Friday, December 31, 2010

Pitching His Tent

The so-called "Prologue" of John's Gospel tells the story of the Incarnation in a very different manner. No angels, shepherds, magi, nor even Mary and Joseph. After establishing the second person of the Trinity as "The Word", John states the profound reality that "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us". The original Greek language of verse 14 (Καὶ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν) is more correctly translated to read "And the word became flesh and pitched his tent among us".
I love this image, especially considering the nomadic history of the chosen people. To pitch a tent with others implies that the person is ready to live as they do, depending on one another for the basic necessities of life. And this is exactly what God did. Jesus become totally dependent on others, at first Mary and Joseph, and then later His friends and disciples.
Just as Jesus was dependent on others for the daily necessities as He walked the earth, so too the Word needs us to provide the  means by which He interacts with people today. As we approach the conclusion our Christmas Octave and also the conclusion of another calendar year, I offer you this beautiful passage by St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582).
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
 I pray that these words will guide us as we work to bring The Word to those we meet during the new year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Still Christmas

One of the great tragedies in modern life is that we tend to rush everything. Even before Thanksgiving, stores have Christmas decorations up and are hawking their wares with a countdown until Christmas. And then, on December 26, you would think that Christmas had ended a month ago. I took my mother to do some shopping the other day and the only mention of the season was from one clerk who wished us a Happy New Year.
When I wished people a "Merry Christmas", they looked at me as if I had lost my mind. "Doesn't this guy realize that Christmas was two days ago!" they seemed to be thinking.
I for one am glad that the Church spreads out our celebration of Christmas Day over an Octave (8 days), and that we extend the Christmas Season until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (this year celebrated on January 9). I just wish that more people would embrace this idea and keep the joy and good wishes for the entire time. I mean, how amazing is it that God decided to "take on flesh" and experience the full range of humanity in the person of Jesus Christ! The celebration of the birth of the Son of God is a recognition that our God knows firsthand what it is like to experience joy, sorrow, triumph, disgrace, pleasure, pain and the entire spectrum of emotional and physical experiences as a human being. The only human experience that Jesus never had was the shame that comes from sin, since He always did the will of the Father.
I for one am determined to keep the spirit of Christmas alive until the season is officially over, and I invite you to join me. Whenever you go to a store, see friends, or encounter anyone in any circumstance, take the opportunity to wish them a "Merry Christmas". If they look at you like you are a little crazy, oh well - there are far worse reasons to be thought of as crazy. And if they ask why you are still wishing people Merry Christmas, explain that "we Catholics celebrate Christmas all the way up until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord". They may still think you are crazy, but at least they will know you are not alone! Don't give in to the "get it over with" mentality. Embrace the true spirit of the season. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Own Eyes

One of the people in the Bible that appears for a brief moment and then disappears is Simeon. We are told in Luke's Gospel that he was promised by God that he would not die until he had seen the "Christ of the Lord". When he saw Jesus as He was to be presented in the Temple, he declared words that are prayed by millions of religious, priests, deacons and lay people every day in the official Night Prayer of the Church:
 "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"
As I was praying these words last night, knowing that they were part of today's Gospel, I pondered if I really meant them. Have my own eyes seen the salvation? How was God's words revealed in my life today? These are questions which, I believe, I need to keep in front of me as I go about my daily routine. How will God reveal Himself to me today? Will I be more aware of the fact that Jesus has saved me?
Going one step further, if I am called to be an "imitator of Christ", I must try and be that light which reveals God's presence to others. I must strive to fulfill God's word to others as they see in my words and actions the promised for salvation which is offered to all.
That is a lot to look for, a lot to strive for each day. But, when you think about it, God created us with the ability to see it with our own eyes if we try and see as He does.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When the Innocent Suffer

Today's Feast of the Holly Innocents recalls the terrible massacre ordered by Herod as recorded in Matthew's gospel. Even though they had done no wrong, in an effort to kill the Christ Child, Herod ordered all of the boys under the age of two in Bethlehem and the vicinity to be killed. And by then Joseph had already fled the country with Mary and  Jesus!
We all realize that this was a terrible thing, and the modern-day plague of abortion is often compared to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. But we must always look to see how scripture applies to our own lives. Since I have never been involved in abortion, what does today's feast say to me personally?
I guess I am challenged to see if innocent people sometimes suffer because of my words or decisions. Whether involving family, friends, co-workers or strangers, how do the things I say and do impact the lives of those around me? It would certainly be very "Herod-like" to think that any decision of mine makes no difference in the lives of others. No matter how personal I believe my decisions to be, or how trivial my words, others can benefit or suffer because  of them. For example: Yesterday was my mother's birthday, and I decided to take here out to dinner. I chose a certain restaurant because she likes it, and I also love the food there. Because of the weather and Christmas Season, there were only a few other people at the restaurant. That simple choice I made impacted the lives of the server and other staff at the restaurant in a big way. Fortunately for them, it was a good impact (I am a generous tipper!). But what about the staff at the other restaurant I was considering? My decision NOT to go there impacted them in a negative way. They were the "innocents" who suffered in a small way by my decision.
Now this may not have changed anyone's life, but it did make a difference. We cannot and should not agonize over each and every decision we make, but certainly there are times when we need to think about the consequences of our decisions. If we blithely go through life thinking only of ourselves, we fail to realize our importance in God's plan. A word or gesture from you or I may be exactly what God wants to use to change someone's life. But the devil also wants to use them to impact someone in a negative way. Today we ask God to help us think before we speak or act, so we can try and prevent anyone from becoming a "wholly innocent" person who suffers because of us.

