We’re getting ready to start another school year and another year of religion classes. Those who go to Catholic schools have their religion classes at school, but those who go to public or non-Catholic private schools take their religion classes here at the parish. On Tuesday, August 28, we’ll have a meeting for those parents at 6:30 pm, after the 6:00 pm daily Mass.
We used to call this the CCD, which means Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the name of the organization which started the idea of having religion classes for children at parishes. Since almost no one knows what CCD means, we, like many other parishes, normally call it PSR, or Parish School of Religion, but even this can be misleading. It is a school, and we do want to teach these children about God, about the Bible, and about the Catholic tradition. We also want to do more than that. We want to help them form a real relationship with God.
Imagine that you’re sitting next to someone on a plane. For an hour on that plane, they have a captive audience to tell you all about their children and grandchildren and show you all their pictures. If that person is a total stranger and you don’t know their children, then that would be pretty boring, but if you do know them, then suddenly that same conversation is interesting to you. In the same way, it’s not enough to tell people about Jesus; we need to introduce them to Jesus and help them form a personal relationship with Him.
We can’t do that by ourselves. All the hours that these children spend in Church and in religion classes will be useless if they’re not also living it at home. Bring your children to Mass and explain what’s happening to them. If you think you don’t know enough to explain it, send me an email and I’ll help you; that’s my job. For younger children, read them stories about the lives of the saints. For older children and teenagers, get them involved in things at Church, like being an altar server or joining a youth group. Most importantly, live the faith yourself, strive to grow in holiness, and be a witness of what it means to be a Christian and a Catholic. When you try to love God better, you’ll find that you love the people around you more as well. That’s the single best thing you can do for your children.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Next Wednesday is the Assumption of Mary, when we celebrate the fact that God brought Mary into heaven body and soul, meaning that there are only two people in heaven in their bodies, Mary and Jesus. Normally, death means that our soul leaves our bodies. At the moment of death, we are personally judged by God and go to our final reward, heaven, hell, or purgatory. At the end of time, when Jesus comes again, we will all be reunited with our bodies and then there will be the general judgement which is spoken of in Matthew 25 with the separation of the sheep from the goats.
It’s hard for a lot of people to believe that the Blessed Virgin was actually, in fact, brought into heaven body and soul. Most people think of it as simple religious piety or as a myth made up by the Church. However, the apparitions of Mary and the miracles that accompany them throughout the centuries have shown that the Church’s teachings on Mary are true. For example the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego in 1531 and the miraculous image left on the tilma (St. Juan Diego’s cloak), which no science can explain. Also, the apparition of Mary to St. Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858 and the miraculous healings at the spring there. Then, the apparition of Mary in Fatima in 1917 to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta and the miracle of the sun that happened there and was seen by tens of thousands of people.
The assumption of Mary is a sign of hope to us that we, too, can go where she’s gone. It’s easy to believe that Jesus ascended bodily to heaven, because He’s God, but think about what that means. It means that there’s a human being sitting at the right hand of God on the throne of glory. In Christ, humanity is fully united to God, and the Blessed Mother shows us what that means for us. If Mary was brought into heaven, then we can also be brought into heaven, body and soul, if we follow her advice. She tells us the same thing she told the waiters at the wedding feast at Cana, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you” (John 2:5).
Next Week: Parish School of Religion
Today the Lord invites us to realize the importance of the virtue of gratitude and to ask ourselves if we are truly grateful for the gifts that we have received. Gratitude is so important in life. It comes from humility, because we have to realize that we didn’t earn any of the best things in our lives, our existence, our families, and our rights and freedom. But today God is calling on us to recognize an even greater gift, our salvation, the gift of the Son of God Himself and the grace He won for us on the Cross.
Our first reading happens just after the Exodus. The Israelites have spent hundreds of years in slavery in Egypt, forced to work at hard labor, whipped or killed if they won’t work, and their children killed. God hears their prayers and sends Moses to free them. Just days after they’re freed and escape Pharaoh, they begin to complain that they don’t have enough food and water, saying, “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” Instead of going to Moses to ask what the plan is, or praying to God to send them enough food, they immediately start to complain and say that they were better off in Egypt, where they were slaves! So, God gives them the manna, bread that came down from heaven.
