Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Christmas 2012:
            First of all, let me say on behalf of Monsignor Mike and everyone at St. Matthews: Merry Christmas to all of you.  We celebrate this feast with great joy.  Christ is born for us.  God our Father sent his only begotten Son into the world to bring us healing and peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, he came as our Savior to bring us everlasting life.  Today we celebrate his birth, we see in this little child the hope of the whole human race.  Without him, without this little baby, we are lost, doomed to death as punishment for our transgressions, but with Christ, with this baby, there is hope, salvation.  No wonder we are filled with joy today. 
There is a lot to love about Christmas.  I love everything about Christmas: presents, parties, lots of food, family, fun, etc.  But at the heart of everything we do during this Christmas season is this little baby.  There are many clich├ęs that capture this sentiment, but there is something to these phrases: keep Christ in Christmas, he is the reason for the season, etc.  Without Christ there would be no Christmas, without Christ we would not be here, without Christ there would be no Christianity, no Church, no Mass, no salvation, no parties, presents, or chocolate.  So during Christmas it is important to remember this little Child, it is good for us to contemplate who he is.
This week as I was contemplating Christmas and contemplating this little baby I thought about Star Wars.  Now, this might seem a bit strange.  You might think I had visions of baby Jesus with a light sabre doing battle with the forces of evil.  But, no, I was thinking about the opening titles.  At the beginning of every Star Wars movie is the same phrase: a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: Star Wars.  This is George Lucas’ way of saying that this story is fiction, it is not pretending to be real life.  If anything, Star Wars is a myth about good overcoming evil.
Is this how we think about the birth of Jesus?  It is certainly true that it happened a long time ago, over 2000 years ago; and, it is certainly true that it was far, far away, in a little town called Bethlehem.  There are certainly mythical elements involved: we hear about angels talking to people, about Jesus being a divine figure. 
But, this story is no myth, this story is not fiction.  This story is real, Jesus was really born, he really had a mother, he lived in a real time and place.  And as Pope Benedict wrote recently, this flies in the face of the modern spirit.  In our day and age, God is relegated to the realm of ideas and principles.  It is completely acceptable for someone to be spiritual, or to believe in God, just so long as we don’t allow God to affect our real life.  God is certainly allowed to act in the spiritual realm, but not in the material realm, that is the realm of science and physics.  God is allowed to exist in the spiritual, ethereal plane, but not in the material, concrete world.  But, if God cannot act in the material world, then he is not God, for to be God means to be the maker and sustainer of everything. 
When we say that this little baby is the Son of God, who become man, we are saying something amazing.  We are saying that God not only made the universe and set it in motion, but that he entered the world he created.  We are saying that God not only created the human race, but that he became human in order to share his divine life with us.  When we say that this little baby is God we are saying that God is real, that he exists in the real world, that he is tangible and concrete.  The birth of Christ is not some mere myth or morality story.
So, my friends, we celebrate this feast of Christmas with great joy.  We celebrate the fact that Jesus is really God.  That while this story is set a long time ago in a city far, far away, this really happened.  Jesus is God, he was sent to be our savior.  And just as Jesus came into the real, concrete world 2000 years ago, he continues to come into the reality of our lives.  We live every day in the presence of God, he is not remote, he is not distant.  He loves us, cares for us and is present in our lives.  In a sense, every day could be filled with the joy of Christmas because every day can be a day where we experience God’s presence in our lives. 
We experience this presence in a very powerful way right here as we celebrate this holy Mass.  That little baby is truly God, and his is present in the Holy Eucharist.  Right here at this mass Christ comes to us, not as a little baby, but as his body and blood.  Today we celebrate his birth among us, and we welcome him into our lives as our savior and redeemer, but we do so by welcoming him into our lives in this Holy Eucharist.  Jesus Christ is real, he is not a myth, not a morality fable, not something from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  Today and every day of our lives we believe in Jesus Christ, we love him, and we follow him.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete, even in tragedy

