says:

I am God the Almighty.  Walk in my presence and be blameless.  Between you and me I will establish a covenant, and I will multiple you exceedingly.  […] You are to become the father of a multitude of nations.  […] I will make you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings will stem from you.  […] I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now residing as aliens, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.  […] This is the covenant between me and you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised.  Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin.  That will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

Luckily, Abraham was open to God’s will.  Because, put in his place, I think most men would have said, “You want me to do what?  To my what?”  
    And yet this was the sign of those who believed in and followed God.  And this sign of the covenant endured even to the time of our Lord, who, though He was the Lord of the covenant, was still joined to Israel by His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and His foster-father, St. Joseph, in a powerful way that united Christ to Israel as the People who belonged to God, the sons and daughters of Abraham.  Even for those who needed to be joined to Israel, this was a difficult sign.  Indeed, when the Bible talks about God-fearers, it speaks about those who wanted to become Jewish, but who had some issue preventing them from joining.  One can imagine that the thought of circumcision kept any number of adult men converts from becoming fully Jewish and part of the covenant.  God our Savior, who had no need to become part of the covenant, still underwent this sign.
    But the sign had a spiritual meaning in addition to the physical act.  The prophet Jeremiah prophesies: “Be circumcised for the Lord, remove the foreskins of your hearts, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Or else my anger will break out like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of your evil deeds.”  Circumcision was a physical cutting away.  But God also intended it to be a spiritual cutting away of all that was fallen and of disobedience to God.  The covenant was not only to be part of one’s flesh, but also part of one’s heart, spirit, and soul.  
    Christ Himself, while He was subjected to the covenant as an infant, Himself established a new covenant in His Precious Blood, and a new sign of the covenant was given that had both a physical and a spiritual aspect.  That new sign was baptism.  The water washed one clean of original sin, but it also meant a washing away of all that is fallen from that point on.  It made men and women part of the new Israel, the Church, gathered from all the nations, as a people who belong to the Lord.  
    But think of the humility that Christ underwent in being circumcised!  He who is Lord of the Sabbath is certainly also Lord of the Covenant, and so is not bound to it.  But He allows the cutting of His flesh in anticipation of giving His flesh for the life of the world in His Passion.  He subjects Himself to the Law, though He is the Lawgiver.  And He does the same in His baptism in the Jordan, as John baptizes Christ, though John asks to be baptized by Christ.  
    This is a great model for us when it comes to humility.  How often do we bristle when we have to do something that we don’t think we should have to do?  How quick do we make known our importance, and how we think things should go?  But this is not the example of our Savior.  Like Abraham, Christ, the Son of Abraham, trusted in His heavenly Father, and went where the Father told Him to go, did what the Father told Him to do, and said what the Father told Him to say.  “Like a lamb,” Isaiah prophesied, “he was led to the slaughter, and he opened not his mouth.”  Yet, if we bear one unrighteous punishment, how quickly do we open our mouths to protest our own innocence?
    God does not call us to be doormats, but on the other hand, sometimes He allows the just to suffer unjustly for their own sanctity, their own growth in holiness.  The day after Christmas we celebrated St. Stephen, who was martyred though his only crime was to witness to the fact that Christ was the long-awaited Messiah.  The day after that we celebrated St. John, who, while not a martyr, was exiled to Patmos as a Roman punishment for following Christ; the day after that we celebrated the Holy Innocents, who could not even confess Christ with their lips, though they took His place with their deaths; the day after that we commemorated St. Thomas Beckett, who died at the hands of King Henry II for standing up for the rights of the Church.  These past days of the Octave haven been filled with witnesses who suffered unjustly.  Their witness should spur us on when we have to undergo sufferings much lighter than theirs.  

    I would also add Pope Benedict XVI to those who suffered unjustly, but utilized it for his own holiness.  He was often attacked in the media, was called “God’s Rottweiler,” despite his gentle and humble disposition, and suffered other attacks, simply for holding true to the unchanging teachings of the Church.  Yet I never remember him complaining once about those slings and arrows.
    God promised Abraham that he would become the father of kings and many nations.  Abraham remained faithful to God, even in hard times, even when the sign of that covenant meant the stripping away of flesh.  Christ subjected Himself to the Law, and paid the penalty for our sins, though He Himself was the Lawgiver and free from all sin.  What witness will we give through the new circumcision of the heart, holy baptism, by which we become united to God: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.