Thursday, December 31, 2009

And so this is why we celebrate this Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God; it is because of her that we are able to celebrate Christmas.

Solemnity of Holy Mary Mother of God. Jan. 1st, 2010

I want to begin by wishing everyone a very blessed New Year. With this great feast of Mary Mother of God we come to the end of the Octave of Christmas; that eight days of solemn celebration of the nativity of our Lord. This Solemn feast of our Lady is a relatively new solemnity in which the Church desires to draws us more deeply into the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord. In other words, the Church wants us to contemplate and consider what truly happen on that blessed night two thousand years ago we now call Christmas, and to do so in order to grow deeper in our knowledge of and our love for our God and so enter into a deep abiding union with Him.
Hopefully we know the catechism's answer of what happened that night: that the incarnation was when the invisible God became visible in the flesh which He took from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Now the whole world can ‘see’ its God because He actually condescended from heaven to become one of us, physically born of the same Blessed Virgin Mary on Christmas. Now in Christ the fullness of deity resides in bodily form. But what did the birth of Jesus really do for us? Perhaps to answer this question we could quickly take a look at what the world was like before Jesus’ birth.
Well to sum it up in just one word, the world was cruel. The human person had no value; people were only valued only in so much as what they could produce. Woman were consider less than slaves, for the most part only consider the personal property of their husbands; property which could be discarded for any reason whatsoever. There was terrible, terrible immorality, dishonesty, and cruelty--everywhere. Although it’s hard to believe, conditions back then were worse then than they are now.
You see, back then there wasn’t much love for God because God in the hearts and minds of almost everyone, including the Jews, was so very far away. He was in His heavens light years away, infinitely distant. God, for average person, was a Divine Being who had to be pacified; God was an angry God who had to be made calm. So awesome was He (and His is awesome) that no one was even supposed to say His name.
The people back then did not have a personal intimate relationship with God. One’s relationship with God was merely in the sense that if you were good, God would bless you; if you were not, He would not bless you. Proof of God’s favor was many children and wealth; proof of God’s disfavor was disease, barrenness, economic poverty and political oppression. Unless you were wealthy and had power you were in a bondage no better than a slave or even an animal for that matter; economically for the most part there wasn’t such thing as a middle class there where only the rich and poor. And so most folks looked for the coming of the prophesied Messiah, the chosen and anointed one of God, but only so he would grant them material prosperity, comfort and security; they were looking only for a political Messiah-a “bread king”.
Even more than all of what I just mention, there was something even more terrible and dark, even though most didn’t realize it; there was something that was the cause of all the unhappiness, suffering and evil in the world. Because of it, souls lived in a bondage and poverty more terrible than any caused by an opposing earthly enemy or material or economic poverty. Souls before the birth of Jesus were in bondage with no hope for freedom, they were held in slavery to sin, the most horrible evil on earth and the actual cause of the separation and infinite distance between God and men; because of sin all men were enemies to God.
And so, before Jesus, no one could make it to heaven at all; everyone, everyone, was consigned to death, eternal death. This is why, as the bible tells us, the Christ had to be named Jesus. The name of Jesus means God saves—in other words, “Savior.” The name was assigned by eternal decree; likewise the reason: “For it is he who will save his people from their sins.” Today’s Gospel carefully records Jesus being given His name, that Most blessed of all Names.
And so, Jesus has come to offer to all men the possibility to be free, free from sin and free from eternal death. And if that wasn’t enough, He as even made it possible for those who would repent and believe in the Gospel, not only to be free from sin, but to become adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. Think of it: Do we really realize our great dignity? The Son of God became a son of man, so that the sons of men could become sons of God, actual partakers in the Divine Nature of God Himself. How can we even begin to begin to appreciate what the birth of Christ as done for us, each one of us?
And so this is why we celebrate this Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God; it is because of her that we are able to celebrate Christmas. It was by her fiat, her yes of consent freely given that we received Jesus the Savior, while we were still in our sins, as today’s second reading reminds us. Without her yes, which she was free to not give, none of us here would have any hope of reaching God, reaching heaven. If not for her, no matter how “good” we would be, there would be no hope for eternal salvation. But because of her, because of her sacrifice we now have hope. She has made it possible for God to come us. So that we might be saved, She has given God a baby, His own Son, to offer in sacrifice for our life! To keep this solemn feast then is to show her our immense gratitude and love to the Blessed Virgin Mary as well as to Jesus.
