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’s closet was full of skeletons.  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.  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, about fifteen years ago, 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. “How can someone as lowly as me give birth to a king?”

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 just as he chose David to be a mighty king in spite of his past sins.

 

You and I may think we can never change the world. We’re just not important enough. Or maybe we think we’re too sinful. But the stories of David and Mary prove that we’re wrong. In just a few days we’ll celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s not just a day revolving around gifts and food. It’s a day to remember that Jesus was born for us; to save us from our sins. It’s a day to ponder our part in salvation history. What can I do to repay such a remarkable gift? What does God have in mind for me. It’s a day for us, just like Mary, to say, “Let it be done to me according to your will.”

 

Time and again you have shown your generosity to others. Your response to our Christmas gift drive was outstanding. As you celebrate your own Christmas, take a moment to remember that some poor child is having a merrier Christmas because of your donated gifts.

 

After mass today (tomorrow) we’ll decorate the church for Christmas. We’ll have more poinsettias than ever before thanks to the generosity of our members who donated to our flower fund. Our Christmas visitors will be very impressed.

 

During the year you’ve helped with other collections for those less fortunate than we are. We may be a small community, but together we get things done. That’s what discipleship is all about. In the coming year, I hope that we can all work together to spread the Gospel to more people. There are plans in the works to build our attendance and to increase our revenue. Saint John Nepomuk Chapel has a special place in the hearts of people all over Saint Louis and throughout the nation and the world. We recently received a check from a lady from Florida, a non-Catholic lady by the way, who heard about our broken window and wanted to help.

 

There’s a Czech organization in Cleveland that sends us a check every year for Christmas. We regularly have visitors from other cities who attend mass here. You may not be aware that we often give tours to out-of-town groups visiting Saint Louis.

You and I are part of God’s plan. He has something He wants each of us to do. It’s up to us to respond, like Mary. In a few minutes we’ll all say together, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

 

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4th Sunday of Advent

(This is my homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent)

Today  is the fourth Sunday of Advent.  All the candles on the Advent wreath have been lit.  Now, it’s time to take the wreath down and decorate the church for Christmas.  Father and I will hang up the purple vestments until the first week of March when Lent will begin.

 

For the past three weekends we’ve been hearing about John the Baptist and his ministry of preparing the way of the Lord.  Remember Jesus called John the greatest man ever born of a woman.  But He promised us that the least person in heaven would be greater even than John.  We have hope because that includes you and me.

 

But today the Gospel takes a different tone.  There’s no mention of John.  Today’s story is about Mary and Joseph.  It’s a critical story because it gives us some insight into what these two people had to do to fulfill their part in salvation history.

 

The angel of the Lord has visited Mary and told her that she would bear a son.  In Friday’s  Gospel reading from Luke the angel tells Mary, “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him 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.”  As we all know, Mary told the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

 

Now, Mary was engaged to Joseph.  When Joseph realized that Mary was pregnant his first impulse was to “divorce her quietly.”  Remember, things were much different in Mary and Joseph’s world than they are today.  In our world unmarried mothers are not scorned.  They’re not ashamed of their situation and some even brag about it.  Famous people, especially members of the Hollywood crowd go on talk shows and talk openly about their pregnancies.  They are proud of what they’ve done and don’t seem the least bit concerned about their sinfulness.  But for about the first 1,900 years of the Christian era, being an unwed mom wasn’t something to be celebrated.  It was the cause of great shame and embarrassment.

 

So, it’s not hard to understand how Joseph felt.  Mary had brought shame on herself and on him.  Guys, put yourself in his place.  What would you have done?  Matthew tells us that Joseph was a “righteous man”.  He was “unwilling to expose her to shame.”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would have been as gracious as Joseph.

 

But the angel appears to him in a dream and explains what’s going on.  Mary has conceived through the Holy Spirit.  Her son will save His people from their sins.

 

The experts tell us that Mary was young, probably a teenager.  Joseph was older.  Imagine what his friends and family must have said.  “It serves your right, Joseph.  You decide to marry this young girl and she turns up pregnant.  What did you expect?”  Think about the gossip.  But, he ignored the taunts of his so-called friends and did what the angel told him to do.  I’m sure he spent a lot of time in prayer.

 

So here we have two ordinary people who’ve been asked to make huge sacrifices so that the prophet Isaiah’s words would be fulfilled:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.”

 

Joseph, being a “righteous man” and a devout Jew, surely was familiar with Isaiah’s prophesy.  Surely he and Mary spent a lot of time talking about what was about to happen.  Maybe they both had planned on having a big family.  Maybe Joseph had big plans for his carpentry business.  If they were engaged, they must have spent a lot of time talking about what their lives would be like as a married couple.  But all that changed in an instant.  And today we thank God that they were willing to give all that up for the greater glory of God.  If either one of them had said no 2,000 years ago, our lives would be very different today.  By agreeing to God’s plan they set things in motion that would change the world forever.

