Monday, December 29, 2014

Blog # 425 Connections

Blog  # 425  Connections

               Though the color of the vestments at Mass during Advent and Lent is the same, the flavor of the two seasons of the Church's Liturgical Year is different.  A single word that can be used to express the flavor of Lent is penance.  We are interested in seeking forgiveness and making up for our sins, setting things straight with God.   Humility and justice are the guiding lights of Lent.  Humility to accept the truth about ourselves and our sinfulness.  Justice to motivate us to acts of reparation.

                      A single word that can be used to express the flavor of Advent is waiting. We are interested in discovering more fully the content and significance of the promises made by God to all of  us from the very beginning in Adam and the content and significance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in history and as it applies to us in our present moment and in our future. We are interested in growth. Faith and hope are the guiding lights of Advent. Faith to accept the revelation of God concerning creation, Jesus, and ourselves. Hope to experience the confidence we need in God and ourselves for the revelation to be fulfilled in us.

                   There is a danger in not seeing that all the seasons and years of our lives are connected one to another, from beginning to end. 2015 is not just another stone thrown onto the pile of an unknown number of years that will constitute the whole of our human experience here on earth. I
may not remember what I did on December 1, 1984, yet what I did then is part of who I am today at 87.  And who I am today is part of who I shall be. In other words I am continually creating the name or identity by which God will call me into my eternal destiny at the instant of my death. 

              With these insights, Advent takes on a special identity. This particular year during Advent I have been reflecting more upon the experience of Jesus on the Cross as an expression of love rather than of suffering.  It is not a question seeking to downplay the Lord's suffering but rather that simultaneously I seek to be more fully aware of the love that was present. As a thermometer is not the heat but an indicator of the degree of heat that is present, so the suffering of Jesus on the Cross was not the whole of His experience at all but rather an indicator of the immense depravity of sin and the degree of love that He was expressing which was total, giving all that He had, in death.

              As with ourselves, every moment and every experience of the life of Jesus was connected one to another. At Christmas the eternal Word of God is born among us to give God's love an opportunity of living out in flesh like ours the experience of obedience, generosity, patience, wisdom, self-control and all the rest that goes into the anatomy of love. As with ourselves, each act of love in the experience of Jesus was a giving of a part of Himself to another. On Calvary He still had more to give, another hour, another instant, more life and more love. Then, when  the greatest hour in His life had come He could cried out: "It is finished!". The work He was sent to do is done!  It is finished. His love on the Cross was total, unconditional, complete. "There is no greater love...".

              In the light of such reflections the connection of Christmas with Calvary becomes very clear. The Incarnation furnishes the Word of God with a human body so that He could give of Himself as we, united to Him by faith and Baptism, are called and empowered to give of ourselves in acts of love throughout our lives until that final instant when it will be finished and our love will be the total unconditional obedient perfect love of death.

              Knowing well many of the details of the story of the life of Jesus on earth, the Church directs us in celebrating them anew each year.  Advent is a time of waiting. We go back to the time in history before the first Christmas. We are like a saw hanging in a carpenter's shop waiting for what it was made to do. Hanging in the shop it is a noun. Sawing wood it is a verb. Applying this to ourselves, all of us who have been Baptized are Christians. By that fact we should be ever waiting to do what we were made to do. I don't think we hear the word 'Christianize' very often. It is the verb form of Christian. It means all that it means to be humanly good, but additionally through Baptism empowered with the identity of Jesus within us, acting in us by faith.  It is the verb form of Christian. Christianize our attitudes, desires, days and years is another way of saying Happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Blog # 324 Exhortation of Pope Francis

Blog # 424  Exhortation of Pope  Francis

            I just finished reading the exhortation published a year ago by Pope Francis entitled The Joy of the Gospel.  As I put the book down I prayed again a prayer of thanks I have prayed many times since the conclave of Cardinals from around the world chose Francis as our current Pope.  The book is thoroughly what it claims to be, an exhortation or plea to the entire Church membership in our current moment of history. Francis is obviously well aware of the seriousness, challenges, and difficulties involved in the task that has been given him. Yet he is also obviously confident in God's presence among us and the legitimate hope we have for a successful realization of God's plan for today's world if we work together as a world-wide family of  Catholic believers.

