HOLY FAMILY

“When Mary and Joseph had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”
Luke 2:39-40

 

My Dear Friends in Christ,

“Family” is one of those words that usually elicit a strong reaction, either positive or negative. If you had a family like mine, it’s usually positive. For many, the positive reaction comes only when one thinks of a family of choice, rather than of blood.

Certainly, we were not (are not) perfect but being a Jaskot, a member of my particular family has been a true blessing of my life. Indeed each member, all members, of my family have been a blessing. Most by their coming into my life and by their presence and some… well… you get the picture. It’s not easy to get us all together, especially this year, but I still love to sit around the kitchen table to hear and tell stories of days gone by, of funny things that happened, remembered often very differently by each person involved.  My extended family (my Dad was one of six and my mom was one of four) have also been a blessing and sometimes offers the reference point for dating events and activities. When asked about the date of anything in the family, my Mom would invariably start the process (as scientifically accurate as carbon dating!) with a reference to her Uncle Tom…”Well, let’s see…Tom died in ’79, so…)

These memories point to an important truth that we celebrate on this great feast. We use the theological term, Incarnation, to reference the coming of God as human. God emptied everything that was Divine and took on our humanity with all of the limits and lacks and need. The omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God became a little baby who did not know how to feed himself, could not change his own diaper, and was limited to once place at once. God took such a drastic step out of love for us. Pope Benedict put it beautifully in his 2006 Christmas homily:

We have just heard in the Gospel the message given by the angels to the shepherds during that Holy Night, a message which the Church now proclaims to us: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:11-12). Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God ’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. Only in their hearts will the shepherds be able to see that this baby fulfils the promise of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder” (Is 9:5). Exactly the same sign has been given to us. We, too, are invited by the angel of God, through the message of the Gospel, to set out in our hearts to see the child lying in the manger. God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby – defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. The Fathers of the Church, in their Greek translation of the Old Testament, found a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Paul also quotes in order to show how God’s new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: “God made his Word short, he abbreviated it” (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28). The Fathers interpreted this in two ways. The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children. The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness of God’s love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of love, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life.

Pope Benedict XVI
December 24, 2006 Christmas Midnight Mass
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome
(http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20061224_christmas.html)

God’s littleness is our humanity, and, in Jesus, God takes on our needs. One of the most profound needs we have is that of a family. The essential nature of the family comes not only in the physical provision for a child of food and shelter although these are necessary. The essence of family comes in what we hear at the end our Gospel today: the child grew and became strong filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. The essence of family comes in the provision of space (literal and figurative) where a child can grow, become strong, be filled with wisdom, and, last but not least, come to know and share the favor of God.

Let’s take them in order. For me, growth represents the physical aspect of human growth. Yes, the basics of food and shelter but also other aspects that accompany human growth: touch and human contact, safety, security, nutrition, stimulation, education, challenge. All of these allow a child to grow in body and mind. All are
necessary to a healthy adult. Secondly, “become strong” speaks to me of a moral character born of an awareness of one’s identity, a child who is comfortable in his or her own skin, who has learned to respect others because he or she has been loved and cherished. To become strong is not physical might, but a strength of character that looks for the good in all people, beginning with the self. To be “filled with wisdom” is to know and understand a bigger picture, God’s picture, a picture that includes all other people, that excludes no one and certainly not on the basis of human distinction, to seek out and to find God’s plan for one’s life, rather than one’s own.

And last, because it creates the primary identity and undergirds all of the other essential characteristics of family, is the favor of God. Family provides an opportunity for a child to know his or her primary identity as a child of God, known, beloved, cherished, and delighted in by God. The favor of God is God’s love for us and we come to know it most often first and foremost in our parents. Jesus learned who God our Father is by spending time with Joseph, not only learning a craft but the safety and security that comes from one who provides. Jesus learned who God our Mother is when he saw Mary, not only learning how and what to eat but the identity and resolve that comes from one who is cared for. Jesus learned a gentle, munificent, magnificent God from Mary and Joseph, a God who knew Him and cared for him and provided for him and delighted in him. This is the favor of God and the love of God that Jesus came to bring and calls us to share in service and sacrifice.

The good family, the holy family does all of this, even in poverty, even in struggle. And, yes, it takes a whole village to help good parents, holy parents. Elders like Simeon and Anna, relatives like Zechariah and Elizabeth, teachers like those teaching Jesus in the temple, friends like the family of the couple that got married in Cana. And it does not always come in our blood families. Sometimes it is a given family such as a parish or workplace. Other times it has to come from a family of choice. Families come in all shapes and sizes with a whole host of combinations. But in their essence, they allow a child to grow, become strong, be filled with wisdom and know and share the favor of God.

Pray for those who are working to create such families as I pray for all of our families, of blood and of choice. I also ask you, especially today and during this Christmas season to pray for all children who are not blessed with a family like this, who have to struggle on their own, who do not know they are loved, or worse yet, are in fact ignored or discarded. Pray for any child struggling to come to appreciate who God created him or her to be. And know of my prayers for you.

 

Peace,

 

 

CHRISTMAS

“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we saw his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth”
John 1:14

 

 

 

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Thank you, Easter Bunny!! Bawk!! Bawk!! In a 1984 commercial for M&M’s, children would climb out from behind furniture holding the candy that had been hidden there. And they would look up and thank the Easter Bunny who was kind enough to have provided it for them. It was such a precious ad and has become part of popular culture. I often reference it when someone gives me a gift, or I find something unexpected. I’ve been thinking a lot about that ad this Advent season as my first thought was there is little to be thankful for.

Thank God (literally) that God knocked me upside the head (figuratively) and reminded me of the greatest gift that comes at Christmas and, indeed all year round: Jesus Christ. It saddens me that I need to be reminded of this. Perhaps it’s understandable in this year of so much suffering, upheaval, confusion and violence. It’s in times like these though, that I need to double down and remember what (should say WHO) is truly important. God is not  distant from us, no matter how difficult the year, no matter how great the obstacle or horrific the suffering. God comes and God comes CLOSE, to offer love, support, consolation, tenderness, refuge, challenge, strength, determination, perseverance. This is not Mary Poppins-Pie in the Sky wishful thinking Rose colored glasses. This is God, down and dirty, struggling with me in the muck and the mire of my life.  God took on flesh to do this. We call this GIFT, the Incarnation (from the Latin word “carne” which means flesh). It’s the miracle of God putting aside Divinity, Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence to take on our humanity with all its burdens, challenges, and limitations. God takes on our flesh.

In a single line John articulates the Incarnation in the boldest way. John is unambiguous, almost shocking in the expressions he uses. More literally translated, the Word pitched his tabernacle, or lived in his tent, amongst us. The ‘tent of meeting’ was the place where the LORD ‘would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.’ (Exodus 33:11) The tabernacle was where God met with Israel before the temple was built, a tabernacle erected at God’s command (Exodus 25:9). Most commonly, the term referred to the glory of God who made himself present in the tabernacle and the temple: the bright cloud of the presence of God settled on the tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled it. (Ex. 24:16; 40:34–35; similarly, the temple, 1 Ki. 8:10–11). These were tangible signs of God’s glory, the visible manifestation of God. God manifested himself most clearly when the Word became flesh. The incarnate Word is the true the ultimate manifestation of the presence of God amongst human us, for God’s Word has become one of us, a human. God has chosen to dwell among his people in a yet more personal way, in the Word-become-flesh.

God wants a personal connection with each of us, not through some distant manifestation of power and glory but the gentle care and concern of Jesus. God comes without the smoke (or mirrors!) or the manifestations of power. God comes in the gentleness, in “every-dayness” of a baby, a baby who will grow in grace and age and wisdom to manifest God truly most awesome power: the gentle love of God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm.  And this same God comes to us no less really, no less profoundly than he did over 2,000 years ago in stable beneath a star. This same God comes to us in the grace of the Spirit. This is what we celebrate at Christmas: we are not alone. God is with us! Emmanuel.

And as I reflected on the attitude of gratitude that I should have towards God, I became more aware of the many blessings we have had even in this dumpster fire of a year. Even the blessing of technology that has allowed us to reach out to so many. More on those blessings later but I wanted to say a few Thank You’s for those who worked so hard at Christmas to remind me of what is truly important:

I want to thank Lauren Dutrow and all those who helped her with our efforts for St. Nick delivers.

I want to thank our Haiti Committee who have coordinated our goat drive this year for our partner community in Haiti.