 

You and I also play a part in God’s plan.  Even though we will probably never be recognized by the world, every time we say yes to God’s plan, we start a chain-of-events that changes the world.

 

Is there anyone here who’s never seen It’s a Wonderful Life?  It was on TV last night.  George Bailey was given a wonderful gift.  He gets to see what his world would have been like if he’d never been born.  Of course it’s fiction, but it’s definitely a story that should make us think.  What would our world be like if we’d never been born?  What little things have we done that have changed other people’s lives?  Chances are, like George, we have no idea.  God does great things through ordinary people and things.

 

If you’ve been following the news this week, you know about Phil Robertson.  He’s been attacked for stating his Christian beliefs.  And the whole thing has had some remarkable results.  There’s a Facebook page called “Bring Back Phil Robertson”.  In just two days it’s received more than a million “likes”.  Americans are standing up for their faith (and Phil’s) in amazing numbers.  God is working a miracle with something as simple as a duck call.  It’s a beautiful thing to happen just a week before Christmas.

 

My recent blog post on Phil-gate has had more hits than all my previous posts put together.

 

I could stand up here all day and talk about things that have happened in my life that can only be explained by God’s intervention.  He put the right person in the right place at the right time to give me something that I needed.  Maybe it was something they said.  Maybe it was something they did.  But, God’s hand was in it.  I know all of you could do the same.

 

So, as we prepare to celebrate the greatest event in the history of mankind, it’s good to reflect on today’s story.  Two ordinary people from a very small town said yes to God and changed everything.  That’s what Christmas is about.  That’s what our Catholic faith is all about.  Christmas is a time when we focus on a great miracle.  But miracles happen every day.  We may be the catalyst for a miracle and never even know it.  Thank you Mary and Joseph for saying “yes”.

 

 

Monday of the First Week of Advent

Rosary...

Rosary… (Photo credit: miqul)

Here we are at the beginning of the 1st week of Advent.  Once again, the secular media and the retail industry are trying to get us into the “holiday” spirit, which means we should spend, spend, spend.  Don’t get me wrong.  I spent most of my adult life in the retail and/or wholesale business.  I understand the need for a company to make a profit.  Millions of jobs depend on companies staying in business and it’s no secret that the month of December is make it or break it time for most companies in the consumer products businesses.

In fact, the term “black Friday” (which I never did like) stems from the fact that most retailers (if they’re lucky) run at a break-even pace for the first eleven months of the year and only begin to make a profit (get “in the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving.  It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s often true.  I have no problem with that.  In fact, my annual bonus in my previous life depended on lots of people buying lots of stuff in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But, here’s the thing.  You and I, as faithful Catholics, are called to spend the four weeks of Advent preparing ourselves for the coming of the Savior of the world.  It’s a time to pray and reflect on the meaning of Christ’s coming.  Sometimes it’s hard to focus on this critically important day in the history of the world when we’re overwhelmed with ads, and sales, and special events.  It’s just the 2nd Day of December and I’m already tired of all the hype.  If I see one more luxury car with a big red bow on top I may throw my shoe through the TV screen.  Enough!

Father John Mayer was the celebrant at our 4:30 mass this past Saturday.  In his homily he made an excellent suggestion.  He was speaking of the evening news, but I would suggest you try this whenever you’re sitting in front of the television.  When the commercials come on hit the mute button.  There are 44 minutes of actual programming in the typical prime time hour.  That means there are 16 minutes of commercials per hour.  If you were to spend those sixteen minutes talking to or reflecting on God every hour that you’re in front of the TV, how much better a person might you be by December 25?

How long does it take to pray the Rosary?  About 15 minutes?  How often are you praying the Rosary now?  See what I mean?  I know this blog isn’t going to change the world, but imagine  how the world would change if every Catholic in America prayed the Rosary once each day instead of watching commercials, every single day.  I’m just sayin’…….

Why not give it a try.  After all, you’ve probably heard all the commercials you really need to hear.

Christ the King

Today is the solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year.  Next week we begin a new year with the season of Advent.  The Church calendar follows a very logical progression.  We begin Advent waiting for the coming of the Christ Child.  We follow that with the Christmas season, which begins on December 24, not on the day after Thanksgiving as the retailers and advertisers would like you to believe.

 

After a short period of Ordinary Time we begin the season of Lent, a time of penance and reflection on Christ’s life, which is followed by Holy Week and Easter.  Again, our Easter season begins on Easter Sunday and is followed by a second period of Ordinary Time.  Obviously I’ve left out some things but the point is this.  Everything leads up to this celebration.  The year ends with our recognition that Christ is King! 

 

All through His life on earth people wondered who He was.  Was He a prophet?  Was He the Messiah?  Today we announce with certainty, He is all that and more.  He’s the King of the World!  Everyone, even earthly kings and presidents, answers to Him, whether they like it or not.

