Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Friends,

January 31st is the Feast day of St. John Bosco, and he happens to be the patron of schoolchildren. He was born in Italy on August 16, 1815, into a poor family of farmers. His father, Francis, passed away when John was only two years old, leaving his mother, Margherita, to raise John and his two older brothers on her own. John worked very hard on the farm to help support his family.

When John was nine years old, he had several vivid dreams that would influence the rest of his life. In one of those dreams, he was fighting with a group of boys who were cursing and acting unruly. He tried to stop them, but they wouldn’t listen. In the dream, Jesus and Mary appeared to John. Jesus told him, “Not with blows will you help these boys, but with goodness and kindness!” The boys turned into growling wild animals and then into lambs when Mary put out her hand. She told John, “This is the field of your work. Be humble, steadfast, and strong!” St John Bosco would later say that he realized that God was calling him, calling him to a vocation, calling him to action to stop standing on the sidelines and to get involved.

St. John Bosco would eventually become a priest and founder of the Salesians, an order dedicated to educating and forming young men.  He would teach them the same message he had received, not to stand on the sidelines but to get involved, to be faithful, industrious, and virtuous.   He was a very successful educator.  Our school here at St. Joseph’s strives to do the same for our kids.  Our motto being, “We will know the faith, share the faith, and live the faith.”  In other words, like St. John Bosco we will not stand on the sidelines but get involved.  Not long ago our school gave witness to the sanctity of life with two marches.  The elementary students marched and prayed a rosary in support of life while the middle schoolers carried signs and marched through the neighborhood.  “We will know the faith, share the faith, and live the faith.” 

In our gospel today we got a view of the spiritual battle that is waged between good and evil.   And as long as we are here on earth we cannot avoid being involved in this spiritual battle.  The devil is just too interested in making our lives miserable, both now and forever.  He works hard to separate us from God.  But as we heard in our gospel Jesus can expel the demon from the possessed man easily and definitively.  And still today our Lord gives us the same grace and strength to be victorious in the spiritual battle. 

There are three things that we can do and practice that will help this strength flow more freely in our lives.

First, stay close to Jesus.  It was because this possessed man in our Gospel was close to Jesus, that our Lord was able to expel the demon.  The same goes for us if we stay close to our Lord, especially through daily prayer and the worthy reception of the Eucharist.  Second, stay close to truth. Know especially the truths of your Catholic faith.  The devil’s main weapon is deception.  He manipulates our selfish tendencies by spreading lies and half-truths. This is one reason he fights to keep us out of the confessional.  Confession is the gift of truth:  We face the truth about ourselves By confessing our sins, our failures, and our weaknesses, we face the truth about ourselves.  And God, through the priest, reminds us of His truth: mercy, forgiveness, unconditional grace.  The devil loves the darkness; but confession unleashes the light.  Third, stay close to others in need.  The devil is the lord of selfishness, while Christ is the Lord of self-gift.  When we resist our selfishness by serving others, whatever their need may be, we weaken the devil’s influence in our lives.

These three practices can be summarized as “Know the faith, share the faith, and live the faith.” 

I want to end with a story I read on Church Pop earlier this week.   It’s about a priest by the name of Fr. Cepada and he had recently been assigned to a new parish.  After Mass on his first day, he was approached by a couple with a young boy and they asked him if their son Gabriel could serve Mass as his altar boy.  Fr. Cepada said sure, bring him back tomorrow.  Next day Gabriel was there in the sacristy dressed in his new cassock and surplice.  Fr. Cepada came to learn that Gabriel had never served Mass before so he told him, just do what I do, and after Mass I can teach you how to serve.  That was a mistake.  When Fr. Cepada entered the sanctuary and kissed the altar so did Gabriel.  And during the homily Fr. Cepada made hand gestures and so did Gabriel.  He mimicked every hand movement of Fr. Cepada.  The people in the pews just smiled and laughed through the entire homily. 

So, after Mass Fr. Cepada gave him some instructions and they practiced.  He also made sure to tell Gabriel not to kiss the altar and not to make those hand gestures.  But Gabriel asked, “Why do you kiss the altar?”  Fr. Cepada answered, “That kiss is for Jesus, the altar is a symbol of Jesus, and my kiss is a sign of my love and honor and respect for him.”  “I want to kiss the altar too; I want to kiss Jesus” said Gabriel!  “No, I’ll kiss the altar for the both of us,” said Fr. Cepada.

Next day, Gabriel did not kiss the altar; instead, he laid his cheek against the altar.  After Mass Fr. Cepada asked him why he did that, and Gabriel simply said, “I’m letting Jesus kiss me.”

Every Christian is a spiritual warrior. And we need all the help we can get.  So, every time we pray, receive the sacraments, worship at Mass, read scripture, and do good to others we are letting ourselves be loved by our Lord.  We are letting ourselves be filled with His grace.  It’s when we sin and forget to pray, avoid the confessional, avoid Mass, and avoid doing good that we reject that kiss of grace. 

I end with a question, “Is there something extra you will do this week in order to be a greater recipient of God’s grace?”  That you might be a stronger warrior in the spiritual battle.  (Extra prayer, a rosary, daily Mass during the week, adoration of the Eucharist, confession doing good for someone in need)

May we let God’s grace work in us, may we let ourselves receive that kiss of grace.  And like St. John Bosco may we always know our Catholic faith, share our Catholic faith, and live our Catholic faith.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley