Friday, December 30, 2011

The Feast of the Holy Family

This is the feast that almost every year falls on the Sunday between the feast of the Nativity and the Feast of the Mother of God, (New Year's Day).  However, it does not fall that way this year or any year when Christmas is celebrated on a Sunday.

Perhaps the absence of this feast from the weekend liturgy many not be recognized by many.  But for those who have the opportunity and time to attend a daily liturgy today, there will be the time to consider that the Church puts this family before all of us because each of us is from a particular family whether we eventually are married with a family or single and stand as a member of a family of origin or of another community that might well be considered a family.

When we consider this family, we know it is unlike any other family that has or will ever exist on this earth of ours.  The mother of this family is so different from other mothers but, hopefully, she gives comforts to other mothers especially during maternal moments of pain and frustration.  Likewise, Joseph is not exactly like other fathers or foster fathers.  Imagine being told you are caring for and teaching a manly life to the Son of God!  That might lead some thinking fathers to stop, look, and listen.  Each parent, whether father or mother, knows that each child he/she brings into this world is unlike any other.  Not quite like Jesus, of course, but perhaps at times considered by doting parents almost equal to the Son of God!

So, today, whether single or married, widow or widower, priest or father, religious sister or mother, we have an opportunity to look to this family for insights that may not have entered one's mind.  Queen Elizabeth, as you may have heard on newscasts spoke to the British Commonwealth this Christmas emphasizing the significance of the family in today world.  As a priest, neither married nor a parent, I wonder what a mother or father must think not just at the time of a child's birth but throughout the life of an offspring.  Parents carry no light burden in this 21st century if they have children.  Recently taking a "child" into my own life, a 12 week old puppy, has taught me to think about parenthood and family life more personally than ever before even though I have had older dogs in my life or when I was too young to know what a worry a dog pet could be.  Getting up in the middle of the night because the puppy was crying ... missing his first family ... feeling hunger pangs ... and, of course, always worrying about the condition of the carpets in the house.  Did the Holy Family every have a dog pet?  Let's leave that until the kingdom of heaven to learn.

So, the human family has much to be thankful for in the reality of the Holy Family.  Mary, Joseph and Jesus are teachers, too.  What can we learn?  Hopefully more than what a puppy can teach!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

There have been very few men or women I have met who make the effort to "walk in the light."  Surely the majority of believers struggle to live a life that is motivated by the light of Christ Jesus and the Commandments. Jesus taught throughout his public life that a first priority in following him is to love God and one another.

To love God is much more than an intellectual exercise.  To study God is a process of learning about God and his presence in the world.  So how do we come to "love God."  Perhaps it is easy to say "Of course I love God.  That's why I go to church."  But we can always ask ourselves it is truly love that is the fiber our our relationship with God.  Consider for a moment:  how does a child come to know the love of a parent?  Isn't it the acts of a parent for the child?  And doesn't the child in mind and heart learn what love is as the years pass?  A deeper awareness of the sacrifices that a parent makes for the child brings about an awareness of what true love is or should be.  Countless moments of caring, nurturing, protecting, guiding are a parent's gift to his/her child.  It is these instances that are the teaching moments of what true love is.  Hopefully the maturing child comes to recognize that genuine love is so often more experienced in the giving than in the receiving.

As we grow older, we must rely on our own experiences of the loves others have given to us to be able to be open to God's love for us.  For us today:  do I allow my heart to be open to the many ways that God teaches us about his bountiful love?

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Merry Christmas everyone!  It is wonderful that we are gathered together on this feast day of unbridled celebration.  It is a feast day of new life as we celebrate once again the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is my genuine prayer for all of you that you will be well-gifted by your families and friends.  Most especially I pray during the Masses of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that the gift you will recognize and accept the gift we celebrate together:  Jesus Christ.