 

It’s interesting that the Solemnity of Christ the King is a fairly new feast.  It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  He wanted to affirm the “Kingly dignity of Christ” and to correct the false ideologies of nationalism, materialism, secularism, and anti-clericalism.  Sound familiar?  Let me repeat them:

  • Nationalism
  • Materialism
  • Secularism
  • Anti-clericalism

When he first established this feast, Pius called on the people to boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel and to promote and defend the rights of Christ and His Church against those who were ignoring basic human rights.  Things really haven’t changed much in nearly 90 years, have they?

 

Cardinal Dolan recently wrote to his fellow bishops, “We are united in our resolve to continue to defend our right to live by our faith, and our duty to serve the poor, heal the sick, keep our apostolates strong and faithful, and to insure our people.”

 

Too many people today, just like in Pius XI’s time, seem to have forgotten who Jesus is and who they are.  Remember when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life?”  If He is the truth, then everything He said must be true.  To put it another way, if He ever said anything that wasn’t true, then nothing He said was true because He claimed to betruth.  If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, (and if you don’t, why are you here?) then you have to believe everything He said.  And one thing He said was that He would leave us a Church that’s protected from error by the Holy Spirit.  So……….if you believe in Jesus then you MUST believe in His Church and everything it teaches.  There is no such thing as a “cafeteria Catholic”.  That’s something that the media made up.

 

In the second reading, Paul’s first letter to the Colossians, he writes “He is the image of the invisible God.”   No one has seen God the father, but if you want to know what He looks like, take a good look at Jesus.  That’s what He looks like.  He does not look like George Burns.

 

“All things were created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Remember the creation story in Genesis?  He speaks everything into creation.  “Let there be light!”  Who was He talking to?  John tells us in the beginning of his Gospel.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Jesus is the word!

 

“He is the head of the body, the Church.”

[pause]

In Luke’s Gospel the rulers, the soldiers, and even the thief being crucified along with Christ question Him.  “If you are who you say you are, why don’t you save yourself?”  That’s a good question.  A king should be able to save himself but Jesus didn’t.  Why?  It’s what an earthly king would do.  Because, in addition to being King, He was also an obedient Son.  He knew from the very beginning that this would be His fate.  He was born so He could die for our sins.  But He also knew that this world, as good as it is, is nothing compared to Heaven.  He was the only person who ever walked the earth who knew what heaven is like.  And, He knew that by going back to heaven, He could take us with Him.  Now, that’s a benevolent King!

 

Sadly, as Pius XI recognized in 1925 and as you and I recognize today, some people never learn.  Remember those four things:

  • Nationalism
  • Materialism
  • Secularism
  • Anti-clericalism

They’re even worse today than they were in Pius’ day.  Why?  Because too many people fail to realize that Christ is still King.  He’s King whether we know it or not; whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not.  It doesn’t matter.

I may not believe in the law of gravity.  I may not like the law of gravity.  But if I jump off the roof of this church, I’m going to smash into the concrete sidewalk.  Truth is always truth.  It has nothing to do with my opinion.

 

Remember, Jesus is the truth.  He can’t lie.  And it’s a good thing.  He promises us some pretty good stuff and I, for one, am looking forward to meeting Him face to face.  Long live the King!

 

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.

Tuesday of the 2nd week of Advent

For what should we pray?

Let me start by saying that I don’t like winter.  I don’t like the cold.  I don’t like the fact that it gets dark in the middle of the afternoon.  I miss riding my bike.  Like I said, I don’t like winter.  Fortunately for me, last winter and this winter (so far) have been very mild.  [I know, winter doesn’t actually start until next week.  That is if the world doesn’t end first.]

But today on the local news they interviewed a man who owns a local ski resort.  His snow making machines are running full tilt, trying to put down a surface for the skiers.  Sadly for him, the weather forecast is for highs in the mid-50s and possibly thunderstorms over the weekend.  So, hypothetically, if I’m praying for warm weather and this guy is praying for cold weather, what’s a Divine Being to do?  The resort owner has a family to support and a lot of customers who want to slide down a slippery hill with boards strapped to their feet.  It would seem the advantage would go to him. But the local meteorologists seem to be on my side.

To put things in perspective, I live in Saint Louis, MO.  Today is the 11th of December.  By all rights, it should be cold.  If I want it to be warm in December, I should move to Florida.  Now, I’m not here to argue for or against “global warming” except to say that the “global” part would imply that the whole world should be warm.  As I write this, there is plenty of cold weather all over the world.  But I digress.

I’m going to be outside a lot this weekend.  It would be nice if the temperatures were warm.  But is that something I should pray for?  Why should my comfort override someone else’s enjoyment or livelihood?  I’d also rather not get rained on.  Buy the midwest is seriously behind in rainfall.  The farmers, and all of us for that matter, could use a few inches of the wet stuff.  Wouldn’t my prayer time be better spent in talking to God about my neighbor’s cancer, or my secretary’s husband’s surgery today?  In general don’t we all spend just a little too much time telling God how to be God instead of asking Him what we can do to help?

Remember, Jesus did tell us how to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be Thy Name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Not one word about the weather.

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!”