Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Advent of a Dilemma

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas.  It is my favorite holiday; I enjoy the smells, sounds, sights, and songs that permeate Advent and Christmas.  However, no matter how hard I try, I cannot escape the sneaking suspicion that we are missing something, a critical something, which could change our lives forever. 

Before I begin to tell you how much I don’t enjoy the shopping season, the fact that Christmas trees are up in stores before Thanksgiving and Christmas music is already being played, let me to tell you a story of a boy who loved Christmas.  He enjoyed the season so much he reveled in the music as soon as it was played and collected Christmas music.  He collected decorations and decorated his room in elaborate lights and garland, and much to his parents chagrin, taking paint of the walls when he took them down (sometime around February).   And as he grew up and went away to college it seemingly got more elaborate, up to the point when he and his roommate decorated their apartment with so many lights that no heat or other light was necessary and the apartment glowed from every seam (somehow, no fuses were blown, no fires occurred, and no one reported them to the RA).  Porcelain Christmas houses were collected and set up every year increasingly more elaborate displays, the houses would soon number over 100.  And through all of this fun and revelry, there was the underlying reason for the season.  Christ was the reason for the season and he knew that but it often got blinded out by all the Christmas lights.  Finally a realization began to dawn upon him that something was missing, lights and houses and carols were all fun and he reveled in them every season, soaking in every bit that he could, but it was hollow and empty.   It took me a long time to realize what I was missing.  Yes, I was that guy that so overdid Christmas that he was forbidden by his mother from putting up his Christmas village in the house because it took up to much space (only half the family room, I mean that is reasonable right?).  
Another example of just how much the Christmas shopping season is overblown is that this past weekend I was out doing some thrift shopping with my girlfriend when we happened upon a bustling farmers market later in the evening.  I naturally assumed some kind of fall festival was in the works and we pulled in to check it out.  Instead what we found was a jam packed store full of Christmas items and people and their “preview 20% off sale” underway.  People were elbow to elbow grabbing up stuff and trying to get the best deal.  I quickly took advantage of the free snacks they were offering and then we left.  Seeing this event saddened me because I knew what these people were missing about Christmas because at one point I was missing the same thing.

I was missing the most important thing of all.  The Christmas season does not begin on black Friday or cyber Monday.  I had been blinded by the lights, the glitz, and the glamour of the season.  However, it does not begin when decorations start showing up in stores or when the radio station starts playing festive music.  It begins with the birth of Christ on December 25th.  It begins with a family, struggling to live, to find a place to lay their head for the evening; a family that is on a journey, one that begins with the proclamation of an Angel and has continued ever since.  I was missing the time of quiet preparation, the closing of the liturgical year and the rhythm of the advent season with its crescendo being reached on the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. 

Advent is a time where the world grows quieter, snow blankets the ground (if you are from the north like me) and families huddle together for warmth, a time of reflection and anticipation of something so great we can barely comprehend it.  It is a time of preparation and remembrance, of looking back at the travels of a family that struggled and sacrificed.

In time when heroes are idolized and held up in great esteem that some of the greatest heroes of all are missed.  Biblical heroes, Saintly heroes, religious heroes of our day are marginalized in a world full of glitz and glamour.  The hero of the Christmas story is an unlikely hero, one that is not heard of much in today’s day in age.  “The Christmas story has an unconventional hero – not a warrior, not a worldly conqueror, not an individual at all, but rather a family.  The details of the story always lead us back to that fact. We see the swaddling bands and know they’re for a baby, but someone had to do the swaddling.  So we have a mother and child. We have a father. We have a household.” (Joy to the World, Scott Hahn, page 8)  Let’s reflect on this unlikely hero and realize that all families that struggle together, grow together, seek God together, and also love each other unconditionally as did the Holy Family.  In this Advent season as the world grows colder let it be an opportunity for us to grow closer, to those that mean the most to us, our family.  Appreciate the warmth that only unconditional love can give. 

May this Advent season be one of joy, warmth, prayer, and love. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Deep Impact - Lent and Beyond

So I was struck as Lent began this past Ash Wednesday at the profound effect Lent has on businesses.  Catholics, no matter how often then attend mass or follow church teaching to the letter, seem to observe the Lenten fast from meat.  This observance has a big impact on the culture and on businesses.  

