Happy New Year

As I sat down to write this, the little Weather Bug thingy on my laptop started to chirp.  That means there’s some kind of watch or warning going on.  Would you believe we’re under a Tornado Watch in eastern Missouri?  I checked the radar and there’s a huge storm bearing down on Saint Louis.  We’re expecting a high today possibly in the lower 70s.  A week ago today we were buried in snow.  But, that’s Saint Louis weather.  The low tonight is expected to be near 30.  That’s a 40 degree drop.

But, that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.  It’s New Year’s Eve.  Out with the old.  In with the new.  Of course, that’s all psychological; just a mark on the calendar.  Tomorrow is still tomorrow even though it’s the first day of 2011.  Some of us will make “resolutions” that may or may not endure.  My lovely and talented wife works for a national weight loss chain.  Come Monday there will be long lines wanting to join.  Some will actually lose some weight.  Some won’t.

Likewise, some of us will make spiritual resolutions.  Pray more.  Go to confession.  Be kinder to my neighbors.  Again, some of us will be successful.  Some of us won’t.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  As Matthew Kelly, the famous Catholic author and speaker says, God wants us to be the best version of ourselves.  He doesn’t want us to be a poor copy of someone else.  He wants us to be the best version of the creature He created.  Each of us is unique in our talents and gifts.  He didn’t create me to be a mediocre you and He didn’t create you to be a mediocre me.

So, as we enter this new set of 365 days, let’s resolve to appreciate what God’s given us and to make the best possible use of those gifts.  I highly reccomend that you get a copy of Kelly’s book, Rediscovering Roman Catholicism.  You can get a free copy from his web site.

To all of you and your loved ones, I wish you a very safe, holy, and

Happy New Year!

Update:  As I’m finishing this, the sirens are going off, meaning that the tornado watch has turned into a tornado warning.  I think I’ll go to the basement now.

Simeon

I don’t know why, but Simion has always been one of my favorite characters in Scripture.  He didn’t have a big part in the story, in fact this passage is the only time we hear about him, but he had a crucial part.  His single appearance in Luke’s Gospel is part of the daily prayer of the Church.  It’s part of night prayer and it’s called the Canticle of Simion.

 

Simion’s been waiting for a long time, hanging around the temple, because the Lord told him he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah.  Today’s the day!  He actually gets to hold the Child in his arms.  His time on earth is complete. “Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”

 

But, then Luke says something that seems confusing.  He writes that “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.” Didn’t they already know?  Hadn’t the angels revealed to them who their Son was?  I think they did.  But, maybe they were amazed that Simeon knew.  After all, at this point, the baby was just days old.  As far as Mary and Joseph knew, the truth about their Son was known only to the shepherds in Bethlehem.

 

But Simeon knew.  If he knew, who else knew?  Could it be that reality was starting to sink in.  Even raising a normal, everyday baby is a whole lot different than most parents expect.  Mary and Joseph were to raise an extraordinary baby.  There would be challenges and difficulties that they couldn’t possibly imagine.  Their meeting with Simion was just the beginning.

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted
(and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Mary and Joseph must have left the temple thinking, “what have we gotten ourselves into?”

You and I face challenges every day.  Sometimes God asks us to do things that we never expected; things we think we can’t possibly do.  But, like Mary and Joseph, He always gives us the grace to do whatever He asks.  All we have to do is say “yes”.

 


4th Sunday of Advent–What Would Joseph Do?

Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid, so real, that you could swear that it really happened?  Have you ever had an angel speak to you in a dream?  I haven’t but I have friends who swear they have and I have no reason to doubt their word.

 

Don’t you sometimes wish an angel WOULD speak to you.  It would definitely make it easier to make some decisions.  Should I change jobs?  Should I invest all my money in gold?  Should I take that trip I’ve been thinking about?  Wouldn’t it be nice if an angel would show up, kind of like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life?

 

The thing is, if it did happen, would we believe it?  Remember, George Baily didn’t believe Clarence.  He thought either Clarence was crazy, or he was crazy.  Whether our angel shows up in a dream or as we’re about to jump off a bridge, we’re probably going to be skeptical.