The gospel today follows last week’s Gospel, which recounted the multiplication of the loaves and fish, when Jesus fed over 5000 people with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. This happened on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and during the night Jesus and the disciples crossed over to the other side, but the crowd see that Jesus has left and many of them get into boats and cross over to the other side as well. Jesus says to them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Jesus is trying to explain to them that He has better things to give them. He’s trying to teach them about the ways of God, to share God’s love with them, and, ultimately, to give them His own life. He’s talking about spiritual realities, but they’re not quite ready to believe yet. They ask Jesus to perform a sign for them, saying, “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from to eat,” and Jesus responds, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” This is the Eucharist.
Do you know what the word Eucharist means? It’s actually a Greek word, Eukharistia, meaning thanksgiving or gratitude. As the priest takes the bread and wine that were brought up for the Mass, he lifts them up slightly and prays, in a whisper, showing that this prayer is for God, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.” Then, the priest are deacon prepares the chalice by pouring a little water into the wine, and prays, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Then the priest lifts the chalice and prays over it, “Blessed are you, God of all creation, for though your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”
The Eucharist is thanksgiving because in it we thank God for the gift of His Son, who nourishes us with His flesh. We thank God also for the gift of our relationship with God and all of the graces He’s given us, and we thank God for teaching us how to worship Him, which we do, more than any other time, in the Mass.
So what is our response, in gratitude, to this great gift of the Eucharist that God has given us. It’s only ourselves. God doesn’t ask the impossible, and He doesn’t ask us to give anything that we don’t have. Just like Jesus gave Himself to us in love and compassion, we God wants us to give ourselves to Him in love and gratitude. We give ourselves to Him by following His commands, by showing Him respect, and by putting Him first. We give ourselves to God in our prayers and in the Mass. We also give ourselves to God in the love we show our neighbors, especially those who are most in need.
Fr. Bryan Recommends
Daughter Zion by Pope Benedict XVI
Before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Munich in Germany in 1951. In 1977 he would become the Cardinal Archbishop of that diocese, but he would only stay in that post for four years. In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger as head, or Prefect, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. His job as Prefect of the CDF was to promote and defend the teaching of the Catholic Church on faith and morals. As Prefect, he would work closely with Pope St. John Paul II on numerous projects, such as putting together the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ratzinger retired from this post on April 2, 2005, only to be elected Pope himself 17 days later. He took the name Benedict XVI.
As a renowned theologian and biblical scholar, he wrote many books and articles. One of my favorites, however, is Daughter Zion, which is about Mary, the Mother of God, and the Church’s teachings about the Blessed Virgin. He explains how Mary is both Virgin and Mother, how she was kept free from original sin, and how she was assumed bodily into heaven using passages from the Bible and the great teachers in the history of the Church, and he does it in a way that is easy to follow but will give everyone who reads it something to think about.
It may be a good time to read up on Mary, since we’re getting close to the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15.
Next Week: To be decided.
Today is the memorial of St. Mary Magdalen, who was one of the disciples of the Lord during His life and the first person to announce His Resurrection. Everything that we know about her for sure comes from the Bible. We know that she was a friend and follower of Jesus. In her love for Jesus, she anointed his feet with oil and washed them with her hair (John 12). We also know that Jesus exorcised 7 demons from her.
Aside from this, St. Mary Magdalen is one of the most controversial saints there is, not because of anything she did, but because of what has been said about her by others. First, many people are under the impression that St. Mary Magdalen was a prostitute before she became a follower of Jesus. This is probably because of a misinterpretation of the Bible, but there isn’t actually any evidence that she was a prostitute.
Second, there are 2 different cities that claim to have the remains of St. Mary Magdelen. The Greek Church claims that St. Mary Magdalen went with St. John and Mary the Mother of Jesus to Ephesus, where she lived until her death. Her body was moved to Constantinople (now called Istanbul) in 866. The French claim that she went with Lazarus and several others to Marseilles, France, where she became a hermit until her death. These remains were moved around several times and are now at La Sainte-Baume. It’s probably impossible to tell which story is true, but we do know that having the relics of a popular saint like Mary Magdalen brings in a lot of tourists and pilgrims, both in the Middle Ages and now, and can bring a lot of prestige and wealth to the city where they’re kept.
