Monday of the 2nd Week of Advent

Here’s something a little different.  It’s sort of a follow up to yesterday’s post about Joy and hopefully something to help you relax and reflect on what the season of Advent is all about.  As you probably know, jazz great Dave Brubeck passed away last week.  In 1996 he released an album called A Dave Brubeck Christmas.  In this clip, from the album he plays Joy to the World. It’s just short of three minutes.  Find a comfy chair, a cup of coffee (or maybe something stronger) and enjoy.

 

2nd Sunday of Advent

Joy to the world!  The Lord is come!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

All four of our readings today have something in common.  They all speak about joy.  In the first reading, the prophet Baruch tells Jerusalem to take off their robe of mourning and misery and to put on the splendor from God forever.  “Up Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.”

 

Then, it’s our turn.  We respond to the first reading “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”  “Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.”  Are you beginning to see a pattern?

 

In the second reading, Saint Paul writes to the Philippians, “Brothers and sisters:  I pray always with joy (there’s that word again) in my every prayer for all of you.”  Remember, Paul has visited Philippi and he’s writing to them after he’s gone, reminding them of the great gifts they have received.

 

Finally, we have reading from Luke’s Gospel.  Luke’s introducing us to the grown-up John the Baptist.  He’s a voice crying out in the desert:  “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

Four readings, all with the same central point.  We should be filled with joy.  Here we are at the 2nd week of Advent.  Jesus is coming!  He’s coming to save us.  We’re floundering in deep water and He’s the life boat.  All we have to do is reach out to Him and we’re saved!  We should be the most joyful sons-of-a-guns on the planet.

 

But what is joy?  It doesn’t mean running around with a silly grin on your face all the time.  Webster says it means “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.  That’s a pretty good definition.  Joy is an emotion.  That last bit about the prospect of possessing what one desires is all about our joy as Christians.  We have the prospect of possessing the thing we desire most, an eternity in the presence of God. “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”

 

What has He done for us?  He’s sent His Son to become one of us and to die so that our sins may be forgiven.  What more could anyone do?  Jesus has paid the ultimate price for you and me.  If we follow His instructions and His example, we have faith that when this life ends, we’ll go to heaven.  We come to mass to praise and worship God.  We come to give Him thanks.  We come to receive His very Body and Blood.

We had a wedding here Friday evening.  I love to do weddings.  Everyone is dressed up.  They’re all smiles.  They’re taking pictures because they want to remember the day.  It’s a happy occasion.  It’s also a sacrament.  It’s the only sacrament I can think of where the congregation bursts into applause when the sacrament is performed.

 

Now, ask yourself, “are you filled with joy right now?”  You just said you were, five times. “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”  That’s what you said.  I heard you.  Did you mean it?  If not, then maybe you should prayerfully consider what’s happening on this altar.

 

Did you know that mass actually begins when the second person gets here?  It’s true.  That’s what the Church teaches and it’s what Jesus meant when He said, “whenever two or more are gathered in my name I’ll be there.”  That’s all it takes, just two and He’s here with us.

 

So, what do you do when you get here?  Do you prepare yourself for the miracle you’re about to witness?  Do you kneel before God and ask Him to put you in the right frame of mind for the liturgy?  Do you look over the readings and pray for understanding?  Do you greet your friends and any visitors who might be here?  All worthy ways to spend the minutes before mass considering that Jesus may be sitting right next to you.

 

Or do you spend your time in church gossiping and talking about others behind their backs?  Or do you silently pass judgment on those around you?  C’mon, you know what I mean.  Maybe you’re critical of the way someone’s dressed.  Maybe somebody’s child is making a little too much noise.  Maybe, and this is surely one of the greatest sins of all, maybe someone is sitting in your seat!  Yikes!

 

Look, I can talk about these things because I’ve done them myself.  God help me, I still do sometimes.  It’s a common human fault.  When we put someone down, either by speaking ill about them, or just by thinking it, it may make us feel good for a short time.  We’re saying we’re better than that other person.  But honestly, we don’t build ourselves up by tearing others down.  What we really do is replace the feeling of joy that we should be experiencing with something else.  Maybe the responsorial Psalm should read, “The Lord has done great things for us; we should be filled with joy!” 

 

We should recognize this great church as the holy place that it is and act accordingly.  We should be welcoming to friends and strangers alike.  We should participate in the recited prayers and the sung prayers.  We should see that the sacrament of the Eucharist is just as exciting as the sacrament of matrimony.

We should be beacons of light in a dark world.  As we prepare for the birth of the

Christ child, we should examine our consciences and count our blessings. “Up Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.”

