Saturday, December 19, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent

4th Sunday of Advent 2015 (December Stewardship Sunday):
Well, my friends, Christmas is almost here.  This is the final Sunday of Advent, our joy and expectation are building.  Our Savior will soon be born for us.  This season of Advent is a time for us to remember that our Lord comes to us to be our Savior. 
During this season of Advent we have been reflecting on the Mass.  During Advent we are supposed to be preparing for the coming of Christ, but we have been remembering that Christ comes to us at every Mass.  In the Liturgy of the Word, Jesus comes to us, he speaks to us in language that we can understand.  He guides us and forms us for our lives as his disciples.  In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we join in the sacrifice of Christ.  We offer this sacrifice with Christ in thanksgiving for all that he has done for us.  The entire Mass is one act of worship and praise.  How can we repay the Lord for all the good he has done for us?  We give him our worship and our praise.
This last week of Advent, I want to talk about what happens after Mass.  No, I’m not talking about shaking hands after mass, or wading through our congested parking lot.  Rather, I’m talking about how the Mass changes our lives.  We come here to Mass just as we are.  We are sinners in need of God’s mercy.  But, hopefully, we leave Mass a little different.  Hopefully, encountering Christ here in this act of worship has an effect on the people we are and the way we live our lives outside of these walls.
At the end of each Mass, there is a dismissal.  Go in peace, is often the last phrase we hear.  But, this is not just a phrase of utility.  Its meaning is not just: ok folks we’re all wrapped up here.  Rather, it comes from the Latin phrase: ite, missa est.  Which, loosely translated means, Go, you have been sent.  Missa is where we get the word for missionary.  When we are “dismissed” from Mass, we are not simply sent home.  We are sent on a mission.  What’s our mission?  You remember the show and movies “Mission impossible?”  Every movie or episode contained a mission.  And the mission is always presented this way: your mission, if you choose to accept it.  It’s the same for us, we get a mission, but we have to choose to accept it. 
Now, our mission doesn’t self-destruct in 3 seconds like the ones on the movies.  Our mission is the gospel.  Our mission is to spread the good news.  Our mission is to spread the kingdom.  The way I like to think about it, our mission is to take what happens here at Mass and let it happen out in the world.  I like to think about it in three ways: the kingdom in our lives, in our families, in our world.
First, our mission is to bring the kingdom into our lives.  We are called to be disciples of Christ.  But, what does that mean exactly?  The disciples in the bible listened to Christ, they followed after him, they tried to live and love just as he did.  Many of the admirable saints in the history of our church did heroic things.  The fed the poor, they built hospitals and schools, they might have even died in fidelity to Christ.  And, it can be easy to call attention to these marvelous things they did.  But, one question that always pops into my head is: where did they find the courage and strength to do these things?  The lesson of the saints is that they did amazing and marvelous things precisely because of their connection to Christ.  Every saint has a unique story and took a unique path, but one thing they have in common was an unfailing love of Christ.  They knew Jesus.  They listened to him.  They changed their hearts and minds because they wanted to be disciples.  The Mass is a privileged place for encountering Christ, we hear his voice and we are united to him.  If we are faithful to what we receive here at Mass, it will change our lives.  Our first mission is to let the mass live in us every day of our lives.
Second, our mission is to spread the gospel in our families.  Christmas is a great time for family.  So many of us get a chance to see and connect with family members during this joyful season.  Yet, for so many of us, there are difficulties and tensions in our families.  Christmas can be a time of sadness or conflict in many families.  So, we have a great opportunity to spread the kingdom in our families during this time of year.  But, how do we go about it?  One method that has been tried for decades is the old fashioned guilt trip.  This method tries to criticize or shame our family members into going to church or reconnecting with Mass.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure this method is all that successful.  But, what do we learn here at Mass?  When Jesus calls us to follow him he doesn’t criticize, blame, shame, or ridicule.  Rather, when we come here to Mass he inspires us, lifts us up, gives us grace and strength.  I think that if we are going to try to spread the gospel in our families, we need to use this same strategy.  We should be thinking: how can I inspire my family members?  How can I lift them up?  How can I meet them where they are, and lift them to the next level?  We can do this by sharing with them the beauty of the Mass, the beauty of the story: God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to be our Savior.  Like St. Paul said in Ephesians: say the good things that people need to hear to build them up.
The third mission we receive at every Mass is to spread the kingdom in our world.  Last month on Stewardship Sunday I mentioned many of the ways that St. Jude spreads the kingdom.  People from this parish are feeding the poor, consoling the sick, visiting the imprisoned.  Today I would like to call attention to our monthly food collection.  The last Sunday of every month you bring in food.  This gift of food is distributed far and wide.  This simple gift touches the lives of thousands of people throughout our community.  This past week I received a kind note from a woman who received one of our food baskets.  She couldn’t thank us enough for the generosity of this gift, it meant so much to her.  This food collection is one of the ways that we fulfill our mission to spread the gospel.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to follow Christ.  Mary is our model for this.  After her encounter with the angel, after she welcomed Christ into her life, she rushed out to her cousin.  She went out in peace to bring the Good News to the world.  Here at the Mass we encounter Christ, we hear his voice, we give him thanks and praise.  At the end of every Mass, we are dismissed: go in peace.  Our mission is to accept the peace of Christ in our hearts, in our families, and to give this peace to the world around us.  

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