Christmas

“‘for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joythat will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.  And this will be a sign for you:  you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel praising God and saying ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'”

 

Merry Christmas!

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4th Sunday of Advent

4th Sunday of Advent

You know that when the characters in Scripture talk to one another, they’re also talking to you and me.  Today’s Gospel is a good example of that.  In the very last line Elizabeth says to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

 

Think about that for a second.  Mary is blessed because she believed.  Doesn’t that apply to us?  Aren’t we blessed when we believe.  Think about the famous passage; John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave* his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

 

Mary believed.  And you know what?  She gave her only Son too.  You have to think that Mary, like all young women and men, had plans for her life.  There’s no mention in Scripture of Mary having any friends, but you know she did.  They probably giggled and talked like all young girls, planning what their lives would be like.  But Mary was blessed because she believed.

 

How was Mary blessed?  She was blessed to have only one Son who would leave home at the age of thirty and in three short years would be humiliated, tortured, and executed.  The first inkling she would have of all this was when she and Joseph took Jesus to the temple.  Simeon told her that her heart would be pierced.  I don’t think she planned on that.

 

Mary was blessed to never be intimate with her husband.  Blessed Mary, ever virgin.  That had to be an adjustment for Mary AND Joseph.

 

The Holy Family was forced to flee to Egypt and live in exile while Herod tried to find Jesus and kill Him.  Then when they were settled into their new home, the angel came and told them to go back.  Another blessing?

 

Remember when Jesus was twelve years old?  Mary and Jesus took Him to the temple and lost Him.  It was a big caravan and Mary thought He was with Joseph and Joseph thought He was with Mary.  All of us who are parents have probably been separated from one of our kids at one time or another.  Total panic!  Imagine how Mary must have felt losing the Son of God.  I guess that’s another way she was blessed.

 

The point of all this is what it means to be blessed.  We may have a tendency to think of the blessings of this world.  And that’s ok.  I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife, four great kids, and four and a half great grandchildren.  Those are major blessings but they’re also worldly blessings.

 

The blessing we’re all looking for is the blessing of eternal life.  That’s the big one and it doesn’t necessarily come from worldly blessings.  In fact, one man’s blessing may be another man’s curse.  The guy who lives in the big house with the $2,000 suits and the Mercedes Benz in the garage may be miserable.  And, the things he did to get all that stuff may be what keeps him out of heaven.  Blessings we create for ourselves aren’t blessings at all.  Blessings can only come from God.

 

On the other hand, the guy who lives in the mobile home in Jefferson County and drives a beat-up pickup truck, but who goes to church every Sunday and shares what little he has with others is probably on the express train to eternal life.

 

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

 

Here’s the thing.  If we believe anything the Lord tells us then we have to believe everything the Lord tells us.  If anything He says isn’t true then He’s a liar.  And if He’s a liar, then we can’t believe anything He says.

 

In just a matter of hours we’ll begin to celebrate the birth of the Savior.  God sent His Son to save us from our sins.  In His three short years of earthly ministry Jesus gave us some instructions.  His instructions were much simpler that the hundreds of Jewish laws that the people were used to.  Basically He told us to Love Him and to love one another.  He told us He had come to build a Church and Peter would be the rock; the foundation.  He left the Apostles to run the Church.  He told them, “Whoever hears you, hears Me.”  That’s this thing we call the Catholic Church.  He left us the beatitudes and the golden rule.  He left us the Lord’s Prayer.

 

So, as we get ready for the celebration of the greatest event in the history of the world, the almighty God being born as a human baby in a manger in Bethlehem, let’s take Elizabeth’s words to heart.  We may be blessed with great families, or good looks, or great minds.  We may be blessed to live in a nice house and drive a nice car.

 

Or, maybe not.

 

But we’re all blessed with the ability to believe what the Lord has told us.  Whether we believe or not is up to us.

 

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

 

 

 

 

Abortion

OK, I have to do this.  I’ve been thinking about it for several days but today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45) made my decision for me.  The story is about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  The presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb makes John in Elizabeth’s womb “jump for joy”.  Two unborn infants:  one the Son of God and one the prophet who would go before the Lord to prepare His way.  We’ve heard this story countless times and it may never occur to us that this story could have ended differently.

ABORTION!

Think about it.  Mary was a young girl.  Although she was engaged to Joseph, clearly this wasn’t his child.  “Modern society” would council Mary to terminate the pregnancy.  She was too young to take on such responsibility.  Planned Parenthood would have the “solution” to her “problem”.

Then there’s Elizabeth.  She’s an old lady.  Surely delivering a baby at her advanced age would be very dangerous.  She might even die.  Even if abortion were illegal,  she would fall under the so-called “exception” for danger to the mother’s life.

I’m not saying that anyone is walking around today with God in their womb, or even a prophet.  But who else have we killed?  Maybe the person who would have found the cure for cancer.  Maybe the person who could broker peace in the Middle East.  Maybe the person who could save Twinkies.  We’ve killed millions of children in this country since Roe vs. Wade became law.  If just one percent of those children, and they were children regardless of what the abortion-rights folks call them, if just one percent had been men and women of great promise, imagine what a difference that would have made in the world.  Ten percent or twenty percent?  Who knows?