Monday, December 27, 2010

An Empty Tomb

In the midst of our celebration of the birth of Christ, when we try to spread the "reason for the season", the Church reminds us of the reason for the birth. Today's Gospel tells the story of Easter morning, the day when those first disciples saw the empty tomb and received proof that Jesus was, indeed, the Promised One. From birth to Resurrection, the presence on earth of the Word  Made Flesh was for our sake. When He was a child, preaching, performing miracles, praying, confronting evil and undergoing the  Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus gave us an example of living according to the will of the Father. As a result of His doing so, we have been saved.
It is always important that we know where we are going, to have the goal in mind. Our own "resurrection", when we will rise on the last day for the final judgment, is something we should never forget as we go about our daily work. Some people may find it morbid to think about it, but we should live each day thinking about our death. How different the world would be if everyone pondered their mortality. So today I hope you will think about how you will reach the goal. How can you live today that will help you get to heaven? As you do so, remember that what you do today may be what people remember most about you, for good or ill, when you are gone.
I often tell folks that there are very few things you can absolutely guarantee. But one thing is definite. If  you live every day as if it was your last day on earth, someday you will be right!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

We Are Family

As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, my thoughts turn to the state of families today. So many bemoan the collapse of the "traditional" family. I must say that I am not one of them. Just what is a "traditional" family anyway? And exactly which configuration of family cannot look to the Holy Family and find themselves?
Unmarried and pregnant? Check. Newly married and struggling? Check. Living far away from family and friends? Check. Step-parent? Check. Parents raising child(ren)? Check. Widowed? Check. Single parent left to finish raising child? Check. Empty-nester? Check. Single young adult living from hand to mouth? Parent despairing over "lifestyle" choice of child? Check. Adult child responsible for parent(s)? Check. Grieving parent of a deceased child? Check. Alone in the world and have to depend on others to survive? Check.
The one thing that I believe we can all take from the Holy Family's example is that, no matter our circumstance or state in life, if we always try to do the will of God, we will be OK. If you find yourself in changing circumstances, ask yourself "What does God want me to do?" It may not be the easiest thing, but I guarantee you it will always be the right thing. And ask Joseph, Mary and Jesus to help you.  And they will ask the Father to give you the grace you need, just as they received it. After all, because of Jesus, by virtue of our Baptism, we too are part of the Holy Family!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Child is Born for Us

Wrapping paper everywhere! That is what millions of living rooms look like this morning! Now that Santa has come and gone, people will be welcoming family and friends or traveling to visit others. In the midst of all this, as we prepare for a Christmas feast, it is so wonderful to welcome our sisters and brothers to the real stable - the table of the Lord. Think about it. These twenty-four hours see more people go to church than any other throughout the year. And all are there, even if they cannot put it into words, to honor the Child who was born for and given to us. The  first and most important Christmas present, not given by Santa but by God Himself, was the Christ Child.
As you continue your celebration this day, I pray that God will shower blessings upon you. With each gift you give or receive, say a quick prayer for the giver or recipient. Ask God to help them keep the true  meaning of this day foremost in their  minds. And know that God, the ultimate "re-gifter", continues to give you the first and best Christmas Gift - His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night, all is calm?
Christmas Eve is always a challenge for me. In a parish with 5 Masses in two churches 15 miles apart, it is difficult to try and experience silence, holiness or calmness. Fortunately there are two of us assigned to the parish, and my brother priest is a real workhorse. It is also a bittersweet day for my family, since my father died 28 years ago today. I still have my mom, and she always  spends a few days with me as we remember the past, celebrate the present and look forward  to the  future.
With all of this, I finally get to experience the true meaning when I finally gather with parishioners at the  table of the Lord for Christmas Eve Mass. And I do not think I am alone in this. You can actually see the entire congregation relax as our thoughts and attention turn to the beauty of what happened long ago in Bethlehem. Forgotten are the tasks yet to be done, and for those precious moments we are united in the experience of God's great love. I am not surprised that more people go to church at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Despite the commercialization of the season, people of faith still are aware of the "reason for the season", and as much as church may not mean much to some during the  rest of the year, you cannot get the full experience of Christmas without sitting in a Church and singing "Silent Night" or other hymns that speak of the events long ago.
My prayer for each of you is that you will experience this unity with believers throughout the world, and that Christmas will find you able to appreciate the  beauty of this Silent Night.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

They Had No Idea

I wonder what those who were present at the circumcision of John (the Baptist) thought years later. When they witnessed all of the wonderful signs surrounding the coming of this child into the world, they sure that the "hand of the Lord" was with him. They probably speculated that he would turn out to be an important man, perhaps a leader of their community. Maybe they even wondered if he could be THE ONE.
Flash forward thirty or so years, and we find John living in the desert, feasting on locusts and wild honey, ranting and raving about repentance. Wow! Not exactly what they were thinking at his birth. But that is because they were thinking in human terms, just like we do. No one of us would want our child to aspire to the kind of life John lived. Rejected, made fun of, imprisoned and finally beheaded. But we forget - that was the path that God laid out for him. That was the way that John fulfilled God's will. And that was the way that John made it to heaven. Certainly not easy, certainly not pretty, but clearly he fulfilled God's will. And today he is revered as a great saint.
Funny thing about sainthood. It is usually not an easy path, usually not pretty. But it is always marked by doing God's will. As we succumb to the hustle and bustle of Christmas, we need to remember that God indeed does have a plan for each of us. And the end of each and every one of those plans is sainthood - eternal happiness with Him. So we also have to remember to try and ask ourselves each day "What does God want for me today?" "What is God's will for me?"
We also have no idea where it will lead us in life or how difficult it will be. All we can be sure of is, doing God's will here will definitely lead us to sainthood!
I will try to post during these  next few days, but no guarantees due to the very full schedule. To all who stop by and receive any of These Simple Gifts that I offer, Thank You and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Proclaiming the Greatness of the Lord