Yes, in some respects our world today doesn’t seem much different than it was before the coming of Christ—men’s hearts are still cruel, the human person is still in many cases, such as in abortion, not valued much; and there is still immorality, dishonesty, and cruelty--everywhere. But the big difference is now we have hope. God is no longer distant, somewhere out there high in His heaven; now because of Christmas and because of Our Lady, He is close, infinitely close to each one of us; closer in fact than we are to ourselves. Because of Our Blessed Mother we can be free from sin and even more-infinitely more, we can enter into a divine union with Him even while we walk yet on earth; a deep friendship which goes beyond what the mind can even imagine. Heaven has come to earth because of Mary, our heavenly Mother.
Now at this beginning of this New Year as in everyday of our lives, while we still breathe, we can begin anew. Because of the Mother of God we not only have a model to imitate but a advocate a helper to be with us as we strive to become better, holier, by turning away from sin to a new more fuller life in Christ. Our Blessed Mother is with us at this Holy Mass and every Holy Mass, inspiring us to “do whatever He tells us.” She will lead us to live more fully with her Son Jesus, who is God now with us…within us. She will help us find Him and see Him, with the eyes of faith, both in the Holy Eucharist at every Mass, and in the depths of our souls were He longs and desires to become one with us, to actually share His Divinity and so His divine life with us, so great is His love for us.
Jesus chose to come into this world through Mary, and he continues to come into souls through holiness by grace which by divine decree comes only through her. And so obviously, we would all be well to turn to her for help as we make our New Year resolution to start anew in our growing in our love, our hope and our faith in Jesus our Lord and God. In fact, as one writer put it, “anyone who desires grace but ignores our Lady seeks grace in vain.” She will help us if we turn to her, to believe even when we don’t fully understand; to grow in prayer and so intimacy with Christ; to expand every ounce of our energy to bring Christ to others and of course to avoid sin and anything that might distract from her divine Son, to whom she points with confidence, hope and love.
Today at this Mass, through her help and intercession, let us make her words our own as we offer ourselves through her to Her Son in the Holy Echarist: “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.”—be it done unto me according to Thy Word.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Liturgy is not the private hobby of a particular group; it is about the bond which holds heaven and earth together, it is about the human race and the entire created world."

-Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (1986).

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Today in this temple, we have found Jesus, and He is in the Holy Eucharist.

Merry Christmas! Yes, we are or still should be, celebrating Christmas. The celebration of Christmas ends with the Baptism of the Lord. Today, within the Octave of Christmas, eight days of solemn celebration, we celebrate family; and the Holy family in particular. The Holy family is the model and image of what our families should strive to be. Now before you begin thinking that this is unreasonable, impracticable or impossible, let us take a closer look at the Holy Family.
In the thirty hidden years of Nazareth we discover that the Holy Family was in a sense an Ordinary family. There was nothing out of the ordinary in the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The Holy Family even had turmoil, as seen in the flight to Egypt, and when Joseph and Mary “lost” Jesus for three days.
Mary, even though the Mother of God, lived her life as a traditional Jewish homemaker providing for the needs of her family. She was submissive to her husband. She sacrificed and made her house a home.
Joseph was an ordinary skilled labor who provided for his family. Jesus was known as the son of this carpenter. Most importantly, he was the spiritual head of the family, as he held and cradled Jesus the son of God in His arms (this is a hint to the relationship all fathers should have to Jesus). And Joseph loved his wife as he loved his own body, and so lived a manly life of chastity.
Jesus lived like any other inhabitant of Nazareth, working the same trade as St. Joseph and earning his living by the sweat of his brow. Speaking of Jesus’ life at Nazareth the Gospel sums it up by saying, He was obedient to Joseph and Mary. Even though He was God, Jesus lived as an obedient child, obedient to the fourth Commandment, to honor thy Father and Mother, thus showing his love for his parents on earth. Jesus has given the perfect example of how all children should treat their parents; and of how all spiritual children should treat their spiritual fathers in Christ.
So even though have lived an ordinary life, what are the great secrets of the Holy Families’ hidden life at Nazareth.
First, is the secret of its silence. Nazareth was a place of peaceful rest from the noise of the outside world. It was a womb so to speak, where the members of the family could grow in love for one another and in love for God. Our families should be the same; they should be a place of peace, of place of respite from the noise and clamor of the outside world that is always trying to distract our attention from the things that really matter—love of God and love of family.
In this, we discover that Nazareth was the perfect place for the rearing of Children. Nazareth as we have said is the perfect model of what family life should be. Mary and Joseph loved another, they always deferred to one another out of loved, putting the needs of the other before their own. It was a mutual submissiveness for the good of the family.
The family should be a community of true love and sharing, a place for perfecting all of the human virtues such as patience, kindness, responsibility, magnanimity, honesty, and trust to name but a few. This is the basic holy and enduring function of family in society. The family is the seedbed of the virtues because it is in the family that they can grow the most. However, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to practice the virtues in the family. In fact, as we all know, the family is where it is actually the hardest to practice the virtues; it takes tremendous effort, self-control and self-denial. But remember, where it is the hardest to practice the virtues, that is where they can grow the most.