What truly happened in that shed is so simple that we rarely think of it this way:  God’s plan for humankind is now out in the open.  It should be obvious and so very clear.  What is before us at the moment itself but also again today is that the Son of God is come to this earth and is before us.  This is not something new.  From the days of the Old Testament God has been giving humanity advanced notice that a Messiah was coming.  On Christmas we celebrate that God is speaking to us through his Son.  “The Word became flesh and lived among us.”  The words from the Bible could not be any more direct or to the point.  As you think about the manger scene, you know that this baby Jesus is touchable, a very human yet divine God.  And we know again from the Old Testament prophets and from what we have learned from the New Testament testimony of Jesus himself and his followers that he has come to show each one of us the way of love is to be the way of life.  Please catch that final clause in the last sentence:  “that he has come to show each one of us the way of love is to be the way of life.”  So what might we see as the God-gift to each of us on the Christmas feast day, 2011?  Let me suggest for you a particular gift God might be giving you and me this year.
First, at a time when we know or know about so many men and women who are carrying the cross of Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia, should we not continue to think about the gift of memory.  It is frightening to think about losing one’s memories.  Some years ago, after having made two cross-country flights and then three north-south flights, I was driving on one of the many non-descript parkways just north of New York City.  I was exhausted from all the travel but had one more appointment before taking a few days off.  Suddenly as I thought about where I was, I could not remember where I was going,   I did not recall what highway I was on.  It was, as I said, frightening.  Only a passing train that had Metropolitan New York Transit painted on the side, did I recall where I was and what I was supposed to be doing.
So Christmas brings with it many memories.  Of course those memories of mixed with joy as well as sadness:  a family broken by tragedy; a ruptured friendship; the pain of the loss of a loved one; the joy of marriages or new births in a family.  God invites us on this special feast day to recall our failures and His graces to us.  Christmas has always been one feast that, like a magnet, draws us ever closer to God through the Christmas hymns we here these days.
Perhaps God is giving you the gift of making a new memory by receiving from him the gift of a new beginning, of seeing life itself in a new way --even though it may be broken-- because the Child Jesus offers each of us a new beginning with him each year as we gather around the Bethlehem stable.
A second gift  God might be offering us this year is the gift of glory.   Of course we celebrate Christmas as a feast of glory, the glory of God, the majesty of God.  Glory comes especially in the gift of the miracle of Bethlehem ... God comes among us as one of us.  The Bethlehem night on Christmas was echoed the sounds of angels singing Glory To God in the Highest.  Our hearts today and every day will be filled with the joy of glory is we try our best to avoid what is negative around us and if we do not worry so much about what we cannot control.  Children teach us so much about this gift.   Life for them is so free, so free of self-imposed boundaries.  They are rarely afraid of taking risks.  They constantly ask questions about what is around them:  people, how things work and why things happen as they do.  They are so fascinated by what we adults might call the mundane.  Yes, each Christmas is an invitation to experience glory as God wants us to grasp this unique gift to us.
Lastly, but surely not the last of the many gifts of Christmas from Jesus Christ to us, is the gift of presence, not presents, but presence.  Your presence today at this liturgy can be an experience of presence if you are free enough to open your heart to it.  The people we love deeply the most, those who each day are touch-ably close and warmly near to us are so often the people who get the least of the gift of presence from us.
Each of these gifts is an invitation to newness that can make your lives so much fresher, so much happier if you are willing to accept the gift the Jesus Christ gives to you from his simple stable in Bethlehem.
I am grateful to Graceworks Publishers for some of the expressions and thought processes for this special day of gift giving.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The first reading of today's liturgy from the writings of the prophet Malachi truly is worthy of a second or third reading.  Reflect on these words in particular:

For he is like the refiner's fire ...
and will purify the sons of Levi.

The Messiah, the long-awaited Savior, will come and make the people of Israel free to offer sacrifices that will again be please to Yahweh.

So, in our day, in our personal search for the sacred, what do the prophet's words mean to you, to me?  Actually we might ask ourselves today "Who is the Malichi in my life today?  Each day for sure there are God-sent messengers to each of us.  These heralds come into our lives to awaken our souls.  In particular, what message(s) is God sending you way as you make ready to celebrate the reality of our redemption?  Jesus was born years ago but today his coming reminds us that we are indeed a blessed people, a gifted people, a people given abundance of graces ... if we take the time to discover the message that is born in our hearts today and each day of our lives.

By the way "Happy Birthday" to a loyal reader who
celebrated her 80th birthday yesterday!
Many blessings be yours, Mary!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

And What Is This Kingdom?

Continuing our way through Cardinal Wuerl's Seek First the Kingdom ....  One of the realities about this kingdom of God is just what is it as Jesus established it on earth for us.  Unfortunately for us, this kingdom is not, like our societies throughout the world, composed of Angels, Archangels, Dominions, Powers etc.  Clay feet!  The kingdom of God as Jesus founded it is built on clay feet!  The clay feet of the Twelve, the clay feet of their successors, the clay feet of the different levels of the clergy and religious, the clay feet of all the people of God.  What I am saying is this:  the kingdom of God as we see  it in our world is not perfect.  Scandals have marred the kingdom's appearance and spirit throughout the centuries.  When you hear the genealogy of the House of David on Christmas Eve, please, don't think that all those names are ideals for us to follow.