            Throughout the book I felt Francis was humbly sharing his own story as one of us. It was almost as though he were in the same room with me, just sitting in a different chair. I heard his concern that we keep ourselves aware of the salvation of all people as a primary agenda of the Church with Jesus as always and in all that we do in evidence as the sole Savior of all, with salvation identified in the joy and peace that comes in this world as well as the world to come beyond the grave.
              Everyone counts.  No one came into existence without God willing it. We have to learn to listen to others, especially the poor, and appreciate the stories of those who do not see things as we do. We have to be worthy to help them by cultivating within ourselves the attitude of Jesus and the love He has for all. Aware of our union with Jesus through faith and Baptism, sharing His life and His love in all that we do, we need not be afraid. (Col. 3: 17).



Sunday, December 21, 2014

Blog # 423 Christmas a Beginning

Blog # 423   Christmas a Beginning

            Generally we are accustomed to celebrate Christmas with the whole focus of our attention on the infant Jesus.  We are impressed and appreciative that the All-Powerful, Almighty God came among us as a newborn baby like our very selves, one of whom we need not be afraid and to whom our hearts and affections are naturally attracted.

             However, it seems to me that if we fail to connect the birth event in the life of Jesus with the remainder of His life on earth we can hardly understand and appreciate the full meaning of that birth.
The Eternal Word of God was sent to earth with a message to proclaim, a promise to be fulfilled, and a mission to accomplish. His life death and resurrection was to be the fulfillment of His Father's promise to our first parents of a savior, our Messiah. He was to tell us of our Father-Creator's love and to respond in his human freedom to that love in all of the time and circumstances of  His life. This was to be accomplished through perfect obedience to the Father's will for Him

                He would tell us He was sent for this, and further that just as the Father had sent Him so He was to send us to do the same Father's will.

                  A human body had to be made available to the Word to speak and live the message and mission that was to be accomplished.  That is the story of Christmas.

                   Christmas, however, was only the beginning.  He would grow to be a man. And it was all connected. Always and everywhere Jesus would be conscious of being sent. He would always and everywhere think speak and act according to the Father' will for Him, not in some totally divine way but in a unique humanly-divine way, in circumstances just like our own  In the end, He lived out His human unconditional trust and total love for the Father in giving over to the Father's will His entire life in His death on the Cross.

                    With Christmas as the beginning, if we fail to see the rest of the story and the connection of the beginning to the rest of His life we miss an essential element in the meaning of HIs birth.  And in this we fail to see an essential element in our own rebirth through faith and Baptism whereby we are made one with Jesus as branches on a vine, called by the Father and sent by Jesus to live and die in union with Jesus in constant obedient love.  As Baptized Christian believers we have more to do than 'get to Heaven'.  In Him we are sent to proclaim the message and live the love He brought from Heaven and shares with us, always, and everywhere.

                  "What will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus ?"  (Rom. 8:35 - 39,  Rom. 6: 3 - 5).  That is a good question for anyone who wants to be a Christian.  It is a good 'Christmas

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Blog # 222 Christmas

Blog # 222  Christmas

         The original story of Christmas on earth began over two thousand years ago.  Our liturgical celebration of the story  began nine months ago March 25 when Mary was offered and accepted
Gabriel's message from God that she would be the mother of the Messiah promised to God's chosen people from the very first Chapter of the Book of Genesis. As the Bible presents it, the next nine months of Mary's life were much the same as the months any ordinary mother experiences the time of waiting for her child to be born.  We can imagine her getting advice from neighbors and her mother St. Anne. She knew her baby would be a boy and she knew Joseph had been told to give him the name Jesus on the eighth day of his life according to the law of Moses.  Again from the story as it is given in the Bible, the boy Jesus was very much the same as other boys growing up in the neighborhood of Joseph's carpenter shop.  We do not hear of miracles he performed, that he prayed a certain way, that he was significantly different in his relationship to Mary and Joseph  than any of the other boys in the neighborhood in their relationships. As the story progressed from his infancy through his youth to the life of an adult it continued the same, for about thirty years.