And finally, the Holy Family’s secret was that it was centered not just around the life of a child and the activities of the child, but around and on the life of the child who was God-Jesus. Mary and Joseph loved Jesus more than anything, and so they loved God more than anything. Their love for one another had its very source in Jesus. The source of the love between the members of our families must be, must be, Jesus as well. And so the Holy Family was a family of prayer, a family that drew its life blood from Jesus.
Our families as well, need to love Jesus more than anything, and so love God more than anything; family prayer must be at the heart of our family life, especially the most perfect of all prayers--the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This obedience and love of Jesus must be lived out in obedience and love for the Church He founded and those spiritual fathers Jesus has placed to lead her, the Holy Father, bishops and priest. A family cannot love Jesus without loving His body, the Church.
If our families have “lost” Jesus, today’s gospel tells the parent to go look for Him. The gospel tell them, "You will find Him in the temple." Families today who have “lost” Jesus are those who don’t pray together who don’t look for Him in the temple by attending weekly Mass together, who don’t attend the sacrament of Confession regularly and who don’t come into the Church to adore Jesus present in his human physical body in the Holy Eucharist when ever possible.
This last point is the most important. To live a truly authentic Catholic Christian family life in the world today, really does take superhuman strength. It is the Eucharist, and only the Eucharist that provides this Superhuman/Supernatural strength to families.
In order to live like the Holy Family we have to have couples that do more than just get married. We need married couples to live out their marriage as believing and practicing Catholics. Living a Christian marriage and raising a Christian family goes so much, infinitely much, beyond non-Christian marriage and family life. This is why Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist to give those who believe in Him the power they need to remain alive in His grace. For married Catholics and their families this means the light and strength they must constantly receive if they are to live out the sublime directives of the Holy Spirit for Christian believers, and live in imitation of the Holy Family. The Holy Eucharist is exactly how we keep Jesus the center and the focus of our family life.
Today in this temple, we have found Jesus, and He is in the Holy Eucharist. And so, the Holy Eucharist is absolutely, vitally necessary for Catholic families to remain united in a world of selfish instability, because the Holy Eucharist is God among us; it is Jesus. And so a living faith in (that is a faith that is practiced) the Holy Eucharist is the way, the only way to imitate the Holy Family and keep Jesus at the very center of our family life. This was the Message of Our Lady at Fatima (which is more relevant today than ever). And this why the Angel appear to the Children, teaching them the prayers of adoration; to teach the family through the children that they must adore God in and through the Holy Eucharist in faith, hope and love.
And, this is exactly why I have started children and family adoration on Sunday nights at 6:30pm. Because, how vitally necessary it is for our parishes to provide this most privilege time, the most privilege time we have on this earth, for families to be able to come together on the Lord's day, outside of Mass, and actually and literally be in the presence of the Child Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, adoring Him in love and asking Him for what they need to be holy and so happy families. This interactive Holy Hour teaches our children and our families Who it is they receive, in the Holy Eucharist, by teaching them how to adore this same Jesus truly present there. Come families, you have the opportunity, the rest is up to you.
Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord! Let us ask, the entire Holy Family to help us imitate their love and their holiness. Jesus, Mary and Joseph we love you. Jesus, Mary and Joseph help our families to be holy families like your own. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, save our families, save souls. Amen.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jesus desires with all of His heart to come and make our hearts a place where he can be born again and where he can dwell again.

Homily on Luke 2: 1-14--Christmas Day with Midnight readings
Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord! This evening (today) we gather together to rejoice and celebrate with the whole world the coming of the Infant Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem. For the past four weeks of advent, we have been preparing for this wonderful celebration with great longing and anticipation. And now our hearts are filled with great wonder and joy as we journey to the poor stable at Bethlehem and see there lying the little baby Jesus, He who is our Divine Savior. God as a baby, just imagine...
Some of you may be familiar with the comic the Family Circus, but maybe you didn’t know that Jeff Keene the writer is Catholic. A few years ago, Mr. Keene had a wonderful comic at Christmas time; it is one of my favorite comics of all times. I actually have it framed. In the comic, little Jeffrey is sitting in the church pew trying to pray to God; above Jeffery is a thought bubble in which he, Jeffery is thinking about God. He pictures God as an Old Man standing on a throne surrounded by all kind of angels and saints. Little Jeffery is shaking out of fear as he imagines God as this Majestic powerful Old Man looking down on him as he tries to prays.
