Sunday, March 16, 2014

Transfiguration - Lenten Invitation

Today's gospel reading tells us of the experience that Peter, James and John had with Jesus called the   "Transfiguration". Our Gospel reading tells us that,

'He was transfigured before their eyes. His face became dazzling as the sun, His clothes as radiant as light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared . . conversing with (Jesus)"

I would guess that most of us do not understand what this is all about. Why Was Peter So Glad to See This when he burst out with,

"Lord, How Good it Is for Us to Be Here!"

Now, Moses was the prophet chosen by God to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt to freedom and take them back to the Promised Land. He was the one that received the Ten Commandments, God’s Law, on Mt Sinai in the dessert and his meeting with Jesus, here, is a sign that Jesus’ coming is the fulfillment of the Law.

Then we have Elijah, the Prophet and Priest, whom God  sent to warn Israel and Judah that their turning away from God’s Law and Friendship would have dire consequences.

His warnings were ignored by the leadership and freedom was lost again. Slavery in Babylon, domination by the Greeks and then occupation by Rome follow. His message continues however, calling God’s people back, his message is that God never tires of searching for you, yearning for your return. He is considered the Greatest Prophet because he point to God’s absolute faithfulness and mercy.

One Way of understanding the meaning of the Transfiguration is this:

 We see on the mountaintop these three:

The prophet of God’s gifts of Law and Freedom and the journey back to the promised land. -  MOSES

The prophet of God’s faithfulness and mercy and His call to return again to the promised land of the love and  embrace of God. - ELIJAH

And JESUS, God himself, come to announce  the Good News as Prophet, Priest and King.

No wonder the Apostles are overwhelmed!

Lets try to personalize our response to this scene. To do this I will share with you a meditation by Father Joe Veneroso (*)  [editor of Maryknoll Magazine for many years].

When I went to school to learn how to preach we were always told to never ask the congregation to close their eyes since many will take the chance to get a quick nap. On the other hand,  our classes on prayer used the closing of ones eyes as a tool to blocking out distractions during any meditative prayer. Today I’m going to ignore the preaching rule and go with the prayer recommendation.

[Please close your eyes. Imagine one day you have some time to relax and you are going through your mom's attic and you find some of your stuff from years ago:]

Exploring attic mysteries, dust covered memories (of) faded feelings cry out to be un-forgotten.

Behind a trunk of granny's fashions that furnished many a Halloween or let's dress up (costume),
an old album beckons me to open my mind and make peace with the past.

God, we were the best of friends. Mutt and Jeff. Two (peas in a pod).
Nothing would separate us, we vowed. But nothing finally did.

One day I teased and taunted a bit too long.
I wanted to punish you for loving me so much.
Or punish myself for loving you at all.
I wanted to test the limits of your loyalty.

I know this now.
Back then -
Who could stare the longest without blinking
Became -
Who could stand the longest being apart.

A day turned into a decade.
How could I know -
Time has such a nasty habit
Of turning a moment's silence into eternity?

Rather than swallow my pride and giving in,
I chose to wallow.
Other friends filled my self inflicted void.
(I'll show you!)

After a while, half a life went by
Without so much as a -
Whatever became of old what's his name?

And then one day out of the blue,
Someone mentioned you.
I pretended not to know. I was too embarrassed
to admit we were once childhood friends.

My little charade did not work.
You had asked for me, I learned.
Not a day had passed without
Your thinking about me.

Impatient to make peace and knowing how
stubborn I can be, you could not wait another minute,
so you sent your only begotten son to find and forgive me
and say "lets be friends again."

Now that we're together once more,
I feel whole and healed and happier
Than I've been in years.
We have a lot of catching up to do, you and I.

But until then I can't help but go tell the world
How much you love them too much
And how there are no limits to your loyalty
And not a day goes by without your thinking of them.

And if you, who are so good and holy and true,
Could come to make peace with me  in my sinfulness,
who am I to carry a grudge instead of a cross? (*)

My friend, if you are here today only as an observer.
 Consider responding to his call, his invitation to you to become one of his people. Just as he had Moses lead the Jews to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea, Jesus will bring you into his friendship through the water of baptism. Lent is a good time to consider this invitation. Not a day passes without him thinking about you.

My friend, have you come here today and now recall that your brother or your sister has something against you? 
That a moment of silence or anger became a decade, that your pride built  a wall between you?

I urge you to go forth from here today, turn back the clock, tear down that wall and be reconciled. Lent is a good time to undertake such an effort. Not a day passes without Jesus wanting you to be at peace with them and with him.

My friend, are you one who has been away from the table of your God?
Perhaps you just wandered away. Or you ran away in anger. Maybe something else seemed more appealing at the time.

