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.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Sunday of Hope!

3rd Sunday of Advent year B 2017:
Rejoice, let’s say it again, rejoice.  This is Gaudete Sunday, which is why we wear the rose colored vestments and we say rejoice. 
This past Wednesday the priests of the diocese gathered in Warsaw for a day of recollection.  Professor Bill Mattison gave the talks, he teaches theology at Notre Dame.  He gave some really great talks on the virtue of hope, which I want to focus on today.  What is hope?  Most people refer to hope as the desire for a certain outcome.  I really hope I get that great job.  I hope my kids turn out happy and successful.  I hope I get into that great school.  I hope the Colts learn how to win someday.  We might even make it spiritual: I hope I go to heaven, I hope I become holy, I hope I can overcome my sins. 
But, if you notice, most of these proclamations of hope are forward looking.  They dwell with the future.  While there may be something forward looking about hope and our lives, hope is a virtue for the present.  It is the virtue for us right here and right now.  Hope is a theological virtue.  This means that it comes from God as a gift.  It is not simply a wish about the future.  Rather, hope is the power necessary for living lives in the present tense.
What do I mean?  It’s not so easy to live in the present tense.    For good or ill, so many of us like to live in the past or the future.  We might dwell on past hurts or sins, and that is negative.  But, we might also dwell on past accomplishments, which seems positive, but then we are no longer living here and now, no longer making new accomplishments.  The future is even worse.  How many of us are filled with worry and anxiety when we think about the future?  Even if we dream of amazing positive things, we never get there if we are trying to live tomorrow.  No, only right now exists.  We only have the present moment.  The past is gone and the future will never arrive.  All we have is now.
And what is exciting about that, is that now is precisely where God lives.  Prof. Mattison was saying that for many people the concept of eternal life is either seen as being like an accomplishment that happens at the end of our lives.  Or it might even seem scary, or dull.  For these people, eternal life is just an endless succession of days that will take place when we die.  But, the Christian message is that eternal life is living in radical communion with God.  Now God is eternal and outside of time.  God experiences all moments simultaneous as an energetic and amazing present moment.  This is why we need hope.  Hope allows us to experience God here and now.  Hope allows us to live in the present moment, excited and engaged with the living God. 
The beauty of the present moment is that we are never done.  Think about this for a second.  It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday.  Today is a new day.  Hope is all about living in the present.  Do you feel guilty or ashamed about the past?  Hope says today is a new day.  God says you aren’t done.  Turn to him and be saved and set free.  But, on the other hand, if we think: well I’m a pretty good person, I can take it easy.  Hope says: keep going, don’t settle for mediocrity. 
Hope is what makes great saints.  Hope says: even if you are a sinner, you can be set free.  Hope says, even if you are holy, keep going.  Think about Mother Theresa or JP2.  They did amazing things, but they always kept going, kept living the next day.  That is what hope is all about.
St. Paul captures the beautiful tension of hope pretty well in our second reading.  Notice that in the first part of the reading he says: pray without ceasing, give thanks always, etc.  Doesn’t this sound like: keep living today, keep going?  In the second part of the reading he says, may God make you perfectly holy.  But, I’m sure we all recognize that we aren’t there yet.  The great saints did.  This is why they live so energetically in the present moment.  God will make us perfectly holy, but it only happens through the gift of hope which allows us to live in the present moment. 

So my friends, let us rejoice on this Gaudete Sunday.  I, for one, rejoice in the fact that I’m not done.  It’s not over.  Every day is a new day where we get to grow closer to God.  So, if you find yourself weighed down by the past, or anxious about the future, pray to God for the gift of hope, which will allow you to live in this present moment.