But on the other side of the coin, Jesus entrusted certain powers to the community we call Church.  In some of its members we find genuine saints ... even before these folks finish their life on earth.  We must not forget that Jesus commanded the disciples to carry the news of the kingdom not just in homilies and conversations.  They were to use the powers entrusted to them to perform wondrous deeds.  That power continues to exist among not just the clergy in our Church but among laity as well.  Just recently I encountered a hurting soul who had recently come to a new life in the spirit ... all because of a friend who brought her to a prayer group meeting.   It was an experience for the woman that opened her heart and spiritual eyes of faith.  When she walked her walk for those at the meeting, she found that others had had to climb over similar rocks on their journey.  Through their encouragement the hurting soul became a new person.  In truth she had found that life in the Church is life in the kingdom of God.  She had to trust someone to lead her there.  Furthermore that "there" had to be an experience of God's grace, God's healing ministry shared by laity as well as clergy.

As a society, we contemporaries have been very critical men and women.  I know for me, as a priest, Christmas parties become a genuine opportunity to atone for some of my sins!  Why?  Listening to the unhappiness that exists in parish life for many people.  Listening to the pain that some in our community we call Church inflict upon on another is truly one heavy hors d'ouvers!  But, friends, it is the real world that we live in.  Unfortunately it is a kingdom on earth that is both spiritual and temporal.  Yet, the challenge we have is to see beyond the chinks in the armor.  Are we any better than Jesus who had to encounter those who did not trust him, those who feared him, those whose set ways were challenged by him?

One of the greatest blessings that God has given either me or you is that each of us has the opportunity to be like John the Baptist.  Through our dedication to our faith, we can help make straight the crooked ways we encounter.  Perhaps the most demanding characteristic of our Church, the kingdom of God on this earth, is HOPE.  We cannot abandon the gifts God has given us simply because we find a faulty light bulb!  Parents on occasion find themselves disappointed, frustrated even angry at times with their offspring.  Yet how rare it is to find a parent who gives up hope that a confused and hurting offspring will turn around and become truly a pride and joy.

In our kingdom of God it is no different.  Adults will be kids at times.  We must always hope.  It is the nature of the kingdom of God on this earth to work its way through painful moments ... because we have been promised a kingdom beyond belief ... because we can hope for what is better, what has been promised to us.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Father's Kingdom

We draw closer to the celebration of Jesus' birth.  Once he has finished his own personal "formation" with Mary and Joseph, he will begin his ministry ... preaching the Kingdom of God, aka the Kingdom of Heaven.  As mentioned in a prior posting, the phrase "kingdom of God" are New Testament terms.  Only once in the Old Testament, in the Book of Wisdom, chapter 10, verse 10 can you find this phrase.

As Jesus began his days of preaching and teaching, the people of Yahweh were longing for this new kingdom.  They were no different from their ancestors.  As Cardinal Wuerl writes in Seek First the Kingdom of God, little did the people have any notion of what this kingdom would be like.  An interesting side reading is a history of the kings of the Jewish people.  Google, of course, can be somewhat helpful here.

The prophet Samuel, recognized as a holy man, close in his prayer with Yahweh, became for the people of Yahweh after "Adam's reign ended rather badly" (Wuerl, p 25), a means to seeking divine assistance in securing a king.  Unfortunately the kind of king the people wanted was what we would call the warrior king.  This man was to be a ruler over nations.  Power and prestige were to be this king's brand.  Samuel acceded to their requests and ultimately "anointed" several kings because power and greed brought down the kingdom of Israel.

Eventually the House of David came into being.  David was consider by the people to be the longed-for messiah.  In fact, David "provided a prototype" for  later generations of the faithful in Israel.  A study of the history of the Jewish people puts forward an interesting reality:  hope is a major character trait of the Israel people despite the periods of pain and exile endured over the years.  It was the words of the Prophets describing the hoped for kingdom that encouraged the Jewish people.

Once preaching, Jesus taught (Luke 7:22) the people about the wonders of the kingdom of God, his Father.  To clarify for the people what his words meant, one Sabbath day Jesus spoke out about himself and how God had anointed him to be the person who would bring about the realization of the kingdom.   Cardinal Wuerl refers to Jesus' words in Luke 4:18-21 as his "inaugurating the kingdom of the Messiah (p.26).

As we many did follow Jesus but there were those who could not accept his teachings.  Jesus told them of his messiahship in words and events not easily accepted.  No one had raised anyone from the dead before!  The people continued in their desire for the warrior king.  This kingdom of God Jesus was teaching was a new and unheard of power.  It was in his ministry that he daily taught about the new kingdom would surpass any of their dreams.  Why?  Because it would be a spiritual, supernatural power that Jesus was giving to them.  Again, it would be only understood with the "eyes of faith."

