Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Joy of Imperfection

Readings for Sunday, December 27/ Holy Family Sunday:
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28
Psalm 128
1 John 3:1-2, 21-24
Luke 2:41-52

Merry Christmas! Here I make my annual encouragement to keep those Christmas decorations up as we have only just begun the Christmas season. We have another two weeks of reflecting on the profound implications of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Today Mother Church celebrates the feast of Holy Family and invites us to reflection upon the mystery that the Son not only took on our humanity in flesh and blood, but that He even grew up in the midst of a family to be like us in all things but sin.

The Gospel we just heard about the finding of the Lord at the Temple is one of those that can be something of a sigh of relief for us all, and particularly for parents. We know that the Holy Family – the incarnate Son of God, the sinless ever Virgin Mary, and the pure and holy St. Joseph – is a model for families to look to and imitate, but I’ve heard from several people that they struggle with that model because it seems, well…perfect. The passage we just heard helps us to realize that while Jesus, Mary, & Joseph were sinless, that doesn’t mean that they were perfect. Sinless, but not perfect. I’m sure there were many nights when little baby Jesus didn’t sleep straight through the night (especially with that little drummer boy parumpapumpuming outside the door) and Mary and Joseph struggled to tend to His needs. I’m sure there were times when they were at their wits end trying to raise their son and discern what was best for Him. I bet that Mary and Joseph on at least a few occasions had little disagreements themselves that might have strained things a little bit. These and more remind us that thought they were sinless, they weren’t perfect.  

On Friday I was taking part in the annual tradition that my family often observes on Christmas Day of watching the movie A Christmas Story, the story of little Ralphie and his own experience of imperfect family life. As I sat there watching it I began to tie that experience with the story of the Holy Family and three things came to my mind and heart.

The first thing that struck me was ‘The Scott Farkus Incident’ when Ralphie beats up the bully that had been chasing he and his friends around the whole movie. As he was on top of the boy punching him relentlessly, a string of obscenities came out of his mouth that he didn’t foresee, intend, or have any ability to stop. The interesting thing about that is that it was exactly what his father would do at various points throughout the movie – sputtering and muttering a string of (more growls than actual words) obscenities. His father was an example that he followed to the ‘t’, although the example wasn’t really a good one. In contrast we have the Holy Family in the Gospel going up to offer the festival sacrifice in Jerusalem. They fact is that they, too, were setting an example. It was Jesus custom that only the father of the family had to go to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifice on behalf of the family, but St. Luke tells us that they all three were going up and that it was their normal custom to do so. Mary and Joseph were not only fulfilling obligations but were going above and beyond them, travelling together to celebrate their faith and to honor the Lord God. They were setting the example quite clearly for Jesus that ‘this is our faith and we are proud to profess it’ (as our baptismal rites remark).  They set the example and we can be sure that the child Jesus had learned the implications of it over the years.

The second things that struck me about the movie was when Ralphie went to help his dad change the car tire. What caught my ear was his response when his mom suggested that he go help: “Never had it even been suggested that I help my father with anything.” And as he hopped out of the car to help you could see the delight on his face and the enthusiasm in his voice. I know for myself that I can easily miss the immense good that can come from inviting others to do things along with us. Whether it’s children, grandchildren, godchildren, nieces, nephews, someone else’s kids, or even our peers or elders, there is a great gift in asking others to help with things. I can remember countless times where I was asked to help fix something or paint something at my house, knowing full well that my parents would have to go back and re-do it and clean up the mess I’d made trying to do it the first time. The bigger picture is that when we invite others to join with us, we honor their dignity and show them that they are loved and wanted. St. Joseph showed that same things to Jesus in this journey. It was custom also in the Jewish world that boys would become men in the eyes of the law at the age of 13 and would begin making journeys to the Temple soon themselves and so the fathers would begin to take them along when they were 11 or 12 to get used to the trip and introduce them to their faith. St. Joseph was essentially bringing Jesus along not only because Mary was coming but also to help him transition to manhood. I wonder what conversations were had. Did he teach him about the paths to take or places to stop along the way? Did they discuss the prayers that are prayed and what sacrifices are done and how? Did he explain why these things were done to begin with and help the boy to grasp the honor he was giving God? Surely the boy Jesus knew these and many other things, but it was at the invitation of Joseph that He began to be truly a son of the Father under the Law. How often do we do the same in our own lives?

