Saint Andrew

Today is the feast day of Saint Andrew, Apostle and martyr.  I was surprised when I did a Google search for Andrew that one of the results was a blog post that I wrote on his feast in 2011.  It actually wasn’t bad!  It makes me wonder if my ability to put words together on a page (or screen) isn’t less than it once was.  Old age isn’t for sissies!

Anyway, I thought it might be worth while, on this first Monday of Advent, to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit Saint Andrew.

A quick word-association:  What do you think of when you hear Saint Andrew‘s name.  Hopefully you think “Apostle” or “martyr”, buy if you’re like me you probably think “Simon’s brother”.  Even the Ordo, the Church’s book of daily prayers, mass readings, and other helpful stuff for clergy says “Andrew, + 1st c.; brother of Simon Peter“.

 

We  can learn a lot from Andrew.  All of us live in someone’s shadow.  Whether it be a spouse or a sibling, someone in school or someone at work, there always seems to be someone who gets more recognition, more respect than we do, at least in our own minds.  Think of Andrew.  He’s the one who brought Simon to Jesus.  Yet, Jesus always seemed to favor Simon in spite of the fact that he was constantly messing things up.  It was Simon who Jesus called “Satan”.  It was Simon who cut off the centurion’s ear.  It was Simon who denied Jesus three times.  In spite of all his failings, it was Simon who Jesus put in charge of His new church.

What about Andrew?  He did his job.  He spread the Gospel just as Jesus had called him to do.  And he suffered a martyr’s death.  Twenty centuries later we remember Andrew, but primarily as Simon Peter’s brother.

It’s appropriate that Andrew’s feast day falls within Advent.  As we pray and reflect in preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s birth we can compare Andrew’s life with our own.  Who are the Simon Peters in your life?  More important, how do you interact with them?  Are you jealous or are you glad to have them in your life?  Are they positive role models?

Like I said yesterday, God made each of us to be unique individuals.  Rather than envy someone else’s accomplishments, embrace them and learn what you can from them to make yourself a better you.  I have four grown-up children.  Each of them is a unique individual.  Each one excels in different things.  I’m sure that at one time or another they’ve all felt like they were living in one another’s shadows.  But the reality is that each one is the wind beneath the others’ wings.

Today’s challenge is to think about the people in your life who seem to get all the attention.  What can you learn from them?  More important, how can you use the gifts God has given you to be a better “you” instead of an imitation “them”.

After 2,000 years we may think of Andrew as Simon Peter’s brother, but the thing is we’re still thinking about him.

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1st Sunday of Advent; Noah (not the ark)

1st Sunday of Advent

I’d like to start by being the first to wish you “Happy New Year!” Today we begin the season of Advent, the start of the church year. You have new missalettes in the pews. Last weekend we came to the end of the Lectionary, the Sacramentary, and the Book of the Gospels and now we start all over again. In the three-year cycle of readings, Year B is over and today we begin Year C. The green vestments and church decorations have been put away and replaced with the purple. The first Advent candle has been lit.

 

More important than that, today we begin the season of preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. While we’re bombarded with ads for the latest and greatest “stuff” that our friends and family absolutely must have to make their lives complete, we Catholics are into a season of prayer and reflection.   Is it possible for us to live in both worlds? It is, but we have to work at it.

 

Our purple is in sharp contrast to the brightly colored lights and decorations we see all around us, but there’s a reason for that. In this oasis we call the church, we find a quiet and calm that we may not find anywhere else, except in our own hearts and minds if we take this season of prayer seriously.

 

Sometimes sources of prayer can come to us in unexpected places. Last weekend Jan and I were in a gift shop in Saint James, Missouri. There’s a little bit of irony in the fact that the town is named for a saint because I found something there that was entirely unexpected. Meet Noah. As you can see, Noah is a teddy bear. I know you can’t read what it says on his T-shirt, especially from the back of church but it says, “Prayer is a path where there is none.” That’s a pretty profound thought for a stuffed bear. It’s worth repeating. “Prayer is a path where there is none.”

 

Prayer is a place where we go when we need help. It’s a place to find peace and serenity. It’s where we go to be alone with God. It’s not a physical place. Obviously this chapel is a place of prayer and that’s why we come here. But we can pray anywhere and at any time. Maybe we have a special place set aside at home for prayer. Maybe we pray throughout the day at any time or any place. During Advent we’re encouraged to pray more often, and more deeply, than during what we call “Ordinary Time”.

 

The Son of God came to save us from our sins. Without Jesus, we have no hope. That’s what Advent and Christmas are all about. My little friend here has some pretty profound things to say, so I thought I’d let him deliver his message to you today. Here’s Noah.

