Monday, December 31, 2018

1/1/19 -- Mary, the Mother of God

Scripture Reading

What’s one thing we usually ask when we are invited somewhere during the holidays? 

What can I bring? The host usually asks different people to bring different things. If everyone brought the same thing, it would be a pretty boring get together.

On this Feast of Mary the Mother of God, we reflect on what Mary brings. Mary brings Jesus Christ to us. 

Mary brings her yes. Mary brings her love. Mary brings faithfulness. Mary brings simplicity. Mary brings humility. Mary brings openness.

Joseph also brings his yes. It is a yes of silent obedience. He hears the angel in a dream and does what is asked, every time.

Joseph brings his silence. Joseph brings his obedience. Joseph brings strength. Joseph brings safety. Joseph brings protection. Joseph brings security. 

What are we bringing? Cynicism, judgment, negativity, despair, hopelessness, selfishness, greed, anger, mistrust.

What exactly are we bringing in response to God’s invitation?

During this New Year maybe we could work on bringing less of those things and more good things like Mary and Joseph.

Like Mary, we could bring a yes to doing God’s will instead of our own, a yes of humility, a yes of openness.

Like Joseph, we could bring a yes of obedience or a yes of faithfulness or even a yes of strength and protection for our loved ones.

We ask, “What can I bring?” whenever we are invited to a gathering, especially during the holidays.

Maybe we should also ask the same question when we gather here at the Lord’s house.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

12/30/18 -- Feast of the Holy Family

Scripture Readings

A mother’s scold: son why have you done this to us?

A child’s answer with just a hint of sass: why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know where I would be? 

There is a natural normal tension that occurs as children grow and mature and begin trying to make decisions for themselves.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph take this all in stride and return to Bethlehem where Jesus is obedient and grows into a man.

So often we react very differently to this natural normal tension. We get angry. We hold grudges. We yell and scream. In extreme cases, families are fractured beyond repair.

But this incident of Jesus remaining in the Temple doesn’t disturb the harmony of the Holy Family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph give us a beautiful example to imitate.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph all listened to God.  There was place in each of their lives for quiet reflection. Through prayer they were able to hear God in the silence of their hearts. 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph all treated one another with respect. They didn’t harp on past wrongs but moved toward forgiveness which brings a new dawn, a new day.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph made the practice of their faith a priority in their lives. That’s why they traveled to Jerusalem each year for the Feast of the Passover.

We can follow their example during this upcoming year to make our own families more like the Holy Family.

We can make a place for quiet reflection, as individuals but also as a family. As families, we could begin simply with phone-free meals and technology-free evenings.

We can work on treating one another with greater respect and kindness, saying to ourselves, “If I have to choose between being right or being kind, I should be kind.”

We can also begin to move past old hurts by moving toward forgiveness. 

And we can make the practice of our faith a priority in our lives. An hour here in this place every week can’t hurt anyone and, if we are open, it has the possibility of making a tremendous difference in the quality of our families.

If we try to imitate the Holy Family in these simple ways, we may be able to take the natural normal tensions of everyday family life in stride just the way they did.

Monday, December 24, 2018

12/25/18 -- Christmas

Scripture Readings

Jesus is God’s love born as an infant babe. God’s love at work creating, inspiring, transforming.

We are also God’s love at work. 

God creates us. Not only that, God also creates through us.
God inspires us. God also inspires through us.
God transforms us. God also transforms through us.

Everyone who is here belongs to God. Everyone who is here is love. Jesus is love. You are love. I am love. Christmas is love. The manger is love. Mary is love. Joseph is love. The shepherds are love. The angels sing love.

We are made for love. When we approach the manger, we see love. When we kneel at the manger, we feel love. When we adore at the manger, we are overcome by love.

The roughest, toughest, meanest among us cannot approach the manger and see the child and not melt with love.

This is God’s power and majesty. It is love. 
God is born in Jesus. God is born in us. Emmanuel. The Prince of Peace. The baby in the manger is newborn today and everyday.

Sickness and suffering are overcome by this newborn love.
Addiction is overcome by this newborn love.
Grief is overcome by this newborn love.
Depression and anxiety are overcome by this newborn love.
Violence and hatred are overcome by this newborn love.
Pettiness and jealousy are overcome by this newborn love.
Temptation is overcome by this newborn love.