The next picture shows little Jeffery at home trying to pray again. This time however, he gets an ideal. He tries to pray again, but this time he prays while thinking about baby Jesus laying his crib. The little baby Jesus is smiling and holding out his hands reaching toward Jeffery. In the next picture, Jeffery says to his mother, “It much easier to pray, when your prayin ta baby Jesus.
And so it is. Isn't it true, we put our guard down around babies. We can be sitting next to someone while we wait in a doctor's office and usually never talk to them. But if they have a baby we will look at the baby and strike up a conversion with the mother or father. Babies remove our inhibitions.
And when we encounter little babies doesn't it become very easy for us to become like little children ourselves. We even begin to act like them, speaking to them in baby talk, gibberish; and we do this in public around other people. It immediately becomes easy and natural for us to accept the love from infants, so we try to become like them. We let down our guard and simply love the infant, just like a child would do.
Is it not a Joy we experience when we encounter a newborn baby? Does not the newborn bring a smile on everyone’s face? Do we not immediately want to speak to the infant and hold and cuddle him? Some say to look into the face of baby is the closest thing on this earth to seeing the face of God; so pure, so innocent, so unaffected by the concerns and cares of this world..
Did God possibly come to us as a tiny little child because the Joy of Christmas is about receiving the gift of God like a child? In fact, the gift of God is Jesus. Jesus is the gift. And we need to be like children to receive Him.
However, Jesus is given to us as a gift, not just two thousand years ago, not just in the future when he comes again, But He is given as a gift to us now, anew, tonight (today) at this Holy Mass; and not just spiritually into our hearts, but actually, really and truly in His body and soul, with His human heart beating for love of us. The gift of God at Christmas is really the gift of the Eucharist and the Eucharist is Jesus, God become flesh, become Man. The Eucharist is the Father's gift to us, the gift of His Son.
The simple faith and love of children teaches us much about how we need to receive Jesus today. Jesus desires with all of His heart to come and make our hearts a place where he can be born again and where he can dwell again. He desires our hearts to be a new stable just like at Bethlehem. He implores everyone of us here tonight (today) to not be like the Innkeeper with no room, but instead He asks us to like little children--hearts open to receive the Christ child into our lives, not just at Christmas, but every single day for the rest of our lives. Tonight He comes to you as an infant so you won't be afraid, He is smiling at each one of you as he reaches out to you to embrace Him and open your hearts in faith to him.
Jesus reminds us that only in the spirit and attitude of little children can we receive the infant Jesus…only with the purity and innocence of little Children can we receive Him fully…Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Today, let us risk opening our hearts. Jesus the all powerful God comes to us hidden as the little Divine child and He tells us simply to, “Be not afraid.” When we receive Holy Communion-Which is Jesus the Christ child hidden in all of His majesty and glory coming to us, in us, let us receive Him and allow Him to love us and transform us into true children of the Father, our hearts the living stable of Bethlehem.
If we open our hearts to Him, we will discover that the coming of Jesus as a Man, is more than something we are told is supposed to have happen two thousand years ago, we will find that He is still Man today, and He is still with us every bit as much as He was two thousand years ago. With hearts like little children we will find it easy to believe that Jesus is truly and really in the little white host we adore after we hear those beautiful words at this Mass, “This is my Body, this is my Blood. Our hearts and minds will be filled with incredible awe and wonder faced with such a incredible and magnificent mystery. We will not only want to be with Him but even more we will want Him to be with us, in us. We will begin to long with all of our being to receive Him in Holy Communion every single week, as often as we possibly can. This is the essence of Christmas and it is not too good to be true; it is true, come let us adore our God in the Holy Eucharist born again for us this day, on this altar of Sacrifice.
May each of us find new intimacy with the Child Jesus today and every day of our lives. Holy Mary, Mother of the Divine infant, help us to become like little Children so we can welcome your Divine Child fully into our hearts, souls, minds, into our very lives. Amen.
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Lord often comes to us in a big surprise...

Homily for Luke 1:39-45 Fourth Sunday of Advent 2009

“Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste.” These words begin our Gospel today; and as it is so close to Christmas, I would wager most children wish they could have Christmas come with great haste. In fact right now.
This week will certainly be the most hectic week of the year; finishing the shopping, preparing the meals, finishing the decorating, and the cards and gifts, the list is endless. We certainly feel the pressure and the haste with which we will have to accomplish all that we have to get done before Christmas. And so it may also be the case that we have not reflected much on, and so have not finished, our spiritual preparation for Christmas....maybe we are thinking, “I’ve got to get to confession this week!” Hopefully, this is what we are thinking if we have not made it yet.