As a culture that is extremely secularized and completely it seems to a post-modernistic, post religious culture it is very interesting to see how businesses adapt and plan around Lent.  So what causes this sudden shift around Lent to offer fish specials, fish sandwiches, fish fries and other forms of seafood specials?  Because as a Church we come together as the Body of Christ (whether all of them realize it or not) and have a deep impact on business and culture.

Now I am not sure how it is in other areas but in Steubenville when I drive down Sunset Boulevard there are Lenten specials advertised everywhere.  From all the fast food restaurants to Kroger’s to Damon's and many of the restaurants all of them have some kind of deal for Lent.  So as a Church we have the power to impact businesses and their operation. 

United we are strong and our statement on the culture could be even stronger but we seemingly abdicate this strength with a relativism.  As a Church if we were united with one voice we could move mountains.  Jesus tells us that all it takes is faith.  “He said to them, "Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you." (Matthew 17:20)

Our ability to impact culture and business is notable and proven if we can be a united as one voice.  However our voice now is fractured by a culture that we are allowing to divide us.  United we stand and divided we fall; we must unite behind the Truth, behind Jesus Christ and His Church on earth. 

So this Lent as part of your Lenten practice/penance seek to have an impact on the culture.  While Jesus tells us that when we are fasting we should look normal, we also need to be a witness.  Now I am not saying to go around with our faces and clothes dirty but I am saying we must go around and seek to make a difference in others by being authentically Catholic.  By demonstrating the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity we can effect serious change on a culture that is sorely in need of a rejuvenation of virtue.  If we can start to show others the joy we have from our ability to sacrifice and serve then we can begin to effect radical change, we can be the witness that Christ called us to be.

Be Courageous, Be Authentic, Be Catholic and have a deep impact this Lent.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Original Christmas Story...the story continues

While for most people Christmas is now over for myself and many Catholics the story is just beginning.  The Church celebrates the Christmas season as the 12 days from the beautiful celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.  During this time we continue to celebrate the birth of our Lord, the Word made flesh.  There are also great feasts of holy men & women that are celebrated during this time including; St. Stephen, St. John Apostle & Evangelist, Feast of the Holy Innocents, Feast of the Holy Family, on the Octave of Christmas the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.  Also not specifically feasts but great saints on the calendar are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann (different from St. John Newman) and also the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
Now that I have just listed that massive mouthful, what does this mean for us?  This is a beautiful time of grace, one that is filled with great examples of what it means to be Catholic, to witness (starting with the first martyr, St. Stephen) to the Catholic faith, to evangelize.  As the secular new year approaches there is the look forward to new years resolutions and things to be accomplished in the new year.  But before we rush back into the hustle of worldly things, let us take these twelve days and examine where we are in our relationship with God.  This is a period of special grace, please take advantage of it.  Start a new devotion or  resolve to try to attend mass more often, open yourself to more avenues of grace.
We are in the middle of a Year of Faith, a time to grow in our own faith and begin to seek avenues to evangelize others.  The humbling example, the self-emptying of Jesus to come to us as a baby, vulnerable to the world, is our example and our template.  What do you need to empty from yourself to allow Jesus to reign in your heart.  Take some time in silence over these twelve days and reflect on what Jesus wants you to leave behind, to let go of, to release to His love so that you can move forward in faith.  Then you will be able to answer the call of Christ and the Church to evangelize those around you, to be a witness to love, to life, to Christ.
"It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection." (Evangelii Nuntiandi 14 (Evangelization in the Modern World) Pope Paul VI)
Open yourself to grace this Christmas season so that Jesus can enter into your heart, your life and live forever.  And so that you carry forth the Word of God to all those who need to hear it or see it.  Always remembering what is most important:

Bringing forth Christ:
"The Lord can find a dwelling place in our own souls and lives.  Not only must we carry Him in our hearts, but we must bring Him to the world, so that we too can bring forth Christ for our Epoch."  Pope Benedict XVI

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What Child Is This?? - The Original Christmas Story

has a lot to tell us about life and love, passion and purpose.