           All of  this is very familiar to us and I think we are comfortably accustomed to take it for granted, waiting for the public ministry of Jesus to begin with his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana.  This year it has turned out differently for me.  Somehow all during Advent I kept thinking of and being impressed more than I remember with an awareness and appreciation of  the content of my faith in the humanity of Jesus. The Eternal Word of God, though divine and infinite, and united as one with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, is the same 'person' as  Jesus!   And that was true every day of the human life of Jesus from the hour He was conceived to the hour he died on Calvary.  There are mysteries here beyond our limited human comprehension, but there are also insights that guide and help us to know appreciate and love Jesus more than we may have been accustomed to be consciously aware of.  For example there is a danger for us not to appreciate  more fully that, as one of us it would not have been any more natural, and therefore without the gift of grace for Jesus to know and love the Father than it is for us to do so. As one of us Jesus had the same need we have for the gift of grace in order to pray, to know God as we do, and to obey God.  This plays up for  me the depth of humility the Word, in Jesus, accepted and portrayed when as one of us He assumed our humanity and accepted the need for the gift of grace for achieving goals common to Him and to us in our humanity.

            I am also inspired  and encouraged in seeing how as one of us Jesus experienced and responded to rejection misunderstanding and lack of response to His goodness wisdom and teaching. Just imagine how Jesus felt, as one of us, when nine out of ten of the lepers He healed did not come back to thank Him and receive the greater gift of His friendship in which the gift of their healing was wrapped. I am also inspired and encouraged in witnessing Jesus in our common humanity tired, hungry, spending time in prayer and enjoying a fishing trip with His disciples. 

             I admire and appreciate the wonderful achievements men and women accomplish individually and together with others in a team during the Olympic games. They inspire me but do not invite me to imitate them at the age of 87.   In the case of Jesus I can hear Him telling our Father "I have sent them into the world as You have sent me"(Jn, 17: 18),  and praying that all who will come to believe in Him would be one in Him so the world will know the Father loved us as He loved  Jesus in His humanity,{Jn, 17 23) united  in Baptism, as a living branch on a single vine, the  Church.    

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Blog # 421 God living in us

Blog # 421 God living in us

         Jesus prayed aloud to the Father the evening before He died that we who believe in Him would be united to Jesus as Jesus was united to the Father in His humanity so that through faith and Baptism all who believed in Jesus would be united to Jesus by sharing His divinity. (Jn, 17 22,23 ). This would be so the world would know the Father loved Jesus by granting His prayer and  consequently that He loved us as He loved Jesus, united to Jesus in the gift we have come to call the gift of Sanctifying Grace, the gift that makes us holy or one with Jesus by sharing His divine God-life in our limited but real human way.

          As a small child receives from a teacher the knowledge that cat is spelled C-A-T, and in that experience shares something of the teacher's life, so we through faith and Baptism are gifted with a share in God's life/love.  We learn of the gift from the Bible, from history, from the experiences of those around us, and from our own experiences and conscience.  But there are cautions and dangers to be avoided to help us guarantee the gift will  be one of which we are  aware of in our everyday experiences. It is not to be like a gift of fine china  which we have received on our wedding day which is always ours but is stored in a closet and used only on a special occasion.  We live in the house with the gift and would never throw it away but we use it only occasionally. Days go by and we are not consciously aware of it and not consciously in need of it for the agenda of those days, living almost as though it were not ours and we were not radically different because of it.

          To guarantee the gift of Sanctifying Grace will have its intended effects in our lives we have to make decisions.  Decisions are made in response to questions.  Are  we interested in growing more holy in our life?  Are we willing to be different because we have been identified with Jesus through Baptism as a branch on a vine, sharing His love, proclaiming His presence in our life as a light,
(Matt, 5: 14). revealing the meaning of salvation in Jesus and the power of His grace to conquer sin. 

