Monday of the 4th Week of Advent

As we approach the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace I think it’s a good time to consider our own views on peace, both inner and outer.  I thought of this this morning as I read of the passing of Kim Jonh Il, the leader of Communist North Korea.  Not surprisingly the Internet is full of jokes and comments celebrating his death.  While it’s true that one less Communist dictator in the world may be a good thing, I’m troubled about the celebration of anyone’s death.

Of course, we as Christians celebrate our loved ones’ entry into eternal life, even as we mourn our loss of their physical presence, I don’t think making jokes about someone’s death are appropriate, no matter how much evil we believe they have committed, is good for us.  Jesus taught us that all life is sacred, no matter how much misery that person may have brought into the world.  Doesn’t celebrating that person’s death make us just as un-Christian as he or she was?

I’m not suggesting that we celebrate their life, but I don’t think we should celebrate their death either.  Perhaps we should just pray for a better world and that those who would follow in KJI’s footsteps might have a change of heart.

From a purely practical standpoint, we don’t know what Il’s replacement will do.  Apparently his son will take his place as leader of North Korea.  He may be more of a peace-maker than his father was, or he could be much worse.  Only time will tell.  Meanwhile, especially in the week before Christmas, wouldn’t it be better if we all pray for peace?

Kim Jong Il is gone from this life and only God knows how he’ll pay for his sins.  You and I will depend on God’s mercy when we depart this life.  How often have we prayed, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”?  It’s not hard to forgive small injuries but it might just be that our response to the like of Mr. Il may determine our own fate.

4th Sunday of Advent

In our first reading today, the Lord gives Nathan a fairly long message to deliver to David.  He makes David a series of promises ending with “your throne shall stand firm forever.”  Remember, this is the same David who had one of his men killed so he could have the man’s wife for himself.  David had more skeletons in his closet than Herman Cain.  But here’s God telling him that he’s going to be a mighty king and that his kingdom will last forever.

 

Even in David’s time, everybody knew that no kingdom could last forever.  It’s still true today, especially in the Middle East.  But the Lord wasn’t talking about an earthly kingdom.

Fast forward to today’s Gospel, Luke’s famous telling of the Annunciation.  It’s a beautiful story and one we’ve all heard many times.  Right in the middle of the story the angel tells Mary “the Lord God will give him (meaning Mary’s unborn Son) 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.”

 

There it is again.  “The promise of a never-ending kingdom”.  We know today that the angel is talking about a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one.  Poor Mary doesn’t know what to think.  Her response is, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

 

I want to stop here for just a minute.  When I was first in formation for the diaconate, which was about 1997 or so, I went to a two-day workshop on the Gospel of Luke.  The speaker was Father Eugene La Verdier, an expert of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, which was also written by Luke.  He spent the entire first morning talking to us about this Gospel passage.

 

Obviously I can’t tell you everything he said, but the gist of it was this.  Everything about Mary was small.  She lived in a very small town, Nazareth which was part of a very small province called Galilee.  To the people of Jesus’ time, Nazareth was kind of a back-water place, definitely not the kind of place that would give birth to the Messiah.

 

Then there’s Mary herself.  She’s a young girl from a small town.  She’s still a virgin.  In Mary’s society women were definitely second class citizens.  But married women at least had the prestige of their husbands.  Unmarried women were the lowest rung on the social ladder.  Aside from the biology of the thing, the idea of a young, single woman, a nobody in the Jewish society of that time, giving birth to such a mighty king was unprecedented.  “How can this be since I’m no more important than a good donkey or camel?”

 

Remember that Mary was engaged to Joseph.  Surely she intended to have children.  The idea that one of them might become a king was far-fetched but not impossible.  Her response only makes sense if we look at it as a sign of humility.

What I’m suggesting to you is this.  The Son of God was born of a woman; an unmarried woman from a small, insignificant place.  The idea that she would give birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God was outrageous.   But Mary was chosen by God.  Jesus was the only person in history to have chosen His own mother.  He didn’t choose someone wealthy.  He didn’t choose someone powerful.  He didn’t choose a queen.  Any of those choices would have made it much easier for Him to perform His ministry.