Mary's Song of Praise, the Magnificat, is one of the most well-known and often used hymns contained in scripture. As part of the Evening Prayer of the Church (from the Liturgy of the Hours), it is repeated every day by religious men and women, deacons and priests throughout the world. Yet I wonder how many of us strive to live the words - to really proclaim the greatness of the Lord?
When you examine the words, contained in today's Gospel, Mary does not simply generalize and declare that "God is great". No, she list the ways that she witnesses that greatness. He has mercy, he shows strength, he scatters, he casts down, he lifts up, he fills, he sends away, he helps, he remembers.. all of these are actions that God does in the world around Mary. Now, most others did not even recognize that this was happening. They would have probably even denied that these things were being accomplished. But Mary was able to look beyond the obvious difficulties and oppression under which she was living. She saw that, even if in small ways, God was in control, despite the best efforts of humans.
My reflections today brought me to a place where I began examining my own attitude about the world. It is so easy to see the problems and challenges, to see the sin. But does this mean that God is not acting in our world? Of course not! It simply means that the devil has been distracting us from seeing the greatness, seeing the many things that "God, who is mighty" is doing in and around us.
Today I think we are being called to imitate Mary. Today I think we are being called upon to bear witness to the "greatness of the Lord". God is always doing great things for us. How many can you spot today? And to whom will you proclaim it?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Visitation

Today's Gospel details what we have come to call the "Visitation", when Mary traveled to see Elizabeth after hearing news of her pregnancy.  I began to think about the power and benefits of visiting. When I was a child, we always took the week between Christmas and New Year to visit relatives and close friends. The patterns of these visits became the stuff of family legend, as most traditions do. It would begin with my father's speech in the car on the way to visit. The speech would vary a little, depending on whether or not there were children who would be there or not. The usual "Make sure to give so and so a kiss, don't ask for anything until it is offered, say thank you and only take one" would be added reminders on how to play with the other children who would be there. And always ending with the admonishment "When I say we are going home, don't argue!"
The purpose of these visits was to reaffirm our relationships. Whether great aunt or uncle, third cousin once removed, former neighbor or school chum of my mother, we always knew that, at least at Christmas, we would be able to reconnect and re-establish our ties. And I still cherish those memories today.
Unfortunately, in the age of Facebook, IM's and text messaging, a lot of people do not bother to visit in person anymore. Some do not see relatives for years on end, not because of great distance but simply because of lack of will.
I believe that, as we prepare for another Christmas Season, it would be a good idea to try and plan some face-to-face visits. Take an evening or two and plan a get -together with relatives or friends you have not seen in a while. And I am not talking about a party with a lot of people. Simply an old-fashioned visit  in your or their home. This will give you sufficient time to have a meaningful conversation and find out about your lives, reconnecting with one another and deepening the bonds of love and friendship. I believe it would be a great way to celebrate the spirit of the season.
So, how about it? Want to plan your own visitation?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Angels Everywhere!

It is impossible to read about the events surrounding the conception and birth of the Lord without stumbling on angels. These messengers from God appear to be everywhere! Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi - everyone seemed to be receiving messages through these servants of God. Today's Gospel speaks of the encounter Mary had with Gabriel. One of the things that strikes me is that Mary does not seemed to be surprised by the visit, simply "troubled at what was said". I think I would have been more than a little freaked out by the presence of this heavenly messenger!
As the story continues, it seems like a normal exchange between two individuals. You could almost forget that one of them was not human. The puzzlement and questioning of Mary is given a reasoned response, and then Mary decides to comply with the request of God. Having done his job, Gabriel "departed from her".
I cannot but think that it would be great to have these angels to facilitate communication with God today. I dream sometimes that God simply sends one to ask me to do what God wants, rather than having to figure it out by myself. Ah, but then I read other parts of scripture and realize that, even with angels as messengers, doing what God wants is not usually easy, and even if you clearly know what it is you are being asked to do, that is no guarantee you will do it. Whether it was Jacob wrestling with the angel, or Zechariah not believing that what that same angel Gabriel said to him, the messenger does not guarantee acceptance of the message.
So, if angels are not being used by God to communicate with us today, how is He trying to get His message across to us? We can find the answer in the Incarnation itself. Once God took on flesh, we had more than mere words to tell us how to live. We had the example of Christ Himself. And God made sure we would not lose the example by inspiring those Evangelists to guard the precious stories of Jesus' time on earth and pass them on to future generations - first my word of mouth and eventually in written form. And so we can now open Sacred Scriptures whenever we are wondering what God wants us to do and read about the decisions Christ made, how He treated people, how He responded to situations, and discover in that example what God wants us to do.
It may not be the direct words of an angel, but it is even more powerful when we consider that it is God Himself showing us how to live!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

