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Month: December 2017

The Perfect Christmas

The Perfect Christmas

This is turning out to be the perfect Christmas.  On Christmas Eve I celebrated a home Mass for a woman battling cancer with a handful of family members gathered together.  I celebrated midnight Mass at the Cathedral in Cheyenne.  On Christmas Day, I drove to Lusk and celebrated Mass in the Wyoming Correctional Facility for the women prisoners.

It is the perfect Christmas – Masses in a home, a prison and the Cathedral.  To understand why I describe it that way, let’s go to the manger scene.  Look at who is gathered there.

First of all SHEPHERDS because they were the first to hear about Jesus’ birth.  Shepherds must have brought their SHEEP along, so you always find sheep near the manger.  By the feast of the Epiphany, the WISE MEN show up with their CAMELS.  The wise men were foreigners.  They are often depicted as a Black man, an Arab and one from the Far East, perhaps Chinese.  The magi were among the intelligentsia of the time.  They were counselors of kings.

By the way, sheep and camels are stubborn and stinky.  Gathered at the manger are ornery stinky animals with poor shepherds and top level advisors to foreign kings of completely different races.  It is the most eclectic group you might imagine.  If you visit Italy during Christmas, they add all kinds of other characters —  virtually every kind of person who lives in the village – bakers, blacksmiths, teachers, farmers.  You name it.  They are all at the manger.

Christmas is for everybody, no matter what level of your work, from shepherds to the magi, from local citizens to foreigners of every race.  People who have been away from the Church for decades should feel welcome.  Because Christmas is for everybody, saints and sinners alike.  The perfect Christmas includes those dressed in their Sunday best at the Cathedral and those stuck in prison.

In fact, Christmas is more for the sinner than the saint, more for the puny than the powerful.   The angel of the Lord spoke to shepherds.  They were specially chosen by God to be the first ones to hear this good news. 

My family raised sheep for several years.  When you work with sheep you smell just like them.  The oil from their wool permeates your clothes.  Shepherds stink.  Raising sheep is hard work.  If you can afford to do something else, you won’t raise sheep.  Shepherds were the first ones to hear about Jesus’ birth because God wanted the ordinary people to know first.  The angel describes Jesus’ birth as “good news of great joy that is for ALL the people” (Lk. 2:10).  

God sent his Son to be with ordinary shepherds “living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flocks” (Lk. 2:8).  People working at night.  Common folk who knew what it was like to struggle for a living — like so many blue collar workers on the fringes of society today working behind the scenes in construction jobs, in the service industry or as farm laborers.  Jesus was born among shepherds so that common ordinary people would know that God cares for them.  He came to encounter them and save them.

Christmas reminds us that God came to be with us, no matter how poor or rich, from the people who work at the top level of government to prisoners serving their time.  However, God’s first choice is to be with the least.

Later, the Pharisees and scribes complained about Jesus and said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:3).  Actually, he not only eats with them, but he feeds them with his Body and Blood.  The “infant lying in a manger” will end his life by feeding sinful unfaithful disciples with his Body and Blood.  Jesus gave us the Eucharist so that disciples in every age could encounter him in the depest way, and so that they would bring this encounter to the least.

Christmas is so powerful because it expresses the largesse of love….. not only the largeness of love, but also the largesse of love.  The abundance and bounty and gratuity of love.

  • How well do you live inside of this love?
  • Have you let God embrace you in your sinfulness and brokenness?
  • How well do you encounter the needy with the Father’s love?
  • How well does our nation extend the largesse of God’s love to the needy of the world?

God chose to lay his Son in a manger in order to call back the LOST and to encourage the LEAST.

The prophet Isaiah tells of God’s frustration with his people who have wandered, “The Lord says, I have reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.  The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know [me], my people do not understand” (Is. 1:3).  That is why manger scenes have an ox and a donkey.  Those animals know their master and his manger, the feed trough where they eat.  But like rebellious children, so often we stray from our Lord who wants to feed us with his life.

No matter if we wander.  Jesus was born among shepherds because his ancestor David was a Shepherd – King.  Jesus is the Shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the lost one.  He is the King who died on the cross to conquer sin and death in us.  He was laid in a manger to feed us with his Body and Blood and renew his life in us when we decide to obey  him as our master.