           I remember as a boy we had a small holy water fountain by the front door and  how we would dip our finger into it as we  went out and make the sign of the cross with it.  I think one of the Sisters in school suggested it and my mother always kept it supplied with holy water.  It was a small way but a definite way we had to remind ourselves that we were Baptized.  On entering church we do a similar thing with a holy water font at the entrance.  .  But here too it could become just a routine custom we have had since we were small children.  On the other hand it could be a conscious willful act that renews our Baptismal promises and prepares us to live in a way that is more worthy of our union with Jesus and His love.



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Blog #420 Evil= Freedom - Love

Blog # 420  Evil -freedom -Love

            This blog derives from  notes I wrote back around 2001 after the tragedy perpetrated by the terrorists  on the World Trade Towers in  New York City.  A friend had sent me an article that had appeared in one of the Chicago newspapers.  Apparently it was the work of a regular columnist who writes for the paper. 

             The author refers to correspondence he had been having since the attacks with a friend of his who believes in God.  Of his own situation with regard to believing in  God the columnist says:  "I don't".  He  continues: " I believe that the nature and desire of God, if any, are so impenetrable that trying to puzzle it all out is futile."  If he meant by the phrase "puzzle it all out"  understanding and knowing God on our own, what he wrote is good Catholic theology. What is so different in us and in  God' infinity results in the fact we cannot in any natural way know in the sense of contain God in our limited created mind. However, having said this we do profess an ability on our part to receive  from God elements of truth about Himself that make it possible for us to be in personal relationship with God, and intelligently respond to God in prayer and in an authentic awareness of God's will for us.
            Further on in the article the author says if God wouldn't do any of a thousand little things that would have stopped the tragedy - if he wouldn't keep the towers standing long enough for the people inside to escape, and so on - then what is there to do other than live your life as best  you can and  hope for the best?  What he is doing here is putting conditions on faith in God.  If God will do this or if  God will do that, I will or I will not believe in God.  This of course shows an ignorance of our definition of faith and therefore that we are talking of two different things when we talk about the experience of faith.

              God is the Creator of all that we are and all that we have. God is not our servant but our  God. God is worthy of our unconditional trust and total love.  No other love is worthy of God. Once
we put conditions on our faith in God and our love for God we are dealing with a notion of God that is untrue.  God could have prevented the tragedy of September 11 but He need not have done so to be the true God we know, trust, and love.  If all people knew and obeyed God's commands for us there would be peace and love for all.  The tragedy of September 11 would not have occurred.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Blog # 419 A Living Faith

Blog # 419       A Living Faith

          This blog will be an almost verbatim copy of an essay in the parish bulletin of the
church where I was Pastor back on the 1st Sunday of Advent 1995.  It reminded me of and renewed for me a special grace I had received the day before and I thought it might be helpful to you as we prepare for the gift of Christmas 2014.  

          Yesterday afternoon I went over to Toomsboro to anoint Inez. It was a special privilege for me. You could tell from the number of cars and pick-up trucks parked around the house there was something going on that was of special importance to the family.

           Inez lay on the couch in the front living room.  One of her grandsons was cradling her head on his lap and her son from Savannah was kneeling by her side.  Her older sister, in from Arizona,
announced the priest had arrived. Though I had not met any of them in person, I felt I knew them all well from their pictures there in the living room and the descriptions and stories Inez had given me of them on the regular occasions when I brought her Holy Communion. I knew she loved them deeply.  Now I was witnessing some of their deep love for her.

            It is about twenty miles from here to her house, and about the same distance to the nearest Catholic churches in Dublin and Milledgeville. As far as I know, Inez is the only Catholic in the whole town of Toomsboro. What a difference it is from the experience of being Catholic in Chicago,
where she used to live, with St. Peter's church on one corner and St. Paul's just a few blocks away, with St. Symphorosa a few blocks in the other direction.

