Saturday, January 13, 2018

Vocation story

2nd Sunday of Ordinary time, year B 2018:
Last Sunday we celebrated the Epiphany, where the magi came and worshiped Jesus.  And now we are back to ordinary time.  So, just like that, our Christmas season is over, and we are back to green vestments and ordinary time.  But, ordinary time doesn’t mean “bad” or “plain.”  Technically it comes from the word “ordinal” meaning numbered.  There are 34 Sundays of Ordinary time.  These Sundays fill in the gaps between the special seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.  The focus of the gospels during Ordinary Time is the life and ministry of Jesus.  Therefore, I think the liturgical year teaches us an important lesson about our own life.  Sure, there are great high points in our lives, just like Christmas and Easter are high points in our liturgical life.  But, I think it’s ordinary time where we really grow in our faith.  In some ways, it’s easy to be a Christian on Christmas, but what about the second Sunday of ordinary time?  We should really see these “Green Sundays” as “Growth Sundays.”  If we do, Ordinary time will be anything but ordinary.
I really love today’s gospel reading.  It’s the vocation story of the apostles.  This is the story that tells us exactly how it was that the apostles heard the call to follow Jesus.  Andrew was guided by John the Baptist.  He met Jesus and spent time with him.  He was motivated to tell Peter: we have found the Christ.  There’s an interesting power in vocation stories.
I didn’t know this early on, but when you are a seminarian, a person studying to be a priest, people oftentimes want to hear your vocation story.  I remember my first Christmas as a seminarian I was at a lunch sponsored by the Serra club.  It was a lunch for all the seminarians and their parents, along with many priests and with Bishop D’Arcy.  Since I had only been a seminarian for a few months, I felt sort of intimidated by a room full of priests, seminarians, and especially Bishop D’Arcy, who I greatly respected.  So, I was definitely trying to keep my head down and just stay under the radar.  Now, at every one of these lunches, Bishop D’Arcy would always get up to “say a few words.”  So, bishop started talking about vocations and he started talking about Pope John Paul II.  He said that JP2 had a great impact on vocations throughout the world.  “In fact,” he said, “our new seminarian, Jake Runyon, was influenced by JP2.  Jake, why don’t you stand up and tell everyone all about your vocation story?”  I was so embarrassed.  Gee, thanks a lot bishop.  So, I told my vocation story.  The very first time I ever thought about being a priest was when I was in Denver in 1994 for World Youth Day.  I remember seeing priests from all over the world.  I was impressed that they came in every shape and size.  I thought: maybe that’s what I’m supposed to do.  There’s more to my vocation story of course, but we don’t want to be here all day.  I sat down after telling my story, greatly relieved to be out of the spotlight.  After lunch, one of the other seminarians said: I’m really glad you are in the seminary.  Now, Bishop won’t call on me to talk in front of everyone, he will just use you.  I learned from that day on: always be ready to tell your vocation story.
But, I want to turn it around on you: what is your vocation story.  When did you realize you were being called by Christ?  Was there a moment?  If you are married, when did you know he/she was “the one?” 

Having a handle on your vocation story is important.  If you have never really sketched it out in your own mind, you might really be missing out on the ways you could be meeting Christ.  But, faith is also meant to be shared.  What would have happened if St. Andrew had never talked to his brother about the faith?  We never would have had St. Peter.  So, that’s your homework assignment.  If bishop D’Arcy were here today and he pointed his finger at you and said: what is your vocation story, what would you say?  And, second, share that story with someone.  Could be a friend, a spouse, one of your kids.  Sometimes our vocation stories can really go a long way towards helping other people grow in their faith. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas 2017