I want to thank our staff who took on the challenge of our biggest Christmas Eve ever by finding new ways to reach out and to Terry Kirby and Emily Kaufman for the extra work of coordinating those efforts

I want to thank Sue Leggieri Mari Prendergast and their team of volunteers for putting together our Advent Wreath kits and then our Christmas Eve kits.

I want to thank Sonia VandenBosch and her team of people who decorated the church, turning the dark solemnity of Advent patience into the Bright explosion of Christmas JOY.

I want to thank all of our ministers and ministerial coordinators for serving at our liturgies.

I want to thank Nancy Beith, Erin Breeden, Olivia Mann, Josie Hall and all of our musicians who, even though we can’t sing when we’re together, made sure we had Christmas carols to ring in the birthday of Christ.

I want to thank Emily and Josh Kaufman and all of our stream team for the work that they did and the experts they called in (Arlen Stehney and Pat Saccoia) to help out.

I want to thank Serv-Pro of Frederick (our own Art and Jennifer Hall) who made sure our church was clean and safe for our in-person Masses.

I want to thank our “stable hands,” Rob Bakale, Toby Carter, and Joe Inzirillo who built our stable last year but made it strong enough to withstand nuclear winter so we could use it again this year!

I want to thank Makaley Swam and her art team that put together the backdrop for our creche this year.

I want to thank Linda Berry and her team of volunteers who stuffed, sealed and mailed all of our postcards and then turned around and printed all of the Mass preparation we needed,

I want to thank Matt Hassaine for his constant efforts to sacristan and help wherever he could.

Lastly, I want to thank all of our people whose generosity of prayer, service and financial resources have kept us going.

It may have been a difficult year but there is still much to be thankful for and gratitude is more necessary than ever to keep me from becoming bitter, jaded or cynical. THANK YOU… not to the Easter Bunny but to God and to all of you. BAWK! BAWK!

Peace,

 

 

ANGELS – Week 4

Do not be afraid, Mary… you have found favor with God…”
“How can this be?
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you…”
“May it be done to me according to your word.
Luke 1:30, 34, 35, 38

My Dear Friends in Christ,

It is perhaps one of the most momentous dialogues in human history. The angel Gabriel appears and brings the news of God’s plan for salvation. A plan so radical it will involve God becoming human, God putting aside all divinity to take on our humanity. And even more radical for Mary, she will be involved. Then, Mary, frightened by the angel, but still so sure in her faith, that is bold enough to ask a question. The Angel’s answer is basically God will take care of it and so Mary responds “Yes. I will allow God to work in and through me, even though I don’t have all of the details. Yes, I will help God come into the world. Yes, I will start right now by going and visiting my cousin Elizabeth, who is old and now pregnant.” “May it be done to me according to your word.”

It is a major role played by an angel in one of the most important events in history. This event is the precursor for Christmas and Easter, in fact, the precursor for Christ Himself. The Event is called the Annunciation, and we read about it in Luke’s Gospel. Luke begins by establishing the characters and setting the stage. Luke was a physician, a scientist, and wrote perhaps the most “precise Gospel. It’s important because Luke investigates what he writes to make sure it was accurate to create as he says expressly, “an orderly account.”

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. Luke introduces us to the angel Gabriel. Gabriel means “God is my strength.” Gabriel describes himself I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you good news. Gabriel brings good news. To Mary an otherwise unknown woman living in the town of Nazareth  in the Galilee region, s mall dumpy town in back-water area in a minor nation at the edge of the Roman empire. Later one of Jesus’ own disciples would say, Nazareth? What good could come from Nazareth? (Jn 1.46) Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph, but they did not live together.

So Gabriel appears to Mary and says, Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you. The word “Hail” is a joyful greeting, and notice that Gabriel does not call Mary by name. He describes her “full of grace” and goes on to describe her as one walking with the Lord. The Lord is with you. From the beginning we encounter Mary as one close to God. The angel probably encounters her in prayer, spending time with God, open to receiving, vulnerable to God’s call. And that description gives us insight into the Feast we just celebrated, the Immaculate Conception, when we celebrate that Mary was conceived without sin.

But even in her holiness and her humility, Mary was not ready for the visit of an angel. She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Sometimes we struggle with these miraculous accounts and hesitate to believe
what actually happened or what the experience felt like. Mary was greatly troubled. We’ve talked about the fear angels often inspire, the reality how far we are, even when we are as holy as Mary was, how far we are from God. And that leaves aside what was coming next and the message Gabriel had come to share.

Gabriel tells Mary: Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. You will bear a son… and call him Jesus. Jesus is taken from the Hebrew name Yes-u-a also rendered Joshua which means “God is our salvation.” There was another Joshua, the assistant and successor of Moses, chosen by God to lead Israel out of bondage and into the Promised Land. The angel explains that Mary’s child will be called by the same name because he will serve a similar role, with an important difference: The first Joshua led the Jewish people out of the slavery of Egypt; the new Joshua will lead all people out of the slavery of sin and death. Besides the name Jesus, he will be called: Son of the most high. “Most high” is a title reserved for God in the Israelite tradition, so Mary’s Son  will be the divine Son of God. And as, God’s Son, Mary’s baby will receive: the throne of David his father and reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. In other words Jesus is going to be king of everything, forever, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Gabriel has laid out God’s plan for salvation, the plan they had been hoping and praying for, the plan they were eager to receive and share, the plan that would banish the Roman oppressors, end poverty, cure sickness and stop evil. The angel announces the Messiah is coming. The biggest announcement of all, the biggest announcement ever, moving forward the plan, the only plan and the whole plan. And Mary pauses. This announcement is not a done deal. It is only a proposal until Mary accepts it. Mary has to agree, God will not force her, she remains free to choose. God’s will cannot be a done deal for her until she says “yes.”

You can almost see all of heaven pausing and listening for her response. Imagine a scene crafted by Cecil B DeMille. Cecil DeMille, the most commercially successful producer-director in history was an American film director and producer. Acknowledged as a founding father of the American cinema he was known for huge epic productions. Closer to home for me, his name was invoked by my mother whenever my father was trying to stage the perfect photograph or home movie. My father was a perfectionist. We used to search for hours for a Christmas tree. Then when we got it home, My dad would take it to the garage where he would rebuild the tree by cutting off God’s misplaced branches and then drilling hole into the trunk to place them where God should have placed them. (So don’t ever wonder where I get it from! It comes naturally)
Well, my father was the same even in lining up casual pictures, moving people around, adding and subtracting props, changing light. And he would keep doing this until my mother had had enough. “Of for God’s sake, Joe. Stop being Cecil B. DeMille and take the damn picture!”

All of heaven was pausing; everything and everyone listening, waiting for Mary’s response, listening with ears better trained than those who listened for what E. F. Hutton said. And, with salvation hanging on the line, with the fierce and formidable angel of God still right there before her, with all of heaven waiting for her response…

Mary pauses. Mary pauses. Mary pauses. And then rather than saying “YES” right away, Mary is so bold as to ask a question: “How can this be since I have no relations with a man?” Mary is not rejecting God’s plan. She has discerned that God is asking something of her but she’s not sure what. She probably thinks that perhaps she hasn’t understood clearly.  Unlike us, Mary did not expect God to become human.  She would never have imagined, let alone expected God to become human. God was so wholly other, that good Jews would even speak God’s name. So she asks a question: HOW?! It’s not like the angel came down and offered the game plan, time table, and exact locations along with detailed SWOT analyses and future projections.

Like a good disciple, Mary listens for God’s will and is inclined to do what God asks but seeks to clarify, to move in the right direction, to move forward as God asks and so she seeks information. Because the results of misunderstanding would have been severe. To be found with someone else’s child would have been a humiliation to her fiancé and family and could have easily led to a life of punishment and poverty as well as social isolation. And Nazareth was a small town, there was no place to hide.

Now, the answer that the angel gives her would not be satisfactory for me: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. In other words, God will take care of it.  You do your part and allow God to work. This is not mansplaining or God patting the good little girl on her head, telling her not to worry. No, God is telling her, that He will accompany her, that he will be with her and open the way for her. Perhaps to add some credibility or to demonstrate God’s power to open the way, the angel continues: And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who is called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.

The news and this addition is still completely unbelievable, still incredible but, reminded of God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm, Mary says Yes. Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. Mary’s answer when it comes is simple. The angel simply brings her God’s word, and Mary simply accepts it.

