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.”


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!


Good Friday

Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence in preparation for Jesus’ glorious resurrection. We’re all encouraged to attend services today, but it’s not a Holy Day of Obligation. You don’t have to come to church today. You can’t eat meat and you can’t eat between meals, but you don’t have to come to church. I think that’s a little bit odd. On the day that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to save you and me from our sins, I think we should be here. Obviously, so do you.

On the other hand, the fact that this isn’t a day when we’re obliged to come to church, says something about those of us who do come, and those who don’t. One of my wife’s pet peeves is people who don’t send thank you notes. It seems like that simple, common courtesy has fallen by the way side. It’s just good manners to thank someone who’s done something for you. If it’s bad form not to thank someone who has given you a toaster, how much worse is it to not thank someone who’s died for your sins.

Our church will be full tomorrow night for the Easter Vigil. Doesn’t it make sense that it should be full today too? Even in this politically correct, what’s in it for me, don’t mix religion and politics, world, a lot of people get today off. Good luck trying to find a politician in Washington DC today. They’ve all gone home for the Easter break. You’d think that more people, not having to work or go to school today, might take an hour to drop by and say, “Hey, Jesus! Thank you for suffering terrible torture, being beaten and ridiculed, and for dying the painful death on the cross for me.”

If you were here yesterday you heard Father Paul talk about what was in the roads in Jesus time. Washing feet was generally done by servants because people’s feet were pretty nasty. The road was full of animal waste among other things. Remember that Jesus fell three times on the road to Calvary. That alone is more than enough reason for us to thank Him.

But, no. I could have told you ahead of time who would be in church today. I can also tell you a lot of people who aren’t. But you and I are here. We love Jesus and we’re thankful that a loving God would send His only begotten Son to die so that we might live.

Today is a solemn celebration. We mourn Jesus’ death. We see Him lying in the tomb and we realize that if it wasn’t for our sins, He wouldn’t be there. We’re sad and we’re sorry for what we’ve done. We also have the advantage of history telling us what’s about to happen. Tomorrow the tomb will be empty because He’s risen from the dead. Where today’s service is solemn, tomorrow’s will be joyful. There will be candles and bells and incense and we’ll rejoice that He’s overcome death. We will celebrate His resurrection because it’s the precursor to our own resurrection!

In a few minutes we’ll quietly leave church anxious to return tomorrow or Sunday for the great celebration.

Thank you Jesus for saving us from ourselves.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Liberals vs. Conservatives

“I sure hope this new Pope will be more liberal.  I hope he changes some of the Church’s out-of-date teachings.”

This one drives me crazy.  If there’s a worse myth than conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics, I don’t know what it is.  Once and for all, there is no such thing as a conservative or liberal Catholic!

Let’s look at what these two words mean.  According to Webster’s online dictionary:

Conservative:  tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.

Liberal:  not literal or strict.

The Catholic Church was started by Jesus 2,000+ years ago.  He left it so we’d know what we need to do to gain eternal life. He put men in charge and gave them the power to bind and loose.  He said that whoever heard them heard Him.  He left them an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to protect them from error.

The Church is not a political party.   Politics are open to interpretation.   Put in simple terms,  conservatives believe in smaller government and lower taxes.  Liberals believe in higher taxes and bigger government.  There are good people on both sides.  Once upon a time, liberals and conservatives could actually sit down and have a civil debate.  Today, not so much.

But that’s not the Church.  The only interpretation to be done has already been done.  Truth doesn’t change.  What was true even before Jesus’ time is just as true today.  Some would say the Church is old-fashioned.  True Catholics see it the other way around.  What some people see as positive change is actually moving away from the truth.

If God told us that we shall not kill, is abortion really a modern “right” or is it a perversion of the truth.  The same goes for “Thou shall not commit adultery.”  Sexual activity was created by God for the continuation of the human race.  It’s supposed to be between a married man and his wife.  Premarital sex, extramarital sex, sex between two men or two women, or any other perversion you can come up with is a violation of God’s law.