 

So, here’s Joseph.  First his fiancé comes up pregnant with a crazy story about the Holy Spirit.  I’m sure Joseph said something to Mary like “I may have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night.”  The relationship must have been on shaky ground.  Joseph was a businessman.  He had a reputation to protect.  What will people think when his young future wife’s tunic starts to bulge?  Either they’ll think it’s his, which was a terrible scandal in those days, or they’ll think it’s not his, which would be even worse.  Oy, veh!  What to do, what to do?

 

Then one night he has this dream.  An angel appears to Joseph and tells him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home.  Her story about the Holy Spirit is true.  This child will save his people from their sins.

 

Fortunately for you and me, Joseph took the angel at his word.  He didn’t write off the dream as the result of eating pizza before he went to bed, like I might do.  No, his faith made him believe.

 

But, why do we hear this story the week before Christmas?  Why has the Church decided that Joseph’s actions are important.  The Sunday before Christmas is kind of “prime time” in the Liturgical Year.  Unless you come to mass every day, this is the last message you’re going to hear before we celebrate Jesus’ birth.

 

Face it, even if Joseph had said “forget it, I’m outa here”, Jesus still would have been born.  He still would have saved us from our sins.  Heck, we don’t even know what happened to Joseph after the incident where Jesus stays behind at the temple.  We don’t know how he died and there’s not a single word spoken by him in the entire New Testament.

 

We don’t pray the “Hail Joseph” and there are very few songs written about him.  But he must be an important part of the story or we wouldn’t be reading this particular Gospel on this particular day.  Here’s what I think.

 

Joseph is just like you and me.  Guys, he’s the perfect role model for fathers.  He gave up everything for his wife and son.  The angel said “take Mary into your home.”  He took her into his home.  The angel said “give up your business and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.”  He took them to Egypt.

 

The angel came to him again and said “Take them back” and he took them back.  All the while the poor guy was living in a home with two sinless people.  Anything that ever went wrong was HIS fault.  Just imagine being the step-father of the Son of God.  Imagine what God would do if Joseph let something happen to Jesus.  It’s bad enough if you let your own kid get lost, just think if Joseph let God’s son fall out of a tree and break his neck.  It wouldn’t be pretty.

 

That’s what makes Joseph a good father, but what about those of us who aren’t fathers, particularly you ladies.  How is Joseph a role model for you?

 

Joseph did everything that was asked of him and he did it not expecting any earthly reward.  There was no recognition in his lifetime.  There were no “parent of the year” awards.  Most of the things he did, he did in secrecy.  Even John the Baptist’s father’s words are part of our faith tradition.  The Canticle of Zechariah is part of the Church’s daily prayers.  But there’s no “Canticle of Joseph”.  All we know is that he said yes to the angel.  And we know that from his actions because his words were never recorded.

 

So, as you and I go about our daily lives, we do what Joseph did.  We act in faith.  We don’t expect an earthly reward.  Most of us will pass through this life and move on to the next, never knowing the good that we’ve done unless we run into our own personal Clarence.  And that’s probably not going to happen.

 

The Church reminds us of our role by presenting the story of Joseph just ahead of the celebration of his step-son’s birth.  Did Joseph have to say “yes”.  No he didn’t.  Would Jesus have been born, lived and died, and been raised on the third day without Joseph?  Yes he would have.

 

But Joseph did say “Yes” and he stands after all these centuries as our role model.  Face it, you and I aren’t Jesus.  And we aren’t Mary.  We sin.  We make mistakes.  We fail to live up to our potential as Christians and as human beings…..just like Joseph.

 

Remember a few years ago the kids were wearing bracelets that said WWJD?  What would Jesus do.  In real life, what Jesus would do might be too much for us.  We can’t walk on water.  We can’t turn water into wine.  We aren’t free from sin.  Maybe a better question would be “What would Joseph do?”

 

It might be hard to follow in Joseph’s footsteps, but it IS doable for you and me.  So, in the few days that remain before the big celebration, maybe you can keep Joseph in mind.  When there’s a decision to be made, ask him what you should do.  I have a feeling you’ll get a pretty good answer.

 

 

Holiday Parties. Bah! Humbug!

Kohl's Get's it Right!