This newborn love is tenderness. This newborn love is joy.
This newborn love brings forgiveness. This newborn love brings peace.

God’s love is limitless. God’s love is relentless. God’s love is unpredictable. God’s love is infectious. God’s love is continuous.

Christmas is God breaking into our lives. Christmas is God breaking into our hearts. To walk with us. To comfort us. To pick us up when we fall. To accompany us. To forgive us. To love us.

The newborn child fills our hearts with the radiance of a new light, a new dawn, a new day. The newborn child fills our hearts with the tenderness of a fierce, undying love.

Jesus is God’s love born as an infant lying in a manger. God’s love at work creating, inspiring, transforming the hearts and minds of those who kneel and adore.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

12/23/18 -- 4th Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings

Many of us will be traveling to see family and friends over the next three or four days just like Mary travels to see her cousin Elizabeth. 

Mary and Elizabeth laugh together. Mary and Elizabeth wonder together. Mary and Elizabeth pray together. Elizabeth is overcome with joy. And so is John the Baptist alive and leaping for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.

Why? Because Mary comes to Elizabeth bringing her son Jesus alive in her womb. 

There is a wonderful relationship between Mary and Elizabeth. And there is a wonderful relationship between John and Jesus. They come to understand that God loves them more than they could imagine. God only wants what is best for them. 

Their relationships mirror the relationship God wants to have with us. God is full of surprises. A virgin and an old woman are pregnant. For with God, nothing is impossible. There may be bumps in the road but there are no dead ends.

Mary comes to us bringing her son Jesus at Christmas time. Yes. But not just at Christmas. Indeed Mary comes bringing Jesus on every ordinary day when our hearts are open to receive him.

Jesus comes into the world to have a relationship with you and me. In that relationship, Jesus longs to affirm the goodness within us.

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we ask Jesus to help us believe that he and his mother desire to visit us this Christmas. 

We ask Jesus to help us to believe that he wants to be a guest in our homes, but more importantly in our hearts. 

We pray that Jesus helps us realize that whether we understand it or not, he loves us, is present to us, lives in us, forgives us, and calls us to draw near.

So Jesus is our greatest gift this Christmas. This is an extraordinary gift. One tht we have done nothing to deserve. And that’s the reason why it’s so wonderful.

We do not earn it, we simply receive it. And we receive it by being open and letting the gift come.

Many of us will be traveling over the next three or four day. And if we are not travelling, it is likely that someone is coming to visit us.

In our visitations, may we find the same joy that Mary and Elizabeth and John and Jesus bring.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

12/16/18 -- 3rd Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings

Why did the crowds and the soldiers and even the tax collectors ask John the Baptist, “What should we do?” Why did the crowds love John so much? After all, he was harsh and direct.

It’s because they knew. They knew they needed to change. They longed for some spiritual growth, for some connection. They knew they needed to repent, to throw their bad behaviors onto the fire. And they wanted to know what needed to be done for this spiritual growth to occur.

If we are taking Advent seriously, if we are preparing our hearts for the coming of the Messiah, then their question is ours as well.

What should we do? The answer is there for us. No bribes. No false accusations. No collecting more than the amount that we are owed. No grumbling about salaries. And we should stop being selfish and greedy.

Simply put, don’t do bad things. Do good things instead. Everyone already knows that. The crowds, the tax collectors, the soldiers, you and me. We already know that.

We already know what the bad things are. But our liturgy today doesn’t want us to focus on the bad things. Our liturgy today wants us to focus on good things because the liturgy focuses us on joy.

So let’s not focus on what we already know is wrong. Let’s focus on what we know is right. Listen to John again.

Share your extra stuff. Give some food to one who is hungry. Tell the truth and treat people with respect. Be satisfied with what you have and be content with your work. 

Even though John was harsh, the crowd loved his zeal, his personality. John inspired them. John turned their attention to brighter days. 

So let us focus on the right things we do because we want a relationship with Jesus, we want to know Jesus, to embrace Jesus, to build a relationship with Jesus. We want Jesus to strengthen us and illuminate us and transform us. We want to focus on brighter days.

