Accepting mercy and a new beginning: reflections on the Sunday Gospel by Father Steven LaBaire

I am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

When Jesus was being held in custody by the Roman authorities, most of his friends deserted him.

Included among those who abandoned Jesus was Peter.  Peter had been a close disciple of Jesus.

Standing by the fire of the high priest’s courtyard, Peter denied knowing Jesus– not once, not twice, but three times.

rahul rekapalli campfire, Flickr Creative Commons
rahul rekapalli campfire, Flickr Creative Commons

The scriptures tell us that it was “night.”

It’s safe to say that it wasn’t just the sky that was dark that night. Continue reading “Accepting mercy and a new beginning: reflections on the Sunday Gospel by Father Steven LaBaire”

Waking up to see Christ–reflection on the transfiguration by Father Steven LaBaire

I am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

This Sunday’s gospel tells us that Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain (Luke 9:28-26) to pray. Apparently the three disciples got a bit sleepy, however. (Maybe all that mountain climbing was tiring.)

Nonetheless, we’re told that “becoming fully awake,” they got to see Jesus in a new light.

They “saw” him in a way they never before experienced. And, a voice beckoned them to “Listen, to my chosen Son.”

Words will never adequately describe what Peter, James and John experienced that day.

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Transfiguration (All Souls), Flickr Creative Commons

These three “students” of Jesus probably couldn’t grasp the meaning of it all either. It would take some time to take it all in.

But this much is sure: They “woke up;” they became fully awake and were able to “see” Christ in a new way.

The Church in her wisdom has told this story at the beginning of Lent for centuries.

Why? Because Lent should be about “waking up” and seeing things (especially our faith) in a “new way.”

Where in life might we possibly be “snoozing” and unaware of what’s really going on?

Our marriages? Our kids? Our health? Our relationships? Our parish?

And while the gospel doesn’t give a quick “wake up” remedy, it does imply that opening our eyes will involve moving beyond our comfort zones—like the strenuous workout of a mountain climb.

–You need to get to the mountain top in order to appreciate the view and “take in” the vista. (Usually not much of a “view” at the comfy lodge at the foot of the mountain!)

“Seeing in a new way,” is the fruit of prayer. If prayer is stretching our hearts and minds to see things as God sees them, then prayer will push us beyond our ourselves and challenge us to look at the bigger picture of our lives and the world. Prayer will dare us to gaze even into the “beyond” of eternity.

from www.agungjordan.xyz

Oh, and another thing: We tell this story because, sometimes we “snooze,”  the wider Church snoozes too.

The Church, in all her structures and organizations,  during Lent, is being challenged to “become fully awake” and listen more attentively to Christ.

So, what have you chosen to do for Lent this year?

Whatever it is, do you think it will “wake you up” to life? (If it don’t think it will, there’s still time to change what you’ve chosen.)

Alert to what’s happening around us, may we  hear Christ calling us to be bold visionaries for life’s journey.

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Getting beyond “I’m not good enough” – this week’s Gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

This Sunday’s gospel is about some fishermen who encounter Jesus. (Luke 5:1-11)

One of the fishermen, Simon Peter, is so overwhelmed by his meeting Jesus that he actually tells Jesus to go away. Yes, he really says that to Jesus.

“Go away from me, for I’m a sinful man.” In other words, “ Leave, please leave … I’m not good enough.”

Have you ever had the experience of feeling “not good enough?”

  • Not “good enough” to make the team.
  • Not” good enough” to be invited to that party.
  • Not “good enough” to be her friend.
  • Not “good enough” to be loved by him.
  • Not “good enough” to be remembered or thought of… by “them.”

One of the saddest experiences of being a priest is when I ask someone to serve the church in some way and instead of a smile of acceptance, I see a bewildered face that replies:

“Father, I’d love to… but… I’m not good enough.  I’m unworthy of that…”

(In other words, I’ve got some stuff I’m not proud of. I’ve got “skeletons” in my closet.  I’ve got a past. There are parts of my story I don’t want to share or for you to know about.)

Like Simon Peter, we cannot imagine God passionately in love with us, who so often have felt “not good enough.”

But that is the “mystery” of God: that God loves us despite ourselves. We’re loved anyway. (Hard to really  get that through our heads sometimes, isn’t it?)

Notice that Jesus refuses to heed Simon Peter’s request “to go away.”

And Jesus goes on to tell him. “Don’t be afraid.” ( In other words: Don’t be afraid of being imperfect. Don’t fear your humanity. That’s the way you were made. God will put it to good use.)

Beryl Allee Skeletons in My Closet, Flickr Creative Commons
Beryl Allee Skeletons in My Closet, Flickr Creative Commons
Leonard J shoes of the fisherman, Flickr Creative Commons
Leonard J shoes of the fisherman, Flickr Creative Commons

Simon Peter then leaves everything behind and follows Jesus.

When we stop being afraid of “not being good enough,” God can lead us down some amazing paths. God will even make us better people.