God With Us

The Name "Emmanuel" means, we are told in today's Gospel, "God is with us." It is really amazing when you think about it. God decided that, in order to better understand us, He would "become like us in all things but sin". Imagine, for the first time, God would know what it it like to be cold, hungry, thirsty, lonely for human contact, and how human beings tried to relate to the Father. We sometimes think that Jesus, even though fully human, did not have to learn and grow, at time through mistakes. Certainly he stumbled and fell while learning to walk. Certainly he sometimes hit his thumb when driving a nail. Certainly he hurt when other children made fun of him of pulled pranks on him. And God got to know us as never before.
I think that is why God may be so patient with us; why Jesus left us a wonderful sacrament (Reconciliation) that would help us start over again and try to get our side of the relationship right. There is a popular saying that you never know someone until you walk a mile in his shoes. God did just that! and because of the Incarnation, the relationship between us has never been the same. And so, when we try and think about doing the will of God, we have a wonderful model in Jesus Himself. He was understandably looking for an easier way, but still did what the Father wanted. "Take this cross away from me, but not my will, but yours be done." We can do no better than to try and learn from Him. Jesus proved that a human being can do the will of the Father, even when difficult or seemingly impossible. And He tapped into the wonderful grace that the Father willingly bestowed and wished to bestow on us.In these final days before Christmas,  I pray that we will try and do the same, as we strive to do the Father's will in our daily lives.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

True Justice

We are given a beautiful lesson in the difference between justice and legality in today's Gospel. The law would have allowed Joseph several options regarding the surprising announcement of Mary's pregnancy. Since they were  betrothed and legally bound, Joseph could have publicly denounced Mary and correctly stated that the child was not his. Consequences could have ranged all the way up to stoning, since it would have been considered adultery. Joseph, however, did not want to go that public route. After deciding to "divorce her quietly", he was visited by an angel who revealed that the child was conceived through the Holy Spirit". As a result of this, Joseph did what was just, rather than legally permissible. He took Mary as his wife and raised Jesus as his own son.
I was wondering how many times I have used the law to try and justify my actions, even when true  justice clearly would guide me to another decision? In fact, I believe this may be one of the worst failings of modern times: law has trumped justice, instead of the other way around. It is normal to hear people, whether attorneys, politician or even Church officials, speak of "just following the law" in defending their decisions or actions. Even among friends and neighbors, conversations are more  likely to revolve around what is permissible by law, rather than what is right and just.
Somehow we have to change our starting point. rather than beginning with what human laws permit, mandate or forbid, we should realize that God's law is the foundation and starting point. If we, as individuals who have to make decisions, begin by asking the question "What is the just thing to do" or "Which is the most just decision", we will start to change things, one person at a time. True, we are all called to follow the law of the land, but we are also called to resist or try to change unjust laws. Perhaps if we accustom ourselves to looking for justice in our personal dealings with others, we might find the strength and wisdom to examine public laws to make them more about justice and less about revenge.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Family Tree

Today's Gospel gives us a piece of our spiritual family tree. As ancestors of Jesus, the genealogy gives us glimpses into the many and varied people who helped pass faith in God on to their descendants. Whether or not all of the "begats" are historically accurate or not, the point that is made is nonetheless true: we all owe our faith to those who came before us and passed it on.
I have often reflected on the fact that, if it was possible to accurately trace backward the faith that my parents passed on to me, I would eventually be able to find out the one who physically heard the Good News from Jesus Christ Himself! And this is true for each one of us. Somewhere in our past, a person heard the very words of Jesus, and they told someone who told someone who told someone... until my parents told me. How amazing is that!
I think that, as we approach the fourth Sunday of Advent and look forward to celebrating the coming of the Word Made Flesh, it might be a good idea to offer prayers of thanks to all those people who are the reason that we know about Jesus and have faith in Him. And some day we can look forward to meeting each and every one of them, when fulfill our destiny and enter the Kingdom.
Until then, we should also realize that our job is to pass the faith on to others and take our place in the family tree of God. So, whose faith will you "begat" today?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Changing Your Mind

As I listened to today's first reading from chapter 54 of Isaiah, I pondered the idea of God changing His mind. This occurred multiple ties in the Old Testament, but never seems to get much consideration today. As I continued my meditation, I wondered if God simply had to learn how to relate to humans by trial and error, just as humans have to learn to relate to God the same way. Perhaps this was one of the greatest benefits of the Incarnation - God became human and experienced first-hand what it means. The Incarnate Word, Jesus, had to learn how to relate to the Father as a human being, and so God learned totally and completely how to relate to human beings. If, in this process, God could change His mind, what about us?
Sometimes we are so stubborn and unbending, refusing to reconsider our position. Whether it is about politics, ecclesiology or the way we wash clothes, we sometimes refuse to change, even when confronted with failure or proof of a better way of doing it. "Those who refuse to learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them" is unfortunately ignored by many people, especially when it comes to prayer. So many of us continue to pray in the same way we did as children. Think about it. Do we relate to anyone in the same way now as we did when we were a child? Even with parents, although we never cease to be their child, the relationship and ways of communicating shift and change as we grow and mature. If this is true, what about our relationship with God?  A Lot of people communicate with God as if they were 7 years old, and then wonder why it doesn't seem to work. God forbid anyone suggest a new and different way of praying. "I've prayed this way all my life and I am not about to change!" And then, when they refuse to change their mind, they cannot understanding why they continue to have the same result. This is a recipe for failure if ever I saw one.
The bottom line is: if God could change His mind and learn how to relate better to people, why can't we? If we really want to relate to God in a deeper, more beneficial way, changing our mind may just be the best thing we can do.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Half-Empty or Half-Full?