So as you look at creche scenes in these days of Christmas celebration, think about this kingdom that Jesus was bringing to the people, to us even today.  It is a very different power that God has offered you and me for our lives.  It is a kingdom where weapons are traded for acts of kindness and love.  It is a kingdom where the King is more concerned about the subjects than about himself.  This is the Kingdom of God.  This is the kingdom that is offered to you and me each day of our lives.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Advent

As surely as we think of Christmas, thoughts of Santa Claus are soon to follow.  Likewise, when we think of the birth of Jesus, thoughts of Mary come to mind.  Petition the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind, your very soul, to strengthen your understanding of the various implications that this young girl's "fiat" (let it be done unto me) will have in her life and what impacts it has had on your life.  Furthermore let this prayerful reflection on Mary's role open for you an insight into how your baptism and reception of the Holy Eucharist are significant moments in our lives with a Christmas relationship.  These are ultimately the call to respond to God's call for our own "fiat" to his will that we give birth go Jesus in our lives and in our world.

The angel's bidding, "Hail, (you who are) full of grace" must have been both puzzling and frightening to such a young woman.  Surely Mary realized the greeting indicated that she was being specially bless by Yahweh.  When you were baptized (in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit) those words were for you the proclamation that you, too, were being specially graced by God with a singular mission.  When you were first given the Eucharist, the words "The Body of Christ," were yet another proclamation of your being particularly bless by God to give birth to Jesus not only in your body and soul but also to proclaim it to your world.

In the Old Testament writings we encounter "the house of David."  King David understood God's request that he build a house that would dignify God's presence among his people.  King David responded the way most would.  He must have said to himself "I will see to it that a worthy temple is built for the Ark of the Covenant.  This would replace the tent that had been used for many years.  Even in Jesus lifetime there was the on-going construction of the sacred space.  If God himself or an emissary came to you today and asked that a suitable "house" be built for him, surely most would immediately begin thinking of architects, bank loans, real estate agents and so forth.  We humans are the same whether in Old or New Testament days, even in our very modern world.  Yet this was not Yahweh's intention.  His "house" was not to be of wood, stone or massive steel columns.  Rather the words "The Lord will make you a House" are meant to be understood differently.  God wanted lineage for his Son when he would be born on this earth.  Mary was asked to carry on the lineage of the House of King David and his descendants.  This is somewhat similar to the British Empire's House of Windsor.  So Mary's "fiat" resulted in her providing "physical space" within her womb for the Son of God, for a continuation of the House of David.

As you remember Mary during these closing days of the Advent season, let your heart reflect upon God's invitation to you, asking you to provide a dwelling place in your heart and soul for his Son.  Christmas is that time of year when God repeats his invitation to give birth to Jesus in your temple.  We are called again to make the same "Yes" that Mary once made.  We know it is no different.  Like Mary, there will be for challenges to that commitment.  It is easy to say "Yes."  It is much more challenging to live out your "Yeses."  The Eucharist, however,  will be for you the same strength that Mary had within her body as she nurtured the Son of God for his birth, his entrance into a new world.

This week leading to Christmas Day can be an extraordinary time for each of us.  Open your heart!  Fiat!  Fiat! 

Friday, December 16, 2011

What is A Parable?

We hear the word "parable" frequently, especially in the gospel stories used for our Masses of obligation on the weekends.  It may be one of those scripture words we hear so often that we might say to ourselves, "Oh, yeah, another parable story."  However, if asked what the meaning of the word is, most would reply simply "One of the stories Jesus told one group or another."  This answer might be graded poorly.  Why?  It misses the purpose of the story.  A parable is a comparison story.

Remember a previous reference to asking young people to define words that do not fully or exactly comprehend because of a lack of vocabulary.  But they know it is "like" this or that.  We adults are really not so different.  So, Jesus, in teaching about the kingdom, turns to the favorite word of youth:  "like."  Jesus says in 6 specific teaching moments that the kingdom is "like" something our hearts and minds can grasp.  We know we just do not have the  spiritual capabilities to comprehend the totality of God's kingdom.  Jesus recognizes that inability.  He teaches that the kingdom is "like" something from individual's personal experience.  Cardinal Wuerl cites 6 instances where Jesus says what the kingdom is like.  The kingdom is like (a) a valuable pearl (Mt 13:45-46); (b) a field where treasure has been buried (Mt 13:44); (c) a seed growing in the ground (Luke 8:5-15); (d) yeast that causes dough to rise; (e) field of grain infiltrated by weeds (Mt 13:24-30); and (e) a fishing net that produces a successful catch but at the same time junk (Mt 13:47)

The noteworthy reality about the kingdom as Jesus taught it is that it "works powerfully, but quietly, gradually and invisibly, like seed and like yeast" (p23).  Likewise the kingdom is not an exclusive country club.  There are weeds and junk.  God does not want anyone to have missed the opportunity to make his/her way into the kingdom.  What a comfort this can be to those who struggle with various weaknesses that separate a true follower from Jesus.  Lastly, however, from these comparisons we have the opportunity to learn what obligations we carry, living in the kingdom.  If we nurture prayer and reach out to others in need, we become the recipients of abundance -- God's abundant graces will strengthen us.
Where is the Kingdom of God?