We’re not angels, but we can act like them. We can do things angels do. Not everything to be sure, but some things. One thing especially we can do is bring God’s word to others. We can bring God’s word to others, to the people around us, the people we encounter this Christmas, wherever we go and whatever we do. Ultimately, it’s up to them if they want to receive it or not, just like Mary with Gabriel, but we can bring it to them nonetheless. People need to hear God’s word of comfort and joy. People need to hear God’s word of “fear not.” People need to hear God’s word of hope and help. People need to hear that God has sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world but to save it, to save us from hurts and hang-ups, worry and doubt, stress and tension, sadness and sorrow, from our bad choices and their consequences.

God sent the angel Gabriel to bring God’s word to Mary. This Christmas he sends you and I to do the same. In the next few days, who is it in your life who needs to hear a word of hope or help: Perhaps it is an invitation to believe God has a plan for all of human history and for each one of us, not to overwhelm or overlook us, but one that involves us and strengthens us for a significant role. Or… maybe it’s as simple as an invitation to join us online for Christmas Eve Mass. More than any other night of the year, people approach Christmas Eve looking for… well, they may know not what. Ultimately, though, they’re looking for God, for the comfort and hope that God can give, the way forward God can provide, the light God seeks to bring into our world. And, like John the Baptist, you can help point out that light and testify to that light. We may not be able to be together, but we can reach out to others and invite them to watch and to celebrate on-line with us and with you. Gather your household and watch together as a family. At the same time you can Zoom with someone who may be alone. Or call them and share God’s comfort, help them to grow closer to God and know how close God seeks to be to them; reveal God’s glory by thinking of them and sharing with them. Maybe you think of someone NOW. Begin NOW to share the light of Christ so it can shine brighter on Christmas Eve. We may not be able to do it in person, but we can still serve others.

Angels by their help and their example are reminders for us to bring God’s message of hope to others. Angels are all around us all the time, nearer than you think, and a lot more useful than you probably imagine.

 

Peace,

 

 

ANGELS – Week 3

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. In addition to the third week of our message series on Angels, today is also Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice which is always celebrated on the third week of Advent, at or after the midpoint of our Advent journey. Our focus is different as is our liturgical color, all to remind us that our joy increases the closer we get to Christmas, or rather, I should say, the closer we get to Christ.

In spite of that, though, I still struggle with St. Paul. In fact, sometimes I think he’s crazy. Rejoice always? On my daily commute? When my kids are driving me nuts? In the face of sickness and disease? When work is insane and stressing me out? When I’m falling behind at school? When I’ve lost my job? When my pastor drones on and on and on? And then St. Paul goes further: Pray without ceasing. Again, the impossible, especially for those of us who struggle to focus for even a few minutes. Is St. Paul joking with us? Tormenting us?

Too often we think this way about matters of faith. God wants us to be perfect but, since we can’t be prefect, since we can’t rejoice always or pray without ceasing, we may as well give up, throw in the towel, concede the match and forget trying anything. But St. Paul is not a sadist nor is he crazy. And God does not ask us to do the impossible. Well, actually, God does ask us to do the impossible. But not on our own.

It turns out God is asking what’s impossible for us, but there is a key to the impossible, and St. Paul himself gives it to us. “Rejoice always” and “Pray without ceasing” are quickly followed by “In all circumstances, give thanks for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Paul wrote often about the practice of continual prayer, always in the context of gratitude or thanksgiving. In other words, it’s about worship. Worship is ascribing worth and value to something, investing our time and attention and money into it. Giving ourselves and our lives to something or someone else. We worship what we think will give meaning and purpose to our lives and we give our time and abilities and energy to what we worship. In fact, you and I were created to worship. Like eating or sleeping you simply cannot live and not worship. All of us worship. The only question is over what you worship.

People worship money, power, pleasure, sports, their kids, or their kid’s sports. We may not think about it this way, we may not feel comfortable using the word in this way. It’s clear what people worship because that’s where they invest their time, their energy, their enthusiasm and their money. The problem with worship of anything other than God is that such worship is, by its very nature, circumstantial. Such worship can make you happy such as if your team wins, your investments pay off, you get the date, you figure out the puzzle. But happiness is not guaranteed by such worship and, in fact, such worship might make you sad, your team loses, your investment is lost, you get stood up or the answer eludes you. You can enjoy sports, but you ought not worship them. You should love people, but not worship them. Worship of anything that isn’t God is circumstantial and illusive.

Authentic worship, on the other hand, is properly and fully directed to God. In other words, St. Paul is instructing us to make worship of God a lifestyle. Worship can be a part of the whole of your life, inform every area of your life, challenge you, sustain you even in the most mundane of situations. When we worship God, when we are aware of and revere God, when we invite God into any area, then we can rejoice always and pray without ceasing.

That’s what angels do, they worship God with the whole of their being and all of their activity. Angels live in God’s presence and stay focused on God. Scripture describes them as constantly worshiping and praising God. In fact, one of the most solemn and sacred moments at Mass is taken from the prophet Isaiah’s description of angelic worship: at a great distance…I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were angels, and they were calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Later, on at the first Christmas, angels appear in the sky outside of Bethlehem with worship that we also use at Mass, they sing: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” Heaven comes down to earth. The angels come and worship God who has become one of us, human in all things but sin. At Christmas, in Christ, heaven and earth get thoroughly and permanently mixed up together. God himself comes into our poverty and the angels continue to worship!

Christmas is a vindication for those angels who continue to worship a God who has emptied Himself, who comes into the cold, bleak and dark winter, who is born into poverty and limit and lack. And angels continue to worship. This whole mystery unfolds here at the Mass. The Mass is the source and the summit of the whole of our Christian living. Here we are united in worship with the angels and saints, to direct all of our worship to God. Here we enter into a ritual that takes us through the progress of this mystery, using words that angels themselves use. Here we come to the very source of our joy which is salvation in Christ, and we give thanks. Here Christ comes to us in simplicity and humility as food. Here we receive what we worship to become more like him. And from here we are sent back out into the whole of our lives to live this mystery in everything that we do, each relationship we have, our work, our family, our friends. The Mass can be the source and summit of a life of worship, in which we give thanks to God for everything.

One of the very best ways you can make progress in your spiritual life is to prepare for Mass, to read the readings, to share in the worship of the angels by spending quiet time with God. When we open back up, spend some time with the Blessed Sacrament, in Eucharistic Adoration. Draw close to the Lord you worship.

In today’s gospel reading we hear the familiar story that always accompanies our Advent celebration: the story of John the Baptist, the greatest and last of all the prophets. John is a towering figure in the Gospels who helps us recognize and receive Christ. He came to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. He was not the light. But he came to testify to the light. And that’s precisely what angels and saints do: testify to the Light, worship the Light, increase the Light. Oh, and it’s also what us ordinary everyday Christians are also called to do, we’re not the light, he is, we testify to the light. Our daily prayer time and our weekly worship at Mass are not meant to be the sum total of our worship. What God wants is a change in our heart, for us to live a worshipful life, one filled with worship. That comes from prayer. And leads to Joy.

And perhaps one of the best and most fruitful ways you can testify to the light is on Christmas Eve. More than any other night of the year, people approach Christmas Eve looking for… well, they may know not what. Ultimately, though, they’re looking for God, for the comfort and hope that God can give, the way forward God can provide, the light God seeks to bring into our world. And, like John the Baptist, you can help point out that light and testify to that light. We may not be able to be together, but we can reach out to others and invite them to watch and to celebrate on-line with us and with you. Gather your household and watch together as a family. At the same time, you can Zoom with someone who may be alone. Or call them and share God’s comfort, help them to grow closer to God and know how close God seeks to be to them; reveals God’s glory by thinking of them and sharing with them. Maybe you think of someone NOW. Begin NOW to share the light of Christ so it can shine brighter on Christmas Eve. We may not be able to do it in person, but we can still serve others.

Angels by their help and their example are reminders to be better people. Angels are all around us all the time, nearer than you think, and a lot more useful than you probably imagine.

Peace,

ANGELS – Week 2

Comfort.Give comfort to my people.
Isaiah 40:1

My Dear Friends in Christ,

This is the desire of God’s heart made known to Israel through Isaiah. Remember last week, as we began our message on Angels, we began with the cry of the prophet Isaiah who was writing at a stormy time: Judah was in very bad shape, under attack, threatened with destruction by a very powerful foreign enemy. Their situation seemed dark and utterly hopeless. More, God seemed impossibly far from them. Where was God and how could God let all of this happen to them? Could God have abandoned them?

