Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Years!

Tomorrow is the first day of 2016.  My wife and I went to Mass tonight in celebration of Mary the Mother of God, and in thanksgiving for all the gifts and blessings that God has bestowed on us this year.  Our life has been filled with many amazing events.  God has been challenging us this year to grow.   I must decrease, he must increase.   That could easily be the theme of my year.

I thought I might take tonight to ponder things.  Mostly to write one of those 'state of the family' addresses that most people send out in their Christmas Cards.  I did my typical tradition for Christmas cards.. I purchased a bunch, I made a list of who to send it to, I placed them on the fridge, and there they are still.  I always intend to send them out.  I never actually do.

So how are things in our family this year?

Moira is in third grade this year.  I think she is super excited that Mr. Davekos is her teacher.   He seems to have an amazing way with the kids and she is learning so quick.  She has expressed a great deal of interest in drawing and really loves to play Minecraft and watch youtubers do the same. She made her first communion this year.  It makes Mass so much more of a unifying experience for all of us to be able to go forward together to receive our Lord.

Sarah is playing the French Horn and continues to be interested in long boarding, volleyball, and 'juking'.   She will graduate middle school this year and head into high school.  Won't be long till she'll be driving, and all that jazz.

Hannah is playing some very advanced pieces with the clarinet and has a real aptitude for music.  She is in her first year of high school and seems to be doing rather well.  Her grades are quite admirable.  She too will be driving soon.  She seems very interested in social justice and women's equality issues.  A very noble field to get involved in.

Haley is graduating this year.  She has had a very fun filled senior year so far, with musicals, choir, and play practices.  She's on the go constantly.  She also has had several jobs and is continuing to work her way towards college.  She has decided she wants to go to Paul Mitchell in Chicago.  Now to find out how we will all work together to pay for it.

Julie has continued to work and is still at Lenze Americas in Glendale Heights.  I worry about her driving that far but this year she managed to get a Prius which has helped tremendously with the fuel costs.  She still loves to crochet, knit, and sew.  She has made some amazing things this year, always amazing me with how talented she is.  She continues to teach Religious Education at the church, bring Holy Communion to the Home Bound, lector and is an Extraordinary Minister at the Parish. I love that woman.

As for me, I was accepted into the Diaconate Aspriancy program this year and continue to prayerfully study toward that end.  I spend my days either studying, praying, going to Mass, or driving the kids around.  It's a blessed existence. If all goes well and it is God's will, I would be ordained in 2020.

Please continue to pray for us as we go thorugh this.   Julie and the girls support me in this endeavor but I always pray that it will be easy for them.  It's a big commitment on all of us, more especially on Julie and myself. 

So that's our year.  Like I said above, God has blessed us immensely.  As I was sitting at Mass listening to readings, I realized that they really spoke to 2015 for us.. and yet, still pointed to 2016.  The first reading mentioned peace.  "The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!"  That is a word that has been showing up over and over for me the past few weeks.  I think that is my prayer for 2016 for my family, for you, and for myself.   That we take the blessing personally.. that we truly realize the gifts God has lavished upon us in our family, our friends, our jobs, our faith.   Then like the blessed mother int he Gospel, let us keep all these things in our hearts and reflect on them.

Don't let a moment go by without realizing how blessed you.  As the new year begins, I will simply repeat to you the words of sacred scripture that we were graced to hear proclaimed in the Mass for January 1st, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God:

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace!

God bless you, and Happy New Year! 

His servant and yours,

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

All The Kings Men

The Saint for Today was Saint Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Father Don Ahles recommended that we watch the movie Becket(1964) if we had never seen it.  That seemed like something fun to do, so I spent a few hours this afternoon downstairs laying in a comfortable warm bed watching a movie off Hulu.  It's a very interesting story indeed.  One with intrigue, suicide, murder, love, hate, politics, religion... all put together into a true tale that speaks of the problem with mixing Church and State.

The story of Becket is very interesting.  You have the English King, Henry the Second, who has invaded and taken over the Saxon lands.  He has appointed Thomas Becket, a Saxon, as his regent, the man with all the power behind the throne.  They went around carousing and painting the town red together.  King Henry was not satisfied with the power he had and craved more.  The one institution standing in his way?  The Catholic church. 

Eventually the Archbishop of Canterbury, being an elderly man, passes on to the next life.   King Henry thinks he has a brilliant plan, so he appoints his best friend and confidant (who just happens to be an Arch Deacon) to the post.   Thomas begs him not to, but the King is adamant.  So here this man who has been living for self pleasure is now appointed one of the most important figures in the Catholic church of England.  At first things go well until Thomas experiences a true conversion... and begins to actually work for Christ.   That brings things to a head.  Eventually thorugh much political leaning and such they become enemies, and some of the Kings men decide to kill Archbishop Becket.  They march into the sanctuary during vespers and run him through.

I could not help but be reminded of Simeon's words from Night Prayer in the divine office, which happens to be the Gospel reading for today:

“Lord, now let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you prepared in the sight of every people,
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”

Who would have thought that someone like Thomas Becket would have not only committed his life to God, but also have become a Martyr of the faith?  This man who spent his time drinking, sexing, and partying with the King, would eventually stand up to him and die for his flock.  What can we learn from this?  What lesson is there for us to learn? I think there are many indeed.  The one though that stands out is the need for a good examine, a proper look at the end of the day, to determine if we too are living the life that we need to be living.   Are we working to bring about God's will?  Or living for our own pleasures?   As a man who has lived a sordid past, I find myself sometimes reminiscing about the past.  Are we ready to let it go?  Is there anything standing in the way of Christ being born into our lives?  Are we ready to go in peace?

There is that word... it's been coming up so often lately.  Peace.  We, like Simeon, have seen Christ lifted up before our hearts.  Simeon yearned for Christ so much that at the sight of him, he felt his life was full, he had seen all he needed to see... he was ready to die.   Do we realize how great a gift the Eucharist is?  To receive Christ?  To see Him lifted up before our eyes?  Are you at peace? I pray that like Elisha's servant my eyes might be opened, that I might see the host of heaven gathered around us.  Lord I belive, help my unbelief.

His servant and yours,

Monday, December 28, 2015

Why all this death?

“Rachel Weeping for Her Children”
(Click here to learn more)
I wrote just a few days ago about how the Church goes immediately from celebrating the birth of our Savior to the death of the first Christian Martyr.    The very next day the celebrate John the Evangelist, followed by the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  Why all this death?  Why do we go from such a gentle and loving scene... one which so many can identify with.   To this scene of the death of innocent children? 

We could talk about how that Mathew is portraying Jesus as the new Moses.   Just as Pharoah killed the young Hebrew children, so too did Herod.  That's an important thing to realize.  That Mathew is portraying Jesus as the new Law Giver, the new Prophet, the New Man to lead us out of slavery from the oppressive forces of sin.  I think though there is even more.  The Church has put these three feasts back to back immediately after Christmas for another reason I think. 

Christmas of course teaches us to have Jesus born in our hearts.  Not just on a single day, but throughout our lives.   That makes us Christian.  Through Baptism we are incorporated into the body of Christ and forgiven for our sins.  It doesn't just end there though.  It has to continue.  Conversion is not just a single event, not just something that happens only once.. but it's something that happens over and over.  Every day.  Every breath.  Every time we choose God over sin we are having a moment of conversion.  We might have had a huge mountain top experience at one point, but we still must keep growing.  Becoming more like Christ every day.

That brings us to our first feast, Stephen.  This is one example of how Christians behave.  It's an example of what it takes to get to Heaven, right?   If you die for your faith we Christians believe you will go to Heaven.   The early Christians believed it so strongly that they would sing hymns and rejoice on the way to the collossiums to be killed.  People were converted by the faith they witnessed.  I think that's one of the examples we are given right after Christmas to show us an important fact.  Having Jesus born in our hearts means being willing to die for our faith, it means standing up for our faith and witnessing to it.  Most of us aren't in danger of this at the moment, but some people are.   In other countries we see a genocide being committed.  Ninevah has been eradicated, a group that has been Christian since the time of Christ, is now gone.

