Sunday, December 10, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent

John the Baptist makes his appearance each Second Sunday of Advent with the message to prepare our hearts and make straight our paths for the coming of the Lord.

The people were excited by John’s preaching and baptizing at the Jordan for they recognized him as Elijah come again, which was the sign the Messiah would soon make his appearance.  People responded to John’s call for baptism and were encouraged by the promise that One greater than John would baptize them with the Holy Spirit.

For us, of course, that has happened already.  We have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, ready to counsel us and defend us and give us the words we need, all as Jesus promised at the Last Supper.  All we need do is ask and then submit to the Spirit’s guidance in our lives. 

Yet, John’s message, especially as prophesied by Isaiah in today’s first reading, is still pertinent to our lives.  In order to see the Lord more clearly, we need to make straight our paths.  The valleys that need to be filled in are those places we can fall into that cause us to struggle to find a way out.  Temptations or even sins such as selfishness, self-pity or fear provide moments in very dark and gloomy valleys.  The mountains that need to be laid low are the more major areas of sinfulness with which we struggle: anger, greed, hatred, laziness, lust, and pride.  John’s call to repent of our sins, to change our lives, to head in another direction, is not once and for all, but is a constant need for all of us who desire to grow in holiness.

Not matter how far we have fallen or how high the obstacles that keep us from God, Isaiah reminds us in the first reading that God is like a shepherd for us and will do whatever is needed to keep us safe and well fed.  All we need do is listen for God’s voice, follow the Lord’s call, and trust in God’s mercy and love. 

The second letter of Peter reminds us that God is patient and that too is an assurance for us.  We don’t need to do everything at once.  We ought not to rush because that will only end in failure and discouragement.  Our striving for holiness is a life-long journey. 

We would be wise to ask the Lord for the two virtues that John the Baptist had: humility and perseverance.  John knew that it was all about Jesus, not himself, and John persevered in doing what he knew God called him to do each and every day of his life.  He was willing to prepare and wait patiently for years in the desert.  He then preached and baptized tirelessly when God called him to do that.  And he gladly decreased, so that Christ might increase.  Most importantly, he was faithful to the truth right up to the end, even when it cost him his head in prison. 

The message of Advent and Christmas is that we are loved and God desires to come to us.  And so we work at making our paths straight so that we can see the Lord more clearly.  When we see, may we respond with humility and great gratitude, ever more ready to follow Jesus wherever He leads.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

First Sunday of Advent

We have heard the story of the high school student who decides to have a party because his parents are going away for the weekend.  The house is packed with his friends, and all of their friends, and others he doesn’t even know.  Everyone is having a good time: drinking, smoking and dancing to loud music.  And then without anyone even noticing, the father walks in; his wife had gotten sick and she insisted they turn around and go home.

There was no one watching the door.  The sudden appearance of the father, too upset even to speak, silences everyone, who quickly head for the door.  There is no time to do anything else.

That scenario always comes to my mind when I hear today’s gospel parable.  Jesus’ last word is simply, “Watch.”  And watch we should, for He is coming again in glory at a time when no one knows.  We need to be prepared, for when He appears, it will be too late to do anything else.

In today’s first reading, Isaiah cries out to God our Father and asks God to rend the heavens and come down.  The people are in need of God and God’s appearance among them.  Hundreds of years later, the prayer is answered and God quietly appears among us as a little baby born to a young girl with only her trusting husband in attendance.  The only ones who will arrive later are some young shepherds who had been out in the field and were amazed at what angels told them, and some wise men who journeyed from afar being led by a star.

Advent calls us to prepare for the Second Coming that will catch all unaware, but will be made manifest to all who are alive for it will be awesome and glorious.   Yet, Advent is also when we remember the first coming in Bethlehem, which was the beginning of God’s saving the world in time through the power of love.

God wants us all to be saved.  As told by Isaiah, and then later by Jesus, our God is a loving Father who calls us by name into a relationship.  Our Father, and Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, desire that we know, love, and serve their Majesty.  In the second reading, Paul reminds the Corinthians that our God is faithful and will give us the spiritual gifts we need and desire.

Advent then is about both watching for and preparing for God’s coming into our lives.  Advent is an invitation to pray, to ponder the goodness of God, especially the person of Jesus Christ.  We are to deepen our relationship with Him through personal prayer, reading and studying the Scripture, and availing ourselves of the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist that will make us more like the One we love.  We are invited to experience the power of the Holy Spirit leading us into greater holiness. 

We trust that God will provide for us, but it is up to us to give the time, discipline, and energy needed to come to know the Lord.  Advent is a gift of twenty-two days to set aside distractions, fight laziness, silence our minds, and ponder God’s goodness to us.  Then, in imitation of Mary, we will say “Yes” to what God asks.   Like Joseph, we will pay attention to the different ways God speaks so as not to miss a message the Lord has for us.  

As Jesus said, “Watch.”  Our God will come.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today’s feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is a relatively new one. It was first celebrated in 1925 at a time in Europe when evil men were coming to leadership and the Holy Father thought it good to remind us that it is Christ who reigns over all.