 

 “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”

 

 

Saturday of the 1st Week of Advent

Here it is, the last day of the first week of Advent 2012.  How’s it going so far?  To paraphrase a question that was often asked during the recent political campaign, are you better off today (spiritually speaking) than you were a week ago?  I hope the answer is “yes.”  The fact that you’re reading this is a good sign that you’re trying to increase your spirituality.  I hope my humble postings help you in some small way.

I did a wedding last night.  I love doing weddings because the bride and groom are so full of hope for the future.  They don’t know what the future holds.  They’re optimistic about their lives together but none of us know what’s going to happen today, let alone in 20, 30, or 40 years from now.  What they know is that they’re in love and that they want to spend the rest of their lives together.  That, and Jesus’ presence in their marriage is all they need.

Sometimes things don’t go the way we planned.  Sickness and accidents and financial problems can come to any marriage.  Frankly, I feel sorry for couples who don’t have the grace of a sacramental marriage to help then weather the storm.

As we prepare for Jesus’ coming, why not spend a few minutes thinking of all the times Jesus has been there for you (even the times you weren’t aware of) and tell Him thank you.

Friday of the 1st Week of Ordinary Time

The Two Blind Men (Matthew 9:27-31)

Obviously Jesus knew a little bit about human nature.  He was forever telling somebody not to talk about what He had done and invariably the person or persons would then go and blab it all over town.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals the two blind men.  “Jesus warned them sternly, ‘See that no one knows about this.”  What did they do?  “They went out and spread word of Him through all that land.”

Jesus didn’t have much of a marketing plan.  News of Him had to be spread by word of mouth.  And, it seems like the simplest way to get that done was to tell people to keep their mouths shut.  Here’s the thing.  Jesus was so wonderful, so amazing, so spectacular in His own humble way that people just couldn’t keep from telling everybody they could get to listen about Him.

So what’s happened to us today?  Instead of spreading the Good News, most of us seem to be afraid to speak.  Is Jesus the problem?  Is He less wonderful today?  Is He less amazing?  Or have we gotten so jaded that we’re not that easily impressed?  With phones in our pockets and televisions that fill up a whole wall are we just immune to being dazzled?  If I can see my granddaughter on my computer screen even though she’s hundreds of miles away, maybe a guy who can walk on water isn’t such a big deal.

No, Jesus is still a big deal.  He’s the biggest deal of all time.  He gave His life so that you and I could have our sins forgiven.  We’re the ones who have changed.  Is it any wonder that only three out of ten Catholics come to mass?  We, and I mean you and me, are failing in our calling to share the Good News of the Gospel with everyone we meet.  Here’s an idea.  I have a message from Jesus.  He said to tell you not to talk to anyone about Him.  Maybe it’ll work again.

Thursday of the 1st Week of Advent

Jolly old Saint Nicholas?  or How a 3rd century Greek saint became a commercial icon.

Saint Nicholas (the real guy) at Saint John Nepomuk Church, Saint Louis

Saint Nicholas (the real guy) at Saint John Nepomuk Church, Saint Louis

Today we remember Saint Nicholas, the real guy, not the fat man in the red suit.  Nicholas was the son of wealthy parents.  When they died, Nicholas used his entire inheritance to take care of the poor.  There are dozens of examples of his generosity including a story of him leaving bags of gold for three young women who couldn’t afford the necessary dowery to be married.  He tossed the money through a window in the dark of night being too humble to accept credit for his generosity.  Hence the custom of leaving shoes out on the night before Saint Nicholas’ feast day to be filled with candy and other small gifts.  [Note:  Your favorite blogger has left his shoes out for years and has yet to get even one piece of candy.]

Somehow this tradition has morphed into the Santa Claus/Christmas tradition.  While many of us still celebrate Saint Nicholas’ Day on December 6, Nicholas’ alter-ego, Santa Claus, does his thing on December 25.  Where Nicholas specializes in small gifts, Santa (who’s parents must have REALLY been rich) leans more towards  video games and anything that starts with a lower-case i.  (iPads, Iphones, iPods, iCadillacs, etc.)

The thing that seems to have begun the real metamorphosis was the book published in 1823 which we now know as “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Moore.  The book was originally titled “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.”  Moore describes Santa Claus but calls him Saint Nick.  The confusion lives on.