If you watch the news, read the paper or peruse the online blogs, you might get the idea that there is nothing very good going on in the world. Bad news and pessimism seem to be everywhere. If it is not the economy, then it is crime, global warming, health-care or a myriad of other issues that many believe point to the decline of civilization. I guess this is nothing really new, but the rapid manner of disseminating such bad news has multiplied its impact.
 If you ask people how things are going, odds are you will hear a litany of depressing observations. There was a popular saying a while back. "There are two kinds of people: those who see the glass half-empty, and those who see it half-full." It seems that now there are more people who see the glass as cracked and leaking like a sieve! Perhaps the Lord was afraid of this same reaction when the two disciples of John came to see Him. Rather than take a chance that they would report to John what was not working, in today's Gospel we hear Him instruct them “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." It is as if He wanted to make sure they saw the good things that were happening.
Maybe we need to stop once in a while and look at the good things that are happening around us as well. It always amazes me when I watch the number of gifts that pour into our parish at this time of year for the "Giving Tree". Hundreds of people respond to this request to assist those in need provide Christmas gifts for their loved ones, and this is just in one parish! How many other wonderful things are happening, and not just at Christmas time, but all through the year? Of course you will not usually hear about them in the media. It is much easier (and profitable) to report the bad news. I believe this is the work of the devil, since he does not want people to realize that God is with us (which by the way, is the title given to Jesus: Emmanuel).
I must confess, I fall into the same trap at times when I am with friends or acquaintances. Too often I find myself going along with the conversations that focus on what is wrong with people, situations, the world. As a believer who is supposed to imitate Christ, I know that this is not what I should be doing. I need to refocus my efforts to follow His example. If there is to be a change in the world's view, I have to change my own view of the world.
I need to remind myself each day to focus on what is right, rather than what is wrong. When others around me complain about things, I need to see how God can work with the situation. There are plenty of people who will try and convince us that God is not part of our lives. It is up to each of us to remind others that God is present - all we have to do is look for Him... and expect to see Him.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Principled or Stubborn?

No one could ever say that the Lord did not stick to His principles. And, since they were always grounded in the will of the Father, His principles cannot seriously be questioned. Today, however, He makes a very clear statement about stubbornness. The parable about the two sons is powerful. When asked by the father to go out and work, the first says "No". He then takes the time to think about it and goes out to work in the vineyard. The second readily says "Yes". He, however, ignores the entire matter and never does what he said he would. The Lord clearly points out the virtue in re-thinking things and changing one's mind in order to do what is right.
This parable could easily have been written today. Perhaps the Lord would use "go do your homework" instead of "go out and work in the vineyard", but the point would be understood just as easily.  The reactions would also be the same. One would just say what he/she thought the parent wanted to hear and go on doing whatever, and the other would resist at first but then re-consider and do it.
It is sometimes difficult to admit we may be wrong and re-think our position. For some, it is almost impossible. When my pride gets in the way, I resort to stubbornness, resulting in thinking that "I know better than anyone else", or "I am too old to change, this is the way I am". When we think that way, it also usually means we have no good reason that we can articulate, so we simply hunker down and decide to stick to our guns.
Fortunately, Jesus always gently encourages us to look at our decisions and ways of living and see if we need to adjust them in order to be more in conformity with God's will. Even though sinless, Jesus was as much likely to make human mistakes as anyone else. And He needed to adjust and change with the circumstances. We don't need to look any further than Judas to see the truth of that!
So, what about me? Am I willing to admit mistakes and try to correct them? Can I adjust decisions, ways of doing things, relationships, etc. that may not be according to the will of God? It would be much easier to simply fall into the trap (temptation, really) of thinking "I am fine, I am right, I am standing on my principles and will not change, so everyone else better get used to it."
The questions is: Am I being principled, or stubborn?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Proper Authority

In its basic form, authority refers to that which most influences someone. The "influence" is often received as a command or order, even though free will is still functioning. In today's Gospel, Jesus seeks to turn the tables on his questioners. When they ask “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?", Jesus tries to get them to identify the source of John's authority. In doing so, He puts them in a dilemma, since they will have to admit their own point of view and accept the consequences.
It is the same with us. We sometimes are put in a dilemma, since there are different "authorities" that can influence us in different directions. For example, the government may say one thing about capital punishment or abortion, and God may say quite another. Some people try to compromise, but that is never satisfactory ("I am personally opposed to abortion, but...").Others go to the extreme of trying to impose their own authority by force rather than reason ("because I said so!").
We are challenged today to identify the primary and fundamental source of authority for our decisions and actions. On what do we base them? What or Who influences us in our daily lives, especially in important matters? For every believer, if God is not the source, we have to question whether or not we can call ourselves believers. As Catholics, we believe that all authority comes from God. Whether government or church, only God has authority by His very nature, since He is creator and sustain-er of all. And when we allow God to influence our actions and decisions, when we place ourselves under His authority, we have the best chance of success. How will we measure our success? Certainly not by popularity, prestige or power on earth - Jesus had none of these. No, for us success will be achieved when we hear "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the inheritance prepared for you from the beginning of time." And then we iwll know that we listened to and followed the proper Authority!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Greatness is Relative