           The distance between churches and the number of Catholic friends and neighbors may be
different, but the content of her faith is the same.  The faith she learned and loved as a girl is the same faith she knew and loved yesterday afternoon. She had learned, as all of us who attended parochial schools in our youth, there were seven Sacraments or holy signs of God's special love for those who believed.  One of the special signs is for those who are sick and in danger of death. It was hers yesterday, not just as one on the list of seven she had memorized for religion class, but as an experience

              It was the experience of a special personal here and now love of God the Father of Jesus and her Father. There was real oil and a real sign of the Cross on her forehead and hands.  Jesus was not just a memory handed down from age to age through nearly two thousand years of history, but a real person, with a real message and a tangible expression of God's love, with real power over death, taking away its sting and giving it meaning and value by transforming it by faith into love. On the way home I thought of what a great privilege it was to be used by God to deliver this grace, and what a joy it was to believe.

        I began to tie in the experience yesterday afternoon with our liturgical celebration of  the first Sunday of Advent today. Earlier in the week I had been thinking of ways we might more effectively gather the graces that are offered by the celebration of the season of Advent.  All around us stores, homes, TV, and radio are appearing and sounding as though Christmas was already here.  Money rather than faith seems to be the major ingredient in creating a merry Christmas.

              Then an interesting  thing happened when I was walking over to the track by the high school this morning. It was still dark, and the light on the pole by the entrance to the track was casting a strong shadow of myself on the pavement in front of me.  It does this every morning, but this morning it made a special impression.  It reminded me of the image I shared with you last Spring with regard to illustrating how God and we work together to produce God's plan for us on earth.  The sun, our bodies, and the pavement all work together to produce an obedient shadow.  So it is with God's love, shining on us and producing an obedient effect on the world around us. 

              The artificial light this morning did a similar thing without the sun.  I thought of  this in relationship to the celebration of Christmas.  Music, dancing, sounds and experiences of great joy can be produced at Christmas on the calendar without explicit reference to Jesus.  But the time will come when we need more than music and dancing and all the earth can offer to make a happy life or a  genuine merry Christmas.  We need something or someone to tie it all together, to give meaning and value to it all, from beginning to end, and especially the end. 

            This is where Jesus comes in.. Advent is our invitation to discover the reality and power of His coming this year, in our life. It should not be just another Christmas, one more added to the many as though they were stones piled in a heap, but rather joined to all the rest we have enjoyed as one whole, the story of God's love in our life, creating in Jesus our eternal name.  Inez' anointing yesterday afternoon was related to her anointing at  her Baptism. Jesus makes this possible. 

           Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, John, Jesus, you, and I are all in a row, part of God's eternal plan for all of creation.   Come, Lord Jesus !  Teach us your plan.   Help us love  you. one another, and the world around us more and more. Amen!  Inez, pray for us.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Blog # 418 Rock Foundation

Blog # 418 Rock Foundation

          St. Matthew gives the famous discourse of Jesus generally referred to as the Sermon on the Mount in Chapters 5,6, and 7of his Gospel. At the conclusion of the sermon Matthew says: "Jesus left the crowds spellbound at his teaching.  The reason was that he taught with authority."  In the text of the sermon as given in Matthew Jesus covers a great deal of ground beginning with the Beatitudes
then on down through identifying  His disciples as 'salt' and 'light', love of one's enemies, the  text of the prayer we have become accustomed to refer to as "The Lord's Prayer",  the Golden Rule which directs us to "treat others the way you would have them treat you" with reference to that rule as  the sum of the law and the prophets, and finally concludes with the famous story of the two men who built their houses, one on rock and the other on sand.   Blog # 418 will be a response to that brief  but significant conclusion of  the Sermon on the Mount.  

            In my current reading of the passage I have received a different lesson than the one I had been receiving for many years, focusing appropriately and almost exclusively as I did on the foundation of the houses as reliable or not, rock or sand. Recently I began to see a comparison between these few verses of Matthew's Gospel and the equally known story of the widow's mite. ( Lk. 21 1-4 ).  In that story Jesus draws the attention of  His disciples to a poor widow placing just a couple of pennies into the treasury of the temple and then saying she put in more than all the rest, some of whom put in large sums.  That story obviously was not about mathematics or money alone, but relationships.  The rich contributors and the widow put into the treasury what each of them felt the temple was worth to them.
             This same relationship could be expressed by placing God in place of temple, God's house,  and their story comes out as telling us primarily of their different relationships with God. From this we see the substance meaning and value of our spiritual life does not hinge primarily upon our accomplishments but on our relationship with God, resulting primarily in our obedience to  God's will.  In this light two pennies can be more than all the rest.