Finally, a line of French kings, called the Merovingian dynasty, which ruled France from about 450 to 750 A.D., claimed to be descended from Jesus Christ himself. They claimed that St. Mary Magdalen was Jesus’ wife and that she was pregnant when Jesus was crucified. They claim that she travelled to France after He ascended to heaven, and that they are descendants of that child. First, there is no evidence that this is anything other than a lie that they told to increase their own importance. Second, if this is true, then they’re claiming that Jesus is basically a deadbeat dad who abandoned his wife and child, which is clearly ridiculous. Finally, we know from the testimony and writings of the earliest Christians, people who actually knew Jesus personally, that Jesus was never married and practiced celibacy throughout His life. You may remember this idea from Dan Brown’s fictional novel, The Davinci Code, or the movie based on it.
Despite these controversies, St. Mary Magdalen herself can be a huge help to people spiritually. She’s the patron saint against sexual temptation, of drug stores and pharmacists, contemplatives, converts, women, people ridiculed for their piety, and of the diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah, among many others. She was one of the few followers of Jesus to remain faithful to Him even through His arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion. When most of the others ran away and hid, she stayed with Him, with St. John, the Virgin Mary, and several other women. May we have her courage and conviction of faith, even when we have to suffer false accusations.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Fr. Bryan Howard
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 8 July 2018
I was born November 14, 1983, at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. At Charity, they didn’t let anyone go into the delivery room, so my family, including my dad and grandparents, were waiting in the waiting room. Eventually, the doctor came in to announce that I was born, and that I’m a boy. Apparently, my dad said that he was so excited that he could scream. My Maw Maw told him that he couldn’t scream in a hospital but, if he really wanted to scream, he could stick his head out the window, and that’s what he did. He stuck his head out of the window and screamed something unintelligible.
I remember another time, just a few years ago, sitting in a waiting room in Flagstaff, AZ, waiting for news about my second Nephew, Cameron. His dad, Jeff, was allowed in the delivery room because he’s a nurse, but my mom and I were in the waiting room with my oldest nephew, Caleb, who was 5 at the time. Later that day I would get to hold Cameron for the first time, to see Caleb hold his little brother, under the watchful eyes of their father. Life in any form is beautiful, but there’s something especially precious about a newborn.
Today, I want to speak about abortion. It’s well known that the Church is against abortion, and there are many reasons why it is, but it all comes down to the precious gift of life. Life is a gift from God. First of all, God created everything there is, so nothing would exist at all without Him. But more than that, God created each one of our souls individually. At the moment when you were conceived, God directly created your soul, thus giving you not only physical life but also spiritual life, and he’s done the same for every person who’s ever existed, or will exist in the future.
Abortion advocates try to use many different arguments for why abortion should be allowed, but it usually comes back to denying that it’s really murder. The definition of murder is deliberately taking the life of an innocent human being. They’ll say that the unborn babies aren’t really alive, or that they’re not really human yet, or, worst of all, that they’re not really innocent, that they’re invaders in their mother’s womb. If life doesn’t begin at conception, then when does it begin, at birth? Does the location of the baby either inside of the womb or outside of it make that much of a difference? Does my location change the nature of what I am? If I leave this building and walk into another one does that change the fact that I’m alive or that I’m human?
Or the claim that an unborn baby isn’t human? Well, what is it then? The unborn baby, even as a single-celled zygote, has human DNA and will develop, if allowed to, into an adult human being.
Finally, it all comes down to whether the baby is wanted or not. But that’s not really true either, is it? Many women who have abortions, especially young women and teenagers, want to keep their baby but feel like they don’t have any choice, either because they’re being pressured into having an abortion, or because they’re convinced that they’re life will be ruined if they do give birth, or because they just don’t know what to do.