The last point that this passage and the movie highlighted were that it is okay not to be perfect. When God took on flesh He did so not in a way that was sanitary and clean, away from our sinfulness and messiness. He was born in a place where there was no home to stay in and laid in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals. He came not to avoid the messiness of life but to walk with us in it and to sanctify us by it. We may not be sinless like the Holy Family, but we are called to do our best in the midst of the messiness that is this life. We are called to holiness not separated from our daily life, but in the course of it. And this the Holy Family teaches us. Jesus misunderstood, Mary and Joseph were frustrated and anxious. But at the end, they went home and all continue to grow in God’s grace and favor. May the Holy Family watch over us always and help us to be holy families to shine for others.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Preparing by Receiving

Readings for Sunday, December 20/ 4th Sunday of Advent:
Micah 5:1-4
Psalm 80
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

In the past three weeks we’ve looked at preparing for the Lord’s coming by singing and lifting up our hearts, seeking reconciliation with God and others, and by giving of the gifts we’ve received. As we celebrate this last weekend of Advent, the way of preparation I invite you to join me in is reflecting on how we respond when He comes to us here at Mass. It’s been said that each Mass is like a mini-Christmas, with the Christ coming in flesh and blood her on the altar, surrounded by swaddling altar cloths and receiving the song of the angels as on the night of His birth.

The Gospel is the continuation of the story of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her the plan of God and her place in it. Some have said that Mary goes out in haste to Elizabeth’s house because she’s afraid of what Gabriel revealed to her, but that doesn’t sound like the Blessed Mother who joins her Son in crushing the head of Satan. Instead of hastening in fear, she does so filled with a heart of charity. Having given her ‘yes’ to the Lord through the angel, she conceived the Lord God in her womb and having contact with Christ, she is compelled by charity to reach out to her cousin Elizabeth, who will most certainly be in need of assistance. Upon her arrival, St. John the Baptist leaps in the womb of Elizabeth and the proclamation of the Savior begins. St. Elizabeth, being filled with the Holy Spirit, cries out in a loud voice praising God and acknowledging Mary as the mother of her Lord. What strikes me is that each of these three people encounters Christ and responds immediately with some physical response – hastening to the countryside, leaping in the womb, crying out in praise. So how do we respond?

Before we look at how we respond, let’s look at how we prepare. The Church invites us to prepare for Holy Communion in specific ways. First is to be able to fast for one hour before receiving Holy Communion (this includes gum!). Some of you may remember a time when you were prohibited from eating or drinking anything other than water after midnight. The point of that was to have a little bit of hunger in the stomach to remind us that we ought to hunger for Christ above all things and that he alone is the one who can satisfy the longings of our hearts. The current practice of a one hour fast doesn’t give us the hunger pangs in our stomach, but it can provide us the chance to simply be mindful about preparing ourselves to receive Our Lord. A second thing the Church invites us to do in preparing for Holy Communion is ensuring that we’re in a state of grace. If we are in a state of mortal sin (from having intentionally skipped Sunday Mass or some other serious sin), then the Church advises us not to receive Holy Communion because we have separated ourselves from the Lord by sin and so what is done in our body (Communion) is not the reality in our soul (separation). Being in these two states, the Church further advises (but doesn’t mandate) that we spend some time actually preparing our mind and heart for the encounter with Jesus Christ by observing silence, spending some moments in prayer, and entering into the prayer of the Mass.

The preparation leads to the encounter itself: the joy of receiving Holy Communion. Prior to the 1970’s Holy Communion was received kneeling and on the tongue exclusively. Since then the practice has become rather widespread to receive standing and in the hand. Interestingly, the Church never said we should change the posture of receiving Holy Communion and still sees reception standing and in the hand as a permission in certain conditions, but not a universal norm. The reason is because the Most Blessed Sacrament is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ our God and we are invited to acknowledge such in our actions, much like Mary, John & Elizabeth. Kneeling to receive Holy Communion forces one to be humbled before the Lord and experience it as a unique moment. When else do we kneel down in the course of our daily life to celebrate the arrival of a particular person? Never. Not only that, but the reception on the tongue also has spiritual and practical implications. The spiritual aspect is that in simply opening our mouth to receive the Host, we acknowledge that it is the Lord who feeds us our daily bread – including the Eucharist – and increases our trust in Him. We can call to mind the words of Psalm 81 when the Lord says to us “Open your mouth and I will feed you.” Practically, it helps to reverence the Blessed Sacrament. Some of you may have noticed that after consecrating the Sacred Host I keep my thumb and forefinger together for the rest of the prayers until the vessels are purified. This is because I know that the bread for the hosts isn’t entirely crumb-free, but that there are small pieces of the Blessed Sacrament on my hands and I don’t want them to be lost in the book, on the altar, the floor, my microphone or any other place. My invitation to you is that if you do choose to receive Holy Communion in the hand, then be mindful of what you’re doing. Bow before you come forward to receive, but then after receiving, look at your hand to see if any small pieces remain. The Council of Trent in the 1500’s clearly stated that if a particle of the Consecrated Host can be seen, it contains the fullness of Divine Life. So…please, look at your hands. Notice if there is even the smallest of pieces and consume it rather than letting it fall to who-knows-where. If we held the Infant Lord in our hands, we would reverence Him with great care and love. Why not honor the Eucharist the same?