Then we see John the Evangelist.   John was indeed ready to die for his faith.  Legend has it that he was boiled alive in oil... and lived.   So they banished him to an island where he spent the last of his life.  John didn't die a martyr, but we still consider him to be in Heaven.  I think this is another way that the Church is showing us to live for Christ.  That we must stay true to our faith until the end, tackling whatever crosses come our way.  That some of us are going to die quietly, but we shoudl do so with faith.  Just yesterday I went to deliver Holy Communion to a parishioner.  She spoke of her faith.  She spoke of her impending death.  She cried.  We cried.  Her faith was powerful.   She is not afraid to die.  She is ready to go on.  She spoke of Jesus with a faith that said "I know this man.  I am so happy to go be with him."   She thanked us over and over again for bringing him to her in the Eucharist.  She said it was the most important thing to her right now. That's an example for us all.

Then you have the third way, the one that is hardest to talk about, isn't it?  The innocent.  The lives that are lost but had no chance to convert.   Among these the most obvious would be the unborn lives that have never had the chance to live outside the womb.  Just this morning I saw an article about a woman who was upset that a magazine cover showed a fetus and it looked "too much like a baby."  It brings it home doesn't it?  That a fetus looks like a baby? People don't like to think about this.   The thing is, at one time even Christians worried that someone who was not baptized would go to hell, or at best some place called Limbo.   Now, as we see with this feast, we trust in God's mercy.  We Catholics believe that if a child dies before the age of reason they go to Heaven to be with God.  Just like the Holy Innocents that Herod killed.   We don't believe they are in some separate state, but rather that God's mercy reaches out to those who do not know, those who had no choice, or those who just can't make a decision.   That includes all of those who never were evangelized, or did not have the mental capacity to make a choice.   We believe that God loves all and has mercy on all.  Then we trust. We trust that those who committed suicide are able to go to Heaven.  That those who were shot by a gang member while walking home are with Him.   That those who simply did not know, that his mercy pours over them.

That brings another group of innocents.   How many are fleeing persecution from regimes that want their death, seeking asylum in our countries.. only to be turned away.  Sure, there are some who are trying to harm us.  We should not be ignorant of that.  There are some radicals who may hide among them trying to get into places to kill... but what of the innocent?  What of the children?  The young mothers, the widows and orphans?  The truly innocent?  How do we turn our backs on them especially at Christmas time and almost forget them?

Yes, I think the Church groups these together to remind us that our faith only begins at Christmas... it must continue through till our own Easter.   That's a powerful reminder of resurrection isn't it?  Our own personal Easter is going to be unique.. it's going to be ours.. no one else can live our lives for us.. and no one else is going to have a death exactly the same as ours... but praise be to God that we can all be resurrected if we have but faith.   My homebound friend has given me an example of the way that I hope I am able to experience Easter.   With faith.   With patience.  With joy.  With confidence.  She did not speak of fear, even if it might be there.   Rather she worried about her child and how much of a burden she was on them, she worried about them... not herself.  I heard not one selfish word come out her mouth.. but rather I stood and listened to Jesus speak through her. 

Heavy things to think of.. but again I must say, Christmas has no meaning without Easter.  

His servant and yours,

Saturday, December 26, 2015

10 minutes.

A Reflection on the Readings for the
Feast of the Holy Family
The other day I went to the school to pick up my daughter.  I stood outside waiting for her for a while.  Parent after parent left with their kids.  The parking lot was now empty.  I began to walk towards the door.  The teacher opened the door and peered out as if she didn't trust me.  I'm 6'5", 300 lbs, and keep my head shaved.  I am sure that's not the average person.  I informed her my daughter had not come out to the car like she was supposed to.  She let me in and they began to call around the school.  She wasn't there.   Must be on the bus they informed me. 

I left hurried.  Have you ever felt that panic begin to creep at the edge of your perception, like some long lost evil trying to barge it's way into your field of vision?   Yeah, there he was.  I tamped him down.  She's on the bus.   I knew it.   Why?  I don't know.  She wasn't supposed to be.  So I raced as fast as traffic would let me to the bus stop.  I called my wife. I told her what was going on.  She panicked.    She began to demand answers over the phone, answers I could not give.   I will call you back after I find out something.   So there I sat.  And sat.   And sat.   And sat.

The bus was very late.  Someone had fallen and gotten hurt, the son of a friend of ours.  An ambulance had come.  I heard it in the distance.  That didn't help.  10 minutes passed.  Finally the bus came down the street.  It still had to make it's rounds through the other sub division before coming back to us to drop off the kids.  I guess it being late does not change the route any, or even get the driver to explain to the parents why they are late.  So she ran to the car and got in like nothing had happened. She began asking where the baby was.  The baby only stays with us on Wednesdays.   She rides the bus on Wednesday.  That explains everything.

That didn't dismiss the feelings right?  The panic.  The fear.  The what ifs.  The first thing I did when she got in the car of course was demand to know why she rode the bus.   I think one of our first reactions to panic is anger, once we know they are safe.  It's hard to deal with.  Maybe half an hour had passed total.  10 of it waiting in a car unable to do anything.  It's almost like grief isn't it?  Like you've lost someone?    Once before years ago she had gone under a display in Kohl's and we couldn't find her.  It doesn't get easier.  It gets harder.  Both times it was like losing her for ever.  Tears wanted to break in.  All of the emotions of grief.  Denial.  Anger.   Yes, just like losing someone forever.

Imagine Mary and Joseph... they were three entire days without Jesus.  Some theologians think that this was to prepare her for the tomb at Easter.   Three days she sought him, three days she could not find him.  Travelling backwards along their route looking for family and friends.  "Have you seen him?"  "Do you know where he is?"  Demanding answers that none of them could give.  They didn't have a phone to call back later to explain.  It simply meant continuing to look.  Not giving up.  Not letting fear and panic set in and take over.  The relief they must have felt finding him in the temple, yet the same kind of angry reaction: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”  "Moira why were you on the bus?  You know I was supposed to pick you up! Your mother and I were worried sick!" 

Mo's answer was much like Jesus answer, "I thought it was Wednesday, you should have known I was on the bus."  "Why were you looking for me?  You should have known where I was."   It's incredulous to them that we would worry, that we wouldn't know exactly where they were supposed to be.   Jesus was the Son of God, but it did not occur to them immediately that he would be at the temple.  Like Mary though, we have to take these things into our hearts.  What can we learn from this? 

Mary was prepared by the different events in her life for things to come.  Three days without Jesus as a child.   Three days without Jesus at his death.   The first time she went running, panicked, in fear, retracing her steps trying to find him.   Notice at his death she waited behind.  She didn't need to go find him.. though he had died... she knew exactly where he would be.  She didn't lose him.  She still had him in her heart.  Some say he even visited her first before the rest of the Apostles.  Maybe.  Either way.. she had faith.  She knew she would find him again.. in his Father's house.

Sometimes the events in our lives make us scared.  They panic us.  They make us lose sight of Jesus.  We see someone pass away and we wonder why.   We see someone in pain, and we ask why good people suffer.   Some cross comes into our own world.. and we have no idea why we were chosen to carry it.   He never moves away from us.. it's always us that move away from him.   Like Mary, we must learn where Jesus is... that he is always there.  He is in our family.  He is in our friends.  He is in our church.  Most importantly, he is in the Eucharist... turn to him.. find him in his father's house... anytime you lose him, he is sacramentally present and desires your return.   Let him speak directly to your heart as he says to each of us: "Why were you looking for me?  You should have known where I was."
His servant and yours,

What is Christianity without death?