         In the story of the two houses built on different foundations the same lesson that sees  relationships as more important than  accomplishments is presented in a different way.. The two houses, accomplishments, are not compared as one more perfect than the other.  From the story as given in the Gospel both houses were well built. Only the foundations on which the houses were placed is the focus of attention. Both were subjected to the same adverse weather conditions.  The difference is their foundations.  In our practical application of the story to our lives, we are invited to identify and examine the foundation of our faith and the difference our faith makes for us between ourselves and someone who does not  share the faith we possess. 

           As Catholics our faith rests securely on the testimony of God through Jesus as the sole witness to those truths we take as true and upon which we build our life ('house'). An act of faith I memorized in preparation for my first Holy communion in the second grade and which I continue to pray daily goes like this:  O my God, I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three divine Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I believe Thy divine Son became man, suffered under Pontius  Pilate, was crucified died and was buried. I believe He rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  I believe these and all the truths the Holy Catholic Church teaches because Thou hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.  Amen! The testimony of God is surely a secure foundation. In response to it St. Paul could say nothing will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord.  (Rom. 8: 35 - 39.)


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Blog # 417 Christmas 2

Blog # 417  Christmas 2

          I have heard it said that one of the greatest dangers to a happy growing and lasting marriage
 relationship is for the partners to take one another for granted rather then daily discovering one another again and again ever more deeply as the years of their marriage go on.  In a similar vein, years ago when I was teaching a class on marriage, the class came up with this definition of fidelity in marriage: I will try to keep myself as attractive to you as when you first discovered. me.

            This year it occurred to me to apply these insights on marriage to our celebration of the birth of Jesus. Trying to look back on it I imagined I first discovered Jesus as attractive about eighty years ago when I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs on a Christmas morning and found the Lionel trains all set up on the parlor floor and presents laid out around the room for everyone in the family.

         Now in 2014 for many of our families the same beautiful artificial tree will be taken in from the garage and set up in the parlor with the same strings of lights wrapped around it, the same decorations hung on its limbs, and the same beautiful angel presiding over it from its peak.  All of this will be good and make a  meaningful celebration in the family.  Pictures will be taken and stored with those of other years, and in a couple of weeks Christmas will be put away until next year.

           The decorations and parties, yes, but let's not put the event of Christmas behind us.  When a baby is born in a normal human family the event of the baby's birth is the beginning of an eternal relationship that is designed by God to grow and develop. So it should be with the birth of the divine Word of God on earth as Jesus, close to two thousand years ago in history and currently in our official public liturgical celebration of Christmas in 2014.  The baby Jesus will grow and live among us as God and as one of us, in our private prayers, our family prayer, and in our official public liturgical celebration of His life and love for us, again as we have known it before, and in new ways that are still to be created this coming year.

          As with the case of a newly married couple and that of another man and wife married for fifty years,  a power-laden and beautiful question they are entitled and called to ask of one another every day is how can I know you better and love you more.  We Baptized believers are united with Jesus in a way He Himself described as that of branches on a vine. We share the life of that vine with the vine itself and with the other branches on the vine, which is the Church. Certainly we are entitled and called to ask of Jesus and of one another how can I know you better and love you more.

           If that were to occur , the event of Christmas would not be put away in the garage with the tree the lights and the decorations. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Blog # 416 Advent 2

Blog # 416  Advent 2

              Advent has often been envisioned as a journey.  We are traveling to Bethlehem to experience again the birth of Jesus. It is not a question merely of remembering, of turning the clock back almost two thousand years or walking in our imagination on the physical terrain of Israel. Rather it is a  question of finding a place in our minds and hearts here and now that Jesus can call Bethlehem and come to be born there according to the Father's plan.