And after encountering our Lord…we ask ourselves ‘what should we do?’ like the people last weekend. We should pause for a moment and speak the Lord. In the silence of our heart we respond to the fact that our Lord is not an impersonal Lord but a person who desires to speak and be spoken to. In the encounter we speak the desires and needs of our hearts, we lift up praise like Elizabeth for the good things He’s done. Then having conversed with Our Lord we then go out and share the good news of the God who love us.

So how do we prepare for the coming of the Lord? Celebrate Him well each week and draw nearer to Him each day. What better way to honor ‘God with us’.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Source of Eternal Life. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Giving and Preparing

Zephaniah 3:14-18
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

***This is a shorter version of the actual homily text I preached, but for the sake of posting something … here it is.***

The Gospel this weekend challenges us quite clearly – if we have two cloaks, give one to someone without one, and if we have food do the same. It’s a call to recognize the gifts we have received and to share them with those in need. The Lord commands us to do these things – they are not nice suggestions or counsels for some people in the Body of Christ. It is a command for each and all to share our gifts for the building up of the Church and the world. St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians: “What do you possess that you did not first receive?” and if we have received them as gifts, ought we not to share them?

As a concrete response to this Gospel call to share with others, I want to invite each of you to bring a grocery bag of food to Mass next week for us to donate to our local food pantry. We’ve traditionally had the food basket out for the fall each year but following the emphasis of Pope Francis upon the corporal work of mercy of feeding the hungry, we will now keep it out all year round for us to continue to support the food pantry. To this also we will add our newly repainted state of St. Anthony and a little ‘poor box’ for donations to the needy in our parish community. I thank you in advance for your generosity.

My second invitation for you is to spend a bit of time reflecting on your gifts throughout this coming week. In the Gospel John is approached by a tax collectors, soldiers, and many others and asked what they ought to do in response to the call to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. The response for each was a bit different depending on their own labors and reminds us that the Lord invites us most often to serve Him in the places where we are already present. Simply put, God has given us all specific gifts and brought us to certain places for some specific reason. So what gifts might He be seeking to use in you for the good of others? And think outside the box. Can you sew? There are ways to serve in the altar society but also others in our community. Are you creative in decorating? Use it to help others who don’t have the gift. Are you a social butterfly? Use that to bring people to the Lord or to be a pleasant face to welcome them when they’re at church. Are you good at planning activities or running them? There are places for you. Do you have a great love of our faith? Start a small prayer group or Bible study. Do you have a strong back or construction skills? Put that at the service of others who are in need of them. If you have extra food or clothes or things around the house, consider donating them. Are you struggling with not being able to do very much because of health or age? Pray! Prayer is the engine that keeps the parish running and a vital gift in any community. These are just a few of thousands of options that the Lord has graced us with. So the question is what are your gifts? What is it that the Lord might be inviting you to put at the service of others and who might that person or persons be?

The fascinating thing about this command of Jesus Christ to give of ourselves is that while it might seem to be difficult, it is actually a means of teaching us where to find true joy. May we have the grace to follow His word and rejoice in knowing the nearness of Christ as we serve Him in those in need.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come, O source of joy. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


One of the books I’m readings currently is a novel by Michael O’Brien, Plague Journal, written as if it were a journal. One section that grabbed my attention was his reflection on a recent art exhibit in the town. The selections of art were all done by the children of the community and he noted that most were images of pop stars, some of new age spiritualities, others were depictions of chaotic events around the world at the time, and lastly there was a simply painting of some horses. He recounts his frustration that while the painting of the horses was deserving of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards all together on account of the beauty, detail, richness, and technique of the child. It was truly a work of art. And yet it received none of the above and not even an honorable mention because the judges came in and quickly passed it over to come to things that were more interesting to them, things that fit their personal agendas and mindsets.