Anyone who thinks we can ignore the Ten Commandments isn’t “liberal”; he or she is a heretic!  Using the political anology, this person isn’t in favor of big government or small government.  (S)he is in favor of no government.  In the political world, that’s called “anarchy”, and that’s not the Catholic Church.  This so-called “liberalism” has led to more than 20,000 protest denominations.  Does anyone really believe that’s what Jesus wanted?

Here’s the thing.  There are two kinds of Catholics.  One group believes in everything the Church teaches, both from the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition.  These people are called “Catholics”.  The other type believe they can pick and choose what teachings to believe.  These people are called fallen-away Catholics.  It’s an injustice to the Church and to faithful, practicing Catholics to soften the image of the heretics by calling them anything other than what they really are.  I repeat, there are no “liberal” Catholics.

In summary, anyone who thinks our new Holy Father, Pope Francis I, is going to change Church teachings, is dreaming.  Doctrine doesn’t change!  There will be no women priests.  There will be no gay marriages.  It just ain’t gonna happen.


40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Idol Worship

Saint Louis IX statue at Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, MO

Saint Louis IX statue at Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, MO

When I started this series I thought it would be much simpler than it’s turned out to be.  Each of these myths about our Church are more wide-spread and more serious than I expected them to be.  Finally, today’s topic is a bit of a relief.  It can be dispelled very simply even though some people will probably not be convinced.

To give you an idea of how much some people dispise our Church, here are a couple of tweets from the Holy Father’s twitter page.

@Pontifex maybe you should give up kidf***ing and idol worship for lent.

@Pontifex yes, they are worshipping idols and a petty perverted anti-Christ in a false church that hates the Lord.

Note:  @pontifex is Pope Benedict XVI.

OK, we get it.  You don’t like the Church.  But this is one myth that is easily shot down.  Yes, we do have a lot of statues in our churches, statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and other saints.  My particular church, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, MO, has more than forty of them.  We don’t worship the statues nor the people they represent (with the exception of Jesus).  We’ll deal with whether we worship saints or not in another post, but for now let’s just talk about the statues.

When this myth is thrown up the simplest way to deal with it is to ask the other person if they have any pictures in their wallet or on the walls at home.  Ask them to see what’s in their wallet.  They will surely have a picture of a loved one.  Next, ask them if they love the picture.  No, they don’t love the piece of paper and the ink that stains it.  They love what the picture represents.  Same thing with Catholics.  I don’t love that hunk of plaster and paint that sits above our altar.  But I do love Jesus who is represented by the statue.

Statues are a visual reminder.  That’s all.  We don’t worship them at all any more than I worship the picture of my wife that I carry with me.  (Actually, like many people today, I carry pictures of all my family on my phone.  I can promise you, I don’t worship or even love my phone.)  Until He comes again, we can’t actually see the face of Jesus (except in the faces of others).  A statue, or a medal, or any other holy article is just a reminder; no more-no less.

What's in your wallet?

What’s in your wallet?

I Don’t Need to go to Mass

It seems that we hear this comment more and more often.  Sadly the people claiming they don’t need to go to mass call themselves “Catholics”.  What they don’t realize is that they’re harming their own souls and they’re harming the Church they claim to belong to.  “OK, deacon, I can see how they might be hurting their souls, but how are they hurting the Church?”

Let’s start with the fallacy of their reasoning.  The Ten Commandments tell us to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  For the Hebrew people for whom this commandment was intended, that meant much more than our current Christian practices.  For them the Sabbath began at sundown the night before and ended at sundown of the Sabbath itself.  For the Jews that meant no work of any kind and a lot of time spent in the synagogue.  Our measly one hour mass on your choice of days (Saturday or Sunday) seems rather pitiful by comparison.  But, for now, that’s what the Church asks of us.

“But who died and left the Church in charge of my life?”  Simple:  Jesus died and left the Church in charge.  He said to Peter, “You are rock and on this rock I will build my church.”  Then He said to Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you hears me.”  Some critics will say that Jesus was speaking only to the twelve and that this authority doesn’t apply to today’s church.

