Friday, December 26, 2014

Christ is Born!!!

Christmas 2014:
            First of all, let me say on behalf of Fr. Bob and everyone at St. Jude: 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.  In our beautiful manger scene behind me we see this little child, who is 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, food, family, fun, cookies, cakes, chocolates, pies, cookies...  But at the heart of everything we do during this Christmas season is this little baby.  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.  Today as we celebrate Christmas, let’s think a little bit about this baby of Bethlehem.
This week as I was contemplating Christmas and pondering this little baby I thought about The Hobbit.  Now, this might seem a bit strange.  The Hobbit is a story about a strange man, Bilbo Baggins, and his adventure with a bunch of dwarves.  It takes place in a land called Middle-Earth, and it is clearly a work of fantasy, a work of fiction.  Now, perhaps the story has a higher motive, thinking about good winning over evil.  But, at the end of the day, the Hobbit is not real.  Bilbo doesn’t really exist.
Is this how we think about the birth of Jesus?  Do we think of it as fiction?  Just a morality tale?  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.  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 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. 
The birth of Christ shatters this modern conception of God.  When we say that this little baby is the Son of God, who became man, we are saying something amazing.  We are saying that God is not only above and beyond the material world, 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.  He is not distant, but close.

We experience this same presence of Christ 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 a hobbit from the Shire.  Jesus is a real person, who came to save us, who wants to be a part of our lives even today.  Today we celebrate Christmas, a day to love Christ, to serve Christ, and to follow Christ.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

We await in joyful expectation

3rd Sunday of Advent year B:
So far this Advent we have looked at the themes of Joy and Devout.  This is a season of joy and devotion.  Today we celebrate the 3rd Sunday of Lent.  We light our rose colored candle and enter into the final days of Advent.  Our sense of expectation and anticipation is building.  Christmas is almost here.
Today we look at “expectation.”  Expectation signifies that something is coming.  I know there are a lot of people who are waiting with expectation for the next Hobbit movie to come out this week.  Or my brothers were all excited with expectation because last week a Star Wars trailer was released.  Maybe it’s the excitement of a new house, a new car, a new job.  That sense of expectation can be thrilling.  Advent is a season of expectation because we are expecting the celebration of Christmas.  But, the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls Advent a chance for the Church to enter into the expectation of the people of Israel as they awaited the coming of the Messiah.
Listen to the people who are interrogating St. John the Baptist in the reading.  It is clear that they are expecting something more: are you him?  They were actively looking in expectation for their savior, they were living with their eyes open, hoping to get a glimpse of him. 
What a great lesson for us!  We await the coming of our Savior.  We know that Jesus who was born for us will come again.  Are we eagerly awaiting his coming?  Do we expect his arrival?  I really like this word “expect.”  Doesn’t it sound a whole lot more definite than something like hoping, or wishing?  I’m hoping for the coming of Christ, or I’m wishing for the coming of Christ.  Rather, we expect the coming of Christ.  We KNOW it’s going to happen. 
But, what is funny about thinking about expecting the coming of Jesus is that I believe that he is coming to us even now.  If we truly await him with joyful expectation, I think we actually see the way he is visible in our lives.  It happens all the time.
I don’t need to tell you that it has been a tough couple of weeks here at St. Jude.  We have had 7 funerals in 16 days.  Many of these situations have been tough.  It is easy to get distracted.  But, I have seen Christ present in so many ways.  I will tell you that Fr. Paul’s passing was a real shock to me and to so many other people.  But, I have to say that his funeral mass was a really prayerful experience for me.  There were many priests in attendance, many people from our parish and from all over, the bishop was there.  Fr. Tom Shoemaker gave a splendid homily about Fr. Paul and about his life and ministry.  It was a profound a moving experience.  True, it was sad.  But, Christ was there.  I celebrated 2 funerals for members of my family.  I was intimidated to look out and see my aunts and uncles.  But, these were prayerful and powerful experiences.  Again, they were sad, but I knew Christ was there.
I guess my point is this.  If we are a people who live in the expectation that Christ will come again, we become the kind of people who see him in our daily lives.  I know that Christ is not some distant reality.  He is a part of our lives.  He is the center of this parish.  I see him in you, I see him in the sacraments, I see him here at St. Jude.  If we have the eyes to see, we will see that Christ is very much a part of our lives.