This comes to mind because what we encounter in the Gospel of St. Luke is a wonderful work of art, parts of which can easily be passed over as one tries to get to the part they want to hear. Luke’s was the third Gospel written (it’s not for no reason that the Gospel are ordered Matthew-Mark-Luke-John…that’s the order they were composed) and had the advantage of bring Matthew and Mark together with his own sources to compile a profound work of art in recounting the Gospel of Our Lord. We see this in the great detail that he employs at the introduction to today’s section on St. John the Baptist – a whole list of names, places, and a time cue to bring it all home. This brilliant structure from St. Luke draws one into the truth that the Gospel of Christ is not ‘Once upon a time…” but rather a story that is true, filled with people, plans, and dates that all are fresh in the minds of the first hearers. The reality of it emphasizes that St. John’s words are not just a nice story but are a call to actual conversion of life, to preparing the way because Christ is coming into the world.

The prophets Baruch and Isaiah both speak of preparing the way and the temptation for us today is always a spiritual thought process, but they speak also of a physical preparation. When a king was coming to a town outside the city they would often level the hills, fill the valleys, and straighten and fill the roads so he could come quickly, lest he be delayed and ambushed along the journey. To prepare the way is to be able to clear all obstacles away so as to enable the King to come and come quickly. Thy Kingdom come now, Lord.

Last weekend I proposed to you a practical suggestion for preparing the way for the Lord to come to us, and that was singing. This weekend the Lord invites us to prepare the way in the manner noted by the prophets and removing those things from our lives that prevent encounters with our King. We’re invited to be reconciled.

The first point of reconciliation is with others, horizontal reconciliation. To offer forgiveness to someone who has hurt you or to ask forgiveness of someone you may have hurt. Over and over I’ve heard retreat talks drive this point home of reconciling with others, even if only in small issues. I wrote a note to someone once forgiving them for something that I was holding against them and they were quite surprised to find that I was upset with them at all! But in the moment I opened up the conversation and we had a really great talk and were even closer than before at the end. By reaching out to another person and seeking reconciliation and greater unity, we clear the roadways and level things to be able to encounter Christ in them and for them to encounter Christ in us. It also has the bonus of building us up in virtue, such as those of humility, patience, charity, and courage.

The second point is the most important one because it is our reconciliation with the Lord God Himself. This is the main call of the prophets, when we get down to it. It’s the invitation to set our sins aside and to allow the holiness of God to sanctify us. The great thing about this act of reconciliation with God is that it is largely done by him. Whereas in human relationships there are risks that we may not be forgiven or the other person may not be sorry they hurt us, in our relationship with God we are assured that if we seek reconciliation it will be done. God will clear the way, level the mountains and fill the valleys for us! The reality is that our sins – great and small alike – make it difficult for us to encounter the Lord because our desires are disordered, our ability to hear His voice is weakened, and we struggle to have the courage to do His will because we’re accustomed to seeking our own. There are countless reasons why we avoid going to confession to be reconciled with God, but there is one reason to go that trumps them all and that is the love of God for us, His beloved children. Don’t be afraid – come to confession! Be thorough, holding nothing back and giving all to Christ, allowing Him to heal us.

The last piece in reconciliation is being reconciled with our self. We can receive and give forgiveness to others. We can receive and even give forgiveness to God. But the hardest part is forgiving ourselves. We cling to our guilt and pain, not wanting to let them go. We believe ourselves unable to ‘really’ be forgiven. And, interestingly enough, we can hold ourselves to a higher level of perfection than God actually requires of us in that moment. He knows we are but little children trying to make our way home to Heaven, fumbling and bumbling along the way at times. And yet in those moments it is we ourselves, who refuse to acknowledge our own weakness but rather demand greater strength than we ourselves are able to muster. Forgiveness of self is vital in the life of the Christian. Let us ask the Lord for the grace to live out the call of the prophets to ‘take off your robe of mourning and misery and put on the splendor of glory from God forever’!

Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Prince of Peace. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Papal Intentions for December 2015

Papal Intentions for December 2015

Universal Intention: That all may experience the mercy of God, who never tires of forgiving.
Mission Intention: That families, especially those who suffer, may find in the birth of Jesus a sign of certain hope.

Prayer for the Pope

V. Let us pray for Francis, our Pope.
R. May the Lord preserve him, give him life, 
and make him blessed upon the earth, 
and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.
Our Father... Hail Mary...
O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. 
Through Christ our Lord.