Well, take a look at what the eleven remaining Apostles did after Judas’ and Jesus’ death.  They were alone and afraid.  They were hiding out because their lives were in danger.  Yet they took time to appoint another Apostle to take Jesus’ place.  Clearly they had the authority to do that and they felt that it was an urgent need.  There had to be twelve.  It was the beginning of Apostolic succession.  New Apostles (bishops) are appointed and ordained by existing bishops.

I wrote this just the other day, “If you don’t believe everything Jesus said then He’s a liar and you can’t believe anything He said.”  I’d add to that that if you don’t believe everything He said, then you shouldn’t call yourself a Catholic.  Doing so makes you a liar because you don’t believe what Catholics believe.  You can paint white stripes on a black horse but it doesn’t make him a zebra, even if he says he is.

Here’s another thing that these so-called Catholics overlook.  Jesus left us with the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus’ very body and blood.  There’s only one place you can get it (with a few exceptions like hospitals and prisons) and that’s at mass.  You must attend mass to put yourself in the proper frame of mind to receive the gift of Jesus Christ both in the Word and in the Eucharist.  If you don’t see the value of that, or if, God forbid, you don’t believe He’s really there, then there is a serious gap in your Catholic education.

Here’s the thing.  If Jesus came back.  If He made appearances on television and invited you to come to Him, what would you do?  If you knew that He was going to show up at a local stadium and save everyone in attendance wouldn’t you put on your best clothes and go to that stadium hours early to be sure you got in.  Even if He was going to be 100 or 200 miles away, wouldn’t you make the trip?

Yet He does show up every Sunday in your local parish church.  You don’t have to drive 200 miles.  You don’t have to get there hours early.  You don’t even have to dress up (though that would be nice).  Jesus has made this salvation thing so easy it’s not out of the reach of anyone.  Yet 70% of the people who call themselves “Catholic” can’t be bothered to show up at His house for one hour once a week.

I want to go to heaven.  I want you to go to heaven.  I want everybody to go to heaven.  Jesus has given us this gift.  Does it really seem like such a burden to show up at His house once a week and say “thank you”?

Believe me, I’ve heard all the arguments.  In fact, for several years I used them myself.  “I don’t need to go to church.”  “I can talk to God anywhere I am.”  “Why do I have to go to a special building?”  You can’t kid me because I’ve been there.  Besides, you don’t have to kid me.  I’m not the one who’s going to be there at the final judgment looking you in the eye and asking “Where were you?”  Fortunately for me, I woke up before it was too late.

I know that I’m preaching to the choir here.  I doubt that anyone who reads this blog isn’t a regular church-goer.  But the statistics tell us that someone you love who has stopped going to mass.  You can give them a great gift by encouraging them to come back to the Church.  Feel free to share this post with them.  Maybe if they won’t listen to you, they’ll listen to a third party.  Whatever we do, it’s vital that we reach the ones we love before it’s too late.

Now to the second question, “How are these nominal (name only) Catholics hurting the Church?”  That’s simple.  Jesus didn’t just tell us what to do, He led by example.  Non-Catholics, especially those who have an axe to grind with the Church, look at everyone who calls themselves Catholic trying to catch us doing something wrong.  When people who don’t go to mass, people who say abortion is ok, people who constantly criticize the Church claim to be members it gives our enemies the ammunition they need to attack the Church.

You’ve heard the statistics.  “Most Catholics don’t support the Church’s position on ___________________ (fill in the blank).”  If that’s true then the Church must be wrong.  The trouble is that pollsters ask respondents to self-identify their religious affiliation.  If they phrased the question differently, asking if the person was a regular mass attendee the results would be much different.  Sadly, many of these former Catholics have a problem with the Church.  To tell an interviewer that they belong to the Church but disagree with its teachings may be their little act of defiance.

Bottom line, from a former nominal Catholic, nothing can substitute for attending mass and receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  Thats where Jesus is and that’s where we should be.

See you in Church!

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?

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.

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.

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!”

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

There’s a word in the Jewish language, Chutzpah.  The dictionary defines chutzpah as “supreme self-confidence”; gall or nerve.  They give an example, “He had the chutzpah to demand special treatment”.


