Wednesday, December 31, 2014

“All leadership in the Kingdom of God is by example.”

"Truth must be sought at all costs, but separate isolated truths will not do. Truth is like life; it has to be taken on its entirety or not at all. . . . We must welcome truth even if it reproaches and inconveniences us -- even if it appears in the place where we thought it could not be found." – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895 – 1979)

Gospel Text: (JN 1:1-18)
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only-begotten Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.

And now it's New Year's Eve! Party and dance and music and eggnog (with a little extra nog, please). Wait; where did 2014 go? I had all these plans for things I was going to accomplish. Where are my running shoes; I have to get in shape. I promised 365 days ago! Where's my paintbrush; the house...

But wait, there's more. As I sit and reflect on the past 365 days, I'm forced to ask The Question: Did I make room for God? Did I let Christ thrive in my heart? Did I reach out in love and care to others? Did I call to apologize to that person that now hates me? Did I forgive that person that betrayed me?

Was I Jesus' hands to those in my little part of the vineyard?

Dear God of beginnings and endings, the Alpha and Omega, thank you for the gift of every hour, even this last one. Please grant us the grace to let go of our regrets and failures so we may live the new dawn of tomorrow, and birth your love to the world.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus – All of us do this everyday

“A Christian community should do as Jesus did: propose and not impose. Its attraction must lie in the radiance cast by the love of brothers.”- Jean Vanier (Founder of L'Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities)

Gospel Text: (LK 2:36-40)
There was a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they 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.

Anna came upon the presentation of Jesus in the temple as the text above states. She gave thanks to God and then began to talk about the child “to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Awaiting what?

Jesus came to deliver us from our sins, by his gift of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

He came to deliver us from our self-doubt, by assuring us we are beloved of His Father.

He came to deliver us from our fear of death, for he came as the one who died and rose.

He came to deliver us from our confusion, by showing us how to live.

He came to deliver us from our sadness by the joy of his presence.

Finally, he came to deliver us from prejudice, hatred, greed and all that divides us, so that all may be one and there may be peace on this earth.

But first we have to unite ourselves with him in the “temple of our hearts” and present ourselves to the Father. Then and only then will our hearts grow and our wills will be strengthened.

Monday, December 29, 2014

If we walk in compassion, we walk in the light.

"Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!” - Desmond Tutu (South African social rights activist)

Scripture text: (1 JN 2:3-11)
The way we may be sure that we know Jesus
is to keep his commandments.
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.

Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
And yet I do write a new commandment to you,
which holds true in him and among you,
for the darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.
Whoever says he is in the light,
yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light,
and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness;
he walks in darkness
and does not know where he is going
because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

It doesn't get any more honest or clear; however "honest and clear" does not mean easy.

Today the signs of the times are colored by division and strife. We live in a world which challenges our ideas around how we should treat our fellow human beings, even when we disagree with them. When I watch the news I find my own feelings of anger rising and I can quickly judge others and their actions. Sadly, many times the compassion, which should be in my heart as a member of the Christian family melts from the light into darkness if I am not very careful.

The truth of the matter is God gives us the dignity of participating in our own salvation by choosing and He gives us the respect of confirming and developing our fundamental faith choice a little more every day by our little choices of values and actions rather than forcing us to choose our destiny in one simple and crushing decision. It is a matter of growth and of slow but steady progress, just as in all aspects of our human life and all our endeavors.

St. John in the scripture passage today is calling us to actual and effective love rather than to mere politeness. So don’t make the mistake of boxing up the gift of Jesus’ presence and putting it away until next year—or even next Sunday. Your life may seem to go on as usual after the end of the Christmas season, but because Jesus has been born into our world and into your heart, everything is new. Nothing can ever be the same.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.”

Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide’. And also have the courage to be happy.” – Pope Francis (Sunday, July 28, 2013 -  Address to the World Youth Day Volunteers)

Gospel text (LK 2:22-40): When the day came for the purification according to the law of Moses, they brought the baby up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every firstborn male shall be consecrated to God. And they offered a sacrifice as ordered in the law of the Lord: a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. 

There lived in Jerusalem at this time a very upright and devout man named Simeon; the Holy Spirit was in him. He looked forward to the time when the Lord would comfort Israel, and he had been assured by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before seeing the Messiah of the Lord. So he was led into the Temple by the Holy Spirit at the time the parents brought the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law. Simeon took the child in his arms and blessed God, saying, «Now, O Lord, you can dismiss your servant in peace, for you have fulfilled your word and my eyes have seen your salvation, which you display for all the people to see. Here is the light you will reveal to the nations and the glory of your people Israel». His father and mother wondered at what was said about the child. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, «See him; he will be for the rise or fall of the multitudes of Israel. He shall stand as a sign of contradiction, while a sword will pierce your own soul. Then the secret thoughts of many may be brought to light».