              Our goal is 'Bethlehem'.  It is a state of mind, an attitude, a collection of desires and an awareness of the gift of freedom rather than a physical place.  How do we get there?  As with the goal of any journey, the direction we take is determined by where we are when we begin the journey.  If  you are going to New Jersey you travel south from Boston and north from Washington, D.C.  On our Advent journey to Bethlehem, if we do not realize that Jesus is God and that God is the Creator of all, then we will not have an adequate idea of what is going to happen. If we do not have an idea of God's intense love for us we will not know the real reason Jesus was born. If we do not see that in Jesus all of creation is connected, then we see only part of what He came to do. Our personal salvation is only part of the whole, and we must see beyond ourselves to understand fully His birth.

             Advent is the time for considering and responding to all of this.  We have gone to Bethlehem before.  But each year we come from a new place and a new time.  We were never here in our life before.  It has never been now. We bring new gifts, new memories, a new sinfulness, new joy. lf we make an effort to set aside some quiet time and energy for God to speak to us,  Christmas 2015 will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience of spiritual growth.

            The theory is that as human beings and as Christian believers we are hungry for this. But there are distractions, with so much going on around us and within us at this particular moment of history that focus upon other stars than that of Bethlehem.  I think it would make good sense and I would like to see the whole world respond to the birth of Jesus with an enthusiasm matching that shown in the streets of Atlanta years ago when the folks greeted the new world boxing champion returning home from his defeat of Mike Tyson in the ring, or in Chicago when the whole City seemed to come out to the streets to honor Cardinal Bernadine as his funeral procession passed by.

             I feel this way not because of some long habit of thinking of Jesus as worthy of our best love, but because of a personal relationship with Him based upon a deep fundamental conviction in faith that He is God.  God is the Creator of all, and God loves me and all people with an everlasting love.  That love brought Jesus to Bethlehem.  That love invites and leads us there.  To love Jesus more and to be loved by Jesus more is a real reason for going to the Bethlehem in our hearts to kneel quietly before Him in joyful praise, heartfelt thanks, and humble adoration.

            But there is more.  The love we receive is to be shared with those around us. As the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sends us. (Jn. 17: 18; Jn. 20: 21).  What Jesus came to do we are sent to do.  "Love on another as I have loved you." (Jn.13: 34;  15 12. It takes time and energy to discover what this means. That is why it is good for us to celebrate Advent again. It gives us an invitation to look around and within us, to ask questions, some new ones, some old ones with new answers, some we have never asked before.

          Advent is a journey.  Sometimes the road is bumpy and rough.  Sometimes it is night. It can be a long road. Sometimes there are more people going in the opposite direction.  But Bethlehem is real, and Jesus will be born again and again until the end of time.  Come, Lord Jesus!   Make us ever more worthy of your presence in and around us. Teach us how to live the faith and love you  have given us. Amen!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Blog # 415 King of Love

Blog # 415  King of Love

           The purpose and experience of celebrating feasts in the life of the Church is very much like the purpose and experience of celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions in the lives of those we appreciate and love. Because of such meaningful relationships we have with certain persons, because of their goodness  generosity and kindness to us in one way or another, because we  admire and appreciate them for their virtue character good example and source of support and inspiration they have been for us, and for what they have accomplished in their lives, we respond in joyful praise and feel privileged to be part of a celebration in their honor.

         The same emotion and joy we bring to a birthday or anniversary celebration should be ours on the occasion of  the celebration of Saints in the calendar of the Church.  Especially should this be on the occasion of feasts celebrating special features of the life of Jesus. The feast of Christ the King is such an occasion.  I did not think I did it justice last Sunday so I will give it another try today in this blog.  It is the climax of the Church's Liturgical Year.

      Jesus had come among us seemingly as a very ordinary infant.  We watched  him grow and walk among us as a man, prayerful kind and compassionate to those in need and finally crucified for claiming to be God's Son, one with God, divine.  He invited us to see in  His death not a tragedy or failure but an exchange of love between Himself and His Father.  He was not being killed at all!  Rather He was "laying down His life", giving it away, in loving obedience to His Father's plan, as an effect and sign of the Father's love for us all.

