1st Sunday of Advent

Today we begin the holy season of Advent, the beginning of the Church year. It’s a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. It’s a time of waiting and watching for the coming of our Savior. It’s should be a time of prayer. Unfortunately we live in a world that doesn’t always let us do what we know in our hearts we should do.

 

Businesses urge us to spend, spend, spend; to shop ‘til we drop. Our friends, families, and employers all want to fill our calendars with parties and other gatherings. For many of us who have secular jobs, the end of the calendar year can be the busiest time of all. Where are we supposed to find the time to pray? Where are we supposed to find the time to reflect on the meaning of this holy season? What are our priorities?

 

Modern society tells us to be rugged individuals. We can do anything. President Obama’s campaign slogan was “yes, we can.” Nike tells us “Just do it!” Over the past few days we’ve seen countless images of people who feel that it’s their right to just take what they want and to damage others’ property. Someone, for whatever reason, thought it was OK to vandalize our church. Sometimes, it just seems so hopeless. What are we supposed to do.

 

Well, the season of Advent calls us to prepare; to get ready for a savior. What does that mean? It means that we can’t save ourselves. We need someone to save us from our sins. We can’t do it alone. As Father Robert Barron says, “Our greatest challenge this Advent is to realize just how much we need Jesus.” If we’re not aware of how much we need a savior, how can we really prepare?

 

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah says, “Behold, O Lord, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people.” This was the mindset of the people before the coming of Christ. They KNEW they needed a Savior and couldn’t wait for Him to get here. Isaiah goes on and reminds us that even “all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have withered like leaves and our guilt carries us away like the wind.” We can’t buy our way into heaven by doing good deeds.

 

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus tells us, “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May He not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch’.

 

Maybe that one word, “watch” should be our mantra for the next four weeks. Watch for the coming of Christ. Watch your own thoughts and actions. Are they what Jesus would want you to do? Watch out for your family and friends. Are they preparing for His coming, or are they so caught up in the secular aspects of the Christmas season that they’ve forgotten the “reason for the season”? You do realize that that’s not just a catchy phrase?

 

For Advent we decorate the church in the color purple. It’s not a happy color. It’s not a joyful color. It’s a color for introspection. It’s a color for meditation. It’s a color of peace. It’s here to remind us that “ordinary time” is over. This is a special season. It’s not business as usual.

 

It’s kind of ironic that all the unrest happening in our city is happening during this holy time. There are a lot of angry, frustrated, and confused people here in Saint Louis and in other cities. Even though most of us are not involved with the situation in Ferguson, even though to many of us it seems like it’s very far away, we all have feelings about what’s happening. What you personally feel is between you and God. Maybe it’s good that this is happening at this particular time. By focusing on the message of Advent, maybe we’ll all be more inclined to be patient and forgiving.

 

Remember that there are two things going on in Ferguson and elsewhere. First, there are people who are genuinely concerned about the relationship between themselves and law enforcement. We’re all descended from immigrants and many of our ancestors were subject to the same fears as people of color are today. Where you and I may see a police car and be grateful that they’re here to protect us, I know my Irish ancestors didn’t share that feeling. The term “paddy wagon” was coined because that’s what the police used to round up the Irish.

 

Saint John Nepomuk church was built here on Bohemian Hill because the residents of the city in the nineteenth century didn’t want “foreigners” in their neighborhoods. That’s why there’s such a concentration of ethnic churches here on the south side. Fear is a strong emotion and it causes people to do things that they might not normally do. While we don’t share that fear with our African American brothers and sisters, it’s important that we try to understand it.

 

The second thing that’s happening is criminal activity. Looting and burning businesses has nothing to do with fear. It’s all about greed and opportunism. In fact, these thieves and vandals apparently don’t fear law enforcement. They just want free stuff. Their actions do nothing to further the cause of peace and justice. They just make it worse. It’s important for the rest of us to recognize the difference between the two groups and not lump them all together.

 

I’ve put a memo in the bulletin this week from Archbishop Carlson. I hope you take time to read it. We should all be proud that our Archbishop seems to be one of the only voices of reason among our local clergy. Tuesday night while Ferguson was burning, the Archbishop was leading a prayer service at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta parish. For some reason, the local media seemed to ignore what was happening there, probably because a reasonable man, speaking from the heart about the issues that divide us doesn’t make for exciting TV, especially when just a few blocks away there was so much more action.