Who do you think is the greatest person living today? I imagine that responses to this question would be as varied as colors you will find in a paint store. Everyone would have a different idea of what constitutes greatness. Some would think of athletes, others world leaders, others religious figures, others friends or family members. One of the things that can happen when we consider who is "great" is that we may become depressed, especially when we look at our own lives next to theirs.
In today's gospel, Jesus identifies the greatest person who had ever lived up to that time "(among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist"). His admiration of John is amazing, and I wonder what John must have thought if he heard reports of this comment. Imagine, the Son of God saying that you were the greatest human being ever born!
Ah, but Jesus did not stop there. He continued his reflection with the pronouncement that "the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Definitely puts things into perspective! Even though it might seem to be a put-down, it is really a wonderfully hopeful statement. It means that each and every human being, no matter what their station in life, can become greater that the greatest person in this world. You and I, even if no one seems to pay much attention to us, has the raw material to become great. The question is, how much effort will we put into it? All of those who are recognized as great athletes, world leaders, religious figures, etc. have put in a lot of work to get where they are. It takes years of tremendous effort and sacrifice to become great. If we have the possibility of becoming great in the kingdom of heaven, we must also expect to work at it.
What sort of work should we expect to do? Jesus also provides the answer to this. "Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:34-40).
This, then, is our strategy for greatness. Are you ready to implement it? How much do you want to enter the kingdom of heaven?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

La Guadalupana

For a lot of people, the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a relatively recent occurrence. "I don't remember hearing about this feast when I was young" is a common comment I hear from parishioners. While the celebration of this Patroness of the Americas may be new to some folks, she has been revered for more than 450 years under this title. And thankfully the devotion is growing in the United States, even beyond the expansion of Spanish-speaking members of our parishes.
One of the things I love most about this particular apparition of Mary is the way she was careful about presenting herself in a way that would be comfortable to Juan Diego. This humble man, who is now a canonized saint, was not sure exactly who she was at first, but because of her patience and gentle manner, came to realize her identity and spent his life spreading devotion to his "Morenita". Reflecting on this wonderful care that Mary showed, it made me wonder how careful I am to present faith in a way that makes it most desirable to people.
We sometimes have a "take it or leave it" attitude regarding our faith. If people are not comfortable with the way we worship or the way we express our beliefs, oh well, that is their problem. Mary showed a different way. She certainly did not appear to Juan Diego with the attitude "This is me and you'd better accept how I look". No, she knew that if she appeared as a native, pregnant woman he would be comfortable listening to her and accepting her message. And she was right!
Today I want to try to be more conscious of my manner when interacting with people. I have to be the first to love, so I need to be sure that the way I approach them and speak with them is such that they will be comfortable and open to what God wants me to bring to them. My "agenda" should always and everywhere be to do the best I can to be the presence of Christ to others. And to do this, I have to put myself in the background and let the love of God shine through. As scripture says, "He must increase while I must decrease." (John 3:30). Viva la Virgin de Guadalupe!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Our World View

It sometimes seems that the world  has gotten terribly cynical. It is so easy to fall into the trap of always seeing the worst possible side of a situation, assuming the worst intentions of others, believing the worst rumors are true. We may even believe that this world view is something that has only befallen us recently. Today's Gospel indicates otherwise. Jesus also had to deal with this attitude. "John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’"
When we realize how many people did not appreciate the presence of Jesus as He was walking in their midst because of this attitude, I think it challenges us to examine our own approach to people and situations.Sometimes the most insidious evil is right there out in the open. In cynicism, the devil makes no attempt to hide. The attention that is given to that presence of evil is obvious to anyone who wants to see it. Just listen to comments that are made every day. Whether it be regarding family members, co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, fellow parishioners or any other people we interact with, our conversations often revolve around what is wrong with them, rather than what is right. And what we say about politicians is often in the category of "not in front of the children!"
The issue is whether or not we will continue along this path. By word and action, the Lord showed us a different way. Seeing the good in everyone, assuming the best of intentions, not  jumping to judgment (He who is the Ultimate Judge of all) and challenging those around Him to try and see the good in everyone was more His style. It certainly will not be easy, because the devil is so strong in the cynicism of the world. But if we believe God is Almighty, that He will win, then we should be hopeful that we can change our own world view. And if enough of us change our personal world view, eventually the world will change and see good (the presence of God) in every person and every situation. And that, my friends, is the vocation of every human being.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Signs are meant to convey information. In today's world, we normally think of signs as objects - sometimes stationary, sometimes moving. Whether location (Main Street), information (Sale!!), direction (one way) or identification (Starbucks), signs are a means of communication. At times, we also may consider events to be signs, whether a sign of affection or a sign that the world is falling apart. In the time of Jesus, however, people were also considered to be signs. Occasionally elevated to the status of "prophet", some people were considered to be the means of communication between God and humanity. Elijah was perhaps the best known of these signs. Even his departure from the earth (remember the flaming chariot?) was a sign that he would return to announce the coming of the Messiah.
In today's Gospel, Jesus acknowledges that John the Baptist is a sign as well. In fact, he calls him Elijah. And since Jesus is God, I guess we can be assured that he knew exactly what this sign was supposed to communicate. Some read the sign correctly, others did not. In the end, Jesus proved by his life, death and resurrection that John was indeed the sign of the coming of the Messiah.
We don't hear much about prophets today, except when some one who has mental health issues claims to be one. And we do not think of people as being signs that God uses to communicate with us. We often ask God for a sign, but that usually means we want a clear message, spelled out in great detail. We probably all secretly yearn for God to talk to us directly, as some movies have used as a premise.
But maybe we should adjust our thinking about signs. How often has someone taken the time to talk to you and brought you a sense of peace? Who in your life gave you wise advice that you still try to follow each day? What warnings did a respected friend or family member give you that saved you a lot of problems? Maybe God never changed the way He used people as signs, but rather people just stopped paying attention. Maybe God is using people to communicate with us just as often as in the past, but we are not looking or listening. Maybe, just maybe, God is sending a sign to you today. The question is: will you see it?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Full of Grace