Accept this “Good news of great joy . . . for all people.”  Worship the Christ child as Savior and Lord.  He is so faithful to you.  Renew your fidelity to him.

Christmas is for everyone, saints and sinners.  As he fills you with his own Divine Life at this Eucharist, let the largesse of his love fill you. Then ask him for the generosity to bring that love to others.

The pace of John the Baptist

The pace of John the Baptist

How is your pace this December?  Are you caught up in the Christmas rush?  Or are you keeping an Advent pace?  With all of the Christmas glitz in stores, it is easy to lose sight of Advent.  We need an Advent pace more than the Christmas rush.  The pace of Advent is quieter.  It helps us focus on God.  It is life-giving, rather than draining.

On the Second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist grabs our attention and invites us to some quiet time in the desert.  John was “in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4).  The desert is a place without distractions…. a place to focus on God.  John is fixated on God.   And he preaches repentance to focus our hearts on Jesus’ coming.

His clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt was like the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:4).  John appears as the long-awaited Elijah-like prophet to announce the Day of the Lord.  He is a prophet in the desert.

“He fed on locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6).  This is the food of desert dwellers.  It must have taken a lot of honey to sweeten the bitter locusts!  John wasn’t afraid of roughing it.  He would have fared well in Wyoming.  Seriously, locusts and wild honey are the food of a poor man living in the desert ….. a man of humility, who depends on God for sustenance.  John lived simply.  He shows us a pace of simplicity and an attitude of humility. He has a single focus.   He is God-centered.

The Advent pace is one of simplicity, humility and being God-centered.

How can you adjust your pace in this way? …… to live in simplicity, humility and God-centered.

Find some desert time.  Take quiet time in nature where you are alone with God.  Eat a light lunch by yourself and read a Scripture passage.  Make space for God’s voice to be heard.  It will be life-giving.  Have you been eating lots of Christmas goodies?  How about simplifying your diet or fasting so that you get in touch with your hunger for God?

To eat “locusts and wild honey” is minimal nourishment.  Like the people of Israel who journeyed in the desert, John’s primary food was the Word of God.  John the Baptist ate God’s word.  He calls us to the desert to feed on the Word and experience anew the sustaining power of God.

He points toward Christ and says, “One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not fit to stoop and loosen the straps of his sandals” (Mark 1:7).  Little John is in touch with God Almighty.

An Advent pace restores our perspective.  We’re not in control.  We are puny people created to live for God alone.  Humility puts us back in touch with God’s greatness, and it eases our worries.  Then we realize that it’s not our work.  Rather, when I walk in humility, I put myself under God’s guidance.  I trust in his power to get things done.

Humility helps me be God-centered.  And being centered on God produces freedom.  Little John was free.  He didn’t care what anybody else thought.  This interior freedom is the opposite of constant worry of what others think or say about me.

He only cared about one thing – who he was before God.  He only did one thing in life – he pointed out Christ.  In religious art, John the Baptist is depicted as pointing to Christ.  He announced, “One mightier than I is coming after me.”

 The Advent pace is one of simplicity, humility and being God-centered.  Advent refocuses us on one thing.  On Christ who came with mighty power.  On Christ who is coming again.

Now and then we meet people like John.  They are so focused on God that they make you stare God in the face.  As a seminarian I had the opportunity to meet Mother Theresa.  While standing in line, she challenged the person standing in front of me with a stern question, “What are you doing for Jesus?”  Her question pierced my heart.  It stuck in my mind.

Mother Theresa was God-centered.  Like Little John, she was a tiny woman with a piercing presence.  Why?  She was totally focused on God, and she was free inside.  That is the fruit of an Advent pace.  It produces humility, a single focus and freedom.

Sometimes we see this focus and freedom in our youth.  Three years ago, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation in Lead, SD.  In preparation for her confirmation, one girl wrote, “If I could do one thing to make myself a better follower of Jesus, I would dedicate more time to him.  I think the main reason people drift away is because they just ‘don’t have the time.’  There should ALWAYS be time for Jesus.  So I need to find more time than a prayer before bed for him.  He gave his life for me.  I should be able to give him more than five minutes of my day.”