 

It’s too bad that most people didn’t get a chance to hear his remarks, because, frankly, they made me proud to be Catholic. Among the things he said was this, “Violence destroys what it claims to defend.” You can find the video online. I urge you to find it and watch it.

 

Discrimination is the work of Satan. Because of original sin, it’s something that’s plagued us since the beginning of time. Whether it’s Jews and Muslims, whites and blacks, or Catholics and protestants, we all seem to have a need to hate someone to make us feel better about ourselves. While our Bohemian founders were discriminated against by the so-called “native Saint Louisians” (who had been immigrants themselves just a generation earlier), the animosity between Catholic Bohemians and non-Catholic Bohemians was just as bad if not worse. Some of you may remember that it hasn’t been that long since a Catholic belonging to the Czech hall was a cause for excommunication. Today the various Muslim denominations can be bitter enemies. And don’t get me started about the “troubles” between Catholics and protestants in Northern Ireland, which is even more ironic because most of them don’t go to any church at all.

 

As we begin the Church year, I hope you’ll join me in praying for the gift of understanding just how much we need a Savior. We’re prisoners of so many things; money, prejudice, power, prestige, addictions to drugs, alcohol, and pornography, that we desperately need a savior. Every twelve-step program begins with the realization that we’re powerless to overcome these things alone. We need a higher power and we must turn our lives over to Him.

 

That’s what Advent is all about.

O come, O come, Emanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Our readings today speak to us about heaven and hell; good and evil. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that “many are called, but few are chosen.” One man is thrown out of the king’s wedding feast because he wasn’t prepared. Here in Saint Louis, just this weekend, and just a few blocks from where we are now, we can see situations playing out that remind us of just how real these struggles can be.

 

A few blocks to the north, our Cardinals will begin the National League Championship Series in a few hours. It may be a bit of a stretch to call their series with the Giants a battle of good and evil, even though some die-hard fans in Saint Louis and San Francisco may see it that way. But it’s certainly a test to see who is most prepared.

 

When spring training started nine months ago, thirty teams all thought that they would win the World Series. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have shown up. But after weeks of practice and 162 games, just ten teams made it into the playoffs. After months of preparation, ten teams moved on and twenty teams went home. Now we’re down to just four teams. “Many are called but few are chosen.”

 

In just a couple of weeks only one team will be left. One team, the one who is most prepared, will make it to “baseball heaven” and twenty-nine will have to wait until next year. It’s an exciting time in the four cities that are left, but it also says a lot about our modern society. Millions of people are watching. People are paying outrageous prices for tickets to the games. Fans will dress up in team colors and cheer for their favorite team. Meanwhile, many of those same people won’t give an hour this weekend to come to church, to prepare themselves for their own heaven.

 

A couple of blocks east of here, thousands of people are attending the Soulard Octoberfest. Again, it’s a gathering of hundreds of people, doing their best to enjoy their earthly lives. In this case, no preparation is required. All you have to do is be over twenty-one and show up. There will be gallons of beer and lots of music. There will also be people getting drunk and making fools of themselves, all in the name of “fun”. Again, many of them will try desperately to have a good time but most of them won’t have time, or will be too hung over to make it to church tomorrow morning. I’m not sure exactly what equals “success” at the Octoberfest.

 

Tomorrow morning, again right here in our Soulard neighborhood, hundreds of people will be taking part in the Go Marathon. In this case, a lot of preparation is required. Most of the runners will have spent hours in training for this event. Many of them will come back next weekend for the other marathon, again running through our neighborhood. The runners who are most prepared will win. It’s obvious that the one who runs the fastest race will be called a winner but for a lot of other runners, their definition of success may be something different. Just finishing a marathon is an accomplishment. For others, just showing up is a major feat. There will be lots of individual “successes” but one thing we know for sure, no success in any kind of race is possible without preparation. “Many are called but few are chosen.”

 

Something else is happening here this weekend. It’s not a game or a festival or a race. There’s nothing happy about it. There are no winners but there surely are losers. Our city is in the midst of a crisis that’s getting national and even international attention. Two months after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, racial tension isn’t going away. Worse, just this week another young man was fatally shot by a police officer. This time, instead of happening in Ferguson, which for many of us is like the other side of the moon, this time it happened right here in South Saint Louis.