So Last week, we heard Isaiah cry out to God, cry out for God to intervene in a way even bigger than before, when God’s “mighty hand and outstretched arm” brought them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and then through the desert to settle them gently in the promised land, a land they were now threatened to lose because of their sinfulness. This week, we hear of God’s response, a desire to comfort his people, to provide for them, to shelter them, to lead them beyond their suffering and to give them hope.

And so we continue to look at how God intervenes, at how God provides comfort for his people: angels. Last week to begin our message series , we underscored the basics. Angels play a key role in the story of the Bible. In the Scriptures from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation there are more than three hundred direct references to angels and many of them take place in the Christmas story. The Christmas story is filled with angels, thousands of them. Angels sent to Zechariah and to Mary and to Joseph and to the shepherds and to Simeon and to Anna and to the Wise Men from afar.

Angels are created by God, like human beings, but not human beings. They’re not people, nor are they people who have died, you don’t die and become an angel. No, angels are not people like you or I, but they are persons, which is to say, they’re individuals: each angel is distinct with an individual intellect and free will. They are also spirits, pure spirits, but they can put on a body, they can take on physical attributes, as we see in Scripture, in order to fulfill some mission or task.

Today, let’s focus on the service of angels; what angels do. As I mentioned last week, I know a number of you were thinking, “Why is he talking about angels? With all of the stuff going on in our world, why talk about angels?” Certainly, I understand that reaction and the instinct to overlook, even ignore, what many reduce to mere fantasy. Hopefully, today’s homily will give you greater insight that God intervenes in our world, in our lives, by sending angels. God sends angels in dark times, to people who are confused or afraid, those unclear about what God’s asking or whether or not they have the strength to do it. It matters in the long run because angels help us to know God better. The truth and reality about angels helps us grow in awareness of and appreciation for the truth and reality that is God.

First, let’s begin with an unintended consequence of the service of Angels: Fear! Did you ever notice that whenever an angel appears, the first thing the angel has to do is to calm the one having the vision?? Even if we just look at the Christmas story, we see fear in the face of angels:

To Zechariah even as he was serving in the Temple: There appeared the angel of the Lord, standing at the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw the angel he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him… Then the angel said to him. Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard.

To Mary: The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. But Mary was greatly troubled. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid; you have found favor with God.”

Then to Joseph with the greeting Fear not, Joseph, son of David, to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is the work of the holy Spirit.

Then to the shepherds at Bethlehem, first one angel and then a whole multitude: The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear…Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy…And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

While angels often appear fierce and formidable, what inspire even more fear is what becomes apparent: the distance between God’s ways and our ways. Angels, when encountered, reveal the vast difference, the great chasm of divide between God’s ways and ours. Even a glimpse of it is terrifying.

But that’s not the whole nor the end of the story. The God who leads the angel armies, the God who created these fierce and formidable creatures, this God goes before us, commanding this army to do the same. Angels, their existence and the stories we hear in Scripture are reminders to us that God does not leave us all alone and unaided. Not at all. And especially in dark times.

As we did last week, we’re going to use passages from the prophet Isaiah to start this reflection. Comfort, give comfort to my people… Speak tenderly to Jerusalem… proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins. Comfort and hope are gifts of God that God seeks to share with his people. Remember last week? Isaiah made it perfectly clear that Israel was in this bind because of their own sinfulness. But God still wants to offer comfort, hope, forgiveness, strength, consolation, peace. And often God uses angels to distribute these gifts: comforting us and giving us hope. Throughout scripture we are told stories of angels offering comfort. Angels comfort the prophet Elijah when he was depressed and discouraged. Angels comforted Daniel when he was frightened and alone. Angels comforted Jesus after his temptation in the desert, when he was alone and vulnerable. Angels are instruments of God’s comfort and care, of consolation and support.

Further from Isaiah: A voice cries out… prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Angels serve God by helping us to prepare the way for God to work. Angels support us in our spiritual walk and encourage us to move out of our way the obstacles in life that keeps us from following God’s will for our lives. Angels help us to make progress in the spiritual life. God gives us angels to help us grow closer but there are many obstacles in our way. Angels go ahead of Moses on the mission God gave him in Egypt. Angels lead Joshua and the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Angels provide instruction to the leaders of the early Church in the confusing time following the Resurrection: telling them to stop gaping after the Ascension and get to work, opening prison doors, breaking chains, clarifying confusion for Cornelius, Peter, and others. Angels help us to move, and can also help us to move out of our way obstacles that prevent us from moving where God wants us to go.

Finally, at least for our purposes, from Isaiah: Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. Angels serve God by revealing the glory of God. Angels reveal to the shepherds at Christmas the glory of God born as poor baby in a manger beneath a star but the universal savior for all people. Angels reveal the glory of God to the disciples at Easter telling them that he is not in the empty tomb among the things of death but alive and coming to them, despite their sinfulness and abandonment. Angels will also reveal the glory of God at the end of time as foreshadowed by the Book of Revelation. It’s God’s plan to reveal his glory and angels are part of the delivery system. Darkness and doubt and weakness and pain, and so much else in our world are no part of his plan, and his glory is the antidote to it.

This is exactly what we celebrate at Christmas: the dawn of his glory and grace breaking into our world. So, all of this sounds great right, but you can’t help asking “So what?” If angels are a resource, an assistance and a support for us, how do we access them? Saying it doesn’t make it so. What do you want me to do? Well, the easiest way to do it is to take it and make it personally. If you grew up Catholic you’ve probably heard about those angels who are called Guardian Angels. It is an idea based on words of Christ himself: See that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew18.10) That every individual soul has a guardian angel is a great way of approaching angels and a great way of understanding your inherent dignity before God. You can talk to your angel, you can ask your angel to help you in your prayer, especially if you struggle with prayer, you can ask your angel to help you in anything and everything. You can even ask your angel direct questions. You can also start acting like your guardian angel. Angels are different from us but they are not distant. You can do certain things, some things that angels do, as a way of growing as a disciple of Christ.

Angels bring God’s comfort. You can comfort and support those around you, especially now at this Christmas season, there is quite a lot of comfort in demand. Think especially of those who are alone and lonely, those who are mourning, who have lost a loved one and are facing a first, or another holiday with an empty place at the table. Angels prepare the way and remove obstacles for God to be at work. What obstacles are in the way of your relationship with God? What’s keeping you from hearing God’s word or seeing God’s work? In this Advent season, maybe you can work on some habitual sin or inherently selfish mode of behavior. Starting with the sacrament of Reconciliation? I’ve been bored lately, and you know I hate to be bored. Maybe you can give up something unneeded or unnecessary; some expense or luxury to allow God to do something for someone else instead. Angels reveal God’s glory, bringing grace and light into the darkness of our world. Perhaps, you can put aside a little of your ego and your pride and lighten up instead. Perhaps you can reach out to another and simply spend time with them, time often the greatest challenge and most costly commodity in these days before Christmas.

And perhaps you can do all of these on Christmas Eve. More than any other night of the year, people approach Christmas Eve looking for… well, they may know not what. Ultimately, though, they’re looking for God, for the comfort and hope that God can give, the way forward God can provide, the light God seeks to bring into our world. And, like the angels, you can help make that happen. We may not be able to be together, but we can reach out to others and invite them to watch and to celebrate online with us and with you. Gather your household and watch together as a family. At the same time you can Zoom with someone who may be alone. Or call them and share God’s comfort, help them to grow closer to God and know how close God seeks to be to them; reveal God’s glory by thinking of them and sharing with them. Maybe you can think of someone NOW. Begin NOW to cultivate the comfort of God so it can come more naturally on Christmas Eve. We may not be able to do it in person, but we can still serve others.

Did you know that there’s actually a hierarchy to the angels in heaven? Oh, but it’s not what you may expect. The hierarchy of heaven is based on service, the heart of everything that angels are and do. And in the hierarchy of heaven, the higher angels, the ones with the greatest abilities, the ones with the most impact, the ones with the widest reach serve the others. The higher angels serve the lower angels, the ones closer to God are the servants of the ones further away from God. That’s the way it is in heaven. In fact, it was the refusal to serve that led to all that trouble that Scripture calls the fall. When the Bible refers to Demons and devils, it’s just talking about angels who refused to serve. They were too proud to serve. Their pride got in the way and weighed them down. So they’re fallen angels. Meanwhile, the heavenly hosts are lacking completely in pride, and in their lack of pride they willingly joyously undertake service. In fact, it has sometimes been said, Angels can fly because they always take themselves lightly.