Today, in this place, we your brothers and sisters remind you of Him. He asks about you every day. He waits with longing for your return. Like Elijah, we  your brothers and sisters, are calling you back to the table of your God.

The sacrament of reconciliation is celebrated here in this place often in Lent. Come, He waits with open arms to be reconciled with you.

(*) Fr. Joseph Veneroso’s meditations from Maryknoll Magazine can be found in :
God in Unexpected Places , Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2007, available at or from Orbis Books. 

© Copyright 2014 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.

Monday, March 03, 2014

You Get What You Choose

Consider, today, the book of Sirach [1]. This book was written in Hebrew by Jesus Ben Sira, a wise Jewish teacher, almost two hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Savior. It was later translated into Greek by his grandson. It is in the group of Bible books called Wisdom books. Chapter 15 verses 11 to 20 are his lecture notes on “free will”.

First he paints a picture that we are all familiar with from our childhood. Imagine that you are standing  before two pots. One contains a roaring fire and the other filled water. Now you are told to choose which pot to plunge your hand into. Even as children you knew that you get what you choose. One choice gives me a burned hand while the other choice gives me a clean hand.

Ben Sira then moves to a more adult choosing:
You have before you life and death, good and evil.
Whichever you choose, God will give to you.

As adults we realize that life is more complex than just hot or cold choices and we understand the examples like Jesus uses. If we plant weed seeds we are going to harvest weeds whereas if we plant  grain seeds we are going to harvest grain.

Grain or Weeds, Good Seed or Bad Seed you choose!
Life or Death, Good or Evil, You choose!

Ben Sira tells us that God never forces anyone to choose weeds, bad seed, death or evil. You see, God made us free. Free to choose good or evil. He honors our freedom and gives us many ways to discern what is good and what is evil. Jesus talked about this when he came among us.

Ben Sira makes his point in another way when he says that God grants no one a license to choose evil.

A few years ago I ran into an example of secular thinking that contradicts this. It has to do with a virtue and its opposite vice. That pair is the virtue Love and the vice Lust [2]. A virtue desires good and a vice desires evil.

I had been asked to speak at a non-Catholic wedding and in my talk I made the point that a successful marriage required that it be based on love and not on lust because lust was in fact the opposite of love. Now I knew that some of the guests present, unlike the bride and groom, had never thought this through. So I made sure to define the terms.

Love, the love required for a successful marriage, is self sacrificing love. You value the other for who she or he is, not what he or she can give you and you would even give your life for her or him.

Lust, is seeking self gratification in the form of pleasure, status, power or money and the other is viewed as an object from which these can taken.

At the reception the Justice of the Peace who had officiated approached me and objected to my talk on this very point. His view was that marriage was a license (by the state) to make lust between these two persons legal.

You most likely have heard this view even in your own community. Perhaps some of you have even thought this might be the way it is. Ben Sira and Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, however, make it clear that no one and no license will ever make evil into a virtue. 

  1. Also Known as Ecclesiasticus. It was excluded from the Protestant Old Testament because it was thought to not have been written in Hebrew. Later research has established that it had been written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek as part of the Septuagint Old Testament which was used as scripture by the Apostles and early Christian writers. The NABRE translation of this book can be read here.

  2. Pope John Paul, in his September 10, 1980 audience, spoke of the contradiction between lustful desire and self giving love. See: Translation by Micheal Waldstein: Man and Woman: He Created Them, 2006, Daughter of St Paul , Boston Ma.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Since my wife is a part time RN in one of our local nursing homes I have been told many times of the positive effects of visiting pet at these facilities. Today I spent an hour with our young pup, Sparky, at a nursing home and can report this same finding personally. Some welcomed the chance to tell pet stories from their own past while they visit with the young newcomer. We heard the story of how a faithful family pet had saved the life of one man several years ago.
At one point we passes a lounge area and the attendant indicated the first lady "loves dogs but is in a bad mood today" and the gentleman next to her is non-communicative. When just I and Sparky returned to lounge later several ladies were happy to pet the newcomer and welcome him. As we passed the non-communicative man he began motioning the pup to come onto his lap. Sparky quickly complied and the man came alive with a singing like mumble that seemed to please the dog's ears. This became the longest one-on-one of our visit as the man also knew that young dogs often love being petted and rubbed. Perhaps the man was replaying the '"dog language" he knew as a child.
The "bad mood" lady brightened immediately upon seeing Sparky and also invited him for a lap visit. Since another pet was due to visit soon we headed to the lobby so that if their first encounter was noisy or rambunctious we would not be in a crowd. A wonderful visit on a very cold day.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Journey on the Road of Faith

A relative has written a book about her awakened search for God. Among those cheering her journey are Fr Richard Rohr, O.F.M. and many relatives and friends. In my brief review in Amazon I said the following:

A wonderful journey through her garden of friends. however, the treasure seems to still lie ahead as one is left with the sense that most of her journey or at least the telling of it is yet to come, perhaps in a sequel.