Christmas 2017:
I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  How cool it was yesterday to see the snow coming down, it really looks and feels like Christmas.  And, what a great feast this is: Jesus Christ is born.  He is our Lord and Savior; his birth brings joy to the whole world.
In the gospel we just read, we hear the message of the angel: do not be afraid, I bring you news of great joy: a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.  If you remember, a few hours ago we celebrated the 4th Sunday of Advent.  The angel’s message to Mary was similar: do not be afraid, nothing is impossible for God.  And now we proclaim the impossible has happened: Jesus is born who is Christ, Lord, and Savior.  Do not be afraid.
This one sentence should live in our hearts constantly: do not be afraid.  God is with us.  Jesus is our savior.  Do not be afraid.
But, I want to dwell on that word for a moment: savior.  What does it mean to be a savior?  What does it mean to say that Jesus is our Savior?  You know this is something we say so often: Our Savior Jesus Christ the Lord.   It sounds like just another name to add onto the name of Jesus.  But, “Savior” is an amazing title.  Savior is the one who saves, that makes sense.  Saves from what?  If you are drowning, a savior jumps in and brings you to safety.  If you are in a car accident, a savior might pull you from the wreckage.  If there’s a fire, a savior may risk himself/herself to go in and find you.  A savior recognizes your plight, risks himself/herself, and overcomes danger to bring you to safety.  But, if you don’t know you are in danger, you might not even be looking for a Savior?
So, are you looking for a savior?  Have you every recognized that you are in danger?  Have you ever felt the plight of being a human being?  We are limited by our weaknesses, our imperfections.  And worst of all, we are all mortal.  These bodies will give up one day.  Each and every one of us is in grave danger.  But, are we even looking for a savior?
One of my favorite movies is Forrest Gump.  One year, for Christmas, Forrest stays with his old army lieutenant, Lieutenant Dan.  After losing his legs, Lieutenant Dan had gone to some pretty low places in his life.  In a moment of emotional turmoil, Lieutenant Dan says to Forrest, “Have you found Jesus Gump?”  Forrest replies, “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.”  This is one of my favorite movie lines, maybe ever.  I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.  Not only is it a great line, but I also think it is a problem that we all face at some point in our lives: I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.
The angels tell us news of great joy: our savior is born for us.  But, if we don’t realize we need a savior, we won’t find him.  If we aren’t looking for him, we won’t find him.  Jesus Christ is the son of God, but he comes to us as a small child, lying in his mother’s arms.  Jesus is still our Lord and Savior, but he still comes in quiet moments.  He comes as savior, to those who recognize that he is needed.  He comes to those who are looking for him.

So, my friends, my encouragement for you this year is to take full stock of all the ways you need a savior.  Do not be afraid.  Where do you need to grow and change?  I know I have my list of weaknesses, anxieties, stresses, and difficulties.  I recognize that I need a savior.  So, I’m turning to Christ: come Lord Jesus.  Let’s keep our eyes open.  Let’s keep looking for Jesus.  Today we celebrate the day he was found in the manger.  At this Mass, we celebrate the Holy Eucharist where he comes to us under the appearances of bread and wine.  And as we go forth from this mass, we will keep looking for him.  The more we look for Christ the more we will experience that great message: do not be afraid, I bring you news of Great Joy.  Jesus Christ is born for us, he is our Lord and Savior.  Merry Christmas. 

Do not be afraid!

4th Sunday of Advent year B 2017:
I know that it is almost Christmas.  This is the shortest 4th week of Advent possible.  But, at this Mass we still take a moment to prepare for Christmas.  We hear the encounter between Mary and the angel.  Last week I was at St. Charles for a penance service.  Fr. Dennis read this passage, then called attention to 2 lines from Gabriel.  These two lines are spoken to Mary.  But, since Mary is a representative for all of us, they are spoken to us as well. 
The first one: do not be afraid.  Put yourself in Mary’s shoes for a minute.  I’m sure she was going about her day, minding her own business, when an angel from heaven just shows up in her life.  I think any one of us would be afraid.  Not to mention his message: you will conceive the Son of God.  Yikes.  Talk about anxiety.  Who could say yes to something like that without being afraid.  So the angel addresses her fears: do not be afraid, have faith.
What about us?  There are many things that can cause us fear and anxiety and worry.  The angel tells us: do not be afraid.  The little baby of Nazareth is God’s proclamation: do not be afraid, I have not forgotten you.  God is immanently close to us.  No matter what may cause us fear, do not be afraid, for God is truly with us.
The second line to which Fr. Dennis called our attention was: nothing is impossible for God.  Gabriel pointed to the example of Elizabeth to reassure Mary that God can do the impossible.  God fulfills his promises.  God can and does do amazing things.
This is a powerful message to us too.  How many times do we feel lost or hopeless.  Maybe it’s an illness, maybe it’s a struggle against addiction, depression.  Maybe it just feels like life is beating us down and it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other.  Let this message from the angel fill you with hope: do not be afraid, for nothing is impossible for God.  Again, the little baby of Nazareth shows us that God can do the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the impossible.  Nothing is impossible for God.

My friends Christmas is right around the corner.  God is coming to us.  Let the message of the angel live in your hearts.  Do not be afraid, nothing is impossible for God.  Open your hearts to Christ, he is coming soon.