A Reflection on the Readings for
December 26, 2015 - The Feast of Saint Stephen
The Day after Christmas we go from celebrating life, to celebrating death.  Isn't that a strange dichotomy?  One morning we are celebrating the birth of Christ into the world.  The image of a newborn child swaddled and nestled in a manger of hay or the arms of Mary the Mother of God give people a warm, fuzzy feeling.  Who doesn't love to look on the face of a cooing child?  People who often do not want anything to do with religion or faith are quick to join in worship on Christmas and Christmas Eve because this is what we want out of our faith.  That's obvious by the church shopping that goes in our culture...  You don't like the message? Keep moving around till you find one you do.

That's not Christianity though.  The church reminds us in this one simple setting of dates that Christianity began with the birth of a child, but it ends with death and resurrection.  The life of a Christian is not supposed to be a bed of roses.  It's not supposed to be all cooing and love.  It's messy.  It's hard.  It requires sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears.  It requires a cross.  Christianity without the cross is neutered.  It has no message. It has no death.  It has no resurrection.

Stephen knew this.   He went out into the square and he faced the people.  As a Deacon of the church he served at the tables.   He ventured into the public square doing his duty, that is making sure that all of God's people had what they needed.  He was a servant.  Feeding, distributing, helping.   The people who disagreed with him sought him out.   They looked for him to debate.   They followed him around trying to argue.  Stephen responded with logic, reason, and rational responses.   This made them angry.  Have you seen that before?   Someone wants to argue a point, you give them an answer they cannot refute.. they get angry?  They change to another point instead of acknowledging they were wrong?  In this case he had a vision and when he expressed this manifestation to the crowds.. the mobbed him, dragging him out of the city and stoned him.

Stephen was the first Martyr for Christ after His resurrection.  It's interesting to note though that Stephen prayed for his persecutors.  And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  In a perfect example of his love, in perfect imitation of His Lord and Savior from the Cross, Stephen prayed for their souls as they murdered him.  Stephen died with love.  No hate in his heart for those beating and stoning him.  No desire for revenge.  Simply loving them, even more than his own life. 

That's Christianity my friends.  Look at the fruits of his prayer?   Stephen in his love prayed for the men standing around.   We don't know what happened to all of them.  We do know that one young man, a certain Saul of Tarsus, eventually came to conversion and became one of the most influential Christians of the first century.  They threw rocks of stone, Stephen volleyed back boulders of love.  Saul consented to Stephen's death, Stephen consented to Saul's conversion and salvation.   Wow! Are you ready for that cross? 

That's what this Feast challenges us to do.   It challenges us to face the reality of Christianity.   It begins with taking up your own cross.   It starts with looking at your heart.   Are there any stony places left?  Are there any grudges you are still holding?  Any forgiveness that was supposed to be given that you are still gripping with white knuckled fists?  Today is the day to let Christ be born again into your heart, to stand up in the public square and let His Spirit give you the words you need to say.  Many times we don't know how to forgive... we don't know the right words to say.. we can't even describe it...  That's when we must turn it over to Him.  Let the Spirit speak them for you.. pray for the grace to forgive.. the grace to pray for them, no matter what the hurt...  Today.  Tomorrow may be too late. 

His servant and yours,

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Silent Night, On a Somber Note

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  It's a time of celebration, a time of great joy, and yet here I am at one A.M. in the morning having very somber thoughts.  I want to share those with you if you will bear with me.  I intended to write something uplifting, something joyful and edifying.  We will see if that comes out it.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit has his own idea of what my blog posts should be about.

I ran into a friend earlier today at the store while getting some things for dinner and for the house.  He stopped to talk to my wife and I as we were moving thorugh the freezer section.   We talked about his plans for the next few weeks.   He is travelling down south to a place he owns in a warm climate.  He'll be gone for a few weeks.  He has to decide if he's going to keep the place or sell it.  It is a good time to get away, right after Christmas.   He said he'll spend Christmas with the family then fly down.  Then he looked at me.  I guess I reminded him of her.  We spent some time together before she passed.  Tears came to both of our eyes.  He didn't want to talk about it, I didn't want to bring it up.  We hugged.  We talked anyway. It's the first Christmas since she went on to the next life.

I hope this Christmas for him will be one in which he finds how to deal with the sorrow and finds comfort.  The Gospel reading for the Night Mass tomorrow talks of how Joseph and Mary had to journey to a place with many memories.  He had to return to the land of his family to be counted in the census. Like my friend, he had to go back.  Decisions had to be made.  Worries sorted through.  As they journeyed together conversations had to be had.  Christmas Eve was a time of hardship.  A time of fear.  No money, no place to stay at an inn, a baby on the way.

Then the angels came to the Shepherds in the field.  They proclaimed the good news!  “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  I think often we forget how much fear was involved the night before Christmas.  So many strange things happening.  Life was going on though.  Christ, the king of the universe, was being born into the world.  The greatest event in all of human history, the salvation and restoration of mankind to a right relationship with God, began in the still and darkness of night.  It began with a journey.  Both for Mary and Joseph, but also for all those who came to see Christ.  They had decisions to make.  Shepherd or wise man, both had to go on a journey looking for answers.

Just like my dear friend who is flying out to make decisions, what they all have in common is they are looking for answers.  You and I, we are looking for answers too.  Truly though the answer lies in one man, Jesus Christ.   He is the full revelation of God.  Everything we need to know about mankind, everything we need to know about God, everything we need to know about life... all of it lies in this God man, born in the darkness of night.  Shrouded in mystery.  Placed in a manger.  The Bread of Life.  The Son of Man.  Emmanuel.  God with us. 

Tomorrow as we begin our Christmas season anew, let us begin to search earnestly for answers.  Don't let Christmas get away from you.  Too many times we get so caught up in the presents, in the food, in the atmosphere, that we don't spend time in prayer.. time with Christ.  We too have a journey to make, we just don't know when the final flight will occur.  Christ is being born into our world in the past, present and future.   What does that mean to us?   What do we do about it?  There can be a lot of fear.  A lot of doubt.   A lot of questions.  We know though, that a wise man once said, "We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."   Wise men still seek him, that's where the answers are. 

His servant and yours,

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Wash me and I shall be white as snow

It's two days before Christmas and the story continues with more about John the Baptist and his birth.  The Old Testament reading has some interesting imagery in it though.  It talks of sending a messenger before him, to prepare the way.  Then it says the Lord will come suddenly into the temple.  This particular book, Malachi, was probably written during the exile, several hundred years after Elijah had been taken up in the Chariot of Fire.  It talks about Elijah's return.  Later in the New Testament, hundreds of years later, we see them say that John came in the Spirit of Elijah to fulfill this prophecy. 

What I find interesting though is the two images of God we find here, the images of one who is coming to prepare us.  The first image is that of a refiner.  It talks about refining Gold and silver.  Refining of course means to take an ore with impurities, apply a great amount of heat, then to scoop off the dross from the top.  Dross means the worthless, impure parts.  You keep repeating this until you're left with pure silver.  How do you know though? How does one know when silver or gold is refined?  Someone once said, "When you can see your reflection in it."  That speaks volumes in revelation to who God is.  We will be what he wants us to be, when he sees Him in us.  Wow.

Then we see this other image.... the image of a fuller and fuller's soap. A fuller is one who works with cloth.   He spends his day stomping the cloth in his vat, stretching it out on frames, beating it with feet or a club, continuing to do this until it is clean and shapely, in many cases even bleached white.  He keeps working the fabric, until it is the shape and size it should be.  If it's not perfect?   He goes through the whole process again.  Stretching.  Beating.  Cleaning.  Purifying.   Until it is exactly what it should be.  Perfect.

In the Gospel we see the people, the very ones who were friends of the family, the ones who probably worked and lived around Zechariah... being scared of what John represented.  All of these miracles around his birth.  His father unable to speak, but then miraculously being able to talk after naming his son in agreement with his wife and God's plan.  They were scared.  They've been waiting for the Messiah, but they aren't quite ready.   They are filled with fear.  They take all of these matters into their hearts though, and acknowledge that God is at work and has his hand on John.