Father Rohr in his editorial review said this:

Most of us do not read formal theology books, and if we do, we too often find them abstract or distant.  Well, here is a fine antidote!

As a Deacon I have the joy of hearing many people's faith journey stories. I am sure you will enjoy Marsha's conversations with her friends about their faith and her journey.

She also makes frequent postings about her journey on her blog "Friending God"

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Bullying Awareness - Student Video

Bullying is an example of not loving your neighbor as yourself. Thanks to Tara and Patsy for link to this student made video about bullying. (Don't let anyone know that Christians consider bullying a sin, some school boards might feel it necessary to cancel their anti bullying efforts in order to avoid imposing a religious teaching on their students.)

Monday, February 03, 2014

Jesus - Childhood Timeline

After Mass today I received a couple inquiries about an apparent inconsistency between  today's Gospel reading (Luke 2:22-40) and the Gospel reading on the feast of Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12). The concern seems to be that if one simply merges the two Gospel stories together there doesn't seem to be time for all the events and locations mentioned to occur.

First we need to recall that the Gospels were written by different persons at different time, for different audiences and provide different range of details about Jesus and his life. In regard to this concern we can eliminate two of the Gospels from our research since neither Mark nor John provide any detail about Jesus' childhood.  Lets begin by diagramming the time line of Matthew's and Luke's childhood events. We will begin with the birth of Jesus since this is a common event in the two text.

Birth of Jesus (Stable) Day 1  (BC 2-3) Mt 1:18-24 Lk 2:1-14
Shepherds visit Day 1 - - - 0 - - - Lk 2:15-20
Circumcision of Jesus  Day 8 - - - 0 - - - Lk 2:21
Magi Visit (Scenario 1) Sometime Day 8 to 40 Mt 2:1-12 - - - 0 - - -
Presentation of Jesus After Day 40 - - - 0 - - -  Lk 2:22-38
Return to Nazareth After Day 40 - - - 0 - - - Lk :39-40
Magi Visit (Scenario 2) After Day 40 before Yr 2 Mt 1:1-2 - - - 0 - - -
Flight to Egypt
(Scenario 1 & 2)
Sometime Day 40 to Yr 2 Mt 2:13-15 - - - 0 - - -
Massacre of Children Sometime Day 40 to Yr 2 Mt 2:16 - - - 0 - - -
Return from Egypt After death of
Herod The Great (BC 1)
Mt 2:19-23 - - - 0 - - -
Jesus teaching in Temple Year 12 (AD 11-12) - - - 0 - - - Lk 2:41-52

There appears to be two possibilities:

Scenario 1: The visit of the Magi occurs between day 8, when Jesus was circumcised, and day 40, which was the earliest day Mary could enter the Temple (Lv 12:28.). The family was no longer in the stable but in a house (Mt 2:11).  After Day 40 they visit the Temple to dedicate their son to the Lord and continue on to Nazareth, their home town. Some days later upon hear about Herod's edict that all boys born in Bethlehem over the last two years are to be killed they depart for Egypt, returning when Herod dies (Mt 2:13-23).

Scenario 2: The visit of the Magi occurs after day 40 but before year 2 (Herod killed 2 yr old and younger boys), perhaps, during their annual Passover pilgrimage while staying in a  house in Bethlehem just a short way from Jerusalem. Some days later upon hear upon about Herod's edict that all boys born in Bethlehem over the last two years are to be killed they depart for Egypt, returning when Herod dies (Mt 2:13-23).

Both scenarios will work with the narratives provided in the Gospels. However, if you consider them against the common calendar it turns out that Scenario 1 is most likely. Jesus was born in 2 or 3 BC and Herod The Great died just before Passover in 1 BC. If Jesus was 1 years old when Herod died the visit of the Magi had to have occurred earlier when Jesus was an infant. If Jesus was 2 years old when Herod died then Scenario 2 seems feasible but requires the Magi visit to occur near Passover BC 2 when Jesus was 1. It is unlikely that the a second family trip would would be undertaken with an infant just months after visiting the temple on the way home from Bethlehem. In either case the stay in Egypt was short, ranging from a few weeks to no more than a year.

Links to discussions of the calendar dates mentioned above are given below. Biblical references are give in the text and table above.

To read an analysis of what year Jesus was born click here.
To read an analysis of what year Herod the Great died click here.