Being imperfect is no excuse for not doing the work that Jesus calls us to do. Being imperfect doesn’t exclude anyone from being loved by God.

And that’s more than being “good enough.”

That’s  grace.

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Do we go to church to hear what we want to hear? This week’s gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

 

 

This Sunday’s gospel tells us that Jesus began to speak publicly in the synagogue (Luke 4:21-30).

At first, the people seem to like what he has to say. “And all were spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

But then, things suddenly change.

Jesus makes a reference to Old Testament story about how God worked great deeds through some non-Jewish folks in the past.

He infers that God’s grace is being extended beyond the Jews to Gentiles.

Theresa J. Marquez Jesus is preaching in the synagogue, Flickr Creative Commons
Theresa J. Marquez Jesus is preaching in the synagogue, Flickr Creative Commons

That’s not what the congregation wants to hear.

And that’s when things start going downhill…literally.

When the people hear this, they drive him out of his own town. They are furious.

They even try to throw him down a hill.

But Jesus escapes and moves on to the next town.

The story raises some good questions about the gospel we hear on Sundays.

The message of Jesus wasn’t meant to please audiences the way political candidates sometimes craft their messages to please their audiences and to get applause.

Jesus was popular as long people liked what he had to say. When they didn’t, popularity wasn’t one of Jesus’ assets.

www.slideshare.net
www.slideshare.net

Do we go to church to hear what we want to hear?
To reinforce what we already think?

The gospel is always “good news” but it isn’t always comfortable because it stretches us beyond our comfort zones.

And, over the course of time we’re bound to hear something at Mass that unsettles our ideas about right and wrong:

  • about justice, mercy and forgiveness;
  • about our responsibility in the face of human misery;
  • about death and our ultimate accountability and judgment;
  • and about the dignity of every human life.

There’s an old saying that the gospel (and the sermon) is meant to “trouble the comfortable and comfort the troubled.”

When we feel challenged or unsettled by the Gospel, what will our response be? Amazement or fury?

Will we “expel” the message and the messenger as did the inhabitants of that unreceptive village?

Or, will we ask for the Grace, to re-think everything in life and ask the Divine Teacher to lead us where we need to go?

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Honoring our roots as Christians–Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-2; gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

The gospel this coming weekend tells us that Jesus while in Nazareth went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. At the appointed time, he was handed a scroll from which he read the appointed reading for the day.

Jesus was a Jew. Sometimes Christians forget this: Jesus was a Jew.

Jesus was raised in a Jewish home. Like all Jewish males, he was circumcised. When he was 13, he had a Bar Mitzvah. He celebrated Hanukkah and Passover. He learned the Hebrew scriptures. He prayed the psalms. He made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. And today, we’re told that he was in the habit of going to the Synagogue on the Sabbath.

Last Sunday, Pope Francis visited the Synagogue of Rome. He reminded those present that there is an inseparable bond between Christians and Jews. He spoke of how Christians and Jews are called to work together to overcome all forms of violence and terror.

But he added a rather interesting observation:

“In order to understand themselves, Christians must understand their Jewish roots.” In other words, if you want to understand what it means to be a Christian, you have to seek to understand the faith out of which the Church was born. And the Church was born within a Jewish matrix.”

Javier Jewish praying
Javier Jewish praying, Flickr Creative Commons

Think about these simple facts:

  • One reason why we sing or say the responsorial Psalm at every Mass is because the psalms are the prayers that Jesus grew up with. When you pray the psalms you are praying what Jesus actually prayed.
  • When the deacon or priest carries the Gospel book to the lectern at Mass, he is imitating the rabbi carrying the Torah scroll to the reading desk.
  • The unleavened bread we use during Mass, evokes the unleavened matzo bread of the Jewish Passover, reminding us that we are all called to leave behind “Egypt” –whatever places or relationships that imprison, enslave or oppress. “Exodus” is a on-going part of life.

As a Jew, Jesus understood that God had intervened in human history; that the human story was not arbitrary or meaningless. We Christians see the human drama, despite its tragedies, as headed toward an ultimate fulfillment and destiny. That’s why hope is characteristic of a Christian.

And there’s so much more…

  • How could someone tell the story of your life without understanding what means to be a 21st century American?
  • So, how can we claim to understand Jesus and his message without understanding his Jewish faith?
  • How could we say that we really know someone, without striving to understand from what and where they come?

Let’s pray for a Church that honors her roots;

  • for an openness to understanding more about our connection with the Jewish faith;
  • for a future where we find strength for living from the wisdom our past;
  • and for overcoming the amnesia that would keep us from understanding who we are.

Amen.

A personal note

st. joseph rectory
from The Catholic Free Press

I would like to extend to Father Steven and his parishioners a hearty congratulations for the reopening of the fully renovated rectory at Holy Family! Three of the four suites in the home will be used to house retired priests. This is the first time that I can recall a parish literally being brought back from the dead (Holy Family is housed at St. Joseph’s Church on Hamilton Street, once slated for closing in the 1990’s, and saved by the parishioners). This is indeed a happy occasion! You can read more about this amazing story at the Catholic Free Press website.