We have to admit that many of the things we do this week will have to be done in haste if they are going to get done at all. But before we panic, let us remind ourselves of what the season of Advent is all about and what, or should I say, Who, we are preparing for. Our advent season is a time of expecting Christ to come.
If you recall we mentioned the three different comings of Christ, his future coming in glory, his past coming at Bethlehem and his coming now into our hearts through the Holy Mass and Holy Communion. On Friday we will liturgically celebrate Jesus' past coming in that first Christmas at Bethlehem; But we still have much work to do in the most important coming of Christ- the coming of Christ now into our hearts and souls through the Holy Eucharist.
To help us prepare, in what little time we have left, today in our Gospel, we discover that our Lord often comes to us through a big surprise. In today's Gospel, we hear the account of the Visitation- the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth; the encounter of the two expectant mothers. For the two of them, their encounter was something that was not planned or even expected, it was a big surprise.
The surprise began when Zachariah the priest was offering the sacrifice in the Holy of Holies and St. Gabriel appeared to him, announcing that Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth would have a son in their old age. What a big surprise that must have been, In fact, poor Zachariah was so surprised he couldn't even believe what the archangel was telling him. After all, Elizabeth, his wife, had prayed for so long for a child, but remained barren.
Yes, it was a big surprise from God, but Elizabeth had indeed conceived a child. So surprised was she, that she actually went into seclusion; you'd could almost image how embarrassed she must have been conceiving at such an old age. But there in seclusion, she was in for another big surprise from the Lord, when her cousin Mary came to visit. Mary too was with Child. And because of Mary's Child, surprisingly, the child within Elizabeth's own womb leaped for joy. How big a surprise all of this was.
God had exceeded their wildest dreams and had fulfilled His will in these surprising events. In them, we discover that the heart of Elizabeth was open to the great surprise of God. After experiencing the surprise of the first Eucharistic procession, as Jesus was carried in to her presence in a living monstrance, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Elizabeth would exclaim, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” In light of the surprises of God in today's Gospel, we can only imagine about all sorts of surprises that God is capable of doing in our own lives.
As Christmas nears, we can all think about the big surprises we have had in Christmas' gone by And we all look forward, especially us who are a kid at heart for big surprise to come this Christmas. And even more we hope to surprise those we love with a special gift in order to show them how much they mean to us and how much we love them. I want to share with a personal story of a surprise I pulled this Christmas, on someone who means the world to me and who I love, my dad.
A few weeks ago I was home, and my dad and I were at Lowes buying some things for my house in Wisconsin. Before we left the store, he wandered over to the snow blowers and admired them. He told me how much he'd like to have one of these. His old snow blower it seems had served it's time. I never thought much of it, I was too busy worrying about getting my own work done before my return back to Rochelle.
Last week when we got that big snow, I was talking to my mom. She told me that my dad had been shoveling snow all day long; it seems that the belt broke on his old snow blower as he tried to start it; and so he had to shovel all that snow by hand. I thought about all those thing he had done for me while I was home; not to mention all the hours he worked on my house when I wasn't there, all the hours he spends helping me every time I go home. I felt sick, that here he was 74 years old, and he is out shoveling all that snow by himself, and wet and heavy snow at that.
I told mom, "We need to buy him that snow blower and we need to do it right now; and not even wait till Christmas to surprise him." I immediately went to the store in Rockford and looked at them. As I look at them, I called my mom and said, "the one dad wants is not good enough." The higher priced one is much better. I knew my dad would never buy himself such a good one, so I said to my mom let's get him the better one. And so I brought the good one for dad.
But I thought, if we give it to dad now, we need to surprise him in big way to make up for the fact that he'll miss out on the surprise of receiving it at Christmas. And so, with the help of two wonderful ladies at the store, we transferred the sale to the store near dad and devised a plan to give my him a big surprise. My mom would get him to the local store, by saying they should go look at new snow blower since his old one broke. And so as they looked at them, the sales lady at the store said she would take care of the rest.
The next day, off to the store mom and dad went. And so as my dad was in the store looking, at the lower price snow blowers (there were over ten of them, the sales lady told him she was sorry but all them were already sold, they only thing that was left was a plug in model (just a little fib, but all for a good reason).
As she pulled my dad's leg, another worker wheeled out the "top of the line" snow blower right in front of my dad and said, excuse me sir, but are you Don Lange. My Dad looking stunned said, yes. And the worker said, "This snow blower is yours." My dad said, "how can it be mine?" The worker said, "look it has your name on it.", as he showed my dad the sales receipt bearing His name and the words "Paid in full"!