In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel tells God’s people that the Lord God is a shepherd for them.  The Lord God will protect them and provide for them and in the end will judge them.  During his public ministry, Jesus spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd and in today’s parable tells us that there will be a final judgment, as Ezekiel prophesied, similar to a shepherd separating sheep from goats.

It’s a comfort and a powerful assurance to us then to know that our King and Lord is like a shepherd who only wants good things for us.  Jesus has laid down his life for us on the cross and is ready to help us in any way in order that, in the end, we share in the fullness of his Kingdom in heaven for all eternity.

The gospel parable reminds us too that the one thing our Eternal King asks of us is that we care for the weak and those in need.  We are to imitate him in every way, looking out for those who need us and then responding when we see that person.  The amazing part of the parable is that Jesus tells us when we are there for others, it is he whom we are serving.  It’s not as if we are serving those who are like Jesus.  We are serving the Risen Christ himself standing before us, as St. Teresa of Calcutta says, often in “the distressing disguise of the poor.”  And, of course, we remember that those in need are many times those closest to us: our family, our friends, people we see each day of our lives.

Holiness takes root and grows in us when we can see with the eyes of faith that it is Jesus who is before us.  St. Alphonsus Rodriguez was a Jesuit brother who was a doorkeeper for years, and when there was a knock, he responded with a quick prayer, “I’m coming, Jesus.”  St. Faustina also had times when she tended the door and she too knew that it was Jesus who would be there asking for something.  We need to be like Alphonsus and Faustina.

We need to ask for that same grace they had: to know and see that it is Jesus himself who needs us.  It is similar to the faith we have that enables us to look beyond the appearances of bread and wine to know that is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist.

The Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is our brother, our savior, and our shepherd.  He comes to us each and every day so that we can serve him, provide for him, and love him. 

We need to spend time each day in quiet prayer, asking for the eyes to see him, the willingness to serve him, and the heart to love him.  When we do that, we can be confident that we will blessed on the Day of Judgment and will be welcomed into the Kingdom that will never end.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s parable, fear and laziness got the third servant in trouble with the master.  Things did not end well, to say the least.

On the other hand, the first two servants, grateful for what they had been given, immediately set out to share and invest and see what would happen.  They were willing to take risks and no doubt were joyful with what resulted.  In the end, they were rewarded.

Rather than seeing God as a demanding master, this parable serves as an invitation to examine what is behind our thoughts and actions.  What is the image we have of God?  Is there any fear there?  What do we think God thinks of us?  Do we know deep down that we are loved infinitely and always? What is it that God wants from us? Do we consider that a blessing or a burden?  What do we hope to have accomplished with our lives when we come to the end?

Fear has no place in a Christian’s life.  Our God is love. Love surrounds us.  Love is the first and last word in all that we know about the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Perfect love casts out fear.

Laziness is sinful.  It is wrong and can result in no good. If we are lazy, we do not work, and, more importantly, we do not love.  God trusts us to be like Jesus: to love, to serve, to bring hope and peace to others.

If we need to make changes in regards to any of this, now is the time.  Tomorrow may be too late.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Scriptures in these last weeks of the liturgical year remind us that things will come to an end: both our lives and the world.  Christ will come in glory at the end of the world, and when we die, whenever that will be, Christ will stand.  The question, then, is: are we ready?

The parable of the bridesmaids waiting for the Bridegroom features some young women who are ready and others who are not.  Those who are ready are all set.  They had fallen asleep, but have what they need when it is time.  They are welcomed into the celebration.  But those who are ready, who lack the oil to join in the procession, miss out.  It is too late. The door is closed.  They are turned away.

Both the first reading from the book of Wisdom and Jesus’ parable point out the necessity of wisdom.  Wisdom provides a certain knowledge that enables the wise to be aware of what is important and what is essential.  Wisdom empowers them to make sound judgments.  Wisdom also makes them prudent, so that they can act with care and thought for the future.  The wise have foresight that allows them to see what will happen and what will be needed in various situations that may arise.  The wise are indeed blessed. 

Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit; as Christians we are given wisdom, but we need to accept it and use it.  God wants us to be wise and will continue to pour out wisdom on those who seek it.  When we act wisely, we will grow in virtue and holiness and will follow the paths God would have us walk.  Like the wise virgins, those who are wise need not fear when the time comes to stand before the Bridegroom.

The oil in the parable is a symbol of what is needed to be pleasing to the Lord: a life of prayer, good deeds done to those in need, kindness and love for all.  We believe and hope and trust in God, as we seek to align our will with God’s will.  People with such gifts have begged the Lord for them and have cooperated with God’s grace and have them in service of others.  Like the oil that the wise virgins had, such holiness cannot be shared with others, such as the foolish virgins, who have neither desired it, nor worked for it.

Those who will not be prepared for the coming of the bridegroom are certainly foolish, but they are lazy as well.  Seeking holiness is not easy.  It demands discipline and persistence and the decision to get up and start again after every fall.  The foolish way is always the easy way.  While wisdom is rewarding, it is demanding as well.