So, as we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child, let’s remember the spirit of giving that marked the life of Saint Nicholas.  His generosity earned him a place in the cannon of saints.  We’re not distracted yet by the piles of loot that will show up on Christmas morning.  Have an orange or a Hershey Bar, find a quiet place, and reflect on our call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Happy Saint Nicholas’ Day

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent

advent candleLight is good.  Darkness is bad.  I know that these are generalities.  After all, the greatest event in human history took place at night; the birth of our Lord and Savior.  But most of the time, we associate darkness with loneliness, sadness, even depression.  There’s even a name for the depression that’s caused by the absence of light, seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

How fitting is it that we mark the days until the birth of our Savior by lighting candles?  Just one at first.  Then two, then three, then finally for the last week of Advent we light all four candles.  See, Jesus doesn’t come into our hearts all at once.  He lights our world one candle at a time.  We symbolize this by lighting the individual candles then on Christmas morning we’re flooded with light.  In Bethlehem a bright star led the way to Baby Jesus’ place of birth.

He had to be born at night so His Light could be seen by all, in sharp contrast to the darkness.  In our own lives, sometimes we have to endure darkness so we can appreciate the light that will surely come.  Sadly, some people just don’t have the patience to wait.

As we prepare for Christmas, notice all the lights.  Even those politically correct people who insist on wishing you “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” usually add more lights to their businesses during this special season.  For those of us who believe, every star, every street light, every light on every building should remind us that the greatest light of all is coming soon.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!”

Tuesday of the 1st Week of Advent

Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and learned you have revealed them to the childlike.  Yes, Father such has been your gracious will.’  Luke 10:21

This simple, two sentence beginning of today’s Gospel is very powerful.  First, it clearly describes the Holy Trinity.  Jesus, the Son, rejoices in the Holy Spirit as He gives praise to the Father.

Speaking to the Father, He praises Him for revealing the great truths not to the so-called wise and learned, but to the childlike.  As we prepare for the coming of the Lord, not as a great and powerful Rabbi or as a king riding in a golden chariot, we recognize that the all-powerful creator of the universe chose to present himself as a humble child.  He reveals his arrival not to kings, but to lowly shepherds, tending their flocks.

During this season of preparation for His coming, it’s good to remind ourselves that each and every one of us is a creation of God and no great learning is needed to be a member of His family.  All we need is a simple child-like faith.  We don’t have to be great scholars or theologian to hear his simple message.  In fact, great wisdom may get in the way of appreciating His simple message.

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

Monday of the First Week of Advent

francis xavierOn this first weekday of Advent we remember Saint Francis, Xavier.  How appropriate!  Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord.  Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuit order was a Spanish missionary who spread the Word of God throughout Asia.  He visited IndiaJapanBorneo, the Moluccas, and other areas that had not yet been visited by Christian missionaries.   Having been to Asia myself, I can’t imagine what a monumental task his work must have been, trying to convey such an important message without being able to speak the native languages.

But aren’t we all called to spread the good news?  Our vocation may not call us to foreign lands, but doesn’t it seem like sometimes, when we want to share Jesus’ message, we might as well be speaking in a foreign tongue?  When we speak concepts like charity, and love of neighbor, faith, hope, and joy, it seems like we can’t communicate the message because the listeners just don’t understand the words.

Here, at the beginning of this prayerful and joyful season, let’s pray to Saint Francis, asking him to help us in our efforts to evangelize others.

 

Saint Francis Xavier, pray for us!

Happy New Year!

Happy New YearToday we celebrate the beginning of the Church year, the First Sunday of Advent.  While the rest of the world (at least the western world) celebrates January 1 as the start of the new year, the Church recognizes today as the beginning of the liturgical year.  It makes perfect sense.  How better to celebrate the start of a new year than to spend four weeks preparing for the coming of the Lord?

I suppose we could start the year on December 25.  After all, that’s the day when it all began.  Or was it?  Did it all begin when Jesus was conceived?  Or did it really begin when Mary was immaculately conceived?  One event leads to another.  Isn’t it better if we begin with a short period of preparation before the really big event, Jesus’ birth, Christmas Day?  I think so.

But why is it that on December 31 we humans throw huge parties and attend grand celebrations (or at least watch them on TV) when the Church’s New Year’s Day, the first Sunday of Advent goes largely unnoticed.  There are no big parties.  The ball doesn’t drop in New York City.  For most of us, even Catholics, the day when the vestments change from green to purple is mostly just another Sunday.  And that’s too bad.

What really happens on January 1?  We change our secular calendars.  Heck, even the calendars we distribute in church start with January 1.  1/1/13 will be a day off for most people.  The date has significance for taxes and financial purposes, but in the big picture, the one that includes eternity, isn’t December 2 far more significant than January 1?  When you and I meet Jesus face-to-face, do you think He’s going to ask what bowl games we watched on January 1, or is He going to ask us what we did to prepare for His coming?  I think you know the answer to that.