What should we do? Be more concerned about our spiritual well being and the needs of others. Be more sensitive. Be more generous. Be more gentle. Be more loving. Be more kind.

Yes, we need to stop doing bad things. But we also need to work on doing more good things. Saint Paul says that our kindness should be known to all.

Today we rejoice because the Lord Jesus is near and the peace that he brings surpasses all understanding. The peace that he brings transforms our hearts and minds and joyfully renews us in his love.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

12/9/18 -- 2nd Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings

John the Baptist is calling us to put Jesus at the top of our Christmas list. “Get ready,” he says. “God is coming.”

Do we want to experience God’s coming? If we do, we are told to remove those obstacles that are keeping us from God. Or even better, we could ask God to remove those obstacles. If we are open, God is able to do great work within us. 

Somehow, the valleys that are deep and dark are being made level. Mountains that are high and difficult to climb are brought low. The burning heat of the day is shaded by a fragrant tree. The winding road is made straight.

If we are open, Jesus will lead us to a place where the obstacles that were before us are somehow being changed, somehow being transformed.

Advent is an opportunity to encounter Jesus every day. 

Our whole lives are an encounter with Jesus actually: 

In prayer, when we go to Mass, when we receive communion, when we do good works, when we visit the sick, when we help the poor, when we think of others, when we are not selfish, when we are loving.

If we are open, we meet Jesus in all these things. But one obstacle that would keep us from this encounter might sound something like this: “I am such a sinner that Jesus does not want to encounter me.” 

Remember that the people Jesus most sought out were the people who were the greatest sinners. Remember Jesus told the church goers that prostitutes and sinners were getting to heaven before them. 

Jesus said that he came for those in need of salvation. Jesus came for those in need of healing. Jesus came for those who need the valley filled in and the rough ways made smooth.

It would be sad if we got to Christmas and said to ourselves, “How did I miss the message? Why did I allow the obstacles to stand in the way? Why did I cut myself off from Jesus?” 

John is calling us to put Jesus at the top of our Christmas list. It would be sad if we got to Christmas and had not made any effort to remove the obstacles that keep us from God. 

As we hear the Baptist crying out in the wilderness, we continue to work on removing those obstacles that keep us from God, and so we continue to prepare the way.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

12/2/18 -- 1st Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings

There’s lots to get done in just 25 days because Christmas is coming quickly. There’s shopping to do and groceries to buy and gifts to wrap. 

But why? Why do we have all these pressing concerns? Why do we celebrate Christmas? Because we Catholics are celebrating the birth of the Messiah. 

Christ coming into the world. God becoming one of us. The Messiah entering into our lives in a unique way. God choosing to come and walk with us. Without the coming of Jesus Christ, there’s no reason for us to have Happy Holidays.

Jeremiah describes the coming of the Messiah as a just shoot. Do you know what a shoot is? It’s a young branch springing to life from a plant or a tree, a sprig, a sprout, a bud. New life.

The coming Messiah will fulfill the promise to keep us safe so that we can dwell secure: a time when God will keep the promise made to us, I will be your God and you will be my people; a time when all we long for will be fulfilled.

Jesus says the coming of the Messiah brings God’s Kingdom to us. Jesus is much less likely to demand that we do something and much more likely to invite us to receive something.

So this coming is an invitation, an invitation for us to be vigilant, to pray, to ask God to come into our lives, to invite God to walk with us. 

Paul speaks about an invitation to receive a way of life. This way of life in Christ strengthens our hearts so that we can conduct ourselves in a way that is pleasing to God. And Jesus Christ enters our hearts each time we are willing to receive him here in the Eucharist.

This invitation to a way of life warns us about being consumed with wickedness and anxiety. This invitation calls us to increase our love for one another.

So this is our Advent task: to act with greater kindness, to act with greater charity, to work to forgive from the heart, to love, to truly love with humility and grace, amazing grace, a love that lays itself down so that others might live.

There’s lots to get done between now and Christmas. There’s shopping to do and groceries to buy and gifts to wrap. 

But there are also hearts to be prepared, forgiveness to be granted and love to be found because God is coming to be with us.