People ask what’s wrong with this country?  That’s easy.  We’re killing our potential.

What I’m about to say may offend you, but please hear me out.  The tragedy that took place in Newtown, CT is beyond belief.  I can’t begin to imagine how awful that must have been and will continue to be for the parents and loved ones of those who were senselessly murdered.  The outcry has been world-wide as it should be.  Even one child is too many to lose to violence.  But, in the week that’s passed since the Sandy Hook massacre, hundreds of babies have been killed by abortionists and no one bats an eye.  It may be a bit of a stretch, but what if one of the millions of children we’ve killed by abortion was meant to be the person who would have stepped in and prevented the killings at Sandy Hook?  Just a thought.

Where’s the outrage for those children?  Many of the same people who are demanding that the government do something about mass murders support the extermination of millions of kids and call it a “woman’s right”.  Sorry, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Thursday of the 3rd Week of Advent–Miracles

My office manager and I were talking today about miracles.  We each have stories where God has rescued us from near-death experiences.  She was held up at gun point on the church parking lot and she was once threatened by a man with a gun in a particularly rough part of our metro area.  (Think National Lampoon’s Vacation.)  She managed to escape then heard on the evening news that the same gang that threatened her committed a similar crime just minutes later, raping a woman repeatedly.

Mine didn’t involve a gun, but rather a semi-truck.  To make a long story short, I had just turned into the left turn lane when a truck went airborne in the lane I had just left.  It went sailing through the air at just about the right height to cut me in half if I hadn’t changed lanes.

I think most of us have experiences like that.  People of faith will credit them to God.  People of no faith will call it luck.  There have been other miracles in my life, some big, some small.  The fact that I’m an ordained member of the Catholic clergy is definitely a miracle (and proof that Jesus has a sense of humor.)  The fact that a high-school nerd married a cheerleader is certainly a miracle.  And I can’t look at my four grown-up kids or my four grandchildren without seeing the hand of God.

So, what happened?  Why do so many Americans, even Americans who express a belief in God, have such a hard time accepting the fact that God does perform miracles in our lives?  Are we so self-centered that we believe we don’t need God to help us out from time-to-time?  Have modern technology and medical science made miracles seem obsolete?  Are we just so jaded that we can’t see God in a world that has so much darkness in it?

These are not rhetorical questions.  I don’t have the answers.  But after the events of last week in Connecticut, I think it’s high time that those of us who do believe in miracles had better get busy trying to convert the non-believers.  Sometimes miracles are performed by highly skilled physicians using techniques that have been developed by other highly skilled men and women.  Just because a damaged heart is repaired in the operating room doesn’t mean that God didn’t have a hand in it.  Every operation is not a success.

As a hospital minister for many years I could go on for hours about patients whose doctors discovered cancer while they were  in the hospital for something else.  Had they not had the lesser problem the fatal disease might not have been discovered until it was too late.  I’ve even seen visitors in the hospital having heart attacks that would have been fatal if they had been at home.

In just a few days we’re going to commemorate the greatest miracle of all.  The all-powerful God came down from heaven to become one of us.  In the process He saved us from our sins and made it possible for us to live forever.  We give thanks for that and all the other great miracles we’ve witnessed in our lives, but let’s not forget the small miracles that happen around us every day.

Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Ordinary Time

For almost a week I have been praying and reflecting on the tragedy of Newtown, CT.  Earlier I posted my initial thoughts, but I wasn’t really sure how to deal with this event, especially so close to Christmas.  As usual, I found some real inspiration in a video by Father Robert Barron.  Rather than try to come up with something of my own, I’d like to share his video with you today.

Monday of the 3rd Week of Advent

Are we “Losing our religion”?  According to this video from CBS News, the answer is yes.  The reporter cites some disturbing statistics from the Pew Forum that about 1/5 of the US population claims no religious affiliation.  ”

“Researchers call them “The Nones” – those who check the “none” box when asked to describe their religious affiliation.  And they’ve more than doubled since 1990.”  Surprisingly, in spite of their TV presence and their enormous “mega churches”, our protestant brothers and sisters have suffered the largest decline.  For the first time in history they make up less than one half of the population.  Of course, for those of us who prefer to see the glass as half full, Pew’s research shows inversely that 4 out of 5 Americans do claim to belong to an organized religion.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that one out of three Americans between ages 18 and 29 call themselves “nones”, not a positive trend for the Church.

According to the video, students said “they believe in God, but agreed organized religion has largely failed to adapt to a changing culture.”

Ah, there’s the rub.  Religion hasn’t adapted to the changing culture.  In other words, the Church, who proclaims the truth as Jesus taught it, should change the truth to reflect what’s happening in the world today.  “Thou shall not kill” should be changed to something like “thou shall not kill UNLESS the life in question is undesirable or inconvenient.