I think that is our lesson for tomorrow.  That as we approach Christmas we should be asking, are we ready?  Do we realize how much of a miracle Christmas is?  How much of a miracle the Eucharist is?  Are we living a Sacramental life?  Are we opening our hearts to let Christ be born in them?  It is time for us to be serious about our walk with Christ.  God is not asking you to wait till you're clean..  He's not asking you to get your life straight first..  He is asking you to invite him in.  The Church is preparing the way.  It has shown you what you need to do.  Now it's time for you to open the doors of your heart and suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek.   You and I are the temple of the Lord.  Let Him come in.

It doesn't stop there though.  The Lord loves you right now, just the way you are.  He loves you too much to leave you that way.  Let Him then transform you.   Let him refine you.  Purify you.  Mold you. Shape you.  How do we do this?  A Sacramental life.  Receive him in the Eucharist.   Confess him in Reconciliation.  Seek His grace.  You and I cannot do this alone.  With God though, all things are possible.   Christmas is in two days.  You don't have to wait two days to have Christ born in your heart.... start today... .then ... every day continue to grow in Christ. Until we can live our lives in a way that reflects the heart of the Psalmist when he wrote:

Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may thrill.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.

O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

His servant and yours,

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Come on In Boys, the Waters Fine

Tomorrow's Gospel is a beautiful repeat of the reading for Sunday.  Though one could go on into a great deal of depth into this reading, I find myself being drawn instead to the first reading, from the beautiful and poetic Song of Songs.  One would be making a grave mistake indeed to treat this as some sort of history book or eye witness account.   Instead, we look at it for what it is.  Poetry.  Grand and genius poetry at that.

As Christians we look at all of Scripture to learn what we can learn about our relationship with Christ, with God.  So when we read this poem we should imagine ourselves, the Church, as the bride.  Then the lover, the King, we look at as an image or type of Christ.   So what does this interesting selection, one that is available for use at weddings, seem to say to us about our relationship with Christ?  About his relationship with us?

Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.

Oh the beauty of this image.  I think it may be lost to us living in the cities and suburbs.  The image is that of young love.  Wild, free.  The energy of youth, the fleet foot of someone who is sure of their actions.  A gazelle or stag move with grace, precision.  They are filled with confidence.  Here this young lover peers through the lattice, into our world.. into our lives.. just hoping to get a glimpse of the one he loves.  Seeking us out wherever we might be... wherever we might hide.  That is our first lesson.  God is pursuing us.  He wants to show us how much he loves us.  He wants to see us, even if we aren't particularly trying to see him.  He goes over any terrain, any obstacle, to try and be a part of our lives. 

Then the poet writes: Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!  Not once, but twice.  God is enamored with us.   Unlike society with it's airbrushed pictures and plastic personalities, God loves us for who we are.  So much so he calls us beautiful and bids us to be a part of his world.  He wants us to be in communion with him.  Not just a superficial love, but a love that allows us to receive eternal life.  A love pure and strong, like the love of our youth.  Do you remember when you fell in love for the first time?  How strong it was?  How nothing else seemed to matter?  Oh but God loves us that much for eternity...  He still woos us like a young lover, still loves us so much so that he is willing to do anything... whatever it takes.. even give up his life, just to be loved in return.

“O my dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
and you are lovely.”

My dove.  Rock pigeon is likely what it refers to here.  Either way, mourning doves and rock pigeons have something in common.. they both mate for life.  They are monogamous.. they never choose another mate while their mate is alive.  God here is calling out to the church as one he trusts.. one who is his and his alone.  Fidelity.  Then he says that our voice, our prayers, are sweet to him.  We are lovely to him.    Isn't that beautiful?  Doesn't that poetry just tell you how much God loves us?  I imagine that is why they tied this again to the story of Mary's visitation in the Gospel.  Mary is also an image of the perfect disciple, an image of what it means to be Church.  One could even imagine God saying this words to her directly.  The one who said yes to him, with complete abandon.

We are almost to Christmas.  For weeks now we have been looking to see how we can prepare our hearts for God to come live in them, for Christ to be born into our world, into our hearts gain, from day to day, second to second, breath to breath.  Today we are reminded how much God wants that.  How much God wants to be a part of our life... that he is seeking to be one with us, looking into our world... longing to spread his mercy and love into our lives.  Even when we hide.  Even when we go through a dry spell, or when things seem to go wrong.. when things seem so horrible that we think it's even too late to pray about it.. God says "Speak to me my love.  Your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.  Let me see you."  Don't try to hide in the recesses of the cliff... he wants to see us...  As St. Paul said, "Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. "  Yes, the one who will deliver us from our habits, our fears, our sinfulness... that is the one who woos us.. the one who begs you to spend time with Him. 

Are you doing that?  A good way to do so is through Confession.  Now is the right time of year for that.  Monday night at our Parish they are having a communal penance service for Advent to help people prepare for Christmas.  At 7:00 P.M. we will gather together to call out to God in repentance and hope.. and he will say "Your voice is sweet and you are lovely."  As Delmar said in my favorite movie, "Come on in boys, the waters fine." 

His servant and yours,

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Ark Maker

Tomorrow is the last Sunday before Christmas.  The Gospel reading is a familiar scene.  Mary has travelled to see her cousin Elizabeth.  When Mary approaches Elizabeth, Elizabeth exclaims "how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"  We Catholics get a lot of flack over the years for referring to Mary as the Mother of God, yet here Elizabeth uses the same word that Luke consistently uses to refer to God, Yahweh.   The mother of the Lord, that's what theotokos is all about.  Not elevating Mary even more, but rather elevating our understanding of who Christ himself is.  Just like at the wedding of Cana, even the title we give Mary does not point to her, but to the child she bore into the world. 

I think Luke also purposely portrays Mary as the Ark of the Covenant.  What do I mean?  I mean that he portrays Mary in a way that indicates he was consciously attempting to link them as one and the same.  To a first century Jew the comparison would have been evident while reading the Gospel.  It would have been even more direct when reading the book of the Apocalypse.  That's where typology comes in to bible study.  Typology is the notion that a person, place or thing foreshadows a future person place or thing.  The future type is always greater than the previous one.  That's an important thing to keep in mind.

So let's compare the story of the Ark, with the story of Mary:
  • The Spirit of God overshadowed both Mary and the Ark. Exodus 40:34-35, Luke 1:35
  • The Ark contained the tablet of the commandments, the manna from heaven, and Aaron's Rod.  Mary contained the living Law, the bread from heaven, the Branch of David (the High Priest), Jesus Christ   Deuteronomy 10:3-5, Hebrews 9:4, Luke 1:35
  • The Ark traveled into the hill country of Judah, Mary travelled to the hill country of Judah 2 Samuel 6:1-11, Luke 1:39
  • Dressed as a priest King David approached the Ark of the Covenant and danced for joy, John the Baptist, son of a priest, danced in the womb before the presence of Mary 2 Samuel 6:14, Luke 1:43
  • David shouted for joy, Elizabeth exclaimed in joy 2 Samuel 6:15, Luke 1:42
  • David asked, How is it that the Ark comes to me?  Elizabeth How is it that the Mother of the Lord comes to me?  2 Samuel 6:9, Luke 1:43
  • The Ark remained for three months in the house, Mary remained for 3 months in the house 2 Samuel 6:11, Luke 1:56
  • The Ark returns to Jerusalem to the temple, Mary goes to Jersualem to present Jesus in the temple 2 Samuel 6:12, 1 Kings 8:9-11, Luke 1:56, 2:21-22
  • God made Aaron's rod come to life, Jesus the Branch was brought back to life Numbers 17:8, Hebrews 4:14
Those are just some of the examples.  It would take much longer to actually cover all of it, if that could even be done in a blog post.  I think though there is something to be learned from the story.  John lept in the womb before the Ark.  King David lept for joy and danced with abandon before the Ark.  How are we responding to the Ark?   How are we responding to it's contents?  As we approach Advent these are a few of the questions that can help us ask if we are responding to God.  Are we filled with joy at his presence?  Does Mass cause us to call out with our hearts at the presence of God?  Is Mary a part of our lives? Or do we dismiss her?