3rd Sunday of advent year c 2012
Rejoice in The Lord always.  These words from our second reading today form the theme of the day. In fact, this Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday, coming from the entrance antiphon from today's Mass. This is why we don the pink vestments and proclaim rejoice. This color represents the joy that we are experience as we prepare to celebrate the great feast of Christmas, where we celebrate the central truth that the Son of God was born to be our savior. This is the source of our joy.
But, this day comes to us on the heels of a very sad day. How can we not be saddened when we hear about the senseless violence that claimed the lives of so many people in Connecticut this past week. One headline I read said it all: why would anyone hurt our babies?  Why indeed?
This latest tragedy may be freshest in our mind, but there have been tragedies all throughout history. Just in the last 100 years we have seen world wars, communist oppression, terrorist attacks large and small. It seems like every day the newspapers are just filled with bad news. In this context, doesn't joy seem a bit out of place. How are we to be joyful in the midst of such suffering?  It is certainly true that there are many obstacles keeping people from living the Christian life, but one we might hear quite regularly goes like this: how can I believe that God is loving and powerful if he lets things like this happen?
Rather than simply dismiss this complaint as misguided, I think it deserves a serious response. How do we answer the question of evil?  One that we hear quite often is that God has a plan for all this. But I feel that this answer rings somewhat hollow. This answer almost makes it seem as though God causes evil to happen so that good might come about. But that doesn't make sense to me. Why would God cause evil, just to bring out good? Wouldn't he just bypass the evil step and just jump right to doing good?
I think if we really explore this issue we can find an answer that is more helpful.  Make no mistake, evil is a mystery. It doesn't make sense. As much as we want it to make sense, it won't.  And, that is because evil is not supposed to exist. The best answer to the question of evil is that God didn't create evil. In fact, if we read the book of Genesis we see there that God created Adam and Eve to live and to be with him in the Garden. In that place there was no death, no evil, no sin, no one attacking innocent children. These things only enter the world after the fall of humanity, only after original sin. In other words, God is never the author of evil, never the author of tragedy. It is the case that God allows evil. I remember reading a quote from John Paul once that said although God allows suffering, he does not enjoy it. This is important to remember.
In many ways, the answer to the question why in the face of great tragedy escapes us because evil doesn’t make sense.  But, we could ask another question of God: what?  What did you do about it, how did you respond?  Since God is not the author of evil he was not responsible, God didn’t have to do anything in response to the falleness of humanity.  But, he did respond.  He did do something, He sent his son Jesus.  He sent us Christ as our savior to free us from sin and death.  It is precisely this knowledge, our Catholic faith, that fills us with joy.
Joy is not the same thing as bubbly enthusiasm.  We do not always experience the warm fuzzy feelings of enthusiasm.  Joy is something deeper.  Joy is the certain knowledge that Christ has conquered all.  Joy is the knowledge that evil doesn’t get to win.  Even though evil can bring us pain and sadness, it does not have the last word.  Someone remarked to me that this tragedy will ruin Christmas for so many people, and I certainly understand what he meant.  But, I think the message of Christmas is the best thing we can give to those in pain: I know you are suffering and I know you feel the pain and misery that evil can cause in this world, but fix your heart on Christ and believe in him, for he is close to the broken-hearted.  Jesus Christ is the source of our Joy precisely because he alone can destroy sin and death, the enemies of Joy.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

1st Sunday of Advent

1st Sunday of Advent, Year C: 2012
Today we begin the season of advent.  This is the liturgical season where we prepare for the celebration of the great feast of Christmas, the feast of the Word of God becoming flesh.  Since this is the first Sunday of Advent and we are preparing for the feast of Christmas, you might expect warm fuzzy readings about the birth of Christ.  Instead, we get some particularly terrifying readings about the end of time.  Why is that?
Advent is the season where we prepare to celebrate the feast of the first coming of Christ; but, the Church, in her wisdom, gives us Advent as a yearly reminder that, not only has Christ come once, but he will certainly come again.  Sometimes it is easy for us to get a bit complacent in our waiting for the coming of Christ.  I mean, it has been 2000 years after all.  Subconsciously, we might get the feeling that we don’t need to be mindful of Christ’s coming, but make no mistake: Jesus will come again.  We will all see him face to face, either at his second coming in glory or the moment of our death.  Advent is a good time for us to examine our readiness to see the Lord.
So in our readings today, Jesus tells us what this means.  He basically shows that there are two camps when it comes to the second coming.  Some people are totally caught unprepared.  These people, Jesus says, will die of fright.  Wow, what a powerful image.  Those who are not ready for the coming of Christ will die of fright.  Then there is the other camp: when you see these things stand up straight and get ready for your redemption is at hand.  In other words, if we are ready for Christ the second coming will not cause us to die of fright, quite the contrary.  Those who are ready for Christ will see in his coming the redemption we all long for.  Which camp do you want to be in: those who die of fright or those who are excited by his coming?  Obviously we all want to be in the second camp.
But, Jesus has a warning for all his believers: beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing or drunkenness, but also by the anxieties of daily life.  In other words, don’t let our sinfulness cause us to be unprepared for Christ’s coming.  But not only that, being carried away by the anxieties of life can cause us to be unprepared for his coming.  I don’t know about you, but Christmas time can be full of anxieties: we have so much going on at this time of year that it can be quite easy to let Christ drift to the background.
This is why Advent is so great.  It is a yearly reminder to all of us to keep Christ in the center of our lives, in the center of our hearts and minds.  It is popular this time of year to see bumper stickers and signs that say: keep Christ in Christmas.  And that is certainly true, but we will only keep Christ in Christmas if we invite him into our lives once again during this season of Advent. 
What a great way to begin this season of Advent by celebrating the Holy Eucharist together.  Here at this Holy Mass Christ comes to us, just as he did 2000 years ago.  This time, he does not come as a baby, but under the appearances of bread and wine.  But, it is the same Jesus.  If we welcome him here and now into our lives and into our hearts here at this Eucharist and during this season of Advent, then we will be ready to welcome him when he comes again in glory.