INTRODUCTION The title of my homily for this Wednesday in the First Week of Ordinary Time is, “Belief In Demons.” If we want to understand the Bible, we better get an understanding of demons. It helps if we have relatives from Italy or from Spanish countries. Yet, demons, the evil eye, evil forces, are pretty much part of all the old cultures of the world. Today some people have trouble saying, “I believe in God.” Would it be more difficult to say, “I believe in demons”? I don’t know. I’d have to think about that and do more listening and studying on that one. DEMONS If we read the scriptures and / or if we study the cultures of the Mediterranean Basin - as well as Africa - and Asia - we find evidence of a regular belief in demons - and spirits - and scary energies. To the Greeks demons or “daimons” are lesser deities - some good - some bad. Breaking the Greek word, “daimon” down - it has in it the root word “to know”. Demons know. There are demons at one’s doorstep. There are demons in the marketplace. There are demons in one’s sleep. There is a specific demon - “Utukku” who attacks the neck. Another - named “Namtaru” attacked the throat. And on and on and on. There are demons that attack pregnant women. There are demons that come with the south wind - or what have you. And in time they get specific names. We usually think of demons as bad - because when we are sick or troubled - when we’re filled with negative vibes - then we’re more apt to think of demons as evil - and negative. In general they are usually bad forces - bad spirits. But angels - are forces - that are good - and bring energy - and demons are certainly forces of energy. So we see Angels at entrances to churches. The Holy Water fonts at the main entrance at St. Mary’s are two marble angels. In the great cathedrals of Europe we see gargoyles up there on the walls - and at the tops of pillars - that are part of the draining system - and they spit out water - or what have you. They are also saying that evil should stay outside - when people go into pray.
In the Holy, Holy at Mass, we say “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts!” We hear about the presence of countless hosts of Angels.” We hear about Thrones and Dominions - and all those around God’s altar in heaven. So some of those hosts are these good spirits. TODAY’S GOSPEL Here in today’s gospel, Peter’s mother-in-law has demons - and as a result she is sick - and can’t serve. So Jesus heals here of her sickness - and she rises to serve. The message is obvious: Jesus can heal and help us deal with our bad demons. Obviously, we know a lot more about sickness in the year 2012 than they knew in 32 - in the year of the Lord. But today there are still lots of sicknesses where the Lord Jesus can enter into the story. We could list mental sickness …. depression …. alcoholism (In the first step, one declares that I am powerless of demon rum). In the second step one declares that there is a power greater than myself who can help - and for some this is God. CONCLUSION The goal of my homily is to simply state that in Scriptural texts and Scripture settings, we’ll hear about demons - who were a very real part of human life in the both Testaments. The bottom line then would be prayer and to declare what we heard in today’s first reading, “Here I am Lord, I’m listening.” Here I am Lord I’m waiting for your power to heal me - so I can serve better. Amen.
INTRODUCTION The title of my homily for this First Tuesday in Ordinary Time is, “The Gospel of Mark.” As you know, this year - 2012 - is the year for the Gospel of Mark for our Sunday Gospels in Ordinary Time. Last year, year A, was Matthew. This year, year B, this year, is Mark. Next year, Year C, will be the year of Luke. That’s the Sunday gospels. However, Mark being the shortest of the gospels - only 16 chapters - gets bumped on a few Sundays. This will happen next Sunday, but on the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we’ll start going through the Gospel of Mark for the rest of the year - with a few exceptions. That’s Sundays. On weekdays in Ordinary Time we have Mark for the first 9 weeks of Ordinary Time readings. This year, that’s till June 9th, then we'll start Matthew, then finish the year with Luke. LOOKING AT THE GOSPEL OF MARK Mark is the shortest and the earliest of the gospels - dated to around 64 to 67. A.D. Last week I noticed in Newman Book Store in Washington D.C. - not too far from Catholic University and the National Shrine - that they had books on Mark on display. Last year there were books on Matthew featured. So we keep on getting new books on the gospels. This year people will find books on Mark to look at. There will be workshops in parishes on Mark as well. So by the end of this year folks will have a greater grasp of the themes and main emphases found in the Gospel of Mark. With the changes after Vatican II in the Liturgy, the Catholic Church cannot be attacked as not being Biblical. I always like to quote the mandate of Vatican II in The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, # 51. “The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.” So this year we have Mark on Sundays in Ordinary Time as well as at the first 9 weeks in Ordinary Time of the church year. Lent jumps in with Ash Wednesday. Then there is the Easter season. Then after Easter and Pentecost - on Monday May 28th we get back to Mark - to finish his pre-Passion account messages on Saturday June 9th (i.e, finishing with Mark 12: 38-44.) I’ve met people who say, “Mark is my favorite gospel!” but I’ve heard more say it’s Luke or John. And I just read in Time magazine that Tim Tebow draws not only on the famous John 3:16 text that has been seen on signs at many football games, but also on the Gospel of Matthew - especially that we be salt and light to the world.  