If it’s December in the good ol’ USA, it must be time for the annual attack against God and His Son.  News stories abound of communities being bullied by fringe groups who demand that no reference be made to Jesus or His birthday.  In a recent news story out of Tennessee, the ACLU  has written a letter to school districts in the Volunteer State threatening law suits if they hold Christmas parties.

I know this is a season of peace and joy, but frankly this makes my blood boil.  There is nothing in the US Constitution that prohibits the celebration of the birth of Our Savior.  If you and I don’t stand up and make our voices heard, this is just one more freedom that we’re going to lose.  This is a Christian country.  Our founding fathers were Christians.  Our entire society is based on a Christian moral code.

The enemies of our freedom see this as just one more weapon in their battle for our minds and hearts.  As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, or if you just notice the image in the top left column, one of my pet peeves is people who wish me “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” or some other PC nonsense.  My response is always “Merry Christmas.”  Companies who insist that their employees not say the “C word” don’t deserve our business and I’m happy to let them know that.

To put this into perspective, how would you respond if a Jewish person wished you a Happy Hanukkah?  Would you take offense?  Would you be angry?  Or would you smile and say “Happy Hanukkah to you, too!”?  I think I know the answer.  Likewise, would you be offended by a menorah on the court house lawn?  I didn’t think so.

If you cherish your Christian values, if you believe you have the right to practice your faith without interference from a small anti-Christian minority, then take a stand.  Let everyone you come in contact with know that you celebrate Jesus’ birthday, not the winter solstice, not some generic politically correct “winter holiday”, but CHRISTMAS.

Pray for the heathens who don’t know the truth about the season, gently correct them if you can, but don’t give in to them.

By the way, Christmas is a federal holiday.  It’s ok for the Post Office to be closed on December 25, it’s just a problem if they want to let you know why they’re closed.  Go figure.

Be Bold. Be Catholic.

I thought the Feast of the Immaculate Conception might be a good day to bring you up to date on some things, in the hope that you might check out some of them yourself.


Back in September, I made my annual retreat at the Abbey of Gesthemani.  As you probably know, Gesthemani was the home of Thomas Merton, one of the great spiritual writers of the twentieth century.  If you’ve never been to the Abbey, I heartily recommend it.  They offer three and four day retreats.

Whenever I visit the Trappist monastery, I always come away with new thoughts and insights that help me with my ministry.  This visit was no exception.  I was in the library looking for something to read when I found two CDs by Matthew Kelly.  Kelly is a well-known Catholic writer and speaker, though his work was new to me.  The CDs are “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself and “The Seven Levels of Intimacy”. I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but these two CDs have changed my life.  As much as I read, I can’t imagine that I’ve never come across Kelly’s work before.

I hate to call these two programs “self-help” because I think that sells them short.  They’re so much more.  Yes, they’re about becoming a better you, but the spiritual component puts them far above the usual quick-fix books that seem to pop up on almost a daily basis.  Matthew’s premise is that God wants you to be the best that you can be and the path to being the best lies within the Catholic Church.

Kelly doesn’t do what a lot of writers do, which is to give you a bunch of platitudes and catchy phrases and let it go at that.  He gives us concrete steps; things that will actually help you become the best version of yourself.  I’m afraid I really can’t do Kelly’s work justice in a short blog post.  You’re going to have to dig into it yourself.  Besides, we’re all unique, we all have different experiences, and we all see things from our own perspective.  Keep reading and I’ll point you to a great offer.

When I got home I did some research and found that Kelly had written a book called “Rediscovering Catholicism”.  I ordered the book and I’m on my second reading of it.  Again, this is life changing stuff.  Long story short, the Church is in trouble.  Here’s a staggering statistic. 70% of Americans who call themselves “Catholic” don’t go to mass. How can that be?  I honestly don’t know.  But Matthew has founded an organization called “Dynamic Catholic” that is intent on changing that.  It’s dedicated to bringing fallen-away-Catholics back into the fold.

This is something that’s always interested me, primarily because of my own adult children’s drifting away.  I think you would be hard-pressed to find a baby-boomer Catholic who isn’t concerned about the same thing.  Ironically, I don’t know a single deacon in my area who isn’t praying for at least one of his children to come back to the Church.