Abortion advocates say they want abortions to be available, safe, and rare, but abortions are anything but safe. In a successful abortion, there’s always at least one life lost, and a lot of times the mother suffers as well. There are the physical effects of the abortion on the mother, the pain, sometimes the loss of the ability to get pregnant again, and, admittedly rarely, the mother dies from complications or botched abortions. There are also the psychological effects. In 2011, Psychology Today reported that women who have an abortion are 81% more likely to develop mental health problems. Some of the problems they are at high risk for are anxiety, depression, and suicide compared to women who haven’t had an abortion. If you’re in this position, I urge you to seek healing. Come talk to me or another priest, call the Women’s New Life Center, or reach out to a friend; you aren’t alone, and you don’t have to bear this burden alone. God loves you, and wants to help you find healing.
If you’re wondering what you can do, we have an unprecedented opportunity right now. Recently, Justice Anthony Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court. In the 1992 case on abortion, he had switched his vote at the last minute, thus keeping abortion legal. If the Supreme Court Justice who replaces him is pro-life, then we may be able to end legalized abortion in this country. So, the first thing we need to do is pray and fast for an end to abortion. Not this Wednesday, but next Wednesday we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament form 8:30 am to 7:00 pm. Please make a point to stop by the Church and offer prayers for that goal. On the last weekend of this month, the Knights of Columbus will lead a pro-life rosary before each Mass. Finally, you may want to write you our Senators to encourage them to support a pro-life nominee to the Supreme Court.
There have been over 60 million abortions in the US since it was legalized in 1973, and there are thousands of abortions every day in the US. May we always remember that we are all God’s children, we are all made in His image and likeness, and every life is precious.
Tuesday, July 3, marks the one year anniversary since I became pastor here at Our Lady of Lourdes. I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all for welcoming me into the parish, into this community, and into your lives. Being a pastor, and being your pastor here, brings me great joy. I’ve often said that it takes me a full year to really settle in at a new parish, because you need to experience the entire liturgical year and all of the seasons with the Church. Now that I’ve been here a year, I can say that I’m even happier to be here than I was when I first got here.
We’ve had a lot of changes over the past year as a parish. The construction on the new Hall, or Parish Community Center (PCC), was really just getting underway when I arrived, they broke ground just a few months before I got here. We got to see the foundation get poured, the frame go up, the walls go in, and everything start to take shape. Archbishop Aymond came out in January to bless the new building, and we finally got to move in in March. It took some people a few weeks to realize that the offices had moved from the Rectory (which is now only my residence) to the PCC, and Fedex still sometimes makes deliveries to the Rectory. The new building has allowed us to restart the Nifty Fifty group, move parish meetings out of the Church, have nicer receptions, and have better facilities for CCD classes and youth ministry.
We’ve also seen some small changes to the liturgical life of the parish. You may not have noticed if you haven’t been directly involved, but we reworked the parish guidelines for Funerals and Weddings last November, and we just recently reworked the parish guidelines for Infant Baptisms. These are in the handouts rack in Church and on the parish website in the Sacraments section. I’ll take this opportunity to clear up a common misunderstanding. We don’t charge a fee for funerals or baptisms for use of the Church or for the priest, although there is a musicians fee if you choose to have a cantor. Anything you want to give to the Church for those services is purely voluntary, and it all goes to the Church’s operating fund. We’re also getting ready to do training sessions for all liturgical ministers, including altar servers, lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and ushers, not least of all because we have a new deacon in the parish, Dcn. Craig.
In this coming year, I want to continue to push the importance of the sacraments in the life of the Church, especially going to Mass every weekend and regular Confession. I’m also going to start putting more emphasis on devotions, like the rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, and novenas.
Finally, we’re blessed to have a lot of young families and children in the parish. Last year we had 125 kids enrolled in religion classes from 1st to 11th grade, which is fantastic. As a parish, I think we need to focus on welcoming these young families, children, and teenagers into the community and offering programs for them.
As I said in the beginning, I’m happy to be in such a lively, devoted, and close-knit church, and I pray that we continue to grow as one family in Christ.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Fr. Bryan Howard
The Nativity of St. John the Baptist – 24 June 2018
This is only the second time in my priesthood that this feast day has fallen on a Sunday; the last time was in 2012. The Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist celebrates the birth of the man who was called to help prepare the way for the public ministry of Jesus. What we want to look at today is how we can prepare the way for Jesus in our own lives. Do we take the time to listen to God?
