Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Sunday Sermon: The prodigal son

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Over the years, I have written more than 130 pieces under the topic of Faith. Each of those articles are slowly being re-introduced in this newly formatted website, available by visiting that section of the tool bar.

There have also been more than 70 pieces within a special ‘Sunday Sermon’ series. Those articles specifically come out on Sundays. The most recent piece in the series and on faith topics in general came all the way back in January 2018.

Today’s article marks a return to both the topic and the series. You can look for future ‘Sunday Sermon’ pieces at least every other Sunday from here on out.

Catholics who attend Mass around the world today heard one of the most famous teachings of Jesus. Coming from the New Testament’s Book of Luke, it was the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Basically, the parable goes like this:

A wealthy man has two sons. The younger one goes to him and asks for his inheritance. The father grants his wish, and that son goes off to squander his newfound fortune by living a hedonistic lifestyle, eventually becoming destitute.

That is the very meaning of the word, by the way. Prodigal means to spend money or resources freely and recklessly in a wasteful and often extravagant manner.

In the parable, a famine hits the land. That young son, now poor and ashamed, hires himself out as a laborer. His new master sends the young man out into the fields to tend the hogs, where the young man is so hungry that he wishes he could eat at least what was being fed to the animals.

Then it dawned on the young man that his own father’s servants were treated better than this. They had plenty to eat. So, he decides to return home, beg forgiveness, and hopefully be hired as a servant by his father.

While all that was happening, the older son had remained at home, working hard to help the father maintain his estate. In fact, that older son was out working on the land one day as the younger son suddenly returned home.

As the father was informed of the younger son’s return after many months away, he ran out to enthusiastically greet his son with a warm hug and kiss.

The young son said to his father “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

But the father would have none of it. He ordered his servants to prepare a great feast for this returned prodigal son, saying “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

As the feast was taking place, the older son returns from working hard all day. He saw one of the servants, who informed him as to what was happening.

The older son then confronted the father:

All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!

The father responds:

My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

There are many lessons that can be learned from this wonderful parable. But one of the most important is a reminder from Jesus that, no matter how far away we may have strayed in our lives, our Father is always waiting with open arms to welcome us back.

In the story, this is an earthly father welcoming back his son, who had learned a difficult lesson the hard way. How many of us can fully relate? Probably every single one of us.

But more important is that you should know that, no matter how long you have been away from the Lord, no matter how far away you may have strayed, you can always turn around and come back.

The decision is yours. If you haven’t prayed in awhile, set a few moments aside, and say a prayer asking for help. If you have been away from church, give it another chance. If you have turned your back on God, turn back towards Him.

He will always be there with outstretched arms, waiting happily to welcome you back, just as that father did with his young son in Jesus’ parable.

Sunday Sermon: Jesus Christ is the Church

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When it comes to their faith lives, folks with a deep conviction can be extremely defensive. I’ve even heard some go so far as to claim that those who don’t follow the same belief system and faith practices they do will even end up in hell when they die.

The fact is that neither you nor I, nor anyone else on this planet, has any idea whether any individual human being is going to end up in heaven or hell for eternity. That lack of knowledge holds for everyone from your local rabbi to the Pope. Our ultimate fate is God’s alone to know.

My own faith is rooted in Jesus Christ. I practice and celebrate that faith in the Catholic Church. That is mostly because it is the church in which I was born and raised. I went to Catholic school for 12 years as a child and teen. I even later graduated from a Catholic university as an adult.

While it is my belief that my Catholic Church is the best way to practice the Christian faith, in no way to I believe it is the only way. In the end, it’s not about the Mass or the building or the priest. The Church is none of those things.

The Church is Jesus Christ. He is not only the center, he is everything.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of  all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the famous verse of John 14:6, Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Nowhere does Jesus say that in order to get to heaven you must go to church – any church. He says that all authority is his. He says that he is truth and life. He says to follow him and his teachings if you want to be assured of eternity with the Father.

Don’t get me wrong, church is important. That is especially true of the Catholic Church. As I’ve written a number of times in the past, Jesus Christ founded His Church. It was important to him to have authoritative leadership and teaching continue.

In Matthew 16:18 we find this foundation: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus founded one Church. The word “catholic” itself means universal.