Just this weekend my wife and I had the opportunity to hear Kelly speak in person.  What an awesome experience!  I left there determined to do whatever I can to reverse this non-Church-going Catholic trend.  I’m counting on you to do your part as well.  Here are some things you can do.

I paid full retail for Rediscovering Catholicism.  You don’t have to.  You can get the book for free.   Just pay shipping and handling.   Order it here.  I’ve also put a permanent link to the free book web page in the sidebar on the right.  Dynamic Catholic has a program for your parish to distribute the book to parishioners.  You can read about it on the site.  They also offer materials to facilitate parish discussion of the book.  You might consider ordering two copies, one for yourself and one for your pastor.  Personally, after reading my (full-price) copy, I ordered six more to share with my pastor, youth minister, music minister, and family.  (This would be a great, inexpensive, Christmas gift.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not in the business of selling books (at least, not yet.) But I love the Catholic Church and, frankly, can’t understand why more people don’t share my enthusiasm.  I hope Matthew Kelly and his organization are a rousing success.  They’ll ship over 1,000,000 copies of Matthew’s book this year.  Hopefully those books will be shared and read by more than one person.  Of course, some of them won’t be read at all.

But this is a message that needs to get out.  I’m going to do all that I can do to spread the world, through this blog, and in the rest of my ministry.  During this season of Advent, and especially on this feast day of Our Lady, I hope you’ll be moved to at least take a look at the Dynamic Catholicism web site.  There are also some videos of Matthew speaking on YouTube. There are some other videos here.

Saint Ambrose and Pearl Harbor

First, let’s not forget the brave men and women who serve and have served in our armed forces.  Today we remember especially those who lost their lives on that day that lives in infamy, when we were brutally attacked at Pearl Harbor.  May they rest in peace.

This anniversary reminds us that the world was and is a dangerous place.  It was dangerous in 1941, it’s even more dangerous in 2010.  It was also dangerous in the 4th century, the time of Saint Ambrose.  Today is Ambrose’ feast day.  I think his comments writing to someone who had just become a bishop are very relevant today.  He wrote:

“You have entered upon the office of bishop.  Sitting at the helm of the Church, you pilot the ship against the waves.  Take firm hold of the rudder of faith so that the severe storms of this world cannot disturb you.  The sea is mighty and vast, but do not be afraid, for as Scripture says ‘He has founded it upon the seas, and established it on the waters.’

“The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved.  The Church’s foundation is unshakable and firm against the assaults of the raging sea.  Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it.  Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress.”

 

More than Enough

The Gospel today is Matthew’s rendition of the story of the loaves and fishes.  There’s no need for me to tell you what it’s about.  You’ve heard it a thousand times.  Even nonbelievers may use the story as an analogy for someone who makes a little of something go a long way.

It reminds me of an aunt of mine, God rest her soul, who was a little on the frugal side.  Whenever she had company for dinner she’d open one can of corn and one can of green beans.  Not the giant wholesale club sized can (Wholesale clubs came about long after my aunt had gone on to new life.), just a regular sized can.  No matter how hard the rest of the ladies in the family would try to talk her into opening a second can, she always stood firm.

The funny thing is, most people being polite at the dinner table, nobody would ever take the last little bit of vegetables in the bottom of the bowl.  When the meal was over, my aunt would proudly point to the left-over vegetables.  “See, one can was more than enough.”

It’s a funny story.  At least I think it is.  It’s certainly a legend in my family and it’s often brought up when we don’t have enough of something at the table.  But, here’s where the Gospel story and my story come apart.  Jesus really did provide more than enough.  There wasn’t just a little food left over, there was more left than they had started with.  It was a miracle.

So often people, even people who call themselves “Christians” will question whether Jesus can do something.  He fed the multitudes with just a little bit of food.  He walked on water.  HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD!  Do you really think there’s anything He can’t do?  That’s ridiculous!

As we prepare for the celebration of His birth it’s good to think about all the miracles, big and small, that Jesus has performed in our lives.  Start with your getting out of bed each morning and go on from there.  It could take a long time.  Advent is a time for prayer and reflection.  I hope you’re taking some time each day to do just that.

Guess what!  If you take just ten minutes each day to spend with the Lord, you’ll find that you actually get more done that day than you would have otherwise.  He can multiply more than just bread and fish.