              We might have thought, and we heard some say sin was the cause of His death, but this was not so. Sin would not be given that power or privilege.  In spite of its power to cause our ruin, sin did not have the power to kill God's beloved Son Jesus. This was made clear to us when on several occasions sin, in the hatred and willful misunderstanding of the people, they would have stoned Jesus or thrown Him over a cliff  to His death, Jesus simply walked away unharmed. ( Luke. 4: 29-30; Jn. 8: 59; Jn. 10: 31, 39). His 'hour' had not yet come.  Jesus did not say "Watch me suffer",  but "No greater love than this has anyone, than to lay down one's life for a friend."

             We began to see more closely or perhaps for the first time the suffering and death of Jesus not as an effect of sin, but rather as God's response to sin.  It was bloody and painful, yes.  It was altogether tragic as the rejection of the most perfect Presence of God on earth in the humanity of Jesus. In the death of Jesus God most emphatically declared for all time the absolute evil of sin. This was God's Beloved Son, God Himself, paying the price for our sins, laying down His life, giving all that He had in total love!  This was to give us some idea of the enormous evil of sin as a contradiction of the Father's wisdom and a rejection of His love. It cost Jesus His life to tell us how evil and tragic sin is.

           But at the same time, and in the very same act of dying, Jesus was telling us God's love was worth this much to Him, and God's love for us was this great.  God was not punishing Jesus on the Cross. Rather He was giving Jesus the opportunity of placing love where love had been denied. It was what Jesus referred to as His "glory".  (Jn. 17: 1). He did not single out His preaching or prayers, His wisdom and goodness, His kindness and humility, but His death as His glory. The divine love of Jesus on Calvary is the greatest love that ever touched the earth. "No greater love than this has anyone than to lay down one's life". The greatest expression of the greatest love on earth was given to the world on Calvary.  In that act of dying we see Jesus as the King of Love.

             Each occasion when we offer the sacrifice of the Mass we recall and experience once again in faith the obedient loving sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross. All that Jesus said and did was related to this, His greatest act of love. The Annunciation is here, and Christmas too.  You cannot give what you do not have. In Jesus God would have a human body like our own. On the Cross and in the Mass it is 'given'.  Easter is here too, for the eternal glory of the Resurrection is the Father's response to the love of Jesus on the Cross.

              As all that Jesus said and did is not to be considered apart from Calvary, so all that we as Christians do and say and all that is said and done to us is not to be considered apart from Jesus and His love in us. Along with pain comes courage and trust in Him. Along with the power to wage war, experience impatience fear wrath or dishonesty comes, in Him, the invitation and power to live in peace as individuals and as nations, the power to create in our lives patience love generosity and prayer.

             But it does not always come out this way.  Our freedom sometimes objects.  When Pilate stood before the people and asked " Shall I crucify your king?" they did not hear him asking whether he should give God the opportunity of loving us as Jesus did, but only whether Jesus was to be crucified and forgotten. "We have no king but Caesar!"

              There are many possible 'Caesars', rival kings to Jesus.  Passions weakness fear feelings fatigue culture all claim power, all seek to rule. "Come".  "Go".  "Look like this!"  Speak like this!" "Act like this!"  They are 'Caesars'.  At any moment we might stand before Jesus and say with the people in Pilate's court "You are not our king. We have no king but pleasure, sex, violence, money, prestige, secular humanism!"

                In  Pilate's court Jesus was led away to be crucified and forgotten.  Now, almost two thousand years later, He is our KING OF LOVE, and all who condemned Him are gone. 

                                                     PRAYER TO CHRIST THE KING            

              O Christ Jesus, I acknowledge You as the Universal King.  All that has been created has been created for You.  Exercise over me all the rights that You have.
               I renew my Baptismal promises, renouncing sin, and I promise  to live as a good Christian. Especially do I pledge myself  to bring about the triumph of the rights of God and of Your Church.
             Divine Heart of Jesus, I offer You my poor actions to obtain that all hearts my recognize Your consecrated kingship and thus the kingdom of Your peace my be extablished throughout the world, in the minds and hearts of all seven billion of us.  Amen!