However, in John 14:16-17, Jesus said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper who will be with you forever. That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it doesn’t see or know him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be in you.”

Here Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will come into the world. He also states that the Spirit will not only live with us, but will live in us.
 
Jesus founded one Church, and that universal Catholic church continues today, more than 2,000 years later. 
 
However, the Holy Spirit did indeed come into the world and into our hearts. The Spirit has worked to inspire men and women in ways that have contradicted that universal Catholic Church over the centuries.
 
It would be dangerous, in fact totally wrong, to say and believe that any and every possible means of practicing a form of Christianity is healthy and appropriate. 
 
Misguided men have formed many harmful practices over time in the name of a church. Any honest assessment of even the Catholic Church history would show that misguided men can do a great deal of harm in the name of faith and church.
 
Many have seen the abuses within various Christian churches and decided to maintain a personal relationship with the Lord. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is not preferred, and you are cheating yourself if this is your practice.
 
In Matthew 18:20 we hear Jesus make his famous church and family proclamation: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” He tells us straight out that when we pray and worship him together, he will be present with us.
 
Whatever church you belong to, and even if you choose to maintain a personal or familial relationship with him, you cannot be making a mistake if your true center is Jesus Christ and his own words.
 
The teachings of the prophets in the Old Testament are excellent for education and inspiration. The preaching of the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, the teaching of Paul, and other New Testament works are outstanding guides to follow.
 
But the fact remains that where his Word is present, there is truth. If you follow that Word, those teachings, then you are likely to end up in the spending eternity in the presence of the Father.
 
In the end, Jesus Christ is the Church. 

Sunday Sermon: the Epiphany of the three Magi

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Any number of times over the years the inspiration for these “Sunday Sermon” pieces has been drawn from some idea put forward by the priests at my church.

Today, Father Sean English provided that inspiration with his sermon in which he spoke of the “Three Kings” in relation to today’s celebration of the Epiphany.

The Epiphany goes by a few other names as well, depending on your cultural background or the specific church to which you may belong. The most frequent are for “Little Christmas” or “Three Kings Day” celebrations.

In today’s world, when someone is said to have an “epiphany” it means that some sudden realization has come upon them. A moment of clarity in which something fundamental is revealed to them.

The “three kings” or “three wise men” or even the “Magi” as they have alternately been known through history are credited with both having and passing on such an epiphany following the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.

The word “Magi” is an ancient one. It referred to those who practiced what was known as magic, usually including incorporation and study of alchemy and astrology. These were extremely learned men, bordering on what today would be called scientists more than true magicians.

As Father Sean explained today, the Magi of Jesus’ time were not necessarily aligned with any particular religion. However, they were acquainted with all faith systems, including Judaism.

The Magi may have been followers or even priests of Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. No matter, they certainly would know of the ancient Jewish prophecy regarding the coming of a Savior.

The western Christian churches, including the Catholic Church founded by Jesus himself, believe and teach that there were three of these wise Magi men. That theory was drawn from writings showing that three gifts were brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

One thing is almost certain, they were not “kings” in the classic sense of the word. The reference to “three kings” is almost certainly drawn from prophecies such as Psalm 72 which said “all kings shall fall down before him” in the Jewish Torah, or Old Testament.

The three were said to have come “from the east”, drawn by a star in the sky which their calculations led them to believe would lead to the Savior foretold in the Jewish prophetic writings.

In the western tradition, they went by the names Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, and hailed originally from Persia, India, and Babylonia respectively. Some claim that they actually are meant to represent Europe, Asia, and Africa.

As the Magi neared the end of their long journey, possibly from a home base in the Parthian Empire, the three received word that King Herod, the ruler of Judea, wished an audience with them.

At this meeting, Herod asked that when the Magi found this newborn future “King of the Jews”, that they return and let him know the location of the child. Herod alleged that this was so that he too could go and worship the child. However, his later actions revealed that Herod was actually plotting to kill the child, thus defeating the prophecy and a snuff out a future threat to his rule.

The traditional date of the Epiphany within Christianity is January 6th. However, the Catholic Church celebrates on the Sunday falling between the 2nd and 8th. It is celebrated on other dates by other Christian churches.

