Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

According to the calendar, today is the first day of winter here in the United States.  Many of our neighbors have already experienced winter’s fury with heavy snow falls, especially to our west and southwest.  Here in Saint Louis we’ve yet to see a single snowflake.  It looks like any of our kids who are “dreaming of a white christmas” are going to be disappointed.  Actually, according to the TV weather folks, we have less than a 20% chance of snow on Christmas.  Last year was one of those 20%, so it’s not surprising that I’m still looking out my window at green grass.  It is surprising that we’ve had no snow at all so far.  But that could change at any time.

So why do we associate snow with Christmas, especially here in the Midwest?  I guess the whole Santa Clause coming in his sleigh thing must be part of it.  Bing Crosby singing about a white Christmas may be part of it too.  But for many Americans, snow on December 25 just doesn’t happen.  Of course we don’t know for sure what day of the year Jesus was born, but it was decided many centuries ago that December 25 would be the day for the celebration.  Whenever He was actually born, He was born in the Middle Eastern desert so chances are he lived his entire earthly life and never saw snow.

The Holy Family had a hard enough time traveling 80 miles on foot and donkey-back and not being able to find a room.  The last thing they needed was snow.  It gets cold enough at night in the desert.  Given the living conditions 20 centuries ago and the fact that people walked around in robes and sandals, it’s no surprise that God didn’t have His Son be born in the winter in North Dakota.

But the whole white Christmas thing should be a reminder to us that we’re not in charge here.  If you like snow, maybe you’ll get it and maybe you won’t.  But be careful what you wish for.  Snow that’s measured in feet rather than inches causes a lot of problems, especially at a time when so many people are traveling.

As Advent is winding down, let’s give thanks for all the good things in our lives.  In just two days, we’ll celebrate the birth of a Savior.  God’s gift of His son is the greatest gift of all no matter what the weather.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

First of all, Happy Hanukah to our Jewish friends.  I don’t know if I have any Jewish readers, but just in case, I wish you a joyous and prayerful celebration.

I have four children so I have some experience with pregnancy, if only as a close and very interested observer.  With the birth of Christ just four days away, I can imagine what Mary and Joseph must have been going through.  With any birth there are expectations and worries.  After nearly nine months of pregnancy, the couple must have been very excited and apprehensive about the coming birth.

Added to the normal concerns of a couple so near to becoming parents, there was the additional concern about this particular child.  What would the future hold for Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus?  As if that weren’t enough, they had the additional burden of a trip to Bethlehem for the census.  It’s about 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  If he was in reasonably good condition, Joseph could probably lead a donkey about 20 miles per day.  Of course, anyone who’s ever travelled with a pregnant woman knows there were most likely frequent stops.  To be safe and conservative, we’re probably talking about a trip that lasted a week.

So, in our liturgical time line, Mary and Joseph are well on their way.  Since every citizen had to make the trip to their native city, it’s reasonable to assume that Mary and Joseph were probably traveling in a caravan.  Roman citizens rarely made long trips alone for fear of robbers or other problems along the way.  This would be especially true of a pregnant woman.

In your quiet time today, think about all that’s going through Mary and Joseph’s minds as they make this trip.  You and I know how the trip ended, but they didn’t.  Would Mary make it to Bethlehem or would she have to deliver her child along the side of the road?  What kind of birth would that be for a king?  Would God be angry with them for their poor planning?  There were no EMTs to help.  It would be just the two of them.  If they made it to Bethlehem would they be able to find a place to stay?  With so many people traveling it might be hard to find a place.  Again, we know how the story turns out, but they didn’t.

Do you think the couple had second thoughts?  Are they sorry for what they’ve gotten themselves into?  Think about it.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Saint John Nepomuk ChapelI was in church this morning putting away the Advent books and getting some other things ready for Christmas.  I thought what a privilege it is to be able to spend time alone in such a beautiful church.  But it’s not the beauty that’s overwhelming, it’s the presence of the Lord in this holy place.  I thought about the thousands of people who have worshipped there in the last 157 years.  You can almost feel their presence.

Hopefully, by now, you’ve gotten into the habit of spending a few minutes alone with the Lord each day.  In the midst of the chaos that’s going on in the world, we need peace and quiet more than ever.  Whether we’re praying our daily prayers, reading Sacred Scripture, or just sitting quietly listening for the Lord to speak to us, we must make some time for ourselves each day.

I believe that a lot of prescriptions for Valuim, Prozak, and other medications that people think they must have to get through the day could be done away with if everyone would just spend quiet time every day alone with God.

The good news is it’s not too late!  It’s never too late.  How about right now?  Walk away from your computer and find a quiet place.  If there’s a door, close it.  Sit in a comfy chair and close your eyes.  Then, just empty your mind of all the things that are bothering you.  Ask God to join you, then just relax.  Don’t try to force it.  Don’t start reciting a list of things that God should do for you.  Just listen…………………..

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.