 

After two months, we still don’t have closure in the Ferguson shooting. As they say, “the jury is still out.” Details of the shooting in the Shaw neighborhood seem to be a little more clear-cut. There seems to be pretty clear evidence that Vonderitt Myers shot at the police officer who then returned fire and fatally wounded the 18 year old. More demonstrations and protests are planned for this weekend, not just in Ferguson, but all over the area.

You and I don’t know exactly what happened in either incident. What we do know is this. Two young men are dead and racial tension in Saint Louis is near the breaking point. We also know that what happened in North County is now happening in our own neighborhood.

 

While the shooting of these two young men is a tragedy, what’s could happen next would be an even greater tragedy. As Catholic Christians, we have an obligation to pray for the souls of the two young men. We have an obligation to pray for their families and friends. And we have an obligation to pray for our community, that cooler heads will prevail and that there is no more violence. We must also pray for our policemen and women. They do a very dangerous job and it gets more dangerous by the day

 

I think a lot of us are isolated from the events of the last 60 days. We feel safe and secure in our white, suburban communities. But this most recent shooting brings the whole thing closer to home. The baseball playoffs, Octoberfest, the Blues game tonight, the marathon, and the Ram’s Monday night game are bringing thousands of people into a very concentrated area. The potential for trouble is huge. The world is watching us. We must pray that there are no more tragedies in Saint Louis.

 

The problems in our community, in our country, and in our world may seem almost insurmountable. But as Paul said in today’s second reading, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” It makes me sad when I hear people who claim to speak for Jesus calling for actions that can only stir up more trouble. Anyone who calls themselves “reverend” should be a person of peace.

 

Finally, when we look at all that’s happening around us, we should look at our own problems and how they compare to the big picture. Saint Paul was remarkably positive for a man who was persecuted and thrown into prison more than once for preaching the Gospel. In today’s reading he tells the Phillipians, “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah and Jesus Himself promise us today a seat at a magnificent banquet…..if we’re prepared. What does that mean? It means we should love God and love one another. It means we should work for peace. It means we should humble ourselves before God, placing our lives in His hands. It means we should be disciples and we should make disciples. It means we should take inspiration from the saints and do our bests to live holy lives. It means we should remember, “Many are called but few are chosen.”

The First Sunday in Advent–A New Start

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My name is Mike Buckley.  I’m a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  I’ve been married to my lovely and talented wife, Janet for just over forty-one years.  We have four grown (?) children and two grandchildren.  You will be hearing more about them in the future.  I’m assigned to a small parish in suburban Saint Louis and to a brand new hospital nearby.

I’ve told you a little about who I am.  Now let me tell you who I’m not.  I’m not a theologian.  I’m not a liturgist.  I’m not what you’d call a deep thinker.  There are other sites on the web that fill those needs.  I’m just an ordinary Catholic who has been blessed to be called to fill a special function in the Church.  I try to speak to other ordinary Catholics who may have the same needs or feel the same frustrations as I do.

I’ve been thinking and praying about this blog/podcast for a while.  I think the first Sunday of Advent is a proper time to begin something like this.  So here it is!

This will be an evolving effort, beginning as daily reflections during the Advent and Christmas seasons.  Only time and the Holy Spirit will tell what’s to come but I thank you for joining me. I suspect that, after the Christmas season, it will become a little longer and less frequent.  Your comments on what you’d like to see and hear here would be greatly appreciated.

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of the day of His return.  He warns us,

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.”

This 2,000-year-old advise couldn’t be more appropriate in 2009, could it?  If it ain’t the eatin’, drinking, and carousin’ that gets us, then it’ll probably be the anxieties of daily life.  Anxiety is so bad for us that we pray at every mass that God will “keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Here’s my suggestion for you during this time of anticipation of the birth of our Lord.  Find yourself a good source of daily reflection for the Advent season and devote a specific time for it each day.  Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and make an appointment with yourself every single day.

That little daily respite from the anxieties in your life may be all you need to enjoy a really blessed Advent season and get you ready for that Holy Night that’s just a few short weeks away.