(NASA Photo)

Just what is this "Kingdom of God"?  It must be different from the kingdoms that continue to service in different parts of the world.  How can you even attempt to describe it?  At its root, notes Cardinal Wuerl, "... the kingdom of God is the presence of God."

We claim that we are among those who follow Jesus.  Many of us do.  For us knowledge and some understanding of the kingdom is important.  To his first disciples Jesus said "The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you" (Mk 4:10).  But to us who endeavor to know and to see the kingdom of God, we have been blessed with "eyes of faith".  However, we must know where to look for these eyes to work.  Most people will focus upon the word "eyes."  More important however are the words "of faith".  This is important to understand in itself because we are dealing not with the materialistic world but, rather, the spiritual realms.  For us spiritual "things" or realities are much like the wisp's of burning logs on a fireplace somewhere nearby which we cannot see but which our nose tells us are out of sight but nonetheless very real.

But how do we come to get at least some notion of the world of the spiritual?  Listen to young people who lack the vocabulary to describe adequately something that is far from tangible for them.  How many times in the description will you hear the word "like"?  Countless!  Adults, although with more information in their minds, are much like the younger set.  Jesus knew that!  His means of helping us understand the spiritual world can be found in the parables!

So, the kingdom might be very difficult to describe -- again it is invisible, spiritual -- but God has given us walkers, canes, crutches to help us begin to understand something about the kingdom.  We surely need all of these aides especially if we believe the presence of God is everywhere.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Let the Light of Your Faith Shine

Let's continue with the gospel appointed for today's liturgy and Chapter One --We Look for a Kingdom-- of Cardinal Wuerl's new publication.  Surely a significant difficulty for Roman Catholics as well as other mainline creeds is the world "kingdom."  Nothing could be further from our experience.  Kingdom?  We don't deal with "kingdom" in a democracy!  Perhaps our lack of familiarity with both the word and its meaning has somewhat diluted the theological importance of the word in what is a most treasured prayer: the Our Father ... thy kingdom come!"  Even Blessed John Paul II developed a fourth category of mysteries for reflection while saying the Rosary one of which is the Proclamation of the Kingdom.

When Jesus inaugurated his public ministry much of his teaching was related to the Kingdom of God.  Likewise the major new Testament writers, the Cardinal points out, are captivated by Jesus' preaching about the kingdom.  So, what is it Christians, especially we of the Roman Catholic community, seem to have lost the significance of the kingdom.

We know from our reading and our hearing read Jesus' words about the kingdom, how important a part of his message it was and continues to be.  So strong were Jesus' words that worldly leaders were on the alert when Jesus would preach about God's kingdom.  Cardinal Wuerl is strong as well:  "God's kingdom is serious business.  It still is."

Perhaps our reticence springs from our lack of familiarity with the topic.  Again, this Advent might be the moment God is calling you and/or me not to back away from challenge to our faith.  This means personal renewal or simply personal learning.

Again we are called to speak out for our faith ... now is the time.  The Gospels call each of us to recognize that "the kingdom of God is important in our lives."  This is a part of our mission in the world today.  The question might be:  how do I reflect the light of Christ among those who know me?
Around the Water Cooler

Today we celebrate another Advent saint, another St. John, better known as John of the Cross.  He is another of the pre-Christmas saints' days when we experience a reflection of Jesus Christ.  Yesterday I received a package in the mail:  Cardinal Wuerl's Christmas gift to the priests of the Archdiocese.  "Seek First the Kingdom" is the Archbishop's latest effort to share his extraordinary theological insights.  As I began to read his message that we today can "challenge the culture by living our faith," I felt genuine hope that this book will be of great help to all of us in the upcoming year of evangelization that Pope Benedict with begin on the Feast of Christ the King 2012.  This was precisely how John of the Cross attempted to reform his religious community.  The President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, in the forward to the Cardinal's words not "A solid grounding in the faith, moreover, is only a first step toward effective Christian witness in a pluralistic society."  Yes, living a life that is perceived by our sisters and brothers in our faith as well as our colleagues "around the water cooler," at the Rotary Club luncheons or sitting in the viewing stands at a Little League contest or an NFL battle is no easy task.  It is truly a contemporary challenge.

However, we must not forget the words repeated many times by Blessed John Paul II:  "BE NOT AFRAID."  Our faith today has to be strong, must be tolerant and we must make it significant in so many different situations.  Cardinal Wuerl drives home the point that it is true that we are called to seek the kingdom of God but that is not enough.  We must strive to "build up" the kingdom as well.  No season of the Church's year could be more suitable for taking a look at the foundations of my faith than the weeks leading to a celebration  of  Jesus' birth.  It is with a faith strengthened by personal renewal that each of us can indeed be like John of the Cross.  We can bring about a contemporary reformation within our faith.  If one person takes this change seriously, at least one "footprint" will have been "reclaimed for Christ.  And if many people do so ... an entire culture can change and be renewed."