Today's Feast of the Immaculate Conception is sometimes confusing to people. It refers to the fact that Mary was conceived without the "stain of Original Sin", meaning that she did not suffer from the personal effect of humanity's fall from the intimate relationship with God that was present in the beginning. This is really confirmed when the angel calls her "full of grace" at the Annunciation (announcement of her being chosen to become the mother of the Redeemer). For this reason, today's gospel is the story of the "conception" of Jesus, the moment when Mary said "yes" to what God was asking.
When we receive grace, we really are strengthening our relationship with God. As the one who was full of grace, Mary had the strongest relationship possible for any living person. Perhaps the only time the rest of us have experienced this is at the moment of our Baptism, since all our sins are washed away and we are filled with the Holy Spirit. From that moment on it is always a struggle - we sin, repent, are forgiven and try to do better. But, as imperfect human beings, we often give in again to temptation.
Mary becomes a role model for us, since, as one who was full of grace, she was prepared to say "yes" to the will of God. How can we make ourselves more likely to say yes? By tapping into that grace. For us Catholics, the best way of doing this is through the reception of the sacraments. I was taught as a child that the sacraments are "outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace" (Baltimore Catechism). The more I receive the sacraments, then, the more I can be filled with grace. And the more grace I have, the stronger my relationship with God and the more likely I am to do His will. There are certainly other was of increasing grace in my life, but I need to value and participate in those which are primarily concerned with giving grace. For this reason, I want to recommit myself to the frequent and worthy reception of the sacraments, so that I will be better prepared to say "yes" to God's will for me. Care to join me?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The One Percent Solution

The parable of the shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep and goes after the one is really intriguing. In one way, it does not make any sense. Wasn't he risking losing the others when he went in search of the lost one? Was that one more important than the others?
In reflecting more, I had to admit that my reaction to the parable has guided me more than once in the way I relate to people. And I do not think I am alone. How many times have I just let a friend drift away, because I was busy with others? When someone needs more of my time, how often have I rationalized that "I won't have enough time to do these other important things"? 
Perhaps the real message is one of trust. The shepherd trusted that, when he was looking for the one lost sheep (1%), the other sheep (99%) would still be there when he returned. The one was no more important than the others, but neither was it less important than they. I guess my meditation today is leading me to reconsider how I treat people in my life. I need to be more mindful of my relationships, and work on them more. I cannot just expect that "they will call me if they value our relationship". I have to be the first to love, the first to reach out, especially if I realize that we have drifted apart. It will take time and effort, but if I am concerned for each and every person in my life, I will be more likely to discover why God brought us together. And really, He brought us together so that, as we gather in His name, Jesus will be present with us. That is perhaps the best 1% solution I can ever imagine!

Monday, December 6, 2010

With a Little Help From My Friends

This morning in his homily, our deacon pointed out a wonderful aspect of today's Gospel. The story was of the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him into the room so that he would be in front of Jesus. They had to take action on behalf of another, so that he would have a chance with Jesus. They were not asking for anything for themselves, but exerted extreme effort on behalf of their friend. Luke tells us that "When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'As for you, your sins are forgiven.'”(Lk. 5:20)
The faith of these others was vital to this miracle, and, even though we hear not one word from the man himself, he is healed by the Lord. It got me to thinking about the importance of praying for others, especially those who may not be able (or willing) to pray for themselves. I wonder how many times God performs miracles because of the prayers of others, and the recipient is not even aware of it. It certainly should make us continue to pray for those who are in need, especially those who may not have strong enough faith - or any at all. Our family members, friends, neighbors and acquaintances may benefit from our prayers because of our faith. How strong is it? Are we willing to exert a supreme effort to help them? We may not be called upon to climb up on a rooftop and lower them on a stretcher, but can we at least spend some quality time in prayer for them?
It is also a good thing to let them know we are praying for them, just as the paralyzed man was aware of the efforts of his friends. and I suggest that you be specific. Rather than a general "I am praying for you", perhaps telling a friend who is looking for a job that "I spent a half-hour in prayer for you today" would indicate how important they are to you. To say to a colleague who is battling cancer "I made a Holy Hour for you today" may mean more than you will ever know. And who knows - perhaps your friends may be the means by which God chooses give you what you need!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Fruit

Some people accuse Catholics of thinking that we are saved by our good works. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we profess openly that Jesus died to save all. His death brought about our salvation, but we are free to reject Him. Good works, rather than a means of salvation, are a sign of faith and repentance. This is clearly stated in today's Gospel by John the Baptist, when he demands that the Pharisees and Sadducees "produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance." (Mt. 3:8).
He goes on to note that whatever does not bear good fruit should be cut down. It got me to thinking about my own life. There are so many things that occupy my time and attention that really do not produce anything good. And this takes away from the good things that I could be doing. If Advent is a time top prepare for the coming of the Lord in glory, how can I prune away the things that do not bring life? Whether it is gossip, mindless TV, web browsing, etc., I need to take a close look and see if it is bearing good fruit and can remain, or is draining life out of me and should be cut away.
Most people see Advent as a time to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This Advent, I hope we will all be able to approach the Sacrament with a determination that it will not end with the confession of our sins, but will be the means by which we cut away the destructive things that consume my time and energy. In this way, I will be better able to devote attention to those things which will bring faith, hope and love to the world.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What's It Worth?