I think we can agree that John and James had chutzpah.  “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  Of course we know that what they wanted was to be seated at Jesus’ right and left hand when He came into His glory.


I used to travel to China.  In their tradition, where you sit at the table has great importance.  At a business dinner, which is almost always at a round table, the most important guest sits at the host’s side.  As you go around the table the farther you are from the host, the less status you have.  At my first dinner meeting in Taiwan, I sat at the furthest spot at the table, after the secretaries.  But as I moved up in my company, my spot at the table gradually improved until I eventually got to sit next to the host.  For what it’s worth, that first business dinner was probably the most enjoyable.  Sitting In the first spot meant talking about business and you had to be very careful about what you said.  The secretaries and I had a good time.  They taught me how to use chopsticks and we had a good laugh while I tried to figure out how to eat rice with those two silly sticks.  You’d think that after years of exposure to the west they would realize that the fork is really the way to go.


A lot of us spend our working lives trying to improve our position.  A bigger office, a grander title, invitations to the most important meetings; all these things massage our egos and make us feel more important.  Frankly, I got pretty far up the ladder and every new title just meant more work and more pressure.  I was lucky enough to step back in the last few years of my career.  I let younger people take my place and really enjoyed my role as an in-house consultant, not having to go to the big-deal meetings.  I made a little less money but also had a lot less pressure.  I think that what Jesus is telling us today is to be careful what we wish for


He tells John and James they don’t know what they’re asking for.  “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  They answered that they could and Jesus responded that it’s not up to Him who sits where.


Of course we know how Jesus earthly journey ends.  The men on Jesus’ right and left were thieves who were crucified.  I don’t think that’s what John and James had in mind.


If you ever attend a mass at the cathedral you’ll notice that the Archbishop sits in a big, marble chair.  It’s called the “cathedra”, which means chair.  But, it’s not just any old chair, it’s the place of primacy in the entire Archdiocese.  On either side of the cathedra are two smaller chairs.  Those are for the deacons.  Wow!  When a deacon assists the Archbishop, he gets to sit right next to him.  Not the auxiliary bishops, not the priests, but the deacons get to sit on his right and left.  But why is that?  The deacons are there to serve the Archbishop.  In procession the deacons walk ahead of him to clear the way.  When he sits, deacons sit on either side of him so they’re ready to serve him.  The chairs on his right and left aren’t positions of power or prestige, they’re positions of service.


What John and James are missing today is that prestige is a fleeting thing and that with increased prestige comes increased responsibility.  “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 
They say that they can, and they’re right.  You and I can say the same.  But who sits where in heaven has already been decided.  We know now that God the Father sits on Jesus’ left.  [He (Jesus) is seated at the right hand of the Father.]  The early Church Fathers (and common sense) tell us that His mother is seated on His right.  So John and James are going to have to sit somewhere else.


I think we can take two lessons from today’s Gospel.  The first is this idea of chutzpah.  When John and James say to Jesus, the Son of God, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” doesn’t that sound really brash?  Don’t you think, “Who do these guys think they are?”  That’s what the other Apostles thought.  But, don’t you and I often speak to Him the same way?  “Give me this.  Do that.  Heal this.  Make that happen.”  When we pray aren’t we asking Jesus to do whatever we ask.  But then when we pray the “Our Father” we say “thy will be done.”  Which is it?  His will or ours?  We have to make up our minds.    Remember, it was Jesus who taught us the Lord’s Prayer. “Pray like this” He said.


Second, we have to be careful of what we pray for.  Even at a young age, who doesn’t want to be the boss?  Who doesn’t want to be in charge?  We’re always looking for ways to move up; to make more money and earn more respect.  But is that really important?  Remember what He told us last week:  “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  Temporary, earthly things aren’t going to earn us eternal happiness.  In fact, they may hold us back.


Besides, we often find that when we get the things we want (Notice I said the things we want, not the things we need.  There is a difference.) when we get those things they often turn out not to be as great as we thought they’d be.  A fancy title and a big paycheck may turn out to be more of a burden than a blessing.  Personally I’ve never been happier than I’ve been since I gave all that up.


Jesus gives us the answer in the closing words of the Gospel:  “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”