Please remember a marvelous man, Robert Sullivan, member of Jesus the Divine Word Parish, Huntingtown, who died this morning.  A fellow Gonzaga High School graduate, Rob was always helping me, along with others, while pastoring the flock there.  Please remember his wife, Barbara and their family.  Eternal rest grant unto Rob, Lord.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Today's gospel reading brought to mind the picture above because it said to me "Which way are you going to go?"  We know the story of the two sons and how the first son's refusal and later decision to fulfill his father's will stand in great contradiction to the second son who said "Yes," but had no intention of following his father's wishes.  It seems that duplicity is so much worse that saying "No" but then having a change of heart.

Eleanor Roosevelt spoke these words:  In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves.  The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own.  

Think back to December, 2006.  Can you recall where you were or what you were doing?  Are you any different today than you were then?  Some would say that you are no different.  You may have added or lost a few pounds.  You may have less covering on the top of your head.  Basically, I am the same person I was in 2006 except for this fact:  my choices have made me different in some ways.

During these last two weeks of Advent, we will find ourselves and our lives under the influence of choices ... because the pre-Christmas days and events necessitate some change in our lives.

In those past five years I know that I have attempted to adjust to a life of post-surgery and the reality that I have coronary heart disease.  So during these years my mind has turned to determining what should I be in these later years of my life.  The choices I have made and will make determine so much of what I can be.  Pythagoras had these words for people like me:  "Choices are the hinges of destiny."

What I have finally begun to realize is a true challenge at least to me:  at this time in my life to decide what I want to be demands that I have to say to myself "I will stop doing this or that."  Choices!  Choices!

Our Lady of Guadalupe

As we say during this month, "'tis the season.'"  The story of Mary's special relationship to Tepeyac is what is so often her very essence:  giving.  Just imagine what a gift Mary gave to the people of Mexico through the dedication of St. Juan Diego, canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II and how it has impacted the faith life of the people of that nation and in many other places around the world.

William Barclay has the following attributed to his sensitive soul:  "Always give without remembering, always receive without forgetting."

Should you live your life with this kind of direction, you will discover an even more remarkable experience:  the more you give, the more you get ... so long as you do not give so you will get.  In our world today, there is the challenge to understand how much giving is in our lives or how little there might be during serious economic circumstances.  The highlighted words are those of High Point University (in High Point, NC) President Dr. Nido R. Qubein.  He is totally committed to the following thought and action in his words:  "It's all about your spirit.  I don't believe you should give until it hurts.  I believe you should give until it feels good." 

And looking for meaning in your life?  Listen again to Dr. Qubein:  "Many people looking for meaning in their lives find it by losing themselves in causes greater than they are."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday

"If anyone has not had a real experience of salvation which we are all being called to share in our lives here and now," ... if anyone has not yet had that experience, then we might easily say that Christmas has never really come into that person's life.  Words of another priest who reflects on this particular Sunday.

His message reflects the truest meaning of bring Jesus, the Christ Child, into our lives.  We must recall this Child is the "Jesus who makes us whole."  The joy of the Christmas season is that this Child Jesus it is who frees us from different experiences of captivity that at times overtake our hearts, our lives.

Perhaps the "Gaudete" imperative does not have the significance for us that it did at the time when this special Sunday in Advent occurred. Remember that in earlier days much more prayer and fasting was the tone of the Advent season.  The Church established this particular Sunday as a reminder of the reason for the various penitential practices.  There was much more attention to the reality of sin in personal lives.

We are called, like the moon for the last few nights, to be great reflectors not so much of the sun but rather of the SON of God, the Light of the world.  We are called by our baptisms and incorporation into our Church to bring this Jesus into the experience of others' lives.

And how so?  Return to the Isaiah reading:  " ... to bring good news to the poor,  to bind up the hearts that are broken, to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison ...."  Nicely said but how do we fulfill these challenges?

Reach out to those who are poor either spiritually or materially.  There is so much poverty even in our nation of great abundance.  How many are suffering social ills, emotional chains, intellectual struggles with the truth.  These are individuals who are unable to overcome those realities that drain their spiritual reservoirs.  How can I reach out to those whose lives are miserable experiences because of obsessions or addictions?  How can I help someone who has lost the reason for living or has turned his or her life over to play at sex but cannot know true love?  How can I reflect the love of Jesus Christ to those who lives are eaten away by unhealthy isolation or painful loneliness?

The Lord has come to set us free from these same burdens.  We partake of these graces perhaps so often we come to overlook how blessed we truly are!  Let us truly endeavor to reach out to those who are waiting for Jesus to come to them ... but do not know it!