 

He chose Mary.  He chose Mary to show you and me that with God anything is possible.  He chose her to give us encouragement.  If this lowly girl could be His mother, then you and I shouldn’t be afraid to tackle anything.  He chose her to show us how we should respond to God’s call.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

Today’s Gospel is the beginning of the book of Matthew.  It gives us the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Abraham, sixteen generations.  I can tell you from my own experience that it isn’t easy to trace your family back that far.  Even with the Internet, I’m stuck on three generations.  But here’s Matthew with a remarkably complete family tree for Jesus.

But why?  How important is it that we know this?  It was really important to the people in Jesus’ time.  See, family was everything.  You were identified by your family connections.  And the prophets had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house of David.  Matthew’s rather long-winded family tree proved that the prophets had been right.

Jesus was of the house of David which was why He was born in Bethlehem.  Bethlehem was the City of David to which Joseph had to return for the census.  Just one week before Christmas Eve, Matthew reminds us of Jesus’ heritage.  It’s just one more way we know that Jesus is who He is.  I’s also a reminder to us of how many things had to happen in a certain way for each of us to be who we are.  If any one of our ancestors hadn’t met and married the right person, you and I would be completely different people, if we had been born at all.

Let’s pray for our ancestors and give thanks to God that history played out the way it did.

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

I know it’s the season of Advent.  It’s a time for prayer and reflection.  I’m going to read something from yesterday’s Washington Post.  It may not seem very Advent-like, but it’s the kind of thing that we shouldn’t ignore.  Here’s part of the article:

WASHINGTON — Days in the laboratory are numbered for chimpanzees, humans’ closest relative.

Chimps paved astronauts’ way into space and were vital in creating some important medicines. But the government said Thursday that science has advanced enough that from now on, chimpanzees essentially should be a last resort in medical research — a move that puts the United States more in line with the rest of the world.

Chimps’ similarity with people “demands special consideration and respect,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.  His move came after the prestigious Institute of Medicine declared that most use of chimpanzees for invasive medical research no longer can be justified — and that strict new limits should determine which experiments are important enough to outweigh the moral cost of involving this species that is so like us.

In this country more than 1 million abortions are performed each year.  That’s more than 23,000 each week.  Assuming five working days each week, that’s about 4,600 per day.  Unless I’m missing something, our government says we shouldn’t perform experiments on chimpanzees, experiments that have saved thousands of human lives.  But, it’s ok to kill 1 million unborn human beings each year!

The director of the American Institute of Health actually said that chimps deserve special consideration because they’re so much like us!  I’m sorry but I’ve never seen a monkey grow up to be a human person.  Are these people insane, or what?

Like I said, this is Advent.  Christmas Eve is just eight days away.  I don’t want to take anything away from this holy season.  But how can we say we’re a people preparing for the birth of the savior when we let our government, people who are paid with our tax dollars, make such idiotic rules?   We’re about to celebrate the most blessed birth of all time yet we sit quietly as our government allows the execution our future generations while they protect monkeys!

As people of God it’s our duty to pray for some common sense from our elected officials.  We should be just as adamant about human life as these people are about monkey lives.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like monkeys as much as the next guy.  They’re cute.  They look like tiny, furry human beings.  But they’re not human beings.  They’re animals; not very pleasant animals at that.   God gave us dominion over them.  If human lives can be saved by the sacrifice of a few of them, then that’s what we should do.

Just yesterday in the Post Dispatch there was a story of progress that’s being made in the treatment of diabetes through experiments on, guess what?, monkeys.  The animals are actually being cured using stem cells from pits.  Imagine that!  Not human embryonic stem cells, but pig stem cells.

Don’t tell me that we must give a chimp special consideration because it looks a little like us and at the same time execute thousands of unborn humans every day.  It just doesn’t make sense!  And, no surprise, “animal rights” groups are saying the new rules don’t go far enough.

So, as we continue to pray and meditate on the coming of that one special baby, our Lord Jesus Christ, let’s not forget to pray for all the babies who will never see Christmas because someone thought it was ok to play God and take their lives away.  In fact, let’s pray for all life, from conception to natural death.  Only God can create a human life and only God can take it away.