One of my favorite TV shows is Antiques Roadshow. I have to admit, I love it when someone brings in an item that they thought was just this side of junk and then finds out that it is worth a ridiculous amount of money. Even when some try to be cool and not show much emotion, you can tell they are ready to jump out of their skin!
One of the by-products of a show like this, however, is the notion that dollar amounts determine value. And that is simply not true. The most precious things in the world - family, friends, love, faith, etc. - are referred to as "priceless". Even companies that are in the business of business acknowledge this. (Airport parking: $7, balloons: $12, disposable camera: $8.95, seeing your son come home from Afghanistan: priceless!) That is why the Lord instructed his followers "Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” (Mt. 10:8).
It got me to thinking. Are there ways that I try to exact a "price" for things that are priceless? How stingy am I about sharing my faith. I am obviously not talking about my ministry as a priest, but rather in my personal down time, when I am with friends or even strangers. Do I look for opportunities to share faith or love? Or do I simply hold on to these "priceless" gifts selfishly?  Oh, I can rationalize my way out of almost anything if I try, but it all comes down to embracing and living the challenge of the gospel. I cannot be a follower of the Lord only when I am "on" as a priest. I must actively seek out occasions to share my faith and show the love of God to people all the time, whether it be in the store, out at a restaurant, or even driving. And the funny thing is, rather than be diminished, faith and love increase when shared. And their value increases as well. So, I'd better get looking for opportunities to give without cost today. And how about you? What's it worth to you?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Power of Faith

I think that sometimes we have a mistaken idea about faith. Often we equate it with magic, thinking that "if I believe hard enough, it will happen." If that were true, the Lord would never have been crucified ("Take this cup away from me"). Faith based in Jesus Christ is very different. It is always grounded in the will of God. ("Not my will, but yours be done"). By this I mean that the primary and most fundamental belief must be that whatever God wills for me is always and everywhere best. And God's will always has eternal happiness (sainthood) as the ultimate goal. Now, getting to that goal is where our cooperation with God's will comes in. Every day we are called to make a multitude of decisions, all of which should be based in faith. Practically speaking, this means that I have to ask myself which choice is best in conformity to God's will for me. And once we do that, we can move on in faith, confident that any decision to do God's will is the right one. It may not be the easiest thing or even the one I think is best, but doing  what God wants is always the right thing to do. Having made a decision to do what God wants me to do is really tapping into the power of faith. I can go forward, confident that I am moving toward sainthood. These small, everyday decisions to do God's will are what made those who are officially recognized (canonized) as saints models for others. And that power of faith in the will of God is what will keep us on the right path as followers of Christ.
I want to give a quick "shout-out" to several others who have inspired me to undertake this blog. A dear friend, Fr. Stanislao, has been and online presence for several years, and his site keeps getting better and better. Check it out his Heavenwards website here and his blog here. His ministry, insights and  friendship challenge me daily to be a better  priest. Another friend has a well-known site called Whispers in the Loggia. Rocco keeps me up to date on what is happening in the Church, but , more importantly, challenged me to think about how I can use technology to proclaim God's word. I am grateful to both of these men for helping me find the courage to take the plunge and expand my ministry into cyberspace!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Listen to His Words

Today's gospel reminds us that we need to become more familiar with Scripture. Jesus said that we must "listen to these words of mine and act on them" (Mt. 7: 24). This presumes we have a knowledge of His word. The only way to gain a familiarity is to read Scripture. For too many, however, their only exposure to the inspired word of God is at Mass. While many Catholic homes may have a bible, it is often just left on a shelf and remains unopened. The best bibles are the ones that show they are used frequently. I always marvel when I see someone who has a bible that is dog-eared, written in and falling apart. This tells me that the person has a familiarity with what is contained inside, and does not just keep it because they are supposed to have a bible in the house.
It might be an idea to consider giving a bible as a Christmas gift. If nothing else, it would certainly get a reaction! and, perhaps, it would also provide an opportunity to talk about the importance og God's word in our lives. As scripture says, only when we listen to them will we be building our house on a solid rock foundation!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Parish Found Liable

A sad development in the ongoing saga of the horrific sexual abuse of minors that was perpetrated by priests years ago in our diocese (Diocese of Wilmington). A jury today found that, along with the former priest who acknowledged abusing multiple children, St. Elizabeth Parish was also liable for the crime. The civil trial resulted in an award of $3 million assessed to the parish. Next week the jury will decide what, if any, punitive damages should be awarded. The statement by our bishop can be found here.
I do not know what the next steps will be, but I cannot understand how parishes can be held responsible for the actions of a priest who is assigned by the bishop, not hired by the parish. And since the desires of parishioners have never been followed when transferring priests in our diocese, how can a jury say that the parish is liable?
Those who were abused by priests have suffered horribly, and the perpetrators should, if still alive, be made to pay for their crimes. Likewise, those who either ignored or covered up the abuse should assume responsibility for their actions if they are still alive. But in so many cases, the individuals involved are dead. Even though it may be legal, it somehow seems unjust to make the people who are part of a parish today pay for the abuse that occurred 30 or 40 years ago. All I can do is pray for the victims and ask God to somehow bring some good out of this tragedy. I hope you will join me in those prayers.