ONE QUICK TAKE For a sermon thought for today, let me offer a strange idea or a different take. I’ll be quick. By serendipity or by chance, today’s first reading from 1st Samuel has the story of Hannah going to the temple shrine at Shiloh to pray to God to get pregnant. Her prayer is very specific. She wants to have a son. She does what many people do. She bargains with God. She makes promises to God. Her prayer is very clear. It’s a vow prayer: "LORD of hosts, If you look with pity on the misery of your handmaid, if you remember me and do not forget me, if you give your handmaid a male child, I will give him to the LORD for as long as he lives; neither wine nor liquor shall he drink, and no razor shall ever touch his head.” Yesterday we celebrated the feast of The Baptism of the Lord, so we didn’t get the reading from First Samuel that is right before today’s text. It tells us that Hannah went to this shrine every year - with her prayer and she was not having luck with pregnancy. However, her husband’s other wife, Penniah, had several children and rubbed it in that Hannah didn’t have kids. Perhaps, Penniah's motive for irking Hannah was, as the text indicates, that Elkanah, the husband of the two wives, liked Hannah more. Well, today’s story has Eli, the priest, watching Hannah pray. Her lips are moving without making any sounds. He thinks she’s drunk. She isn’t and she tells Eli that she isn’t. She says she’s praying for a child. Well, he says, “Go in peace and may God grant your request.” That’s the way these stories are told. And she has a son: Samuel. Well, here’s a twist - triggered by this story that Eli thought Hanna was drunk. There is a book by John C. Mellon entitled, “Mark As Recovery Story.” He writes the whole book as if Mark has alcoholism in mind in his gospel. Sure enough he sees today’s gospel story of the man yelling in the synagogue as someone who could be an alcoholic. Interesting.  I read John Mellon's book and don’t agree that Mark has this in mind. However, ever since I read that book, whenever I read the Gospel of Mark, it challenges me to see that as a possibility in the different stories and incidents in his gospel. So that's why I push reading a book on a specific gospel. It triggers nuances, wonderings, questions, possibilities, that we didn't see before. TWO CONCLUSIONS 1) Check the library or on line for books on Mark. 2) This year, read and pray with the Gospel of Mark on your own. Also, during this year here in church, listen to the Gospel of Mark when it’s used on Sundays - and when it’s used this first part of ordinary time with your issues in mind - whether it’s alcohol or what have you. Amen.
NOTES Painting on top: St. Mark by James Tissot (1836-1902) by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, NYC. NY  Jon Meacham, "Faith on the Field", "Tebow's Testimony", Time magazine, January 16, 2012, pp. 40-42  John C. Mellon, Mark as Recovery Story, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1995
The title of my homily for this feast of the Baptism of Jesus is, “Feeling Dirty, Feeling Clean.”
There are various options for readings for today - so I didn’t know what to preach on. Baptism obviously. The readings last week mentioned baptism as well - and I preached on baptism on Friday at Heritage Harbor - and I had a nice baptism yesterday - so baptism is on my mind - but what to preach on?
I asked myself, “What is the essence of baptism? What is the key meaning - the central reality - of baptism?”
Since water is the main ingredient, I assumed the answer would either be cleaning or life. Without water, there is no life.
Come Holy Spirit - enlighten me - to what is the best answer to the question: “What is the essence of baptism?”
The answer that hit me for today is, “cleanliness”. "Come to the waters!"
Sometimes when we really feel grungy and grimy, we say to ourselves, “I need a good shower.”
Way before showers - or if people prefer baths, it would be, “I need a good bath.”
And we come up out of the water or out of the shower feeling new, cleansed, alive and awake. And people go to the ocean or to water falls or lakes or pools or the river - for renewal.
JOHN THE BAPTIST’S BAPTISM
If one reads the scriptures carefully, John the Baptist called people to the Jordan River, so they could bathe themselves, cleanse themselves, wash themselves free of sin. Repent! Change! Start again. [Cf. today’s gospel, Mark 1: 7-11]]
I was told in theology and scripture studies that John saw his baptism as a reenactment. When the people of Israel entered the Promised Land way back when, they came to the Jordan River. They then down went one river bank - went through the waters - and came up the other side a new people. With God’s promise, they were being given a fresh start in the Promised Land. [Cf. Joshua 3: 1-17]
There is a catch in this interpretation because in the Book of Joshua - as in the Book of Exodus - when the people crossed through the waters, the waters parted. [Cf. Exodus 14: 15-31] In time and in memory - in song and in story - these moments were connected and seen as going through the waters in order to enter new life - to be given freedom and a fresh start.