When you sing or hear the Christmas song “The Twelve Days of Christmas“, January 6th is that 12th day – exactly twelve days having passed since December 25th, Christmas Day.

The traditions and teachings hold that the Magi followed the star until it came to rest over the little town of Bethlehem in Judea. There, inside of what was essentially a cave-like shelter, lying in a manger, the Magi found the child.

Surrounded by the child’s parents, Mary and Joseph, as well as shepherds who had been visiting since the child’s birth, the wise men presented their gifts.

As pointed out in an article at The Telegraph, the gifts which the three Magi bore were each presented for a specific reason:

The gifts were symbolic of the importance of Jesus’ birth, the gold representing his royal standing; frankincense his divine birth; and myrrh his mortality.

The realization, the moment of clarity, the “epiphany” experienced by the Magi had come with the revelation that this child, this Jesus born in such humble circumstances, was indeed the Savior of prophecy. And this Savior came not only to and for the Jewish people, but all people.

When they had completed their visit, the Magi decided not to return to their homeland by the same route which they had arrived. This would take them past Herod, whose true intentions had been revealed to them. And so they returned to their homes a different way.

It is important that we not only accept Jesus as our personal Savior, but that we do our best to practice that faith and pass it along to our families and other loved ones.

Even should they decide not to follow our example, it remains important to continue demonstrating our faith. At some point, we changed. We accepted Christ into our lives. Our continuing example could prove to be the very thing that opens the eyes, minds, and hearts of others.

This leads us to a final important point that Father Sean made in his sermon. Each of us, having had the truth of Jesus Christ revealed to us, should return to our lives in a different way than we traveled prior to that moment. That pivotal revelation marked our individual, personal epiphany.

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Sunday Sermon: In the end, we all become one with God

Today marks the final Sunday in the liturgical year of the Catholic Church.

Next Sunday begins the season of Advent, the four-week period leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ.
As Advent begins, the readings at Mass will begin to lead us towards that most important and holy moment in the history of humanity.

Today, however, we peer into the future, to the end of time itself.

The second reading today was from the first letter, sometimes called an epistle, written by Saint Paul to the Church at Corinth.

The Yale Divinity School calls this first letter from Paul to the Corinthians “a masterpiece of pastoral theology.” Of this important and lengthy 16-chapter work, Yale further states:

“It challenges us to think about how we relate to the wider world that we fully engage even if it does not always share our values, provoking us to imitate Paul’s pastoral logic, which probes fundamental convictions to see how they apply in difficult situations.”

Corinth today lies in south-central Greece, approximately 48 miles west of Athens. But the Corinth of Paul’s time could be located about two miles southwest of today’s city.

Paul himself founded the original church in Corinth around 50 A.D., less than two decades after Christ’s death. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written during one of his stays at Ephesus. It includes a number of important teachings, and contains a handful of famous sayings that have survived through today.

The focus of my piece today comes from near the end of Paul’s letter, and relates to the end of time. Here, Paul talks of Christ’s return at the second coming, stating that he will destroy “every sovereignty and every authority and power” before finally destroying the “last enemy”, death itself.

Paul then finishes by stating that once everything has been subjected to Jesus Christ, then Christ himself will be subjected to God. This is, as Paul puts it, “that God may be all in all.” In the end, we will all become one with God, through Christ.

You can choose to interpret the exact physical and meta-physical mechanics of that merger with our Creator in a number of ways. However you choose to do so, the fact is that we don’t know when these events will take place. Will they even take place in our lifetimes?

The more important point is that, no matter when the end times come, there is something that we can all and should all be doing right now. We should all be preparing now by subjecting ourselves to Christ.

Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Clearly the most important thing that we can do right now is ensure that we are believers. That we recognize that Christ gave up his life so that we could be freed from sin.

This acceptance, this subjecting of ourselves to Christ in accepting and celebrating his role in our lives, gives us a chance to join God as one of those “all in all” at the end.

A joyous season is about to begin. The birth of your Savior is not far off. As this holy time of year approaches, remember exactly whose birth it is that we will be celebrating.

In the end, we all become one with God. That is only made possible by the one who is about to be born.

Celebrities, unlike the rest of us, can sometimes live forever

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Early 1970’s pop star and teen idol David Cassidy passed away this past Tuesday at the age of 67 years.