Although it may seem morbid to some, we ought to consider the end of our lives.  When everything is over, will we have done our best with what God gave us?  Will we have lived for the Lord or for ourselves?  Ask the questions.  Consider what is needed.  Then go to God and ask for wisdom and prudence.  Ask for humility and holiness.  Above all, ask for love, both to know it and to show it.  With God, it is never too late to start again.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

“No humility, no holiness.  No holiness, no heaven.”  We will not make it to heaven until we are humble.  It's not an option only for the pious.  We are all called to be humble, just as Jesus humbled himself in the Incarnation and the Crucifixion.  If we are to be genuine followers of Jesus, we need to live and speak humbly. 

In the first reading, the prophet Malachi has a strong word from the Lord for the priests who have not followed the way that had been marked out for them.  With their poor teaching, they have caused others to falter.  They have shown partiality and not recognized others as their equals.  They have failed in humility in every way.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is very critical of the scribes and the Pharisees, who have made life difficult for others.  They have not practiced what they preach.  With their fancy religious garb, seats of honor and titles of respect, they have looked out only for themselves.  They have not been humble, nor have they been servants.   

In the second reading, we hear Paul telling the Thessalonians that when he was with them, he cared for them like a mother with her small children, being careful not to burden them in any way.  He had affection for them and they became dear to him the more he served them.  Paul was humble in word and action and, as a result,  God blessed Paul's work of furthering the gospel.

Humility is the opposite of pride, which always puts oneself first, and then puts everyone else, including God, a distant second place. There's only room for one important person in the mind of the proud.  Humble people, on the other hand, always recognizes that God is first, others are second, and they are third.  Humility has come to see that without God we are nothing and trying to live without God in first place is destined to be a disaster.  But when we are humble, we have peace in our hearts, life has a meaning, eventually we are given a sense of fulfillment. 

What humility requires is that we surrender everything to God. We let God call the shots, set the pace, lead us in the way we should walk.  We have to set aside our will and seek God’s will.  Each and every day, we admit we can’t go it alone and do what needs to be done, but we believe that God can do it, and so we let God do it for us.  We won’t do it well every day, but we start anew each morning trusting our failings to God’s mercy, believing that the Lord always offers a new start.

Humble people approach every situation in life with the spirit of a servant.  As Jesus tells his disciples, if we want to be great, we need to be a servant.  No matter where we are or what we are doing, we ought to ask: What can I do to help? What does this person before me need right now?  How might I be an instrument of God here?

People who are humble focus on others instead of themselves.  They are willing to serve others.  And in doing that, they are imitating Jesus, who came to serve rather than to be served.  As Christians, we are to be servants of the Christ, who is our Master.  We are all children of the Father and as such have a responsibility to care for one another.  The pride of the priests to whom Malachi prophesied and the scribes and Pharisees of whom Jesus spoke blinded them to any sense of responsibility.  We cannot allow ourselves to suffer the same fate. 

God never asks us to do something without promising to give what we need to get it done.  We simply have to ask God with confidence, knowing that the Lord delights in giving us gifts.  In light of today's Scriptures, today we pray for humility and for a deeper understanding that we are all children of the same Father.  We pray that we will have the hearts and the eyes of a servant.  And  then being grateful for what we will be given, we set about our daily work, asking God to keep us from being those who do not practice what they preach.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s gospel is short, but powerful.  Jesus is being tested again.  When asked which commandment is the greatest, he quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, which captures the essence of the Jewish faith about loving the Lord God with everything one has.  But then he speaks of a second law about loving the neighbor as oneself.  And he says that the whole law and all of the prophets depend on those two commandments: love of God and love of neighbor.  Perfect answer.  No more need be said.

Our first reading from Exodus reminds us that the Lord God wants his people to care for their neighbors who have no one else: widows, orphans, and strangers.  God will hear their cry and he expects others to respond to their cry as well. Not doing so will incite God’s wrath.  The Lord is clear and quite serious about the matter.  Again, no more need be said.

In the second reading, Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians that they ought to be imitators of the Lord.   Who is it that Jesus thought needed care?  Whom did he seek out?  If we are to imitate the Lord, then we need to ponder who was close to Jesus’ heart, as the widow, orphan, and stranger, were close to his Father’s heart. 

Often Jesus sought out those who were excluded by others.  He also enjoyed being with children and blessing them, even though his disciples tried to push them along.  Jesus chose to be with and share a meal with sinners and tax collectors.  Prostitutes and those suffering from evil spirits were not welcome company to most people, but Jesus befriended them and loved them.  And by being with them without condemning them, all those people, young and old, good and bad, were changed and welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. 

We need to imitate the Lord.  We need to have an open heart and a willingness to include others rather than exclude them.  We ought to ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see those whom Jesus would have us love.  And then we need to do precisely that with everything we’ve got: heart, soul, and mind.  When we do that, God will be both glorified and grateful.