This Advent I had the great intention of writing a blog post every Sunday of Advent, unfortunately my life had other plans.  I got busy with this and that, having a Christmas party, packing to come home for Christmas, cleaning my house and all sorts of things that just seemed to get in the way of the more important things.  Jesus' coming in flesh, reflecting on the love of God, the yes of Mary (and the yes of Joseph).  There are so many things that were more important than me and what I needed that seemed to escape me sometimes this Advent season.

In my past few posts, I wrote about transformation, transforming our lives radically to Christ (metanoia in the Greek).  Advent for all of us should have been a time where we radically reoriented our lives to the birth of the Lord.  Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, "dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." (John 1:14)  "Only if people change will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light the comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly [on the night of Christmas] entered into our night."  Pope Benedict XVI

In my personal Advent reflections I looked at how my life has been impacted by the Incarnation.  How has my life been affected by the Word becoming flesh?  How has yours?  Do we allow Christ, the final Word of the Father to take root in our lives?  Do we allow this Truth to find its foundation in us?  The world today does not recognize any foundation, and it is shown as we slip slowly into degradation.  Truth is stated simply at the beginning of John's Gospel.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father."  John 1:1,14

When Christ is removed from Christmas all we are left with is mas and that is meaningless.  So are you making your Christmas meaningless by removing Christ, the Incarnate Truth from it.

So I would say for many of us and I include myself in this, we are sometimes a people lost drifting through life as if it was meaningless.  Our lives need to be lived with passion for Christ and with the purpose of getting to Heaven.  This Christmas is the time to wake up and realize that life has purpose and to live that purpose; Jesus said to him (says to us), "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." John 14:6

Christmas is the time to find our purpose, our passion, our love in Christ, the Word made flesh.  Then to live that purpose, passion and love in our everyday lives, following the example of Christ.  (cf. The Beatitudes - Matthew 5:1-12)  God is Love, and we are called to love:
"7 Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."  1 John 4:7-16

There is no greater love than God humbling Himself, emptying Himself and coming into the world as a baby, in a manger.  "And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." Luke 2:7

Is there room this Christmas season for Jesus to be in our hearts, our minds, our lives and those of friends and family.  Do our actions, our words, our lives demonstrate that Jesus lives within us.  The very Word of God received in the Eucharist.  Christmas night and the birth of Our Lord is the school of faith and life where we can encounter Christ.  Emmanuel, God-with-us.

"It is the task of us Christians, with witness of our life, to spread the truth of Christmas which Christ brings to every man and woman of good will.  Born in the poverty of the manager, Jesus comes to offer to all that joy and that peace which alone can fulfill the expectation of the human soul."  Pope Benedict XVI

This evening, I welcome you, Jesus, in the most unpretentious of forms: that of a baby.  Truly I discover this evening that the greatest of gifts can come in the simplest of wrappings.  How can I thank you for the gift of yourself, the Word of God having taken on human flesh as a baby in a manger? The best I can do is to give you my love...and that is what I present you with this evening.

Remember, Christmas is not just a day but a state of mind, a state of being in relation, a relation of love with the Word made flesh, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Invite Him into your heart today, welcome Him if you have drifted away.  His Love is never-ending and He so desires to be with you, won't you say yes as Mary said yes?  My prayers are with all of you and if you have said yes after being away for awhile or for the first time, Welcome Home.

O Holy Night - Kings College in Cambridge

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A New Year - A Simple Gift

It is the dawning of a new year and you are probably thinking right now this guy obviously can't read a calendar, however it is not a calendar year that I am talking about but the liturgical year.  The first Sunday of Advent marks the new year and a new period, a time of reflection and preparation as the Church looks forward to the birth of the Incarnate Lord.
Blessed John Paul II tells us in his Angelus message of Dec 2nd 2001;
"Dearest Brothers and Sisters: With today's first Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins.  The Church takes up her journey again, and invites us to reflect more intensely on the mystery of Christ, a mystery that is always new and that time cannot exhaust.  Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Thanks to him, the history of humanity proceeds as a pilgrimage toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom which he inaugurated with his Incarnation and victory over sin and death."