Thursday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel John sends two of his disciples to see Jesus.  They say to  Jesus “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask,
‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”  How does Jesus respond?  If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that Jesus wasn’t one to go around blowing His own horn.  You never hear Him say, “I’m the Messiah.  I’m the Son of God.  Bow down and worship me.”  That’s not how He rolled.

The Gospel continues, “At that time Jesus cured many of their diseases, sufferings, and evil spirits; He also granted sight to many who were blind.
And Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.”  He didn’t respond to the disciples directly.  He let them form their own conclusion based on His actions.

Isn’t that what He expects from us?  I don’t know about you, but I get a little nervous around people who like to tell me how great they are.  If you want me to know you’re great, don’t tell me.  Show me.  You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but let me see you living a life of quiet goodness and I’ll recognize you for who you are; a follower of Jesus Christ.

In modern words, I want to see you walk the talk.

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

A friend’s father died this week.  A member of our parish is near death.  A friend of a friend has passed away.  My wife and I were discussing yesterday why it seems that so many people pass from this world around the holidays.  We each had some ideas.  It’s cold and flu season.  Holiday parties mean more people are drinking and driving.  Clumsy Americans (like your favorite blogger) fall off ladders attempting to hang Christmas lights.  Shorter hours of daylight contribute to depression and increased drug use which can hasten death.

Just to be sure, I looked up some statistics.  The most recent I could find were through 2002, not exactly current, but close enough for our discussion.  December ranks as the third most likely month to pass into eternal life, following January and February.  So, our feeling that more people die around the Christmas season seems to be correct.

But statistics aside, why do so many people pass away in what’s supposed to be a joyous season.  Why does God let this happen?  I think we have to set aside our own mourning and consider the person who’s passed away.  What could be better than arriving in heaven just before Jesus’ birthday?  If you think we celebrate Christmas, think about the celebration in heaven! It must be amazing!  Let’s give thanks for our loved ones who are about to celebrate their first Christmas in heaven.

But you and I still have to deal with a terrible loss in an otherwise wonderful season.  We still miss them.  Our lives have changed forever.  What about us?

You and I aren’t nearly smart enough to understand God’s plan.  Everything happens for a reason.  Instead of looking at a Christmas death as a bad thing, let’s look at the good side.  When we lose a loved one life may change, but it has to go on.  At this time of year we’re surrounded by happiness.  Christmas music is everywhere.  We’re about to celebrate the birth of the One who died for our sins.  It’s harder for us to retreat into ourselves when we’re immersed in the “most wonderful time of the year”.

As we mourn the loss of our loved one, we must also rejoice in their eternal happiness.  They’ve run the race.  Their work is done.  This will be their best Christmas ever!  Death would be nearly impossible to bear if we didn’t know that it’s not an end.  It’s a beginning.  Eternal life is something to be celebrated, even in our mourning  If you’ve lost a loved one around Christmas, give thanks to God that He took them at a time when it’s so easy for us to set aside our grief and celebrate life!

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

I don’t know about you, but every time I try to do something that takes a long time, I start with great enthusiasm.  This initial excitement lasts for a while, then it drops off.  Over the weekend one of my sons ran a marathon.  That’s 26.2 miles.  It’s a long way.  A lot of runners will tell you that the biggest challenge is to contain your enthusiasm over the first few miles.  Your natural tendency is to start off too fast and then run out of gas before you get to the end.  Successful long-distance runners will run the first mile of a marathon at the same pace as the last mile and every mile in between.

Here we are, more than half way through the season of Advent.  How’s it going so far?  Are your preparations for the coming of the baby Jesus moving along.  Or did you start fast, with the best of intentions, but your prayer and reflection have dropped off?  Maybe you had a really busy weekend and just didn’t get around to your daily prayer?  It’s tempting to think that you’ve blown it and just give up because you’ve already failed.

That’s not the case at all.  God calls each of us to do the best that we can.  If you neglected your prayer life over the weekend just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on track.  God doesn’t expect us to be perfect.  We shouldn’t expect ourselves to be perfect either.  We should expect ourselves to do our best.

At the beginning of Advent I told you I would post here every day.  Yesterday I failed.  I was out of town over the weekend and I thought I’d have time to post something yesterday but I didn’t.  And I’m sorry.  The thing about writing a blog is that if you miss a day everyone knows it.  I promise to do my best to keep up if you promise to read along.  And, I hope you’ll forgive me if I turn out to not be perfect.