There was also a prophetess named Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. After leaving her father's home, she had been seven years with her husband, and since then she had been continually about the Temple, serving God as a widow night and day in fasting and prayer. She was now eighty-four. Coming up at that time, she gave praise to God and spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem. When the parents had fulfilled all that was required by the law of the Lord, they returned to their town, Nazareth in Galilee. There the child grew in stature and strength and was filled with wisdom: the grace of God was upon him.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.  What a wonderful time to pause and give thanks for the gift of family. 

The Gospel tells us that the child grew in stature and strength and that he was filled with wisdom. Jesus found the warmth of a family built up in their reciprocal love relationship. It would be so beautiful and profitable for us to try as hard as possible to build up our own family: with the spirit of service and prayer; with mutual loving; with a greater capacity to understand and forgive. We would have a taste of Heaven —as in the Nazareth home— down here!

Today, one of the most urgent tasks we have is to build up our family. As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, parents ought to have an irreplaceable role: «It is the duty of parents to create a family ambiance animated by love and piety towards God and towards men, that favors the total personal and social education of their children».

In the family we learn what is most important, i.e. to be persons.

Friday, December 26, 2014

“Courage is knowing what not to fear.”

“Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice.” -  Isaiah (Prophet 8th-century BC Kingdom of Judah)

Gospel Text: (MT 10:17-22)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.
When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment what you are to say.
For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

Trying to follow God can be scary. We don’t know what the future holds, and God can seem very unpredictable. What might he ask us to do? Make a huge sacrifice like Jesus did? Endure an unbearable grief? Suffer a prolonged illness? We wonder if we’ll be able to handle what life brings.

Think about the one or two biggest fears you face. Take the time to talk to God about them. Ask him to show you how committed to you he is. Rest in his presence, and let the truth of his faithfulness calm your heart. Your God is always with you, and his love has the power to cast out all fear (1 John 4:18)!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas is love in action. ... Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas.

Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.”― Frederick Buechner, ("The Magnificent Defeat")

Gospel Text: (LK 2:1-14)
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
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.”

St Luke tells us that the first to know about the birth of the child were shepherds in a field tending their sheep.  What is unusual about this is that shepherds were considered outcasts of society.  In the eyes of society they were considered to be of shiftless and dishonest character.  In the Old Testament they were classified along with prostitutes, publicans, and tax collectors. They were selected to be the first to hear the Good News that the Messiah was born, the Savior.  They received the message and went to witness the Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, with Mary and Joseph.

It is important to note that the Shepherds announced to Mary and Joseph what they were told by the Angels.  They also proclaimed the good news to all they met, and were filled with joy.  It is not to be missed that the first to preach and proclaim the Good News of the Incarnation were these shepherds, the poor, the despised, the outcasts of society.  Everyone is responsible for sharing the Good News, no matter who we are, and what our circumstance may be.  And it is also important for us to listen to the Good News, for Salvation is presented to us. 

How do we get to Bethlehem? 

Like Mary and Joseph, by our routine family responsibilities.  Like the shepherds, we need to listen for the messengers of God, who bring the Good News to us.  When this happens we are restored to wholeness, which the Incarnation brings.  We are rescued from sin and our alienation from God. Through us God is made present to the outcasts.  Jesus, who became one with us, saves us from destruction and self isolation.  Karl Barth said that "The Incarnation, is God's search for human kind."  This search is continued through you and me as we live out the mystery of God taking on human nature.  This continues through the Church.  This continues the reality that is Christmas. 

Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

“Christmas doesn't come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more....”

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?” ― Bob Hope (American Actor 1903 – 2003)

Gospel Text: (LK 1:67-79)
Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
for he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hand of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Jesus was born into a very lowly place. This is the wonderful sign of God's self-emptying. This is how God chose to come and be among us - as a new born baby, in a manger, a feeding trough. Our Savior comes in this way, and it can become most meaningful today, if we let ourselves “chew” this good news, in the midst of whatever we are doing. It can mean so much if we let it. It can be a part of what we celebrate tonight and tomorrow. Yes, there might be people and parties, and there might be gifts shared. But, we can be filled with something our world will likely not be celebrating - that our God is a God who desires to meet us in the lowliest places in our lives.

God with us, Jesus, comes to "save his people from their sins."