My mom told me, if you could have seen you dad's expression it was priceless, he was totally shocked it was a big surprise. Then my dad looked at my mom and said, "you did this." She said, how could I do it, I don't know a thing about buying a snow blower. He asked the sales lady, "who did this?" And she said, "Sir, I believe it was Santa Claus." Dad said, "no I am serious, I need to know who did this?" and the lady said, "Sir, I am serious too, It was Santa Claus."
We, in our last days before Christmas, have the opportunity to be surprised, not only by our families, but by our Blessed Lord. Because He loves you so much, Our God this Christmas wants to give you as well, a big surprise. His surprises come in ways we are not expecting, in the ordinary and even in the mundane events of everyday life.
His surprises come in the darkness and the quietness of a womb; and in the darkness and quietness of a stable cave. His big surprise comes to us in a tiny little babe, who is at the same time the Almighty God among us as one of us. And finally, His biggest surprise of all comes to us as apparently ordinary words are spoken over ordinary bread and wine, and that same little babe of Bethlehem is born anew on this sacred altar--the bread and wine transformed, through the miracle of transubstantiation, into Emmanuel--God still with us.
And so, the question is, are you prepared for the big surprise God wants to give you. Is your heart open to receive it? It not's too late, there is still time.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Joy equals obtaining Jesus and sharing Him and His Love with others!!

Third Sunday of Advent. Sunday December 13th, 2009

As we come closer to the celebration of Christmas, today we celebrate Gaudate Sunday- the Sunday of joy. By the way, father is wearing rose, not pink, Father does not wear pink!!! Rose is the color of Joy and our readings today reflect this joy- the joyful expectation of the coming of the Savior- “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion,” “Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,” and “Rejoice in the Lord always!” When the readings at Mass say something numerous times, it’s because Holy Mother Church desires to send us a strong message- in this case, it’s a message of great joy. This joy however is not just a natural, but a supernatural Joy.
When we wait with expectant longing for that special Christmas present and receive it, we feel satisfaction and joy. It is a wonderful thing. Yet, this is passing joy. We might not be as joyful in six months…our present may break, or in the case of electronic items, like the new T.V.'s, a better one will surely come out in just few weeks, and so satisfaction in our new toy quickly leaves us.
In contrast, the supernatural joy the Scriptures speak to us today is one that comes from, and can only come, from God- This is a joy stemming from our knowledge that our savior, Jesus Christ is coming and we have an opportunity to possess Him and be possessed by Him. He is the cause and source of supernatural Joy. This type of joy does not pass with the seasons of the year or with the latest technological marvel, but remains in our hearts, forever.
The problem is that in our everyday reality we find it difficult to find this kind of joy. This can be for many different reasons, but usually because we have, in the past, tried to find it in all the wrong places and things--that is we have tried too often to find it in created things; or, in immoral or disordered pleasures, which we mistakenly think will bring us joy. The other problem is we equate joy with feelings; joy is not a feeling, it goes much deeper than feelings. Today our Gospel gives the key to finding joy.
Today, John the Baptist receives the crowd. The first thing to note is that the crowd has come to him in order to receive his Baptism. Their coming is an outward sign of their inner desire to follow God more fully. Theirs is an inner desire; an inner prayer that God might forgive them their sins…because sin is the main obstacle that prevents a soul from obtaining God and achieving union with Him and so obtaining true joy.
The individuals of the crowd have had a conversion experience, a transformation and change of heart…they have made a conscious decision and choice to leave their old ways behind. However, this is not enough, because they know that this conversion of heart has to be lived out in the grind of daily life, a grind in which it is sometimes, many times, very hard to find God and to keep a supernatural outlook and hope. So they are still searching for something- something more in their lives. And so they ask John the Baptist some questions, some very real and practical ones-, “I want to be good, I want to become better and love God more, what should I do?” The answers are in a way very surprising.
John the Baptist gives them practical answers. He doesn’t tell them to join him in the desert, he doesn’t tell them to leave the world or become some kind of weird religious person. But he simply tells them to return to their own life, but now live it according to the Plan, Law and Will of God, doing everything, no matter how small, for love of God alone. The tasks John give them are simple and they can be summed up in the following way, put God first, then others and then yourself. This is the first step in preparing them and us for the coming of Jesus.
The second step for us, is then to deepen our desire for the coming of the Savior. The people in today’s Gospel- as their hearts are more open to God- manifest a great desire to see the Christ. Is it John, could he be the Christ? John most likely disappoints them here--He is not the one. No, it would be one greater than he- one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire…and this of course, increased their desire and longing even more. The gift of God would be greater than anything they could think of- the gift of God was God Himself—God is the gift. The Holy Spirit offers us this gift, the fire of God’s love, which if we let It, burns all of the dross out of our hearts and makes room for God; only Love can do this.