What else can we learn?  As Catholics we believe Mary is the first and foremost example of what it means to be a true disciple of Christ.  As Christmas approaches, we look forward to the birth of Christ into the world.  Mary was the living Ark.   She allowed the Spirit of God to overshadow her.  She was so filled with God's love that she became the vessel that Christ would spend nine months in perfect communion with.  He was a part of her.  Inside of her.  In a way that no other human has ever experienced.  Are we being Arks?  In our discipleship are we allowing God to overshadow us, to the point that others feel God's presence through us?  You know those people who are so filled with God's joy and love that when you are in their presence, you can just feel it?  The air is tangible, there is an energy.. something that makes you want it too... something that gives you joy.... Yeah, that's right.. Are you doing that?   Are you allowing God to so consume you, to overshadow you... that you become a joy?  Is your happiness on the surface, your joy overflowing? 

I don't know about you guys, but I've got work to do.  I do know this.  It starts with a Sacramental life.  How can you be an Ark if you don't allow the contents of the Ark to come inside you?  Jesus is there.  He is present in the Eucharist.   You and I need to receive him. That way we can truly go out into the world at the dismissal of the Mass to be Arks... to bring the presence of Christ to a world that very much needs him.  Mass.  The original Ark maker ;)

His servant and yours,

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How Poor a Manger am I?

Based on the readings for December 18th, Advent 2016
We have lost a sense in modern society of how important betrothal is.  In today's society we think of engagement as simply testing the waters.   What we call engagement in modern terms is what people a couple decades ago would have called courting/dating.  It's not uncommon to hear that so and so is engaged one week, and well it didn't work out the next.   It's almost as if for us engagement is just a promise of exclusivity on the way to marriage.  That's not what being betrothed to someone in Jesus time meant.  When you were betrothed, you were already married in essence.   It wasn't a test period.  It was just a period leading to the time when you would move in together.

For Mary to show up pregnant, well that was the same as committing adultery.  Notice Joseph is thinking of divorcing her!  Scripture indeed records him as being in his right to do so.  "Joseph being a righteous man, but not willing to expose her to shame, was going to divorce her quietly."  Righteous yet kind.  It was his right indeed to divorce her.  Here they are not living together yet, and she shows up pregnant.   How his heart must have heart.  It's a betrayal. Oh how it hurts to have someone you love go behind your back and betray you in this way.  How hard must her story have been for him to hear?  Oh, I haven't been with a man.. this angel appeared to me and said I'd have the child of God... What would you do in his shoes?

Then he had a dream from God.  An angel told him that it was all true, and it says when he awoke, he did as the angel had instructed and took 'his wife' into his home.   How hard that must have been?  God speaks to us all the time.   He has given us the Church.  The Church then gave us the scriptures.  He speaks to us through our priests and deacons in their homilies.   Through music.  Through others.  How much do we listen to him?  How easy it would have been for Joseph to justify himself in not believing it. We do it all the time don't we?   He could easily dismiss it as a dream.  But he's a righteous man, a kind man.  I imagine he wanted to believe it.  He didn't want Mary to be shamed, and possibly killed.   That's love isn't it?  To put your doubt behind you and trust.  

It's also one of the hardest things to do.  To forgive for one.   I am sure on some level he had to forgive Mary, thinking she had betrayed him.  That would be a hurtle of it's own... but another is to seek forgiveness.  Once he realized she was telling the truth.. once he realized that she had not betrayed him... Oh it is not her he needs to forgive, but her forgiveness he needs to seek.   Oh to get our own ego out of the way and say, I was wrong... I treated you wrong.. I am sorry... forgive me.   Why should we?  That's an easy question to ask.   I am still mad we might proclaim.  I still am not sure.. I still have doubts. 

Emmanuel.   God is with us.  The Prophet Jeremiah said the name would be LORD our Justice.  Our goal in life, the one that we reaffirm in Advent, the one that should stick out in our mind as we go through the octave of Christmas is this:  To become more like God every day, every second, every breath.  God is justice.  We too, must become like Him.  We must work for justice.  In our relationships.  In our societies.  In our families.  In every aspect of life.  Justice means to give someone what rightfully belongs to them.  When you say something untrue, when you hurt them by believing a falsehood, you are stealing their dignity.  They are made in the image of God.  God is truth.  When you tell a lie you cloud that image.   You try to cover it with something else, something not true.  Justice requires you to restore it.   Requires you to give them back what is rightly theirs... what is true.. what is kind and good. 

Are there any people in your life right now you owe an apology?  Is there someone in your past that you did wrong to?  Is there someone out there that you should have helped or should be helping and did not/aren't?  God is our spouse, we are the Church.  For just a moment think about that great mystery.   Is there anything keeping you from taking your spouse into your home?  Is there anything keeping you from letting God fully into your heart?  Maybe some teaching that someone misrepresented.   Some issue that you just don't quite want to believe, or haven't quite come to terms with.  Maybe some hurt in your past that you haven't gotten over... now is the time... to learn the truth.. and then, like the righteous and kind Saint Joseph... to take your spouse into your home.  Let God into your heart.  Come home. 

In a world where all the doors are closing.  Where hearts are so filled with so many distractions.  Where football, hockey, food, drink, parties, drugs, sex, and so many, many more are taking the place of God inside... realize that the Holy Family is moving from door to door looking for a place for Jesus to be born.  Are you preparing a manger for him?  Oh how meager a manger it would be indeed where he to choose to be born here, in this sinful heart of mine.  That's the grace of God though.. no matter how sinful we are, no matter how poor and meek a manger we might be.. He is looking to be born into you.  He is looking for an open door.  Is your door open?  Are you ready to receive Him?  It's time for us to work on our manger.. get it ready for the Lord.

His servant and yours,

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Obedience Brings Liberation

There is a phrase that caught my eye when looking at the readings for tomorrow's daily Mass.  It's a strange one to my 21st century American mind.  "The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs"  In our culture a mace is either a weapon of war or a bottle of pepper spray designed to incapacitate an assailant.   I had to do some research because I was sure that neither of those accurately portrayed what this verse would have meant to the Jewish mind of the 5th century at Solomon's court.  

The Hebrew word, וּמְחֹקֵ֖ק (ū·mə·ḥō·qêq) is a word that means "ruler's staff" or "law giver."  That's an interesting connotation that scepter has but a deeper meaning.  We have this symbol of the Lion, the King of beasts.   We have the scepter of a ruler.   That symbol is easy to our minds.  What does the staff mean though?  If we look at the other parts of the bible, we see that Moses had a staff.  The "law giver" of course was Moses, he received the Law from God and gave it to the people.  Here we have this image of the King, the ruler of the people, the law giver... always being from Judah. 

That's an interesting thing to tie into the genealogy of the Gospel reading.  We could spend days unpacking all of the amazing things this teaches us.  First and foremost though it shows us something important to understand about Jesus Christ.  Jesus was a direct descendent of Judah.  This would have stood out immediately to those first century Jewish men and women who heard this genealogy.  They would have been looking for a Messiah to fit this requirement.  This prophecy of our first reading points to a coming King, one who is also a Shepherd,  and a prophet.   One to lead his people, guide them, and liberate them.  A shepherd leads with a staff.. a shepherd's crook, the guide and pull his sheep to where they need to be.

What does that mean to us?  How do we apply that to our lives?  We are approaching the octave that leads to Christmas day.   The purpose of these days is for us to take an even stronger look at our lives, at our faith, at our hearts.   Then to ask ourselves:  Is Jesus the ruler of our life?  Are our hearts completely open to our King?  Or are we holding out?  Is there anything standing in His way to come into our hearts.  We are born slaves to our sin.  Jesus comes to liberate us, to lead us as the new Moses out of the desert of sin, and into the promised land.  His kingdom will last forever.  Are you ready to stop trying to lead yourself and allow Him to lead you?  He came to be born to the world.  He came again to appear to his apostles.  He comes again every day to be born again into your heart and to be received in the Eucharist.  He will come again at the end of time to usher in an eternity of peace, love and joy.  Are you ready?