The Bible’s teaching on marriage, as handed down in the very first book of Scripture and confirmed by Jesus Christ, should be changed to better fit today’s secular approach that marriage, if necessary at all, shouldn’t be limited to one man and one woman.  The Church is just so out-of-date.  Maybe a new sermon on the mount might contain the phrase, “if it feels good, do it!”

I hate to be one of those people who refer to the past as some “golden age” but when I was young (not so long ago in my mind) couples who were “shacking up” as we called it, tried to keep it a secret.  We also called it “living in sin”, which is an accurate description.  Today it’s not only acceptable, it’s not even the exception.  An engaged couple who aren’t living together are seen as some kind of “religious fanatics”.  I’ve even heard of instances where parents encouraged their adult children to move in together.  Having a child “out of wedlock” was once considered shameful.  Now it’s commonplace.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t fault the “nones” as much as I fault the “feel good” churches, including the Catholic Church, who have been preaching a watered-down Gospel for years.  We’re very good at arranging protests in front of the abortion clinics, but when was the last time you heard a good pro-life homily?  How many of us who prepare young couples for marriage demand that cohabiting men and women separate until their wedding date?  Our premarital testing instrument even has a special section for these couples.  What kind of message is that sending?

The CBS video should be required watching for every minister in every church in America.  The US Bishops recently issued a document on preaching where they call for every priest and deacon to do a better job of tying the day’s readings to the lives of the people in the pews.  I hope every one of us who dares to preach has read it and will follow it’s teachings.  Here in Saint Louis, we are very fortunate.  The priest who teaches homiletics taught me just about everything that’s contained in this new document.  Most important is that we not be afraid to preach the truth as Jesus taught it, and not as the “changing culture” teaches it.

We are still in shock from the tragic event that took place last week in Connecticut.  I couldn’t help thinking that as they led the children from the school and asked them to close their eyes so as not to see what had gone on, that most have them are not unfamiliar with such mayhem.  They see it every day on television.  Unless a child isn’t allowed to watch any TV, including the evening news, chances are that he or she has seen more people killed in their young lives than anyone should have to see.

In fact, for the millions of American kids who play video games, they’ve committed virtual murder themselves more times than we’d care to count.  Is it any wonder that mass murders, as tragic as they are, are becoming commonplace in our “changing culture”?

Even worse, as tragic as the senseless killings in Connecticut are, and it is indeed a terrible tragedy deserving of the world-wide media attention that it’s getting, every day hundreds of unborn children are killed before lunch by people called “doctors” with no media attention whatsoever.

No, the Church doesn’t need to adapt.  The Church needs to stand firm and preach the Good News of the Gospel as Jesus taught it.  It’s just my opinion, but I don’t think people are falling away from the Church because the Church is old fashioned.  I think they’re staying home because they hunger for the truth.  If they don’t get it in Church, why should they go?

The obvious answer for Catholics is the Eucharist.  But if we’ve failed to teach that Christ really exists in the bread and wine consecrated by the priest, then that’s not going to bring them to mass either.  I’m very afraid that our poor teaching of the basics of our faith is what’s driving people away.

And, lest we put all the blame on the Church, don’t feel like you’re off the hook here.  If you are a faithful Catholic; if you believe everything the Church teaches; if you can’t wait to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist; why aren’t you spreading the message to everyone you know?  When is the last time you encouraged someone who you know has fallen away from the Church to come to mass with you?  If you found a great new restaurant you would want to tell your friends about it.  If you saw a great movie, you’d recommend it to everyone you know.  Why would you hold back on sharing the great gift of salvation with everyone you care about?

Friday of the 2nd Week of Advent

Advent is supposed to be a time of hope- a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child.  No way is it supposed to be a time of tragedy and grief as it is today.  By this time many people much smarter than me have commented on what happened today in Connecticut.  Kids aren’t supposed to die, especially ones so young, and most especially just ten days before Christmas.

I’m a father of four and a grandfather of four with one on the way.  I can’t imagine what it must be like for the parents of those children who lost their lives so needlessly today.  I also can’t imagine what went through the minds of the kids, both those who died and those who survived.  I have a grandson who is four and a granddaughter who is six.  I ask myself how they could go through something like this.  I can’t answer that question.

Two things I can be sure of.  One is that the news media will milk this for all it’s worth.  The other is that there will be an increased demand for gun regulation.  Now would be a good time for the media to exercise some restraint, but as I write this NBC News is giving us wall-to-wall coverage including calls for more gun control.  My suggestion would be to turn off the television and pray.  Pray for those who died.  Pray for their families.  Pray for everyone involved in this tragedy.

I would also suggest that if you have children or grandchildren give them a big hug and tell them you love them.  We’re still preparing for the coming of the infant Jesus and that must go on.  Pause for a moment to reflect and pay respect but then we have to move on.  You and I can never understand what happened today.  But we have to accept it.  It happened.  It’s done.

Pray that those responsible for protecting us and especially our children find ways to put an end to this seemingly endless violence.  We have to protect our kids and one another.  Pray that these young lives won’t have been lost in vane.  Pray for our country.  We need it.