As we celebrate this third Sunday of Advent, as we light our pink candles and realize that Christmas is right around the corner, I think it is a great time to remember that Christ is around every corner.  Christ is here with us.  We celebrate this Holy Eucharist full of expectation.  We know that Christ will come again, but we also know that Christ comes to us through the power of this Blessed Sacrament.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Devout followers of Christ

2nd Sunday of Advent Year B 2014:
Last week we began the season of Advent.  I tried to focus on joy.  Advent is a season of Joy because it is a chance for us to renew our conviction that Jesus came to us 2000 years ago, but also that Jesus is coming again.  As we say after the Our Father: as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Jesus is coming, we want to see him.  We know he will put an end to death, sickness, sin, sadness, grief, and pain.  His kingdom will have no end, come Lord Jesus.
So, while last week we renewed our Joy at the proclamation of Christ’s coming.  This week we our message is pretty clear from our first reading and from the gospel: prepare the way for the Lord.  It is not simply enough to be excited about the coming of Jesus, we have to prepare a path for him in our lives.  This is where our life of faith goes from something that lives largely in our minds or hearts to become something that actually changes the way we live, the way we act, the way we see the world.  Preparing the way for the Lord means that faith becomes more than just an idea, it becomes a way of life, an experience.
As I mentioned last week, Advent is called a joyful and devout season of expectation.  I think that word “devout” does a good job of capturing just what I’m talking about.  Being devout, I think, means more than simply holding an idea, it goes to how one lives his/her life.  We use the word “devoted” for many kinds of circumstances.  Sure, someone could be devoted to religion, but we also talk about devoted teachers, devote coaches.  We might even talk about someone being a devoted IU basketball fan.  What makes a person devoted?  I think it is all the little things.  A devoted teacher puts in extra hours preparing her lessons.  A devoted coach spends extra time with his team trying to build chemistry.  A devoted fireman puts his life in harm’s way for the good of others.  Every teacher teaches his/her subject, but the for the devoted teacher, teaching is not just a job, it’s a way of life, a vocation.  It seems to me that someone who is devoted excels in not just the big things, but in all the little things.  The concrete, daily commitment shows a person’s devotion.
Now let’s take that and apply it to our message today: prepare the way for the Lord.  I think this means that God is asking us to be devoted to him.  Being devoted to Christ means that he is important when we come here to Mass every week, but also every day of our lives.  Christ is important in the big things, but he is also important in our day to day existence.  Being a devoted follower of Christ, I think, means to be committed to him in a concrete and daily way.  Preparing the way for the Lord means that our faith changes the way we live.
Look at John the Baptist, he was out in the desert eating locusts and honey, clothed in camel hair.  We might think: wow, a little extreme there.  But what an example of devotion.  John the Baptist did not try to fit God into his life; rather, John found that with God in his life he didn’t have room for anything else.  His example might be extreme, but we too are called to be devoted, to prepare room in our lives for the Lord.
Let’s think of some concrete ways that we can prepare the way for the Lord in our own lives during this season of Advent.  First, of course, prayer.  Pray every day, ask God to show you how to make straight your paths, how to prepare room for the Lord.  Maybe during this season of Advent, make a point to experience God more often in the Mass.  Here at St. Jude we added a 6:00 PM mass on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week.  Maybe make an effort to come to Mass one extra day a week as a way of letting Christ more into your life.  Make a point to go to confession.  Advent is a wonderful season of Grace, especially as a time to see where our paths haven’t been so straight, where we need to beg God for mercy and healing.  Perhaps start a family Advent devotion.  If you don’t have an advent wreath at your house, maybe go out and get one.  Every night at dinner light the candles and pray as a family for the coming of Christ.  Maybe pick up the habit of a daily rosary, the joyful mysteries are so powerful this time of year.  Visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament chapel.  He came to us, we can come to him there in the chapel.