Next comes the challenge.  We are to be like our King.  We are to live to the best of our ability in a way that emulates the life of Christ himself.  Jesus comes to liberate others from sin, form oppression.  You and I are challenged to do the same.  Are you freeing others from that which holds them down?  Are you forgiving them so that they can move on with their lives?   Are you reaching out to the one born down by poverty and helping alleviate that stress by giving of your blessings?  Are you working for justice in the world, pointing with every action towards the Shepherd?  Or trying to do it all on your own?  With all the injustice in the world, all the bigotry, sexism, racial, social and political biases... there is no small amount of work to be done.  Let's not use Christmas to forget these things.. but to call our lives back to that.. by letting Christ be born in our heart, as our Shepherd, our High Priest, our King... to bring about His Kingdom here, as it is in Heaven.

His servant and yours,

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Should We Look for Another

Readings for Wednesday the Third Week of Advent 2015
John the Baptist came on to the scene like a whirlwind of asceticism.  His camel hair cloak and belt of leather, eating an extreme diet of only that which God provided him in nature; he presented to the people a challenge.  He pointed them to repentance. Declaring the kingdom of heaven to be at hand, and pointing out to them the Lamb of God.   John's extreme energy, his powerful speaking, his evident faith, all called out to them so strongly that they at one point though John himself to be the Messiah.  John was quick though to point to Jesus instead, declaring himself unworthy to even untie the shoes of Christ. 

John was the first person recorded jumping for joy before the presence of Christ.  Just like David before the Ark of the Covenant, John still encased in his mothers womb danced with delight at the coming Messiah who the Holy Spirit had revealed to him even before words could be expressed.  There is no doubt to anyone reading the scriptures that John was a man of faith, a man of strong conviction.  It is the kind of faith you and I want isn't it?  As Catholics we are called to live a life of detachment, a life that depends solely on the Lord for providence.  We are called to point out to others Christ, and in our own humility recognize that we are not worthy.  We are called by our Baptism to be Priest, Prophet and King.  Members of the royal family. 

John, though, was like the rest of us.   He had fears.  He had doubts.  Today's Gospel reading shows us one of those moments.   Here John has been thrown in prison by Herod.   He spoke up about Herod's unlawful and sinful marriage.  He told Herod that it wasn't right and that God was not happy with him.  Herod threw John in prison for it, probably to rot.  People are never happy when prophets speak out against them for their actions.  For thousands of years now the prophets have been wagging their fingers in the face of kings, rulers, emperors, and sages.  Herod responds just as they always did, instead of hearing God's voice, he punishes the prophet and eventually kills him.

Here John is knowing that he will likely die.  He knows Herod is furious and that the Herod's wife, Herodias, doesn't like him either.  This isn't going to turn out well.  Here is John who has been doing the will of God.  He has been preaching wherever God sent him.  He has been prophesying and speaking the truth.  He has been living a life of austerity, a life of penance and repentance.   He has been pointing to Christ as the Messiah.. but here he is .. in prison.  The Messiah is supposed to change that.   They are waiting for a ruler, a military King, a judge, a prophet... all of this is what John is waiting for, someone to lead their people out of bondage.   John is in the ultimate of bondage.  In prison unjustly.  He begins to doubt.  He has known Jesus his whole life.   He still begins to question.

"Are you the messiah?   The one?  Or should we look for another." 

How fickle we are.   We do the same.    When it seems like everything is going wrong, we start to ask God.  Why me?  Haven't I been faithful?  Aren't I trying to live right?  Why me?  Maybe this isn't the right path.   Maybe... maybe...   Satan wants us to doubt.  It's at these moments that the testimony of others is so valuable.  Remember that.   Not just you who are going through tough times... but you who have a testimony to offer them.   Jesus does not rush to get John out of his suffering.  He doesn't send an army of angels to free John.  No, he sends a simple message:

"Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

We need to be bolstering one another.   We need to be sharing our witness, our faith.  That's part of being a prophet.  Speaking about Christ and what he has done for us.  Reaching out to one another.  Sharing our faith.  Not just at Church but every day.  Calling a friend who is having a rough time.  Sending them a facebook message.   Offering to bring over dinner when you know they haven't had time to cook.   Even just a little note on a card telling them you are thinking of them is of so much value.

It's Advent.  Right now we are to prepare the world for Jesus coming.  We are prophets.  We are to speak about Christ in every word and action.  Every heart needs to hear that Jesus is the one.  We all might doubt from time to time.  We all have rough times.  Then God brings along a gift...  something that changes everything.  Be that gift.    I know that in my life, especially this Christmas, people have gone out of their way to make sure we have a Christmas for our kids.  I cannot thank them enough.  I don't even know who to thank.  I do know this, I will be praying for them.  That God will bless their lives even more so than he has ours. 

It's ok to doubt.  It's ok to fear.  Let us continually point though to the one who made the blind to see, the lame to walk, the lepers to be cleansed.. and ask ourselves this:  Am I spiritually blind?  Jesus can make me see.  Am I spiritually deaf?  Jesus can help me hear.  Am I spiritually dead?  Jesus can bring me back to life.  Are you ready for him to proclaim the good news to you?  Are you ready to in turn go forth and proclaim it to another?  That's what Advent is all about... prepare ye the way of the Lord! 

His Servant and yours,

Monday, December 14, 2015

Wishy Washy.

Tomorrow's readings for daily mass contain a hard message, a challenging message. During Advent it is important that we get those challenges to the way we are walking our faith.  All to often, when we are honest with ourselves, we are failing to walk the walk and talk the talk.  We get tied up with the minutia of life.  Christmas shopping needs to be finished. Gifts need to be wrapped.  Company Christmas parties to attend.  Last minute cooking and cleaning before guests and family arrive.  Travel plans to be made.  So many things going on.   It's easy to get tied up in all that.  To not be able to see the forest for the trees.  Advent reminds us to slow down.  That all of these things can be good, but they aren't the focus, they aren't the reason for the season. 

Jesus calls out the head honchos in the Gospel passage.  He gives them a parable with two sons in it.  One son says he'll do it and doesn't.  Another says he won't, but later does.    He wants to know which one of those sons did what the father wanted him to do.  The one who did what he asked of him, even though he said he wouldn't.    John the Baptist had come to them preaching repentance, a way of life.  They didn't listen to him.  Even when the people that most Jews of the time thought were least likely to hear the voice of God began changing their lives, began following Jesus, the chief priests and elders kept on in their obstinacy.  They who had given an oath to God, they who had studied the law to see what God asked of them, they who knew the Scripture in and out... had said "Yes we will do" and then did not.   Those who had sinned, had fallen away from God... had initially said No to religious life... turned their hearts to God and were being saved.

How many times have you and I turned our back on our promise to God?  We have given an oath, a promise to God.  Some of us have done so at Baptism.  Others at confirmation.  Some have received an Altar call in some church or another.. some of you might have simply prayed a sinner's prayer.. all of these are a promise.. to try and live the Gospel.  To us Catholics, it's a promise to live the Gospel of the Apostles.. as handed on through their disciples to the Church.    That's a serious oath.  A serious promise.  How many times have we failed to live it?  How many times have we said "yes" only to then not do. It's not too late... to be the one who initially said no, the one who wasn't doing.. and then turned and did it anyway.

The first reading and the Psalm remind me of Saint Francis and his way.  My wife and kids kind of roll their eyes at me when I begin talking about Saint Francis.  I'm passionate for his message, for the way he lived the Gospel.  I get excited when I speak of him.  I feel the urge every day to be more like him, because I feel that Saint Francis truly lived the Gospel the way Jesus challenges us to do so.  In being more like him, I feel I will be more like Christ.  That's a lofty goal.  One I am likely not worthy of.