Angels are all around us all the time, nearer than you think, and a lot more useful than you probably imagine.

Peace,

 

 

ANGELS – Week 1

No ear heard, no eye seen, a God like you who works for those who wait for him.
Isaiah 64:4

My Dear Friends in Christ,

I am so very excited, more so this year than any in the recent past. Perhaps it’s the pandemic, or the challenges we’ve faced as a nation. Perhaps it’s because I have been working on a number of things and they are starting to fall into place or because I’m in regular contact with my siblings and we discuss our memories often surrounding holidays (and food, of course!). Whatever the case, I am so excited that the Christmas and Advent seasons are upon us. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. I am so excited to drive down Main Street when it’s dark and see the Christmas lights twinkling. I set up my Nativity and put up my Christmas Tree (please forgive me, Riesett family, but it’s artificial. The Riesetts are members here and they own Christmas Tree Farms – a great place to get your Christmas tree by the way!). I love the music, the decorations, the Hallmark movies, even the Christmas commercials (and, of course, the food!). I love it ALL, and the older I get the more I look forward to it. There is a focus on generosity, and despite the busy-ness of the year, people are kinder to one another! And this year, I am especially excited to see a growing number of angels. At Christmastime angels are everywhere.

At this time of year, angels sometimes seem more popular than Jesus or even God. Almost all religions profess belief in angels and from the sacred to the secular, from the sublime to the ridiculous, they can come across as being all things to all people. Cute and cuddly, majestic and graceful, impish and playful. Mysterious and new age-y.  For us, Angels play a key role in the story of the Bible. In the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation there are more than three hundred direct references to angels and many of them take place in the Christmas story. The Christmas story is filled with angels, thousands of them. And the events surrounding the birth of Jesus are only some of the places that angels appear in salvation history as recorded in the Bible.

Despite the consistent presence of angels in the Christmas story and notwithstanding their pervasive presence in popular culture or maybe more accurately because of their presence in popular cultures, there are many misconceptions about angels. So, over the next few weeks we are going to get to know angels a little bit better and why their existence matters to us. Angels are created beings, just like human beings. God chose at a certain point to create angels and now they exist forever. Angels are created beings like human beings, but they’re not human beings. They’re not people, nor are they people who have died. You don’t die and become an angel. These are two different orders of being. Angels are not people, but they are persons, which is to say, they’re individuals: each angel enjoys a distinct personhood, with an individual intellect and free will. They are also spirits, pure spirits, which means they don’t have bodies. As human beings we are united body and soul. Your body is part of what makes you, you. Angels are spirits, but they can put on a body; they can take on physical attributes, as we see in Scripture, in order to fulfill some mission or task, but in their essence, they are pure spirits.

Now, many of you might be thinking, “Why is he focusing on angels? With all that’s going on in our world, why talk about angels? I understand that reaction and the instinct to overlook, even ignore what many think of as fantasy. But let me give you a hint of what is to come: God intervenes in our world, in our lives, by sending angels. God sends angels in dark times, to people who are confused or afraid, to those who are asking the question, “What are we going to do now?”, to those who are unclear about what God is asking. As we’ll see, angels do a great deal and to dive deeper into that question we’re going to look at our first reading today from the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah is often held as the greatest of the prophets, because, as many argue, he more than any of the others, pointed to the coming of the Christ. The Church has long read from the prophet Isaiah at Advent and Christmas and Isaiah is another reason that I love this time of year so much. Isaiah writes at a stormy time when the nation of Judah was under attack and in very bad shape. Threatened with destruction by a very powerful foreign enemy, their situation seemed dark and utterly hopeless. Where was God and how could God let all of this happen to them? Could God have abandoned them? Does any of that sound familiar?

So, Isaiah cries out to God on behalf of Israel: Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Notice, that even as Isaiah speaks on behalf of the people, even as he cries out from the empty heart that is missing God, Isaiah knows that it’s Israel’s wandering from God’s ways that have led to this difficult situation. Isaiah realizes their predicament is self-imposed; they have no one to blame but themselves. They had repeatedly and continually turned from God and are now experiencing the consequences of their actions.  And while not quite blaming God, Isaiah sure is wondering why God let it happen.

Ever been there? You get in a bad situation, you have a mess on your hands and in your heart, you know it is your fault, you have no one to blame but yourself, but at the same time you are asking God, “Why did you let me do that?” That’s what Isaiah is doing, but notice he doesn’t stop there. Eventually, Isaiah moves past the misplaced blame and asks for help: Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for. You can hear the desperation and the longing, hear it coming deep from his soul, the heartfelt prayer of one who has nowhere else to go. Perhaps you’ve been there yourself.  I know I have and in some pretty serious moments.

Isaiah moves beyond the desperation by begging God to get involved and intervene in a big way. Otherwise the situation is hopeless and there is no way forward. Maybe you find yourself in a similar situation today. Your marriage, your finances, your dating relationship, your job, your health or some other major area of your life is hopeless and you feel helpless, so helpless, that you’re actually willing to do the unthinkable and turn to God and ask for help. Anyway, here’s the point: It is the situations that seem hopeless to us where God loves to get involved. And, often he does it by sending angels. To the elderly Zechariah and Elizabeth, who had lost hope in ever having a child, God sent an angel. To Daniel who had lost hope that his service was worth anything. To Israel a nation that had lost hope of having a savior and a future, God sent an angel. To Joseph who had lost all hope, felt betrayed by Mary, his future wife who had been unfaithful, God sent an angel. To shepherds who had the lowliest of jobs, outcasts so down and dirty they weren’t even allowed to worship at the Temple, God sent an angel.

And it’s true, they were all afraid. You would be too. While angels often appear fierce and formidable, what we fear most is the distance between God’s ways and ours. Angels, when encountered, reveal the vast difference, the great divide between God’s ways and ours. Even a glimpse of this gaping chasm is frightening. But the angels also bring comfort. The God who created these fierce and formidable creatures, the God who leads these hosts of angels, this God goes before us and commands these angels to protect us and watch over us.

Angels, whether we believe in them or not, are reminders to us that God never leaves us alone or unaided. God didn’t create the world and set it on auto-pilot; didn’t set up some sterile, unconnected system and then go play golf. No. God constantly intervenes in our world, constantly invades our hearts and our lives with help and grace constantly. And angels are often the delivery system.

That’s the biggest reason for us to learn about angels. Angels are God’s creations. When we discover the truth about angels, they’ll ultimately point and lead to God. They’ll help us deepen our relationship with and see God’s power in our life. Our gospel reading brings home the basic Advent message: Be watchful! Be alert! Here in this passage Jesus is reminding us to be prepared, to seek and to search for God’s gentle power, to see how God comes in ways unanticipated, unrecognized, even unknown. When we are watchful and alert, we can recognize how God is at work and help God to serve others. That, of course, is exactly what didn’t happen at that first Christmas. Except for those unlikely few, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, nearly everyone missed out on what God was doing.

Over the next few weeks of our Advent series, we’re proposing getting to know angels better, as a way of getting to know God better, recognize better what God is doing this Christmas and throughout our lives, especially in this year unlike any other. It’s all about being watchful and being alert. As we kick off this series, I want to challenge you.  If you’re new to us, perhaps watching for the first time or returned after a long time, I challenge you simply to come back and learn more about angels.  Learn what angels reveal to us about God, especially in dark times, what angels can mean in our desire to navigate these times and grow, even thrive, as disciples of Jesus Christ. If you’re a regular, invite a friend or family member, who needs some help from God, perhaps someone you know who doesn’t have a church community to be a part of this series and to join us on-line on Christmas Eve. For many, this is a fascinating subject and you may be surprised by friends or family members or co-workers who will give this series a shot because of your invitation and their interest in angels.

Angels are all around us all the time, nearer than you think, and a lot more useful than you probably imagine.  You can’t see them most of the time, and maybe wouldn’t even want to, but you can definitely use them.

Peace,

 

 

ALL IN ALL – Week 3

…so that God may be all in all…
1 Corinthians 15:28

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Christ has been raised from the deadso too in Christ shall all be brought to life each one in proper orderthen comes the end, when[Christ] hands over the kingdom to his God and Fatherdestroying every [other] sovereignty, authority and powerChrist must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, destroying even death…so that God may be all in all.