I know this is a busy time of year.  I find it especially difficult to prepare the way for the Lord.  Maybe that’s why the season of Advent is such a good reminder from the Church.  Especially when we are busy, we might need to try a bit harder to be people of devotion.  As we celebrate this Mass, we prepare a place in our hearts for the coming of Christ, at Christmas, at the end of time, and right here as he comes to us in this Blessed Sacrament.

Christ our Joy

Sorry I forgot to post the first Sunday of Advent:

1st Sunday of Advent Year B 2014
            Hard to believe it is here already, but it is Advent.  Time for the Church to don purple vestments and put out our Advent wreathe.  Advent has always been one of my favorite times of year.  I love Christmas parties, Christmas cards, presents, cookies, cakes, etc… No wonder I always gain weight at Christmas.  Anyway, this is a joyful time of year.
            When describing Advent, one document of the Church called it a time of joyful and devout expectation.  So, this week we are going to talk about joy.  Next week devout, and so on.  Joy is a deep and profound reality.  And while I think there is joy during this season, Christians should experience joy all year round.  Joy is much more than bubbly exuberance.  I think when people think about joy they usually think about that valley girl from the 80’s: “Oh my gosh, I’m soooo excited.”  But, that kind of joy is fleeting, especially in the face of the trials and tribulations of life.  Joy and Advent go hand in hand because the coming of Christ is the source of our joy.
            While I’m up here talking all about joy, we have in the background the words of Christ that were just read.  Be watchful, be alert.  The master is away and he might be coming back at any minute.  What is your reaction to this text?  Does it immediately fill you with joy?  Or does it make you feel anxious or worried?
            It is a fundamental part of the Christian message that we expect Jesus to come again.  If you notice we talk about it in the Creed, we talk about in the Eucharistic prayer, and every year during Advent we remember that Christ will come again.  Christ’s coming is not just something to think about during Advent, it should saturate our whole Christian existence.  But, it makes us nervous, or because of the uncertainty, we tend to think about it as something happening a long way off.  So, we are either afraid of Christ’s coming, or we don’t think about it.  This is why it is tough for us to be filled with joy when we think about Christ’s coming.
Let this be a time of year for us to renew our appreciation for the coming of Jesus.  I think we need to remember just who it is that is coming to us.  Our image of Jesus changes the way we look for his coming.  If we think of him as an angry tyrant bent on punishing the wicked, then we will be fearful and afraid.  If we think of him as the good shepherd who was sent to seek out the lost, we might have a different opinion.  If we remember that God so loved the world that he sent his beloved son, and that he sent his beloved son not to condemn the world, but to save the world, we might have a different opinion.  If we think of Christ like the father in the story of the prodigal son, always on the lookout for us, his lost children, we might have a different opinion.
Today Christ tells us to watch, wait.  He will come anytime.  This is exciting news!  Kids, just think of all the homework you won’t have to do if Christ comes back.  Parents, just think of all those mortgage payments you won’t have to make.  Think of the end of death, sadness, sickness, mourning.  The end of suffering, the end of violence, the end of war, the end of sin. 

If we start to think about the coming of Christ in these terms, I think our hearts will be full of joy.  We know that this day is coming.  We continue to live our lives each day, we continue to meet our responsibilities and tackle our burdens.  But, we know that the pain, suffering, and difficulties of this life are temporary.  The kingdom of Christ will last forever.  Advent is a season to renew our joy, to renew our faith in Christ, to renew our desire to see him face to face.  As we receive this Holy Eucharist, we welcome Jesus into our hearts asking him to prepare us for that day.  Jesus says watch, be ready; we say, come Lord Jesus.