Cassidy had been born in April 1950 into a show business family. He was the only child of Jack Cassidy, a Tony Award-winning actor as well as a singer, and Evelyn Ward, a TV and stage actress.

Ward died in 2012 of dementia, a condition that David would also be diagnosed with just two years later.

Earlier this year, David publicly announced his own battle with the illness. He was then forced to retire after the dementia began to seriously manifest itself, particularly in forgetting lyrics to songs he had been singing for decades.

Cassidy was then hospitalized last week suffering from liver and kidney failure. He was placed in a medically-induced coma, which he came out of this past Monday. Doctors were hoping to keep him alive until a liver came available for transplant, but he died the following day of liver failure.

It was a sad, struggling ending for a man who had exited middle age and was turning towards old age. But the fact is, few people are going to remember David Cassidy as a man in his 60’s. They are not even going to remember Cassidy in his 40’s or 50’s.

As with most celebrities, David Cassidy is going to be perpetually in his 20’s. It will be the Cassidy in youth, the one staring out at you from the picture that accompanies this story, that millions will carry in their mind for the rest of their lives.

Cassidy made his Broadway debut in 1969 in a show that quickly closed. But he was encouraged to make a screen test, moved to Los Angeles, and picked up guest appearances on a handful of big name television shows.

In 1970, Cassidy got his biggest break. He was cast in the starring role of ‘Keith Partridge’, the oldest son on a new television series “The Partridge Family” about a music-making clan headed up by a single mother.

The original plan was for the acting cast to do none of the actual music or singing for the show. But Cassidy lobbied for and won the right to sing, and his became the voice of the group on the show and in recordings.

The Partridge Family label created ten albums during its four-season run from 1970-74, and Cassidy sang lead on the vast majority of the songs. He also recorded a handful of solo albums during this period. The group received a 1971 Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist, and also a pair of Golden Globe Awards.

Thanks to songs like “I Think I Love You”, “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat”, “I’ll Meet You Halfway”, “I Woke Up in Love This Morning”, and “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” the bubblegum pop sound of the band, and thus Cassidy’s melodic voice, will live forever with fans of multiple generations.

This also leads to the larger point of this piece. Celebrities can often live forever. Think about it. Long after you and I, and likely anyone else reading this article, is gone from this orb the names, music, and works of numerous celebrities will keep them living on.

Artists who passed away in recent months, years, and even decades such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, John Lennon, George Harrison, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Tom Petty still have their music played regularly. Decades from now that is likely to still be the case.

The feats of notable athletes such as Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, Arnold Palmer, Wilt Chamberlain, and Johnny Unitas are still remembered and celebrated. Again, decades from now that will still be the case.

On the Hollywood scene, acting professionals such as Marilyn Monroe, Alfred Hitchcock, Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, Orson Welles, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Newman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, River Phoenix, and James Gandolfini come to mind among many others. We’ll be watching them perform for decades, as we already have been for some who have been gone that long.

That is to say nothing for notable political and historical figures such as George Washington, Julius Caesar, Princess Diana, Anne Frank, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and more. These folks have lived on for not only decades, but in most cases for centuries after their natural lives came to an end.

Want to get even bigger? What about Jesus Christ? You can even set aside the nearly 2.5 billion people on the planet who, as I do, believe Him to be the living embodiment of God on Earth.

Any reasonable person would at least have to acknowledge that Jesus was a carpenter who became a preacher in the first century. Because of the strength of his message, he not only attracted followers in life, but he was put to death by those who feared his influence. That act led to a faith movement that is still going strong more than two thousand years later.

Now, don’t get me wrong. David Cassidy is no Jesus Christ. His music and acting will not be around and followed in two thousand years – in all likelihood. But for as long as people who were exposed to and enjoyed his work live, and that will at least be decades to come, David Cassidy will live on.

Fame, fortune, adulation, influence. These are the drawing cards of celebrity for many people. Even those who claim to not seek those things are going to gain them if their work is powerful enough. Those things are going to frequently live on, long after the actual celebrity has passed on.

Unlike the rest of us, millions will remember celebrities for decades (at least) after their death. That will certainly be the case with David Cassidy. May he rest in peace, and may God bless his family and friends during this difficult time.