In the reading from Zephaniah we see the prophecy of the day when Jesus was to be born, and an image of the day when Jesus will come again.  God tells his people that on that day they will not need to be ashamed of their sins, their failures... their initial no... He says:

For then will I remove from your midst
the proud braggarts,
And you shall no longer exalt yourself
on my holy mountain.
But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD:
the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong
and speak no lies;
Nor shall there be found in their mouths
a deceitful tongue

He says that the people of God will be humble and lowly.  That's a hard calling.  Society tells us to be the opposite.  To be proud.  To build ourselves up.  Rich. Wealthy. Powerful.   They shall be humble.  Lowly.  Honest.   That is our goal.   That was how Saint Francis lived his life.  More over, that is how Jesus Christ lived his earthly ministry as well.   Then the Church in her wisdom ties this message to the responsorial Psalm,

When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.

The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

During this time of Advent it is time to look back on our lives.  When we are going out to have lavish dinners, filled with presents and gifts, drinking and reveling... remember all of this can be good and lovely.   We cannot forget though the poor, the downtrodden, the lonely.  That brings me to a story I read last night about Saint Francis.  (Rolling your eyes and huffing yet?)    His monks had set up a feast for them around a holiday.  They had obtained (borrowed?) fine dishes, a table cloth, lots of food.   They had spent time organizing this meal.  It was full of small excesses, things you and I wouldn't even thing were fancy.  To those who lived the lives of Saint Francis friar's minor... they were extravagant.   Saint Francis came into the room where they had set a place for him at the head of the table, and he walked to the fire place.   He took out a spoon that had been dropped in the ashes, a beaten and poor spoon... he took the hat of a beggar and placed it on his head and sat down in the dirt and grime of the floor.  He ate his dinner as the poor.. as the ones who were being forgotten.. as the poor Christ might have done. 

It's so easy to forget them isn't it?  Even those monks who lived a life of the poor forgot the poor for a moment.  They were ready to sit and eat at their fancy table.  Francis did not want to forget, so he made a tangible reminder.  He embraced poverty in a radical way that challenged us.  As you prepare for your own celebrations, don't forget them.  We still have people starving in our own streets.  We have men and women in nursing homes that have been forgotten.  That have no visitors.   We have poor families that will have no gifts for their kids.. fighting to keep their homes, fighting to keep their lives.   We have refugees from other countries.  How many of those are forgotten already?  How many have dismissed them completely?  They have been made out as terrorists.. as them... they.. the enemy.  Sure some of them might be bad people.. some of them are widows.. orphans. 

We've made a promise.  We have an option this Christmas.  We can say yes, and mean it.  We can say no.. and change our mind and do it.  Or we can say yes, and do it.  I vote yes.. do it.  As Shia Labeouf would say, "Go ahead. Just do it!"  Consider ways that you can keep Christ in Christmas.  Not just the word.  Not just the tree and gifts.  Not just the nativity scene, though all of these are good things.  Keep the entire Christ in Christmas.. in each of the people out there in need.  Remember, whatever you do for the least of these.. you do for Him.  Find a way that you can give a gift to someone in need.   Invite someone to Church that hasn't gone in a long time.  Tell someone you are on the way to a communal penance service, and if they want to go they can ride with you.  Find someone you haven't checked on... reach out to them.  Look in on the elderly, the home bound, the bid ridden.  Invite someone to Christmas dinner that doesn't have a family anymore.  Give a hug.  Feed someone. 

Remember this list? 

The Corporal Works of Mercy
  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

  • That's a real good place to start.    It's the year of Mercy.  It's Advent.  Let's get started! The Blessed Virgin Mary gave an unconditional yes to God.. no buts.. not ifs... Is your Yes unconditional?  If not, like the Son in the story.. we've said No... but it's not too late to change our mind, and go do what the Father has asked of us.

    His servant and yours,


    Saturday, December 12, 2015

    Good, Honest Dirt.

    When I was a young man I got a job at an electrical company in the town of Wise, Virginia.  My friend Michael and I travelled around the tri-city area, eastern Kentucky and parts of Tennessee installing electrical systems.  I was thrilled to be out doing something.  I was thrilled to be making money.  Most of all I was thrilled not to be stuck behind a desk anymore.  It was an exciting time.  I worked hard.  I came home at the end of every day covered in honest dirt.   Any aches or pains I had were a happy reword for having put in a good day.  That continued for quite some time.

    Then there was a new guy that got hired.  He was from up north.  He was like Larry the Cable Guy, always pushing to Get 'R done.   He wanted us to cut corners.  Speed things up by doing slip-shod work.  At this point I had been taking night classes in addition to working.  I was a licensed journeyman electrician with several years of experience under my built, a college degree, and a good work ethic.  I didn't want to cut corners.   I didn't want to endanger people to make money.  No, I wanted to do things right.  I was still very happy with my job, but this fellow was sapping my energy.  He was making it hard for me to see why he seemed to be favored by the boss while the rest of us seemed to get the less enjoyable work.

    Then rumors began to spread.  Slowly at first, you would hear this or that.  "Did you know he has a company truck?"   "Did you know he has a gas card?"  "Did you know he gets vacation days?"  "health insurance?"  "Makes $10 an hour more than you?"   On and on they went.   I began to be disillusioned.  Work was no longer joyful.  I can honestly say I was no longer giving 100%.  My work began to suffer, as did those working for me.  This continued for some time.  I was very dissatisfied.

    It all came to a point on day at a job in the small town of Honaker, Virginia.  The owner had hired another red hot Get 'R' Done guy from Balitmore.   This guy came on the job with the same attitude of the other and guess what?  He cut corners.  He pushed us to do things to save money, all the name of being a company man.  Then one day we found him smoking a joint in the basement, and we stood listening to him whine about his life and how unhappy he was.  I don't know what happened to him, but the next day he didn't show.  I called in to the owner and said he wasn't there.  A few days passed, we continued what little we had supplies for and still no foreman.  So the Boss came out and took me to the side, asking me if I would finish this job.   I had been running small jobs for a while, this one wasn't huge but I hadn't even seen the plans.  I eventually capitulated. 

    After reading the plans and examining what this other man had done, I found out the job was a wreck.  It was an absolute mess.  Circuits pulled to the wrong side of the building.  Undersized wire for motors in the gymnasium.  Forgotten water pumps in the downstairs hundreds of feet across the building.  I ended up spending an entire day just sitting on a bucket looking out the window.   I didn't want to be there anymore.  I hated my job.  I hated my life.  I hated that people were making more to do less work.  I hated that in order to succeed materially I'd have to cheat, lie, and cut corners.

    You see, my job hadn't changed.  I was making the same money.  I was working the same hours.  I was doing the same travelling, the same work, and coming home in that good honest dirt.. when I worked.  Nothing had changed, except me.  I had allowed those things around me, those rumors, those jealousies, those stresses to change who I was.  The man who had at one time been so excited to be doing anything outside of sitting at a desk, was now sitting on a bucket in a window.. coming home with clean clothes because he hadn't really worked that day.

    The soldier's came to John in the Gospel and asked what they must do.   Do not extort, don't lie, and be satisfied with your wages.   How simple that really is.  Be kind.  Be honest.  Be happy.   When I first started working at that job that was who I was.  I was happy to be there.  I was kind to those I worked with.  I was honest.  I gave an honest days work for an honest wage.   I did good work.  I didn't cut corners.  It was when I didn't follow these rules that I began to hate my wages.  Hate my job.  Hate my life. 

    It says that John said to them that God was coming to winnow the chaff from the wheat and destroy that which was worthless.  Such a dire message, right?  Then it says he continued to preach to them the good news.  What!?  Good news?  God is coming to get rid of the bad people!  What if I am one of them?   The thing is though they were expectant, they wanted the Messiah to come.  They were waiting for him!  So much so that when they saw John preaching repentance in his ascetic way they thought he might be the one.  They had their eyes open, they had their hearts ready, they wanted the Savior to come redeem them.  The Good news was that he was on the scene!  Redemption was at hand. 