 

I really can’t add much to what Noah said. One key point is this: “Life is a gift. Prayer is a thank you note.” We may have a tendency to use our prayer time telling God how to do His job. “Do this. Give me that. Not thy will, but my will be done.” But, especially during this special season, shouldn’t the emphasis be on HIS WILL? When the Apostles asked Jesus how they should pray, He gave them the prayer that we say at every mass, the prayer that we learned as little children. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

Hopefully, as we spend the next four weeks getting ready for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we’ll remember Noah’s words. “I don’t pray because it makes sense. I pray because my life doesn’t make sense without prayer.”

 

Noah is the voice of Noah benShea, an author and motivational speaker. Learn more about him at http://noahbenshea.com.

 

 

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings are an example of why it’s good to understand the historical context of Scripture.   The stories may make sense to our 21st Century minds, but looking at society as it was in Biblical times gives them a little more meaning.

The first reading and the Gospel today deal with widows. It’s important to realize that widows in those times were usually in desperate straits. There was no Social Security. There was no life insurance. There were no pension plans. Unless they had a generous extended family, widows were among the poorest of the poor. Women didn’t work at paying jobs, so their prospects were very bleak. They had no hope.

Yet, here we have two widows, both being asked to give. In the first reading, not only is the main character of the story a poor widow, but at the time, around 900 BC, the Middle East was caught up in a draught and famine. Nobody had enough to eat, let alone this poor lady. But along comes Elijah the prophet asking her for water, something that was in short supply. But the widow does as Elijah asks. As she’s walking away, Elijah calls after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.”

The lady explains to Elijah that she has just enough flour and oil to make one last meal for herself and her son. That’s it. That’s all there is. When they’re finished with their bread and water, they’re going to die. Imagine how hopeless she must have felt.

That’s when Elijah says something so outrageous that it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. He asks her to make him a cake! Seriously! He wants a cake??? Maybe he’d like some ice cream to go with it? But, he goes on to tell the widow that if she does as he asks, “The Jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”

 

Sure enough, she makes Elijah his cake and she and her son have enough to eat for a year. She gave the little she had, and she was blessed in return. You know, God still works that way today. God can never be outdone in generosity. If you don’t believe me, just try it.

Now, let’s look at the Gospel. The scene is very different. Mark tells us that Jesus is speaking “to the crowds,” as opposed to the scene in the Old Testament reading where there were only two people, Elijah and the widow. A lot of people are following Jesus now. When He speaks, they listen. He’s describing those synagogue officials who like to run around in long robes, letting everyone see how important they are. He says “They devour the houses of widows, and as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

This is the flip side of the first reading’s message. The first reading tells us to give and it will be returned to us many times over. The Gospel is telling us that the men who “devour the houses of widows” will receive a “very severe condemnation.”

The story continues with one of those widows coming into the temple and giving two small coins to the treasury, all she has, her whole livelihood. Jesus tells the disciples that this poor widow has put in more than “all the other contributors to the treasury.”

So, what’s the message here? The logical answer is that here’s where I tell you how important it is to give money to the Church and to other charities. Give ‘til it hurts. Give, not from your surplus, but give all you have. That’s certainly part of it. It’s called “stewardship”. God has given us what we have and it’s up to us to give back. Like the first widow, God will give back to us in much larger measure that we give to Him. But I think the message here is bigger than that. It’s about faith.

How do we grow our faith? We grow it by sharing it with others. Our faith gets bigger when we give it away.

Last Sunday we held our Goulash Festival. It was a success. We served more dinners and made more money than ever before. But that’s not what made the event successful. What made it successful was the way you all worked together, the way you represented our faith community to our visitors. Over 400 people visited us and many of them had never been here before. They enjoyed the food, but the majority of comments we got were about the atmosphere of Saint John Nepomuk.

They were impressed with how well everyone worked together and with the friendly greeting they got from you. That’s called “evangelization” even if not a single word was spoken about Jesus, or God, or Catholicism. We grow our faith by giving it away, just like the two widows in today’s readings.

The Goulash Festival only happens once a year, but we have the chance to share our faith every single day. We don’t do it by running around in long robes or taking seats of honor in the church. We do it by the little kindnesses we do for one another every day. We do it by dishing out goulash once a year, but we also do it by welcoming visitors to our chapel at every mass.

We become disciples by making disciples, and we make disciples by giving to others. In his speech to Congress, our Holy Father summed up his whole message, and Jesus’, in one statement. Live by the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.32