And so we as the Church gather and begin a pilgrimage as the Magi did to meet Jesus in the manger.  To worship and offer gifts to the King of kings.  What do we offer to Jesus this Advent season, are we taking the time to properly prepare not only our minds but our hearts.  During this Year of Faith we are being called by the Holy Father to grow in a deeper understanding of our faith by delving deeper into the Catechism and the teachings of the Church; but this realizes itself most fully in seeking to come into closer intimacy with Jesus Christ.  Looking forward in hope and reaching out to Christ to draw ourselves closer to Him.

"Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope...It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope." Pope Benedict XVI - Seek That Which Is Above

And so as Adam and Eve were originally tasked with tending the Garden, we are tasked with tending the garden of hearts and minds.  To trim and cut away those things that keep us from God and to grow the vine of virtue that brings us closer to God.  This advent God calls us to radical transformation, a "metanoia", that is both interior and exterior.  "Faith without works is like a song you can't sing, its about as useless as a screen door on a submarine" (from the song "Screen Door" by Rich Mullins)

So we reflect on the garden of our hearts and minds and look to what needs tending this Advent.  Our journey is one full of hope and the expecting joy of the coming of the King.  Where is your heart?  Where is your mind?  There is so much hustle and bustle during the Advent season that we forget sometimes to look to what matters most, the tending of our souls in the garden of life.  Will you be ready?  Will your gift be one that is acceptable?  Will you be like the wise virgins in Matthew 25 who brought oil and were prepared for the bridegroom when he came and were admitted to the wedding feast or will you be like the foolish ones who did not and were left outside when the door was locked?

So let us prepare for the encounter with Jesus, to adore the babe in the manger who humbled himself to become man, but humbled himself further by coming as a baby, defenseless in the world, dependent on others for everything.  So let us humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord and let Him lift us up to Him.

Let us pray:
Loving God source of my longing, you have reached out to your people through the gift of your incarnate Son.  Today in a special way I start anew my spiritual journey toward the stable where I seek to encounter the babe of Bethlehem.  Be with me, guide me, teach me, strengthen me, and inspire me during this journey.  Draw me into closer union with you as I put forth my best effort to prepare for the coming of Christ so that I may truly present him with a gift worth giving on Christmas day.
Mary, Mother of God - Pray for us

Friday, November 23, 2012

Where is the line???

As I left my house this morning to get my car inspected and then head to Mass I was struck by the stark reality of how lost our country is, and in some ways how lost many Catholics in our country are, how we have so many things to help us find our way and yet when it comes to the most important things we seem directionless.  Traffic as I expected was crazy and people cut each other off trying to buy the biggest television or the newest iPad.  Now I am a technology guru and enjoy the latest, greatest toys when I can afford them (which right now being in Grad schools isn't often, donations are accepted however). 

All humor aside as I was almost struck by a car in the Walmart parking lot where I needed to go to get a taillight bulb for my car to get it to pass inspection, I was driven to reflect on just where are the lines in today's world.  What are we willing to wait in line for?  I saw many people willing to wait several hours to buy a TV or a computer but rarely do I see people willing to wait 10 minutes for the Sacrament of Penance.  When Sunday Mass goes longer than an hour, people complain and leave early after Holy Communion.  As Catholics we need to realize that at Mass we receive the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We should be willing to wait as long as it takes and then get down on our knees (if you are able) and say "Amen" with love and conviction.

It gives one pause in today's society as to what is valued.  People instead of giving thanks and enjoying time with family and friends went to go stand in line to get the best deal on the newest thing because stores opened at 8pm yesterday.  In this culture, in this environment Catholics need to get back to the basics.  Cardinal Dolan called for this at the meeting with all bishops when they met recently.  

So in this upcoming Advent season let us reflect on how much we as Catholics have to be thankful for and how much work there is to be done.  There is the tradition of an Advent fast as well as a Lenten fast in the Eastern Rite Churches, maybe its time we take their example and fast this advent as well for conversion of heart and mind.  We are all partners in the vineyard of the Lord and should act the part. However, for us to take the Gospel out to others it needs to first take root in our own hearts and I know for myself  I find myself sometimes lacking, none of us are perfect, but I know God's grace and the Holy Spirit will make up the difference.  The call is then to interior conversion and transformation, metanoia - radical transformation and adherence to Jesus Christ.  The General Directory for Catechesis puts it this way; "Faith involves a change of life, a "metanoia", that is a profound transformation of mind and heart; it causes the believer to live that conversion.  This transformation of life manifests itself at all levels of the Christian's existence: in his interior life of adoration and acceptance of the divine will, in his action, participation in the mission of the Church, in his married and family life; in his professional life; in fulfilling economic and social responsibilities." (55)(Emphasis mine).