In light of this love then, do we manifest this desire to Love Jesus, Do we really love Him? Do we think of Him all the time, just like a lover thinks of the one he loves all the time. And so do we pine after Jesus, long for Him, want nothing else but Him… …do we desire Him with all whole heart? If we don’t desire Jesus like this, if we don't want Him to come right now for us, then do we really love Him?
In this we discover the greatest key of all, the Love of Christ and to love others for love of Christ, brings true Joy (Jesus, Others and Yourself). This is the secret of the saints--to be centered on Christ and to leave our self-centeredness behind. This is the imitation of Jesus, the One who came into this world as the servant of all, not desiring to be served but to serve. When we focus on the love and service of Christ and love and service of neighbor for love of Christ. We then leave the secular humanism of our day behind and it's idolatry of self, which puts the wants of self before all else, and instead place God alone at the very pinnacle of our daily life.
Consequently, we no longer equate joy with having our every whim and fancy met or having our personal satisfaction in all things guaranteed and fulfilled. We leave behind this very emotional and superficial view of Joy and instead express the true Christian joy, which is Joy as a virtue to be lived and shown forth as an example and witness to others in this sinful and so joyless world of ours. Our witness of joy in our daily life, especially amid our trials and tribulations shows the world that our Joy is not of this world, but comes from Jesus Christ our Lord and our savior, following Him, not just to be good, but to obtain Him, our greatest Love. Joy equals obtaining Jesus and sharing Him and His Love with others!
Today St. John the Baptist points the way to obtain Jesus our joy, and so John points us to confession and the Holy Eucharist. In confession we encounter the healing power of Christ which purifies our hearts and gives us the power to put our decision to change into action. Confession then makes our hearts capable of receiving Jesus and His love more fully in the Holy Eucharist.
And so, being made pure by confession, joyful souls come before the Jesus they love in the Blessed Sacrament, whenever they possibly can, during the Holy Mass and times of adoration. There their joy is strengthen and their love for Jesus increased; Adorers are joyful, those who don’t adore are not (period). How could it be any other way, to be in the presence of Jesus Christ, whom we love, can only bring us joy.
If Jesus is the Eucharist and the Eucharist is Jesus, and it is, then how can those who do not spend time with Him ever expect to find peace much less joy? One has to question whether they really believe. Maybe they think they can somehow love Jesus without faith in His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist; souls filled with true joy, know that this is not possible. The Eucharist is our Joy because the Eucharist is Jesus. When we receive the Eucharist we receive what we truly desire, Jesus our joy and we begin to obtain Him and be possessed by Him for ever.
In this last week before we celebrate the Incarnation of God in Christ, let us ask the Holy Spirit through the intercession of His spouse- the Blessed Virgin Mary, to prepare our hearts by granting us the grace of an ever deeper desire not only to see the coming of Christ, but to possess Him fully with all of our mind and heart and be possessed by His Sacred Heart, by His Love, by His Joy, By HIM.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jesus the Messiah always comes, and so we for our part must always be prepared, always be preparing.

Second Sunday in Advent. December 6th, 2009
Today, we hear in the Gospel of St. Luke, St. John the Baptist announcing the appearance of Christ. St. John the Baptist is a central figure in this time of Advent because he is the man of both preparation and haste. He gives up everything, makes way, hastily goes into the desert and there waits expectantly for the coming of the Lord. And he does so without knowing the identity of the messiah. Nevertheless in faith and in the silence of the desert, John is ever so attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit which will announce the Messiah coming.
This theme of God’s coming is important to understand. Holy Mother Church during Advent stresses the three “comings” of Christ: that at Christmas, that at the end of time and the third and most important, that into our hearts. This "third interior coming," happens primarily through the Holy Eucharist. The coming of God is not just a past or future event, it is a present continuous action- He came, He comes and He is coming. In other words, Jesus the Messiah always comes, and so we for our part must always be prepared, always be preparing.
St. John the Baptist appears today in order to tell us that God is definitely coming and that we need to prepare the way; and do so now! John does this by preaching repentance--the need for a change of attitude and a change of heart. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness. The wilderness is the desert. If you have ever been in the desert, you know how quiet it is, how lonely it is. When a voice is heard out there, there is nothing that blocks it; it is totally smooth, no mountains to deflect it no valleys to absorb it. This is a good metaphor for how we listen to the voice of God.
To hear the voice of God, we first must be quiet. Our hearts must be open to truly listen, not just hear. We hear things all the time, but do we block them out? Or do we really listen, really try to understand and make changes in our lives according to what we are being told. Look at our own relationships for example- do we listen or just hear when our loved ones speak to us? …It can be like a woman saying to the man she loves or a mother saying to a child, "You are hearing me, but are you really listening to what I am saying to you.” More than often, we just hear what the other says, but we don't really listen to what they are saying.