Today, we celebrate with the Church around the world, the Feast of Christ the King. We close the liturgical year focusing on Christ as King of Creation and Ruler of the Universe. This isn’t about crowns nor the power and wealth they represent, not about conquering enemies, sheer will, clever schemes, blind obedience, or brute force. This Feast is about the Cross; it’s about sacrifice. Oh…and victory. It’s about Christ being ALL IN, giving Himself completely and freely, a gift culminating in but not limited to his death on the Cross. This feast is about the ultimate victory St. Paul described, the ultimate power of the love of God dwelling in Jesus Christ and our sharing that victory by bringing people to Christ. That’s the ultimate victory and it comes through the gracious invitation of God through Jesus Christ: Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

We’ve spent the last few weeks looking at understanding stewardship as building our relationship with God, increasing our trust, allowing God to move our hearts by sharing our treasure. Sharing our treasure, building our trust in God, serving others, supporting a community that seeks to help others Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples, blesses the one who gives as well as the one who benefits from the gift.

God returns to us far more than what we give, but there’s far more to our stewardship than the sacrifice we make and the increased blessing it brings for us. You see, God uses our stewardship, our trust in Him to help others, to change lives by introducing and increasing the presence of Jesus. God takes our offering, our sacrifice and multiplies it for the good of another.

Remember when Jesus fed the 5,000? It started with a boy offering five loaves and two fish. Even as the Apostles were asking “What good is that for so many?” Jesus was taking what the child offered, blessing it, breaking it and distributing it to the people. And there was enough, more than enough, enough for everyone to fill have their tummy, enough for 12 wicker baskets left over and, truth be told, if there were people like my mother, enough for a little leftover in their purse! This is the abundance of God, the abundance God wants to shower upon us, like the shepherd, as we heard in our first reading, caring for the sheep, especially the lost and the wandering, the sick and the broken. Our trust in God, our sacrifice for God, our generosity creates blessings for others as well. God takes our offering and helps change the lives of others.

We want to share with you that Good News about lives changed, people coming to know Jesus Christ through your generosity, sharing in the victory we celebrate today. That victory, the presence of God, of God’s love made known in Jesus Christ, of Christ the King, the victory that the abundance God’s love creates in the life of another, that’s the victory we want to share with you. And it happens once heart, one soul, one life at a time.

I want to show you a video of stories that help you to understand what your generosity makes possible (You can view the videos on our You Tube page at https://youtu.be/KZ8HM8EO3gM).

Thanks, to Chad and Liz, Jordan and Alex, to Max, to Haley, to Ryan and his Mom, Deirdre, for sharing their stories. It’s not easy to do, makes us vulnerable but I am grateful because your example reminds us that stewardship is not just theory, not just a private thing between me and God. Our stewardship is about growing the presence of Christ, about helping God become more prominent, more helpful in the life of another. That’s what being a disciple is, learning to recognize and trust in the presence of God, realizing how God is calling me, realizing that I don’t serve just in Church, not just my own, but as we hear in our Gospel today, serving those who are poor, hungry, naked, imprisoned, lost or distant.

It’s about helping these whom the world considers least to know and revel in the presence of God made known in our service, made known through us. I want to thank you for your generosity. Your trust in God, your sharing of your resources makes possible our efforts to celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ, God’s love made known in ourselves and, through us, to others, to celebrate bringing God’s love in Jesus Christ to others, celebrating changed lives.

This is especially true as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week. Yes, it will be different as many of us celebrate without the family and friends we are used to seeing. My own family, (pictured on Thanksgiving a few years ago (2005?) at the house of my older my brother and his wife) will not be getting together this year. But we will have our weekly Zoom call to catch up on each other (plus it gives me a chance to tease them!). Even without all of the usual trappings, we still have very much to be thankful for, though. We look to remember God’s many, many blessings. Amidst all of the food preparation, football games and early Black Friday on-line shopping, set aside some time to pray and to list your blessings. I don’t know about you but sometimes, especially when I’m challenged by the way things are or what I don’t have, I forget about the many other blessings I have received. It helps me to make a list, sometimes only in my head but other times I drag out the ole’ pen and paper to make that list. Also, take some time to pray for those we consider blessings (even if they are only blessings in teaching us patience! – but I’m sure that you don’t have any of those in your family!). Pray for those unable to travel, those who are home alone, through who are struggling. Perhaps you are in that group. Then we pray for you as well. And you can do all of this by joining us as we celebrate Mass in the Church on Thanksgiving Day at 9:00 a.m. Celebrate with us.

Also, tomorrow, November 23, we’ll honor Blessed Miguel Pro. Born in Guadalupe, Mexico on January 13, 1891, Miguel Pro Juarez was one of 11 children. Miguel was, from an early age, intensely spiritual and equally intense in his mischievousness, frequently exasperating his family with his humor and practical jokes. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in El Llano, Michoacan at the age of 20 and studied in Mexico until 1914 when a tidal wave of governmental anti-Catholicism crashed down upon Mexico, forcing the order to flee to Los Gates, California. He then taught in Nicaragua from 1919 until 1922.

By the time Fr. Pro was ordained a priest in Enghien, Belgium in 1925, the political situation in Mexico had deteriorated: all Catholic churches were closed, bishops, priests, and religious were rounded up for deportation or imprisonment, and those caught trying to elude capture were shot. The celebration of the sacraments was punishable by imprisonment or death, and the Church was driven underground. Fr. Pro received permission from his superiors to return to Mexico incognito and to carry on his ministry undercover. Fr. Pro slipped into Mexico City and immediately began celebrating Mass and distributing the sacraments, often under imminent threat of discovery by a police force charged with the task of ferreting out hidden pockets of Catholicism. He became known throughout the city as the undercover priest who would show up in the middle of the night dressed as a beggar or a street sweeper to baptize infants, hear confessions, distribute Communion, or perform marriages. Several times, disguised as a policeman, he slipped unnoticed into the police headquarters itself to bring the sacraments to Catholic prisoners before their execution. Using clandestine meeting places, a wardrobe of disguises and coded messages to the underground Catholics, Fr. Pro carried on his priestly work for the Mexican faithful under his care.

A failed attempt in November 1927 to assassinate the President of Mexico which only wounded him provided the state with a pretext for arresting Fr. Pro with his brothers Humberto and Roberto. They were put in jail and held without trial for ten days, accused of the attempted assassination. On July 17, 1928, President Calles ordered Fr. Pro to be executed, ostensibly for his role in the assassination plot, but in reality, for his defiance of the laws banning Catholicism. As Fr. Pro walked from his cell to the prison courtyard, he blessed the firing squad and then knelt and prayed silently for a few moments. Pictured at left, he refused a blindfold, he stood, faced the firing squad, and with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other, he held his arms outstretched in the form of a cross and in a loud, clear voice cried out, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know I’m innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!” As the soldiers lifted their rifles, he exclaimed in a loud voice, “Viva Cristo Rey!” – “Long live Christ the King!” A volley of shots rang out and Fr. Pro fell to the ground riddled with bullets. A soldier stepped up and discharged his rifle at point blank range into the priest’s temple. Fr. Pro was assassinated to demoralize the Mexican people. The fascist leaders tried to silence him, end his service and excise his example. Their plan backfired, though, as 30,000 people braved possible violence to march in his funeral procession. This massive crowd brought world-wide attention to the situation in Mexico.

Fr. Pro gives us the example of Christ: to share in Christ’s victory and kingship, we must model Christ’s service and sacrifice. Christ has been raised from the dead so too in Christ shall all be brought to lifeeach one in proper orderthen comes the end, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to his God and Fatherdestroying every [other] sovereignty, authority and powerChrist must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, destroying even death…so that God may be all in all.

Viva Christo Rey! Long live Christ the King!

Peace,

 

 

ALL IN ALL

“Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Matthew 25:13

My Dear Friends in Christ,

“Receive the light of Christ.” These words are spoken at every baptism as the parents of the newly baptized child are presented with a small candle representing the child, a candle lit from the paschal candle that represents Christ. God’s wants each of us to tend and grow the light He’s given us. We are called to let this light shine, to keep this light alive in us, more, we’re called to fan the light of Christ into flame so Christ can light the world around us.