    That's what Advent is about.   It's about getting ready for Him.   It's about being expectant.  Receiving the good news, the Gospel, with hearts of eager for the coming of Christ.   It's about being good soliders.  Happy.  Honest.  Kind. Content with our life.  Striving to be better, but being happy with whatever we are given.  That's the thing though... society tries to tell us that happiness comes from more... more money.. money things... more status.. more power..  As long as we are always looking for more, we will never be content.  It's when we focus on Him, focus on his coming... asking him to be reborn in our hearts that we find true happiness. 

    Are you expectant?  Are you content?  Is your life full of enjoyment and peace?  Or are you just after more?  Jealous of the other?  Gossipping and backbiting? Cutting corners to get ahead? 

    Now is the time.  Not tomorrow, not next year, but now.  Then the Scripture comes alive that proclaims:

    The Lord is near.
    Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
    by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
    make your requests known to God.
    Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
    will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

    His servant and yours,

    Thursday, December 10, 2015

    How can you think of Christmas when Easter is upon you?

    One of my friends was diagnosed with liver cancer.  She has been given only a few months to live.   My heart breaks when I think of this.  As I read the readings for tomorrow's daily Mass I am struck dumbfounded.   How can I think of Christmas when all that is on my mind is her Easter?  How much more so the experience must be for her.   She's angry.  I ran into her in the parking lot and I listened to her.  You know, not that expectant kind of listening where you wait for your turn to talk... but that kind of listening where you try to get out of the way and truly be present to them.  It was hard.  Not hard in the sense of getting out of the way, for once that part was automatic.  I felt God in that moment, I felt his Holy Spirit doing the listening... responding.  What was hard was listening to another friend, another person I have grown to love, share their grief with me and their fear.   Their fear of what was coming.

    I am not sure any amount of faith could bring you to be ready for that.  Secure, sure.  I have seen people who are secure in their faith.   They know what is coming and they are ready to see their Lord.  How do you overcome the fear though?  The fear for those who you are leaving behind.  The fear for all the unfinished things.  The practical things.   All of it.  It is overwhelming to say the least.  It's Advent.  That time of year that we as Catholics use to remind us of the things that are important in life.   When we examine our thoughts, our words, and our actions, then through prayer and a sacramental life, we begin to let the Lord change us into who we are supposed to be.  We get out of the way.

    In a world where we have so much, how often we instead find a million things to complain about.  In a season that we are supposed to be looking for Christ, when we are supposed to be examining inward as much as outward, to find what is between us and the fullness of humanity.... all too often we instead spend the time picking apart everyone else.  Instead of looking for Christ, we look for Satan... or don't look at all. We sit in our heat controlled homes, watching the news on flat screen TVs or Smart Phones, eating our clean, enjoyable foods; and we complain.  The store lines are too long.   They started Christmas too early.  The Pope had a slide show projected on the Vatican.   Look who funded it!? 

    We pick apart that person, that Rite, that family, them.. they.    Jesus is talking to the crowds two thousand years ago in the Gospel, but he might as well be talking to us.  John came conservative, poor and meek, doing none of the things that a liberal might do.   They weren't happy with him.  Then Jesus came, drinking with the sinners, going to parties, and eating food.   He must be a drunk and a glutton!  No matter what they did, they could not win.  How so with the Pope today?  For liberals he didn't go far enough.  For conservatives he stepped over the line.  The truth lies in the middle.  The truth lies in looking at the present.  The truth lies in opening our eyes and asking what Truth lies in this slide show, what Truth lies in this family.. what Truth lies in this person or this Religion. 

    Advent is a time to prepare our hearts and our worlds for the coming of Christ.  It's a time to reflect on the fact He was born into our world as one of us.   That He is being born every day into our hearts and our lives.   That He will come again at the end of time and the universe itself and all in it will be reborn.  The thing is all too many are trying to prepare the world before they prepare themselves.  Conversion has to start with us.   Only when we are authentic will anyone ever be drawn to Christ through us.  Only when our lives show that we truly believe, that we are 100% committed, that Christ is being born in our heart; only then will anyone be attracted to Christ through you.

    My friend is seeing Christmas with new eyes.   This is her last.   It's her last chance to go through Advent.   To worship Christ in the Mass.   To journey into a new year.  To celebrate the season of Easter.. while on her way to her own Easter.  In a way though.. she's also on her way to her own Christmas.   We Catholics believe that this is not the end for her.. but a new beginning.  A time to go from this world to the next.  Not an end, but a transition.  How much more does that bring Advent alive?   We don't know when it will be our turn.  This could be your last Advent.. this could be your last Christmas... or the last one for someone you love.   Are you prepared?   Are they?  Are you working to help them?  Is your life one that calls to them in a way that they say "I want what they have!"   Christmas can start today in your heart... you and I are on our way to our own Easter... our own rebirth.  Get ready.  Be ready.  Stay ready.

    God's promise is one of love.  One of joy.  One of resurrection.  It begins though with obedience.  It begins with doing what he said... out of love.  It begins with hope.  As he said to His people then and he says to his people now:

    Thus says the LORD, your redeemer,
    the Holy One of Israel:
    I, the LORD, your God,
    teach you what is for your good,
    and lead you on the way you should go.
    If you would hearken to my commandments,
    your prosperity would be like a river,
    and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
    Your descendants would be like the sand,
    and those born of your stock like its grains,
    Their name never cut off
    or blotted out from my presence.

    Bring him into your heart.  Bring him into your life.  Let him be born again now, that you may be born again then.   That your name may never be cut off or blotted out from His presence.  

    His servant and yours,

    Wednesday, December 9, 2015

    Mañanitas, Music, Food, Fellowship.

    Saturday morning at 5:00 A.M. our community will be gathering in the Sanctuary of our Church to celebrate our salvation and the conversion of the indigenous people of Mexico.   This celebration is called Mañanitas.  It begins with singing.  I remember last year when I attended with my wife that the music filled the room with vibrant voices trilling out the Spanish language like song birds lifting their song with the angels in worship of God.  The pews themselves rumbled softly and the paper in my hand resonated in time to the music.  The unfamiliar sounds of instruments I had not seen used before brought my mind to attention.  One sounded like the gentle murmuring of a stream in a forest on a spring day.  Another like bells and chimes.  All gathered together into a sound that was both sublime and human, much like our Church.

    I followed along as best I could.  I am far from fluent in Spanish but I enjoy being there, being with my brother's and sisters as we worship God together.  That's the beauty of the Catholic church.  It's universal.  That's what Catholic means.  It's not an English church.  It's not a Spanish church.  It's not a Chinese church.  It's not a Russian church.  It's a church that extends beyond the lines of any country, any language, any culture.  Men of every tongue and every nation gathered together throughout the world in a singular form of worship to praise our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for what he has done for us. 

    No matter where I go, no matter what language they speak or what cultural differences I find, if I step into a Catholic church for Mass I will find familiarity.  I will find people who are worshiping God with me.   They hear the same readings.  They hear the same words from the altar.  They celebrate the same God, the same way, under the same Church established by the authority of the Apostles themselves, build on the bedrock of Christ himself.

    Too many see our parishes as separate.   They see it as the Anglo community and the Hispanic community.   They see things like Mañanitas  as something the Spanish community does.. but it's not.  It's something our community does in Spanish.  They are us.  We are them. One.  We are One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.  We are not several different churches in one building worshipping in different languages.  We are one community with many different people, in different countries, in different cultures all drawn together in One, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  The Body of Christ.

    So consider going with us at 5:00 Saturday morning to Mañanitas  at Saint Catherine of Genoa.  If you don't speak the language that's fine! Listen to the music, open your heart to God in prayer, follow along if they have hand outs, and if they don't?  Lift your heart to God and honor Mary, Our Lady of Gudalupe, for her infinite yes to God's will.  Come be a part of the community.  It's time to stop letting society, political affiliation, national borders, social stature, or any other label prevent us from being one.