The Feast of the Epiphany–offering our gifts to the Light of the World

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

For those who wish to deepen their understanding of the significance of this Sunday—The Solemnity of the Epiphany—the following is offered in preparation for Mass this weekend:

1—This weekend’s celebration ranks among the most important celebrations on our Catholic calendar, with only Easter, Christmas Day and Pentecost taking precedence.

2—The word “Epiphany” is a Greek word meaning “revelation” or “manifestation.” The word “epiphany” may be used in non-religious ways. An “epiphany” can refer to a sudden perception or insight about something. For example: “Then, one day, I had an epiphany, “Why not email my friends back home?”

3—On the Solemnity of the Epiphany we celebrate that the child born in the darkness of night in a lowly manger is revealed as the manifestation of God. Christ is revealed in many ways: as Lord, as King, as the one in whom God is present and acts. All of these manifestations (epiphanies) are “lights” that shine on Christ, revealing a deeper understanding of who he is. Notice that all the readings for today reveal, in a way, a different manifestation of who Christ is and what God is doing through him.

Waiting For The Word Shepherds 10, Flickr Creative Commons
Waiting For The Word Shepherds 10, Flickr Creative Commons

4—The First Reading from Isaiah will speak of a reversal of fortunes for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will no longer be an insignificant city. A light will beckon peoples from many nations.

  • The Second Reading from Saint Paul speaks of Christ as the one who gathers all to share the same promise, the same inheritance, making them members of the same body.
  • The Gospel Reading recounts the wise men following the star and offering their gifts. Of course, the story represents the life of every Christian: we are guided by the light of faith to offer our gifts of service to Christ.
Thomas Hawk The Adoration of the Magi, Flickr Creative Commons
Thomas Hawk The Adoration of the Magi, Flickr Creative Commons

5—Notice that all of the prayers of the day all refer to light as well.

JHG Hendriks Three Kings
JHG Hendriks Three Kings, Flickr Creative Commons

6—Because the liturgy refers to light, splendor, shining and appearance, the Roman Missal directs that the sanctuary should be decorated with more candles than usual. (Reminder: In Catholic worship, an age-old basic principle is that symbols often communicate truths of the faith better than just words.)

7—Epiphany is another moment in the Church’s celebration of the Christmas Season Actually, our celebration of Christmas will continue for another week, until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. From a Christian perspective, there are so many angles, so many perspectives, so much to “take in,” that it takes weeks to “digest” the many different meanings to Christ’s birth. The “secular” celebration of Christmas is now over: trees are coming down, decorations are being put away because the ‘holiday parties” are over and the money-making of the gift giving business is ending. Christians, however, are called to be different. We continue to celebrate and reflect on “the light of the world.” For Christians the primary meaning of Christmas is not gift-giving or parties. (Although gift-giving and parties are wonderful things we should all enjoy!) The meaning of Christmas is Christ-the light.  We pray that by our celebrating that our minds and hearts would be transformed by that light. Why? Because there is always darkness to dispel. And that’s what Christ calls us to do.

Happy Epiphany!

A Blessed Christmas to You, and a New Year full of promise!

nativity

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:15-20

Thank you to all my dear readers for an amazing year! I look forward to many wonderful times with you in 2016 and all the new friends we will meet.

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Paying attention: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel (Mark 7:31-37) by Father Steven LaBaire –

I am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear about Jesus opening the ears of a man who is unable to hear. Jesus also removes a speech impediment which had prevented the man from speaking clearly (Mark 7:31-37). Not surprisingly this man’s life is completely changed.

Christians are supposed to continue what Jesus did: Opening ears and loosening tongues. Continue reading “Paying attention: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel (Mark 7:31-37) by Father Steven LaBaire –”

The food of wisdom: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel (John 6:51-58) by Father Steven LaBaire

I am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

While driving along route 140 North in Grafton this morning, I spotted a cluster of maple trees whose leaves were turning orange and red.

A few minutes later, a radio commercial boldly proclaimed “back-to school-savings.”

While the warmth of summer still embraces our days and nights, the signs of an impending change of season and routine are around us as the days grow shorter. Continue reading “The food of wisdom: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel (John 6:51-58) by Father Steven LaBaire”

Traveling light–what baggage are we carrying? Reflections on the Sunday Gospel Mark 6:7-13 by Father Steven LaBaire

I am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

“Jesus summoned the twelve and began to send them out ..He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money for their belts…so they went off and preached everywhere.”  (Mark 6:7-13)

Sending people out on a journey virtually empty-handed may sound like bad advice.

Historians now tell us that it was the BEST advice. Continue reading “Traveling light–what baggage are we carrying? Reflections on the Sunday Gospel Mark 6:7-13 by Father Steven LaBaire”