How many western movies have we seen a scene where someone who has been in a lot of trouble or mess says, “Let’s ride to Rio Grande - cross the river into Mexico - and make a fresh start on the other side?” How many people cross the ocean or rivers and come to a new place - with the idea of a fresh new start.
The Greek word for dip is “baptizo” - from which we get our word, “baptism”.
The word was used in describing the process of dyeing clothes. Garments were dipped into a colored liquid. The word was used to describe putting a ladle into soup or water to draw some out. In the gospel of Luke the word is used for washing.
So it has many meanings.
The key issue is the symbolic action. The key thing is to see baptism as a religious gesture - a reenactment - an action that gets across a deep message and a deep reality.
In the Dead Sea Qumran Community around the time of Christ they had ceremonial washings. The documents that they have found there say that mere washing is not enough. An inner change - an inner purification of the soul - is called for. 
When little kids say a dirty word, a mom or dad give the warning, “I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap and water.” Kids get that message - probably because they tasted what soap and water taste like - perhaps when they got water in their mouth while taking a bath.
When adults say the wrong thing. When gossip or a cutting remark comes out of our mouth - we feel ugly. We feel dirty. We might even shake our head. Is that an attempt to push the dirty feeling our tongue has for being used to hurt someone - to their face or behind their back?
So down deep - we get baptism.
When parents of a new born baby pick god-parents for their child - I would think they have inborn instinct about those they pick and those they don’t pick.
Down deep we know what it feels like to be right with God and ourselves and others - and when we feel wrong about ourselves and others.
Down deep we know that the old saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” - makes sense.
Down deep we feel the need for confession or to get to church - to say the prayers in the first part of the Mass. Down deep we get the meaning of blessing ourselves with Holy Water when we come into church - so as to be clean. We get why people wash their feet in some religious ceremonies or before entering a temple or mosque.
Some people sometimes feel, “I just need to take a shower.”
And hopefully we hear the words of God the Father said over Jesus once again, “This is my beloved son [or daughter].” And we feel the Holy Spirit breathing deep within us once again. Amen.
So baptism means many things. I’m stressing today the idea of being cleansed - getting a fresh start - and feeling clean again. I ask you to do your homework and ask yourself, “What’s my take on what baptism means”?
 John McKenzie, S.J., Dictionary of the Bible, "Baptism," page 79
The title of my homily for this feast of the Epiphany is, “Shepherds and Kings.”
When we walk up to the Christmas crib or crèche, we see shepherds and kings.
They are not there by accident.
NO SMOKING SIGN
I follow the “No Smoking” sign rule when I read the Bible.
If it’s in here, it’s in here for a reason.
Smoke gets in your eyes.
If there is a “No Smoking” sign in a building - or now - just outside the entrance of a building - someone has been smoking there - and somebody doesn’t want smokers there.
If there are speed bumps, if there are “No Dogs Allowed” signs, if there is a violinist playing on the street and there is a box in front of him or her, they are expecting a tip.
Everything on stage - everything in a good story - is there for a reason. Everyone who has done plays knows Chekhov’s rule, “If in the first act, you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following act, it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”
So if we hear about shepherds in the Christmas readings and Wise Men or Magi or Kings at the Epiphany readings, they are here for a reason.
THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE
There are two kinds of people who discover the Light - who discover Jesus - who discover God.
Today’s first reading from Isaiah says, “Raise your eyes and look about.” Isaiah continues, “Then you will be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.” [Cf. Isaiah 60:1-6]
What do you see, what do you tend to notice, when you look around you? When it comes to God, what have you discovered? When it comes to God, what type of a person are you?
The first type person has God coming to them. The shepherds were out there at night tending their sheep when the angel of the Lord came to them by surprise.
The second type person goes in search of God. The Magi - the word used in today’s translation of Matthew 2: 1-12 - are the searchers - those who come from a far to discover the Light.
Which is more me? Going after or waiting for? Making it happen or it happens to me?
The butter is still in the refrigerator and the bread is on the table. Am I the type that gets up and gets it or do I wait for someone to bring the butter out for me?
Am I a waiter or a get up and get it myselfer?
Am I content or am I restless?
Am I like the shepherds and God comes to me or am I like the 3 kings and go in search of God?
Do I see, meet, discover God, when I’m doing my work, and God surprises me at times in my everyday activities?
Or do I have to get up and do my own searching to find God?
I think one reason why we have these stories in the scriptures is for us to figure out ourselves - to see ourselves in the stories.