With God it is the same: we must first not just hear his words, but listen with our whole hearts and minds. Then, and only then can we respond to His words with all the strength of our will. We respond first by asking God to forgive us of our sins- all that takes us away from God. Maybe this is a reason we do not want to listen- because deep down, we know God is asking us to reform ourselves and to change things in our lives which are keeping us from a deeper relationship with Him.
God speaks most clearly to us in the desert, which is a metaphor for silence. When we are silent before God, the first person we encounter is not God but ourselves, and the truth about ourselves. When I was first discerning my vocation as a priest, I went into the “desert.” I lived in for two years away from friends and family, alone in a strange town. To encounter yourself is really a difficult thing- we are afraid of really encountering ourselves and in particular encountering the truth about our sins.
In the silence God convicts of our lack of love, our sin. Is this why modern man seems to hate silence so much, why even in the liturgy, the Holy Mass, we try to fill up every moment with noise leaving no room for silence? In the worship of God, as our Holy Father Benedict, has said over and over again, we must begin to make room for more times of silence in order to hear the whisper of God's voice, even if it is difficult.
When we do spend some time in silence, we encounter ourselves in the presence of God. It is then that we can open our hearts to God and receive more deeply his love and mercy. We really do not have to be afraid; the experience of God’s forgiving love is far greater and more joyful than our fear. We face God and admit the truth about ourselves, we can then receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession so that we are enabled by grace to live deeper the live of faith, all because we have encounter God personally and intimately in the silence.
With this increase of faith we can move mountains; that is, remove the mountains in our lives that block us from listening and responding fully to the voice of God. We can remove especially, the great mountain of our pride of our selfishness and lack of love. We can remove whatever else is needed in order to make straight and smooth the way for the Lord to come and live with us and in us more fully.
Our Blessed Lord is kind and compassionate. He knows we are sinners; nothing is hidden from Him. He still speaks to us, most often in the quiet silence of our hearts. He says, “come to me the way you are and I will help you to change your life, to remove the obstacles, I will strengthen your Faith and Your Hope, and I Will strengthen your love, your charity for I will give you a new heart, a heart for love alone”.
Let us be honest, in this time of year it is so, so difficult to quiet ourselves in order to listen to the voice of God. We can become so busy with the material preparation for Christmas that the ever small still voice of God can be crowded out. This Advent season of grace invites us into moments of quiet amidst the hustle and bustle in order to stop and hear the voice of God calling us to repentance, calling us to turn back to Him and toward Him more fully. We can do this especially in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, who is God Himself among us.
We should not be discourage of our past patterns of sins and our past failures. Advent is a time when we renew our hope for the future- the coming of Jesus re-enkindles in us a deeper desire for holiness. But Jesus is coming now, He will not delay. Christian hope means to possess now through grace, that for which we hope; and that for which we hope is Jesus, and His coming more deeply into our souls.
To listen, really listen to God's Word, is to let it enter into your whole being, let it take possession of your all desires and your whole way of life. If we listen in this way, the Son with the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit will come now and dwell in us fully now and take possession of our heart now; then we will then prepared for the future come what may.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict said to us;
“In Advent, the liturgy often repeats and assures us, as though seeking to defeat our mistrust, that God "is coming": He comes to be with us, in each one of our situations; he comes to live among us, to live with and in us; he comes to fill the distances that divide and separate us; he comes to reconcile us with himself and with one another. He comes in the history of humanity to knock on the door of every man and woman of good will to offer individuals, families and peoples the gift of fraternity, concord and peace.
Therefore, Advent is par excellence the time of hope, in which believers in Christ are invited to remain in vigilant and active expectation, nourished by prayer and by a concrete commitment of love. May Christ's approaching nativity fill the hearts of all Christians with joy, serenity and peace! To live this Advent period more authentically and fruitfully, the liturgy exhorts us to look at Mary most holy and to undertake spiritually with her the path to the cave of Bethlehem. When God knocked on the door of her youth, she received him with faith and love. In a few days, we will contemplate her in the luminous mystery of her Immaculate Conception. Let us be attracted by her beauty, reflection of divine glory, so that "the God that is coming" will find in each one of us a good and open heart, which he can fill with his gifts.”

Let us follow these beautiful words of our Holy Father and turn to Our Lady for help. As Mother of the New Advent, she is the one that can help us prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas, not only for His coming at the Christmas to come in couple of weeks, but Jesus' coming in the Eucharist at the Christmas of this Holy Mass, so that we may be prepared when He comes again in Glory. Then we can join Him fully in the Eternal Christmas of heaven.