St. John’s father, Zechariah, was a Jewish priest. The priests would take turns serving at the Temple and when their rotation was done they’d go back home. During his groups rotation, Zechariah was in the Holy Place putting incense into the incense bowl when an angel appeared to him, the Archangel Gabriel. St. Gabriel told him that his wife, Elizabeth, would become pregnant, even though she was past her childbearing years, and that the child would be filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
It was clear that John was special, even before he was born. When Gabriel the Archangel came to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, he also told her that Elizabeth, her cousin, was pregnant. So Mary went to visit Elizabeth. When she went in, John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, because he recognized that Jesus was there, even though He was still in Mary’s womb.
If we want to prepare ourselves and the people around us to receive the Lord, the first thing we have to do is recognize that He is with us. We know that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, in the words of the Bible, and in the Church, but do we see that Jesus is present in our own souls? At Baptism we receive the indwelling of the Trinity, which means that God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, comes to live in us, and God is even present in non-Christians, because He created them. It’s so easy to forget that God is right here, with us, all the time, but we can learn how to be more aware of God from St. John the Baptist.
John needed to prepare that people of Israel for the Messiah, but how did he do it? Did he go to the Temple, where all of the Jewish people go at least twice a year? No. Did he go around to all of the cities and towns, like Jesus Himself did? No. He went out into the desert. He wore animal skins for clothes and eat locusts and wild honey. If we could ask John one thing, it would probably be, “Why?” Sometimes you need to get away from all of the distractions of daily life in order to be able to hear what God is trying to tell you. The people went out to see John because they knew that he spoke the word of God, and out there, in the desert, it might have been just a little bit easier to listen.
Between tv, radio, the internet, cell phones and smart phones, and social media. Think about this. There’s nowhere that you’re out of reach. Before the telephone became common, once you left work, if you’re boss needed you back before your next shift, he would actually have to send a person to get you. But it’s not just that we’re never out of touch, it’s that we’re constantly being bombarded with information, with advertisements, and with entertainment. Sometimes we find it difficult to just sit and be silent, without talking or thinking or doing anything. I’ve blamed this on technology, but that’s not really true. Over 150 years ago a philosopher named Kierkegaard said, “If I were a physician, and if I were allowed to prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, how could one hear it with so much noise? Therefore, create silence.”
The world has gotten a lot noisier since the 1800s, and it’s gotten that much more difficult to hear the people around us, but we’re also very good at ignoring the things we don’t want to hear. We have to be good at it or we’d probably go craze. The problem is when we ignore the really important things. Have you ever been driving somewhere and realize that you don’t really remember the last few minutes? You were just driving by memory and not fully paying attention to the road. That’s a scary feeling. Sometimes, we do that with life. We just do things by memory, not really paying attention, but just doing what we’ve always done. We need to shake ourselves out of our routine to really appreciate what’s going on in our lives.
I want to invite all of you this week to silence. Go sit on the front porch with a glass of ice tea, or go for a walk, or visit the adoration chapel at Prompt Succor, push everything out of your head, work, school, family and friends, your to-do list, give all of that to God to take care of for 15 minutes, and just sit with God in the silence. Ask God what He wants to tell you, and just listen. God is always talking to us, but usually we’re too busy to listen. If we just stop every once in a while it might help us to hear what He’s saying the rest of the time.
A member of our parish, Craig Taffaro, was ordained as a deacon of the Catholic Church on Saturday, June 23, at St. Louis Cathedral-Basilica. This is a great blessing for our parish and I want to congratulate Craig and his family.
The diaconate is the oldest of the three ranks of the hierarchy, the others being bishops and priests. The ordination of the first deacons is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles in the bible, Acts 6:1-6. It records that the early Church grew very quickly as the apostles preached the Gospel and made many converts from Judaism. Eventually, the apostles found that there were too many people for them to continue to do everything themselves, so they choose seven men from the community of believers. The apostles prayed over these men and laid hands on them, which is the same way that deacons are ordained today; the bishop lays his hands on their heads and then prays over the men to be ordained.