The Advent pace is one of simplicity, humility and being God-centered.

What do you need to do to walk in the pace of John the Baptist?




Watching for the Lord

Watching for the Lord

If the Lord came today, would you be well prepared?  Are you watching for his coming?  What do Catholics believe about the end time?  How should we react when we hear Jesus say: “Be watchful . . . . You do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33).

Are you watching for his coming?  Or do you never think about it?  Do you watch for the Lord with as much energy as you watch while hunting for a trophy deer? ….. or for bargains in the store?  Think of the time & energy spent watching your favorite football team?  Or for the latest news on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat?  Are we using as much energy to watch for the Lord?

“Watch . . . You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.  May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping” (Mark 13:36).

In Mark’s Gospel, this is the last thing Jesus says before the Passion.  This is chapter 13, and in chapter 14 Jesus catches the disciples sleeping in the garden of Gethsemane even though he had urged the disciples three times to “be watchful.”  The last time he says, “Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”   (Mark 14:38).  So one aspect of being watchful is to pray for strength against the evil one.

We begin every Advent with the challenge to watch for the Lord.  The opposite of being watchful is to sleep.  Sleeping is a metaphor for sloth.  Sometimes sloth is described as spiritual laziness.  The word for sloth is ‘acedia,’ literally “not caring,” which leads one to give up on the meaning of life.  It can also mean to give up hope when things get tough, or to lose trust that God is with you in the trials of life.

We are entering the darkest time of the year.  Some people naturally struggle with depression.  In addition, spiritual struggles are common in the dark of winter.  There are so many reasons to give in to sloth.

  • The boredom of the daily grind ….. at work and school
  • Sickness that has worn you down.
  • A family relationship that has gone sour and you are tempted to give up on forgiveness or a peaceful resolution.
  • Or maybe it is a recent death of a family member.

Being watchful and hopeful are advent virtues.  How do we stay watchful and hopeful?  How can we be a light in the darkness?

First of all, to be watchful means Keep your focus on God.  Be steady in your prayer.  In the letter to the Colossians, Paul writes: “Persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2).  In the 1st Corinthians, he says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.  Your every act should be done with love” (1 Cor. 16:13-14).

To be watchful includes daily acts of love. It is a call to imitate both the prayer and charity of Christ.  It means to stand ready to give an accounting to him on his return.

As Catholics, we approach the End Times with the focus of being faithful disciples each day.  We do not know when he will come again, and we never propose a date.  In a verse that precedes today’s gospel, Jesus said,“As for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father” (Luke 13:32).

As we begin Advent, ask yourself: Am I living each day with my focus on God?  Or am I too caught up in the busyness of everyday life?  Have I allowed those around me who ignore God to deaden my watchfulness?  23% of U.S. adults self-identify as “nones,” or people who identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular.”  It is easy to be affected by those who are not active in a faith journey.

Here are a few ways to be watchful and hopeful this Advent.  First: Decide anew that Jesus really is the Son of God, the King of the universe who will judge all nations.  Then read the daily readings with this faith in your heart.

Today’s first reading says, “You, O Lord, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.”  The word redeemer in Hebrew is go’el, or the nearest male relative who is obligated to rescue his family member who is destitute.  He pays the debts of a relative who has fallen into poverty.  He ransoms (or redeems) one who has been sold into slavery.

Jesus is not only the Lord of the universe, who transcends our world, but also he is with us in our struggles. He is our kinsman or redeemer who rescues us from sin, evil and death.   Read the daily readings with faith in Jesus as Lord of the universe, and as Redeemer who rescues you.

Second: Work your relationship with God each day.  Make a new commitment to pray each day.  If you don’t go to daily Mass, then try to go once a week.  Take a quiet walk three times a week … to center again on God.

Third, be other centered.  Keep your focus on the needs of others.  Watch for people who are isolated or needy.  Visit the elderly stuck in nursing homes or in their own homes.

“Watch . . . You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.  May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”