Reach out!  It is the only way to enjoy fully the joy of Christmas.  Gaudete!  Gaudete!

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Do you hear what I hear?"

The two readings today are helpful invitations to prayer during these middle-days of Advent.  The first reading from (Second) Isaiah continues to put before the Jewish people reasons for hope and promises for joy as the new King Cyrus played a significant role in returning the faithful to Jerusalem so that they could rebuild their most sacred physical space, the Temple in Jerusalem.  The days of return and the days of beginning to build the Temple provided the people time for rebuilding their own spirituality.  It was a time for them to open their hearts to "the Sacred."  It is a reminder to them of a well-known Genesis verse (22:17):  I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore."

In the gospel we are challenged to hear the message that our Creator God is offering us in our times.  In the gospel Jesus is rather sharp putting forward a reprimand  to the crowds who seem to need hearing aids.  This is why Jesus compared the crowds to the young people seeming playing games in the town square and saying to those who did not pay attention:  "We piped and you did not dace; we wailed and you did not mourn."

Two examples:  John the Baptist came with a different style of living, fasting, not drinking and wearing must unusual and unfitting clothing.  The people considered possessed by some kind of evil spirit.  Yet, when Jesus came who apparently dined with the a la their customs, eating and drinking with them, he became an announced glutton and drunkard.  Of course, too, he was account of being the friend of tax collectors and other sinners.

So what for us?  If we do not understand and listen for "the Sacred" in others, we are no different.  We hear time and again reminders from pulpits and from our personal spiritual reading that God is calling us to recall his will for us.  A friend recently told me that his relative had dropped out of "church going" because the pastor could never get beyond asking for money.  The irony to it is that man's parish was a hair's width away from bankruptcy!  Might it not be like promising that you would never return to a certain shopping center because you did not like the new refacing project in the shopping center!  Now you opt for driving twenty-five miles to another location!  Make any sense????

Where there is pain or loss because of dissatisfaction, is walking away the answer?  It is, rather, a time to listen .... "to listen to what I (Jesus) said."  He is say, "Do you hear what I hear (.... from my Father in heaven)?"  Advent should be a time when we look at renew our Savior's role for us:  "He is the embodiment of the Wisdom of God" Fr John Daley, SJ).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Continuing some thoughts about "the Sacred" conjoined to the feast day celebrated by the Church today will end up something of a surprise.  Stephanie Dowrick  noted how a yoga teacher concluded the regular session with a simple invitation:  "view through the mind's eye 'our whole selves'."  For Dowrick this was "the invitation" that opened the door to "the Sacred."  She realized that all she was was itself all sacred.  (Seeking the Sacred: Transforming Our View of Ourselves and One Another[published 2010]

Reading through Dowrick's thoughts and entering my own efforts at seeking "the Sacred," I sense that this seeking is what Dowrick calls an "adventure."  For her intellect is important  but also consequence are "imagination and vision."

The feast of the Immaculate Conception relates to Mary in a particular way for me.  It is this.  As a young woman Mary was faced with a question, a decision, that would change her life as well as the course of human history.  For God's will to be achieved Mary had to make her choice using her own free will.  Like me and you, Mary could have been living in the consequences of Original Sin.  However, this was the gift for her:  she was free from the sin of our first parents.

We can consider this:  because Mary was never subject to the consequences of Original Sin, she was able to be open to so many ways of experiencing "the Sacred."  Unlike Mary, we were damaged by the actions of Adam and Eve.  Yet we were not without salvation.  Mary's choice to accept the invitation of God to bring His Son into our world to repair the garden damage.

Surely Mary knew how to bring herself into the presence of "the Sacred."  Perhaps today we might take some time to imagine ourselves sitting near Mary in her prayer, her openness to "the Sacred."  There we might consider how we attempt to drive sin from our lives to enable our own spirit to link itself with "the Sacred."  The more often we do this, the "easier" will be our time in prayer.  Now to the change in direction hinted in the opening paragraph.

Yours truly usually is awakened during the middle of the night or early morning by a whining and bark that is the signal:  get me outside quickly.  So, this morning, in my state of just being jolted from deep sleep, I jacketed myself and headed for the front door.  When I opened the door and allow Hershey to step outside, the door slammed shut because of the wind!  Guess what?  You have it, I suspect.  All keys were inside.  Rush to the rectory where there is usually a key that would allow me entrance and a second key!!!  Where was that key????  Removed from its usual "hiding place."  So, at 4:14 AM, Hershey inside my jacket we went to the nearby gas station.  At first the young man working behind the protection of locks and glass, would not allow me and my treasure to stand inside.  Tried reaching two or three people who could help ... now answer.  (There off my Christmas list!!!!)  Likewise I tried 911 and am still waiting for an officer to come to assist me.  (Wait 'til there next call for financial support!!!)  After being out for about an hour plus, the young man invited me into his outer room where the candies and drinks were displayed.  It led to a very interesting conversation about religion.  Napal was his home. But he has switched from Hinduism to Christianity.  He has studied the bible.  He wanted to know about Catholicism.  Maybe something said will impact him.  Then at 6:45 AM a customer, seeing this old man and his dog, asked if we need a ride.  So by 7 AM, rectory copy of the key in hand, I opened the front door and allowed one cold man with his quite warm dog back into the house.  Having Hershey inside my jacket surely helped keep the two of us warm.  You can be sure Hershey's halter will have a key attached!  Even better, I may find a key pad lock!  