LITERATURE TELLS US THAT PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT
If we read the scriptures - if we read literature - we know that the writer - knows that people are different.
Once upon a time there was a tortoise and a hare ….
Once upon a time there was a girl named Cinderella who had 2 stepsisters ….
King Lear had three daughters and he was getting older ….
Jesus used to visit the home of his friend Lazarus - who had two sisters. One was named Mary and the other was named Martha ….
A shepherd had 100 sheep - 99 were safe and sound - but one of them was lost….
A woman had 10 coins - and one was lost and she ….
A man had two sons ….
A man named Jacob had 12 sons and 1 daughter ….
Jesus had 12 disciples - and the one named Judas - betrayed him.
On the cross hung Jesus - along with two thieves. The thief on his right said…. The king on his left said ….
There is a Zen story about a man who had two sons. One son left home and traveled the world for a couple of years and then came home. The other son never left home - but worked the farm and stayed with his father. Which one saw more? Which one learned more?
Often these stories, these plays, these movies, these parables, end without telling us the moral or the message.
In these stories there are gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh - to be opened - and their glitter can get us. They have a scent and it can reach us. And good stories - really good stories - contain a pain - a sword that can open up our eyes to insight, wisdom, an epiphany. [Cf. Hebrews 4:12.]
Which character in the story is a lot like me? The play, the movie, the scriptures are a mirror. See myself in the story.
Look in the mirror and see the spinach in one’s teeth - as well as the look in one’s eyes - and then pause and really look deeper into one’s being. Who am I and what’s going on inside of me?
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR GOD MOMENTS
What have been our God moments?
On the feast of Christmas many people are like the shepherds. They hear the music. They see the light - the stars - the stained glass windows in the distance - and these get these folks to church for Christmas. They are like the shepherds. They see the baby. Ooh. Ah. Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Then they go back to their fields and their work.
On the feast of the Epiphany many people are like the Magi, or the Wise or the Kings - searching for the new born King of the Jews. They discover him - do him homage - and then they depart for home by another way. They are changed.
What have been our Christmas Moments - when God brought us to himself and what have been our Epiphany Moments when we went in search of God - and found him.
What have been our God moments?
That would be the key question that I am asking in this homily.
That’s my sign - a la a “No Smoking” sign - that I’m projecting onto the screen of your mind today.
Make a list of the God moments of one's life.
If you want me to be more specific, make it 3 or 5 key God moments.
Just jot them down.
Andrew Greeley did some research and found out that most people have had revelations - personal God moments in their lives. [Cf. today's second reading from Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6]
Let me present a quick 3 step process on how to get in touch with our God Moments.
First step: just jot. Just jot down telegraphically items like: "Rome 1993" or "the birth of our first child" - or "the death of my dad" - or "Second Honeymoon on our 25 anniversary in 2003" -or a Sunday Mass 9 years ago" - or "I was walking in the woods once and" - or "Cancer 2007" or "a funeral 14 years ago of a dearest friend".
So step one is to just jot down a quick list of epiphany moments in one’s life.
Second step: flesh them out. Just flesh them out.
For example, someone might flesh out a listed moment this way: “I was in Rome in the summer of 1993. It was hot and we came into St. Peter’s Square. It was all set up for a large outdoor talk by Pope John Paul II. There were over 200,000 people there - mostly standing. Then in the middle of the talk - I couldn’t really understand most of the words - it hit me that I’m a Catholic and so are all these people in all these different languages and look - and we’re one with each other in Christ. I can’t explain it, but my faith suddenly made so much more sense to me. I felt so one with God and all these people. Thank You God. Thank You, God!”
Or, for example, someone might write, “I was with my 3 year old granddaughter and we were playing with Play Doh and she started to make a lion and a camel and a man and a woman and a baby. Well, I asked her what she was making. She looked at me as if I were really dumb. Then she said, ‘It’s the Christmas crib you took me to see in church yesterday.’ Well, that moment was like a lightning storm. I realized in a flash all the good things I passed down to my 4 kids as well as some bad example. I cried and I laughed. Then I said to myself, 'It’s all okay. Jesus was born in a stable with ox and ass and you know what they can do to your floor - and who cares if I helped create lions and camels instead? God will take care of all.' And as I was crying tears of joy, my little granddaughter didn’t say a word but came over and hugged me. Thank You God. Thank you God.”
Third step: after you have about 5 of them. Put a "K" or an "S" next to the story. The K and the S stand for King or Shepherd. The king moments were God moments when I went searching for God and the S moments are the Shepherd moments. They are God moments that just happened to me. They were total surprise. An angel appeared and the next moment you were in the presence of Jesus.