Second Sunday of Advent

“Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news!

During this season of Advent we focus on the ministry of John the Baptist.  He was sent to prepare the way for the Lord.  He was so anxious to get started that he “leapt for joy” while he was still in his mother’s womb at the very presence of our Savior who was also still in Mary’s womb.  Wouldn’t it have been said if Elizabeth had decided that it was “inconvenient” to bear a child, especially since she was no spring chicken?  What if she had sought an abortion?

Fortunately she understood that she was carrying a human life inside her body.  She may not have understood what God had in store for her child, but you and I do.  And we understand that every yet-to-be-born child has the potential to do great things.  You and I have an obligation to our God to work toward the preservation of all human life;  unborn, born, and near the end.  Only God has the power to determine when life begins and when it ends.

We are into the second week of preparation for the greatest birth of all.  But, every birth is special.  Every human being is entitled to our respect and is entitled to live his or her life to the fullest.  If we don’t accord every single human birth  the reverence and awe that we extend to the Son of God, then we’re not really living the Christian life, are we?

Saturday of the Second Week of Advent

“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”

Today’s responsorial Psalm (Ps. 80) says a lot in a few words.  Our deepest inner desire is to see the face of God.  It’s called the “beatific vision”.  It’s also called “heaven”.  From the day we’re born until the day we die, all of our actions should be directed toward seeing the face of God.  The famous author, Father Thomas Merton, wrote that God never reveals Himself to us in His entirety.  But He does give us brief glimpses of what He might be like; just enough to whet our appetites.

Majestic mountains, the endless sea, a beautiful sunset, or the magnificent night sky on a clear night give us some sense of God’s awesomeness.  On the other hand, a tiny baby, so small and helpless, gives us a hint of the wonder of God.  Such a small creature has all the potential in the world within its tiny mind and body.  I can’t imagine anyone who’s experienced the miracle of birth actually not believing in God.

Our faith tells us that God sent His Son to earth, not as a mighty king, but as a little baby, born of a virgin, in a cattle stall.  To think that the Creator of the Universe could inhabit such a small body is almost beyond our comprehension.  But that’s what He did and we’re preparing to celebrate that event on December 25.

Try to imagine the potential that exists within yourself.  How do we prepare to see the face of God?  We begin by asking Him to show us what we must do to be the best that we can be.  There’s a reason why He created each of us as unique individuals.  There has never been another person exactly like you or me and there will never be again.  We exist to make the most out of the person God created us to be.

 

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said,
“He is possessed by a demon.”
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said,
“Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

In modern terms you might say, “Your damned if you do and damned if you don’t”.  Jesus message was (is) very hard for some people to accept, especially people with any kind of power.  This attitude would lead to Jesus’ suffering and death.  The Jews expected their Messiah to come in a blaze of glory.  They expected a mighty conqueror who would avenge all the bad treatment they and their ancestors had endured through the centuries.

Instead, they got a carpenter’s Son; a man who preached that the meek, not the strong and powerful, would inherit the world.  He ridiculed the Jewish leaders.  He often made fools of them.  And they didn’t like it one bit.  They found fault in everything He did and said, even though, deep in their hearts they had to know that He was speaking the truth.

In today’s world, followers of Christ are often ridiculed.  We’re called “religious fanatics”.  When we proclaim that Jesus spoke the truth and that truth doesn’t change, it’s said that we’re stuck in the past.  How often have you heard “The Church needs to change to fit into the modern world?” when the truth is that it’s the modern world needs to change.   The Ten Commandments are still the Ten Commandments and they’re just as valid today as they were in the days of Moses.

This is nothing new.  In the last 2,000 years the Church has often been criticized.  In the 1500s, Martin Luther thought the Church needed major reform.  While it’s true that the Church has had many leaders who failed to live up to their vows, the Church itself is never wrong as long as it holds to the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ.

For today’s reflection, let’s take some time to think about what the Church really teaches.  Read the Ten Commandments.  Read the beatitudes.  Recite the Creed.  Then, email me if you think you’ve discovered something that’s not right.