So the question is then where is the line?  Is it at the store, at a restaurant, at the mall?  Where is the line to see Jesus?  In the New Testament people jumped at the chance - in the Gospel on Tuesday Zacchaeus runs ahead and climbs a tree just so he can see Jesus over the crowds and yet in many of our Churches pews are barely occupied the echo of emptiness rings of the stone walls.  Where is the line to see Jesus?  The call is being made, the Holy Spirit knocks on the door to your heart, Jesus seeks your answer.  Will you wait in line to see Jesus?
(I know its not Christmas yet but this song speaks great truth)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rejoice: Christ is still the King!! Unite and be witnesses of the Gospel

"That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me.  I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." John 17:21-26

Christ is still the king and we must stand together united in opposition not to a party or a person but to evil.  To those things, people and institutions that take innocent human life, redefine marriage, corrupt the morals of your young people and culture in general.
Catholics we need to be a witness even more of Christ the King!!!  It is time to stand up, to unite and show this country what being Catholic is all about - it is not a rule, or a commandment but it is about a person, Jesus Christ who is love - Deus Caritas est (God is Love).  Are we witnessing to that in everything that we do, from home, to the pews in church, to the classroom, to the workplace, to the store (and the store parking lots), to the roadways (I am guilty here just ask anybody who has driven with me), to every single encounter we have with every single person no matter the circumstances.

The order is tall no doubt, but with the grace of God all things are possible.  The Church right now has a united leadership and all Catholics need to unite behind our Bishops.  Catholics who are lukewarm, unsure,  or cafeteria Catholics need to see Catholics who are fired up, joy filled and joyful; witnessing to the love of God in their lives.  Families (of all sizes) living, breathing, and witnessing good family virtues (not just values).  The world will listen to authentic witnesses,  the Church has seen it time and time again starting with the Apostolic Fathers right through to today with Saints such as St. Josemaria and Mother Teresa, Blessed John Paul II just to name a few. 

While things did not turn out the way we had hope and prayed.  Our salvation does not turn on an election.  Our salvation is in the Lord and our hope is in Him alone.  Everyone at the day of judgement will be called on to give an account of their lives and what will you say?  We lost the election so I gave up?  No, you say our nation had a setback in civil authority but God still reigns and I still sought in every aspect of my life to witness to You Jesus, who is Lord of all.

Will things be more difficult for awhile, probably, but take heart we are not yet in a Colosseum with lions.  However, if today's equivalent is called for, be prepared to embrace it with open arms. While martyrdom is not a pretty thought, we are called to martyrdom by dying to ourselves everday of our lives.  And if more is called for stand firm and know that Jesus is standing right there with you and your witness, your sacrifice no matter how big or small, will be just that a witness to our nation and the world.   Remember 1 Peter 3:15, "But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence."

This started out as Facebook post but just go too long, in closing I leave you with some verses from St. Paul, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." 2 Thessalonians 2:15

(From Today's first reading)
My beloved, obedient as you have always been,
not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent,
work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
For God is the one who, for his good purpose,
works in you both to desire and to work.
Do everything without grumbling or questioning,
that you may be blameless and innocent,
children of God without blemish
in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you shine like lights in the world,
as you hold on to the word of life,
so that my boast for the day of Christ may be
that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
But, even if I am poured out as a libation
upon the sacrificial service of your faith,
I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.
In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.
Philippians 2:12-18

May God Bless you and may God Bless America

P.S. I know its early but remember that Advent and Christmas are right around the corner, meditate on all God has done for us in the Incarnation and through His Paschal Mystery.
Rejoice for God is with us
Rejoice, Immanuel!
Rejoice and sound those trumpets
Rejoice and ring those bells
Rejoice to the King of Glory
And again we say rejoice
He is the Wonderful Counselor
The Prince of Peace