But it gave me much time to think about the challenge to the homeless on cold nights.  Several people just walked by as I stood next to one of the gas pumps that offered protection against the wind.  God bless that lady and her needs.  She was a God sent gift.  So say a prayer today for a Kathy who helped Hershey and his sleepy-headed owner!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The journey of each season of the Church's Liturgical Calendar is, I believe, simply a search for the Sacred.  There are saints and sinners honored.  Their lives, letters and other writings divulge their personal effort to discover and live in the Sacred.  Recall during this season some of the religious carols that clearly express the composers' desire to enter into the experiences of the Sacred.  In this work they have put together for musicians, singers and audiences a sharing of their vision of the Sacred as they have found it in the words they have composed.

The very effort to discover the Sacred, when looked at closely, unites us with one another throughout the world.  Some may feel that gaining any degree of participation int he Sacred is an opening of ourselves to know more about ourselves.  In the right setting, doesn't the Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, left you from this world into an experience of the Sacred where you might possibly find yourself in a moment of metanoia, transformation.

As you wok your Advent journey, take the time to let your inner spirit find the quiet that serves as the key to the reality of the Sacred.  It is truly worth every second you can invest in such quiet.  There you will find the key that opens the heart to the Sacred.

Today our reading introduces us to the second part of the Book of Isaiah.  In particular this section is call "Second Isaiah" or "The Book of Consolation."  It is a very different style of writing and the message is very different from the firsts 40 chapters.  There is a clear movement from the harsher prophecies to words of consolation, to words of comfort for the Jewish people ending a period of captivity and beginning the return home.

Now is the time for us to fulfill part of our obligations as Roman Catholics to make known the Jesus who will be a sign of consolation and comfort as well.  Just recall the imagery Jesus gives us during his days of preaching.  The Prodigal Son.  The Good Shepherd.  Jesus at the well with the woman.  This is the reason for the Advent Season -- awake followers, celebrate my birth once again but celebrate the tremendous gift that you will receive from me.  I am your Savior.

Apologies for missing a reflection yesterday.  On Saturday I brought a new responsibility into my residence:  a 10 week old Chocolate Labrador.  All was going very well ford the first two days.  Yesterday I took him to the vet for a required shot and other medicines.  What a different dog he was yesterday.  Hyperactivity marked the entire day.  I have earned something of the "spirit" in the house of those who return with a newborn.  Not equating a dog with a child, but find the attention sought and needed so similar to what I have seen.  His name:  Hershey.  Born 9/22/11.  Already 14.5 pounds.  At the moment snoring at my feet.  Would that I could get up without his realizing this his new found buddy is walking away from the chair I am sitting in.  By the way there has been one major help:  he barks when he needs to go outside for necessary actions!!!  The only unpleasant mess on the carpet came not directly from him but from the bottom of my shoe!!!  It is fun and it will be a learning experience ... for me!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Second Sunday of Advent

The featured preacher today is John the Baptist.  He, as all know, is the relative and friend of Jesus who calls all to "repent and make straight" the way we live our lives.  For most that "repent" word usually means that there is a need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Gospel repentance, as an Irish Jesuit noted, is more than an invitation.  It is a calling.  It is a calling to do more than remove sin from our "record."  Gospel repentance is a calling to change one's life, one's way of living.

The same Irish Jesuit noted that we are fortunate to receive this calling because its requirements are not required immediately.  God's calling for most people is given a length of time for its fulfillment.  God is always generous.  The call to repentance we hear from John the Baptist can be likened to the unknown voice of "On Star" or any one of the GPS devices found in other cars without On Star or even on some cell phones.  It is the voice that says "Recalculating."  Or it is the voice that says "at the first opportunity, make a U Turn."

During this Advent Season that inaugurates the Church's 2012 Liturgical Year, we are called, as in prior Advents, to instill in our lives a genuine peace that  comes about by  making a serious effort to live as Jesus has called us.  And, at the same time, this Advent season can easily become a time when each of us has the opportunity to lead another person to the Bethlehem stable to know the love of Jesus Christ.