Keeping this fire burning, and helping others to light and fan their fire into flames is what we’re all about, and it’s our focus for our new message series, All In (all) focusing on our relationship with God and the stewardship of our treasure. Stewardship isn’t just a way of life; it’s a good one. In fact, it’s a better way of life because stewardship simply means belonging to God, handing over our hearts and our lives, allowing God to rule in our lives. But, putting God in charge of everything, including and especially our money, sounds threatening – surrendering control even, to God, never comes easy – but if we do surrender, if we really do put God in charge, we’ll be better off, more secure happier, now and in the long run…the very long run!

Jesus makes it clear in our Gospel today calling us to be ready for the coming of the Kingdom: the moment that will come when we face our Maker. Hopefully, our preparation now for this encounter is remote but St. Paul reminds us that we do need to start now: For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

The parable Jesus offers us today is about making sure we’re ready for that fateful moment. Jesus uses the image of those who wait, lamps in hand, oil at the ready to make clear that something other than a good lamp is needed to meet the Bridegroom. The lamps’ sole purpose is to contain the oil and offer it up for burning. As beautiful as a lamp is, without oil, it ain’t much good. Being baptized, calling oneself a Christian, coming to church, praying, crying out “Lord, Lord!” even with the best of intentions, are not enough. WE NEED OIL! – the “oil” of our human efforts, consciously distilled and deliberately offered up. As oil comes only from crushing olives, so too, the oil of our efforts, comes in the crushing of the olives of my own will, my own plan, my own security, my own comfort level.

Jesus wants to know whether or not we’re willing to serve, and if our willingness is
accompanied by something more than good intentions. We can’t love God, nor can we love others, in theory, only by exerting at a distance, offering up vague intentions and desires. Where does the road paved with Good Intentions go?  We can only love God and love others by actually serving them, by sharing the blessings I have received, by coming together, by offering up what I have, by putting the other first. It’s not that we’ll be judged on the quantity of “good works” we’ve managed to put on deposit, but that our claim to be Christian must be evidenced by fruit of mind and heart, of word and activity, of thought and feeling, of service and sacrifice. This is the wisdom of the five who were prepared. This is what true stewardship is, and it’s especially true of our financial stewardship.

Jesus wants us as His disciples to be on the lookout for, to tend our lamps in preparation for the coming of Bridegroom. But it’s not about what God wants from us in that regard but for us, and that comes only in relationship. God wants a deep, personal relationship with each of us, wants to share with us, seeks to guide us, guard us, bless us; God loves us and loves us and loves us and never stops. (Have I mentioned that before?) God wants to build your relationship to do great things FOR you: offer you grace, fill you with blessings, help you understand how sharing the Good News makes giving something you want to, even need to do. Giving to God is a way of moving our heart closer to God, of building our relationship with God. Jesus was perfectly clear: “Where your treasure is, there is your heart.”

Take some time this week to think about your readiness to meet the Bridegroom, not to threaten or frighten you but to reflect on where your relationship with God is, how readily that relationship is permeated with the practical wisdom of living and giving, whether these reflect what you want and hope for in that relationship. The foundation of our giving comes from God and the invitation God offers for us to share that generosity. When we recognize that generosity and accept God’s invitation to share, God compounds our blessings creating an abundance for others as well as those of us who give. God’s invitation is also a call to sacrifice, to submit to something, or I should say, SOMEONE greater, persevering and encouraging one another as God seeks to bring forth from us every good work and word.

No one else’s lamp can burn in the place of the one that is mine alone. The lamps are the vessel, the empty container of the blessings God has given us; the oil is the fuel, our efforts using those blessings, offering a return to God. Both are necessary and disciples see in both a way to allow God to be at work, for God to light the world. Christ needs us All In, needs our flame burning brightly, our oil plentiful, if the light of Jesus Christ is to illuminate the world, if Christ is to be All in All.

Peace,

ALL SAINTS DAY!

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.”
1 John 3:1

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Have you ever started a project and then realized that you don’t have the right tools? I’m sure that like me a number of you took your quarantined time to organize and improve your house. I like to consider myself a Mr. Fix-it (which means I watch more HGTV than actually fix things) so I did try a number of projects some of which worked great and others…not so much. On several of those projects, thought, I realized in the middle of it, that I didn’t have the right tools to finish. I’m constantly amazed at how a complicated job becomes easier when you have the right tools.

In November, the church has an ancient practice of remembering the dead, of bringing to mind and heart and prayer those who have died. It helps assuage our grief but also reminds us that they are not gone, helps us to recognize that our community is bigger than what we see, bigger even than this earth. Our community includes, we are in communion with those who have died. Death does not have the final word. The Church begins this remembrance with our feast of All Saints asking us to remember the Saints and understand the communion of saints as one of God’s many gifts to us.

All Saints Day is about having a great tool for a life well lived. The saints are not some outdated notion painted on the walls of irrelevant churches throughout Europe (or in statues and icons in our churches for that matter). Like any tools, they assist us in doing better the main job given to each (being a follower of Jesus) and to all (being a community that helps others to “Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples”). The Communion of Saints, this great cloud of witnesses, spurs us on both to do and to feel better about our life with Jesus. This gift to us comes in the example and the intercession of the saints.

God’s always at work and needs no intermediary, but God also uses every vehicle to reach out to us and draw us close. The saints are one of the most profound of those vehicles. I love and am comforted in recognizing that someone before me has faced the challenge I have or that I’m going through. There’s a saint for everyone, someone who can assist each of us. But there is also a saint for each experience I face, the challenge of growing as a human and as a disciple – Mary, (@20 BC – @45 AD) Wife of Joseph, Mother of Jesus, especially when I feel alone or miss my own  Mom, when I need to be loved, not for any particular reason or when I’m low, when only the love of a mother can suffice. I also like that there are different titles and images for different moments. My new favorite is Mary, Untier of Knots because many things are beyond me and sometimes I struggle even to know what to do. 

my call to serve quietly and gently as God wills it rather than I will it – Joseph (?? – <33), Husband of Mary, Foster Father of Jesus: Joseph loved Mary. God intervenes in a dream to ask Joseph to trust Mary, to take her into his home and raise the Son She was bearing. Jesus learned from Joseph not only carpentry but what a good father is. The image Jesus had of our heavenly Father came in large part because of who and what Joseph showed Jesus.

my name (being the best “Robert” I can be)Saint Robert Bellarmine, Priest, Bishop, Cardinal, Scholar, Apologist (1542 – 1621): rich, well connected, brilliant, able to  speak clearly, sought to put all of his gifts in service to God and to the poor.  More personal than that, he served as the rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where I studied. He was buried near that university in the Church of Saint Ignatius and I would visit  his tomb for Mass on my day off. I also visited twice with every exam: once before (pleading for his help and intercession) and then once after (thanking him if I did well and chastising him if I didn’t)!

my state in life (for me, that’s priesthood; for you it might be marriage for a committed single state)Saint John Vianney, Priest, Pastor (1786 – 4 August 1859): loved the Lord and wanted to serve as a priest. Was not smart enough to get through seminary and had to be granted a dispensation to be ordained. Sent to a small, out of the way parish where he could do the least harm. He allowed God to be at work, transforming the people through his service, teaching, concentration on the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and his complete dedication to the salvation of their souls

our parish patron of Saint Francis of Assisi – Francis, Religious, Founder of the Franciscans (1181-1226): A joyful man who loved Jesus and sought to serve, who gave up his wealth to serve and identify with the poor. He saw God in everything and sought to unite himself to God, always in JOY. I love his simplicity and his single mindedness and his ability to allow God to speak to and work through him, enough to change the entire world.

overcoming my difficulty and dryness in prayer –  Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Religious, Foundress of the Missionaries of Charity (1910-1997): served with absolute integrity the poorest of the poor and who called herself the Saint of Darkness about her own difficulties in prayer.

my current service in the Church (leading and serving in changing and challenging times) Pope Saint Paul VI Priest, Bishop, Pope (1897-1978): Immediately following the Saintly Pope John XXIII, Paul VI completed and sought to live the essence of the Second Vatican Council and serve by its tenets. He struggled to understand how to serve in an age with changing social norms, societal goals and the understanding of what human dignity required.

understanding better the prophetic role God is calling me to live: Oscar Romero (1917-1980) Priest, Archbishop, and Martyr, allowed by the ruling junta to become Archbishop of El Salvador because he towed the Fascist party line. Once he began serving as Archbishop, he grew to understand the suffering of his people and spoke out ever more forcefully against any who would harm his beloved flock. In the act of celebrating Mass, he was assassinated by the junta in an attempt to silence him.