The Bible records that the role of the deacons was ministry to the needy, to preach the Gospel, and to assist the apostles and later bishops of the Church. Eventually, the Church would grow big enough that all of the Christians in a town or city couldn’t fit in one Church, so parishes were formed and priests ordained to run those parishes, and the deacons would also assist the priests in the parishes, but they didn’t come until later on.
The Church has grown and developed over the last 2 millennia, but deacons are still basically the same as those first 7 deacons. They still assists the bishops in governing the Church, the still serve at Mass and minister to the needy, and they still preach the Gospel. Today is a good time to give thanks to God for the gift of the diaconate and the ministry of deacons in the Church, and that one of our own was called to the order of deacons. Please pray for Craig and the other men that were ordained deacons this weekend.
Next Week: One Year Anniversary
Fr. Bryan Howard
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 17 June 2018
Today’s readings teach us that appearances can be deceiving, and that the Lord can take something that seems to be small and insignificant and make something great come out of it. We are that small and insignificant thing, and the Lord wants to make something great happen within us, but He can only do it if we cooperate with His work. If we are full of ourselves, then we won’t have any room left over for the Lord, so we must empty ourselves and ask God to fill us back up.
In the first reading, the Prophet Ezekiel is talking about the Kingdom of Israel. At the time He’s speaking, the 10 Northern tribes had been conquered by the Assyrian Empire, the people taken into exile and scattered, and foreigners settled on their land. Now, the two tribes that are left have been attacked and defeated by the Babylonian Empire and are on the brink of defeat. Ezekiel says that right now, they are like a little branch that’s been torn off from the tree, but the Lord will plant that branch and make a large Cedar grow from it, thus restoring the Kingdom. He says, “And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom.”
In the Gospel Jesus uses something even smaller, a seed, a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all the seeds. The mustard seed grows into a great plant and all the birds of the air find shelter in its branches. The seed represents the Church, which started out small and insignificant, just 11 apostles, Mary, and maybe a few others. They had no money, no power, and no important people, as the world counts it, but God made the Church grow, underground, as it were, and today it’s the largest religion in the world and all peoples are welcomed under her roof.
In many places the Church still seems weak and insignificant, like the Middle East, China, Vietnam, and many other places where Christians are persecuted. Remember, there have been many times throughout history when the Church seemed on the brink of defeat from tyrants like Nero, Diocletian, and Emperor Henry V, and the various Muslim invasions of Europe. Those tyrants and their regimes are now nothing more than footnotes to history, but the Church is still here, not because the leaders of the Church were so wise and good, but thanks to the grace of God.
The idea of the little seed that becomes the great plant might remind you of something else that Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus is the seed. Jesus was born as the son of a poor carpenter, who couldn’t even get a room at the inn, not the son of a wealthy nobleman. He lived His life in obscurity before starting His public ministry. He didn’t seek fame, in fact He told people not to tell anyone about the miracles He performed. He didn’t try to overthrow the government, but He allowed Himself to be crucified with common criminals. He emptied Himself and was planted, or buried, in the ground, but He rose again on the third day in glory. He showed us that we must also empty ourselves by making ourselves small and humble, then one day we too will arise in glory, the glory that only God can give. If we try to take it for ourselves, then we will lose it forever, but if we follow Him, and take up our crosses, then He will bring us into the Kingdom of Heaven.
I recently read something that illustrates my point. This story was recorded by St. Justin Martyr, who was born about the year 100 A.D. and lived just 20 miles or so from Nazareth. He knew the descendants of people who knew Jesus before He started His public ministry. The story was passed down that Jesus was a carpenter and He specialized in making yokes for Oxen. For a poor farmer, an ox might be the most expensive thing they own, like a piece of heavy farm equipment today. If the yoke wasn’t fit just right then it would rub on the ox’s shoulders and create sores, which might get infected and kill the ox. Jesus had the reputation of being the best with animal collars and yokes, and people would come from all over the region of Galilee to have their animals fitted for collars by Jesus. This is how we empty ourselves. In whatever you happen to be doing, in how you treat your family, how you treat strangers, how you do your job, how you pray, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, do it to the best of your ability, do it with love and compassion, and do it so that it makes a worthy offering to the Lord.