my failures, especially when I fail Christ or anotherPeter Fisherman, Apostle, Pope, Martyr (? – @68 AD). Brash and Bold, often speaking before he thought, Peter was a  passionate man who loved Jesus Christ and allowed Christ to call him. Peter also allowed Christ to forgive him after he had abandoned Jesus (see the rooster in the top, right-hand corner?).

my struggles to balance work and prayer – Benedict, Religious, Monk, Abbot, Founder of the Benedictines (480-543): Benedict’s Rule for his monks was about achieving a balance between prayer and living and work. His motto was “Ora et Labora” (Work and Prayer). He was all about hospitality and welcoming any and all who came to his monastery (perfect patron for our emphasis on radical welcome)! I studied with the Benedictines for my License in Sacred Theology.

finding God in the events and moments of my life – Ignatius of Loyola Priest, Religious, Founder of the Society of Jesus (1491-1556): who started the Jesuits after reflecting on how God was present to him in his recovery after war. I’ve preached the whole Easter season about who God is and how God works: God is present. God loves us. God has a plan. But sometimes, I must admit, that I need to look a little harder to see more clearly how that all plays out for me. It’s one thing to know this intellectually but it’s another, as we just said in our Wavelength series, to replay my day from God’s perspective.

my struggles to keep focused, to remain courageous and to continue to trust in God – Pope John Paul II Priest, Bishop, Pope (1920-2005): John Paul began his pontificate by shouting out the words, “Do not be afraid.” More than just speaking them from the balcony of Saint Peter’s, he lived this truism. Facing the Nazi and then the Communists, he spoke out clearly about the need for Christ and the call for us to trust in Christ. I’ve needed this more than ever with all we are facing as a nation, not simply freedom from fear in the face of unrest or the lack of respect and civility but even more freedom from fear about engaging difficult topics like racism, justice, life and culture.

my poor attempts at humor – Philip Neri, Priest, Religious, Founder of the Congregation of the Oratory (the Oratorians) (1515-1595): Saint Philip was especially attentive to serving young people and used a great deal of humor to reach them and others, especially in making more difficult messages easier  to hear.

And I love that the well of saints will never run dry continues to grow. On October 31, Michael McGivney, Priest, Founder of Knights of Columbus (1852 – 1890):  who looked to provide spiritual aid to Catholic men and financial help to the widows and orphans of its members. These men were being exploited in the Industrial Age and Fr. McGivney sought to protect and provide for them in an age when so many around the world are exploited, I’m reminded that “even a parish priest” can help others.

Just few days before that, on October 20, 2020, Carlo Acutis (1991-2006), an English-born Italian Catholic schoolboy and amateur computer programmer was beatified. He was best known for documenting Eucharistic miracles around the world and cataloguing them all onto a website that he created in the months before his death from leukemia. He was noted for his cheerfulness, computer skills, and deep devotion to the Eucharist, which becomes a core theme of his life. He died at the tragically young age of 15, offering his suffering for the pope and for the Church. I must admit that before his beatification, I had not heard of him, but I love the fact that he became a saint under the very same circumstances that we face. And to see him, dressed in the clothes of our own day and age just reminds me that God can work with all people, with anyone willing to be open.

Take some time this week to reflect on the saints. Think of some who might be your patrons. Perhaps it’s one who shares your struggle. Perhaps it’s one who shares your name. Perhaps it’s one that just inspires you and makes you want to be a better disciple. In any case, finding a good patron saint (or indeed several patron saints) is like having the perfect tool for the job. Can you get the job done without it? Sure. But’s it’s so much nicer and easier when you don’t have to struggle as much!

Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday. In the meantime and following, please pray with our Blessed Mother under her title of the Immaculate Conception (image right). Under this title, Mary is the patroness of our beloved country. Or pray with her under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe (image left). Under this title, Pope Saint John Paul II named her Patroness of All America (North, Central and South America). She represents how close God and how much God looks after those who are poor and struggling. As the Queen of Peace and Reconciliation, Mary also intercedes for us and can help us overcome any division or vitriol that may occur, even in our own hearts.

Know of my continued thoughts and prayers for you.

Peace,

 

 

Wavelength – Week 4

Jesus said…“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:37-40

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Our message series, Wavelength, has been all about thinking (thinking about thinking…sounds like Andy Rooney, doesn’t it?), and we’ve got the expressed aim of getting you to change your mind. How we think, especially how we think about the big questions of life, determines our actions and, our actions in turn determine our destiny. Thinking affects the state of our hearts and impacts all areas of our lives. When someone is thinking like we’re thinking, we say he or she is “on the same wavelength.”

We started with Saint Paul’s admonition to think about godly things. St. Paul reminded us that we don’t need to be slave to our thoughts even if we can control them. But we can mold our thinking, and correct sinful thoughts, by examining what goes into our brains. Our thinking, St. Paul reminds us, is formed by what we feed our brains: what we watch on TV, what we look at on the internet, what we read, what conversation we have, what friendships we have, what we allow in and what we filter out.  All of this happens, often without our awareness, so St. Paul challenged us to be intentional in thinking God’s thoughts and filtering out anything opposed to God, to think about Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise…

Then, in our second week, we shifted focus a bit, looking at a practice to help us focus on God’s thoughts. It’s what Saint Ignatius of Loyola described as the Examen. It’s about stopping for a moment and focusing on the contents of your day, not your whole life, just one day, but from God’s perspective. Doesn’t take a lot of time and can expand or shrink to whatever time you have. It’s about examining the day seeking intentionally moments the require gratitude or grace. In other words, where was God present? What are you thankful for? Offer these moments to God with a grateful heart. God also wants you to reflect on the moments of your day where you missed God, or misunderstood what God was asking, or (like me often) knew full well what God was asking but stubbornly refused to do it? Think about and offer these moments to God as well, asking for grace to do better next time.  Simple as that.

And then last week, we focused in on the intersection of thinking and faith, prompted by the challenge of Jesus to “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Jesus challenged the Pharisees and the Herodians (strange political bedfellows banded together only in their attempt to trick and to trap Jesus) challenged them to ask questions, to examine reality, to think intentionally from God’s perspective. It is not about separating faith from reason, the Church from the public square, or my faith from the rest of my life. IN fact, it’s just the opposite. It is not about what I repay to Caesar as much as what I repay to God. God doesn’t want what I have as much as who I am. And the challenge of Jesus lies ultimately in the example He offers. His is the only complete “repayment” to God.

And now, Jesus challenges us to match our thinking to God’s, and our hearts to God’s as well. For God does not simply think. No. God thinks, God speaks, God acts. For God it’s all one and the same. We see it in the Book of Genesis. God speaks, “Let there be light.” and there is light. For God to think is to speak is to act is to love. And that how Jesus sidesteps a further trap offered this week by a scholar of the law: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” We know this with 2,000 years of 20/20 hindsight but this was a matter of great debate in the time of Jesus. The question was of supreme important because, until Jesus Christ, one’s relationship with God (along with life and society in Israel) was governed by the law. For the Israelite the Law is the word of the Lord found in the first five books of the Bible. In the course of the development of Jewish culture and theology the teachers of the law had identified 613 specific commandments in the Law.

These laws were endlessly debated and discussed and defined and redefined by the religious professionals. Some said that all the laws were equal and must be applied equally. Others, that there was a hierarchy to the laws, some more important, others less so. In any case, Jesus is called on the carpet, but He answers without any hesitation at all; He answers immediately, efficiently and completely. But His answer is not flippant nor incomplete. And, although the scholar only asked for the greatest (read one) commandment, Jesus offers two quoting from each scripture but from two different books (Deuteronomy and Leviticus): This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” The answer, Jesus offers ties together God and my neighbor, love and action, faith and service, heaven and earth.  In other words, the greatest commandment is to love God which we do essentially and necessarily by serving our neighbor. And again, the ultimate challenge is to fulfill these commands, not out of compunction but out of love, as Jesus Himself showed.

No easy task but we’re not alone. Again, from Saint Paul, this time from the Church at Thessalonica. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Saint Paul commends the Thessalonians receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that… [they] became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. If we think as God thinks, then we know, along with the Thessalonians that even “great affliction” can’t keep us from doing what God says.

 God thinks differently than we do, and actually wants us to think like Him too. And God wants to help us do that, to get us on His wavelength. That’s what this series is all about. And, again, here’s the bottom line for this week and for the whole series: When we think as God thinks, we do as God says.

Peace,