Dear friends on the journey,
Confession time! I’ve been a Catholic nearly my entire life: 12 years of Catholic school, have all my sacraments, go to mass every Sunday, sent my kids to Catholic school, given more time, talent and treasure than I can count. For nearly 30 years, I have worked for the church, been involved in just about every ministry from new parents baptizing their babies to seniors, from fundraising to formation, and attended every talk or workshop to help me in ministry and life. I have been a good Catholic. Until…
Ten years ago, I began what would become a real journey of spiritual growth. An archdiocesan program, spiritual reading, more study and deeper reflection led me to this realization: I was religious but not spiritual. This one statement summed up my faith life to that point. I was behaving the way a good Catholic ought, had faith in the institution and structure of the Church, and had a lot of head knowledge about our Catholic religion. While all this is good, something more important was missing: my own true, authentic, personal relationship with God and Jesus. I did not have strong heart knowledge of our creator and savior. I truly believed but at a more superficial level. Since then my spiritual journey has shifted tremendously to turn my heart towards Jesus so that this relationship influences my thoughts, words and actions. This journey is lifelong and I am a work in progress every single day.
Our second reading today from 1 John tells us that we are children of God. We belong to God, we belong to one another, and as a result, we are commanded to believe in Jesus and love as he does. Interestingly, the USCCB commentary on verses 1-3 says: “The greatest sign of God’s love is the gift of his Son that has made Christians true children of God….true knowledge of God will ultimately be gained, and Christians prepare themselves now by virtuous lives in imitation of the Son.”
So I ask, how can we imitate Jesus does if we do not really know him through a personal, intimate relationship? Where are you on your journey with Jesus? If you truly belong to God, are you letting others know? Do you believe with your head or heart? Are you behaving by going through the motions? What does this life mean? What is our purpose?
I invite you to consider these questions in Alpha, a series of 15 interactive sessions exploring life and our Christian faith, who Jesus is, how to develop or grow a relationship with him, and how to live with authenticity and purpose. Starting January 28, we’ll get together weekly for a meal, a talk, and to discuss questions about life and faith. Alpha is for everyone… those who do not believe, those who are wondering, those new to the Christian faith, and those believers who want to go deeper. So start thinking about someone to invite and consider making Alpha your new year’s resolution!
My mom has two nativity sets.
One is beautiful and crème colored, finely hand-carved from milky alabaster stone, each piece sitting on its brightly polished, black marble base. The female shepherd is just a little larger than Joseph, and so I’ve always wondered if she didn’t belong to a different set, but you only notice if you look closely. Besides, women can be tall, can’t they? The general impression, though, is of elegance. My siblings and I all chipped in and bought this nativity set over several years, back in the early 80s, beginning with the Holy Family, then the barn animals, then the wise men, the shepherds with the sheep, and lastly the camels. It looks terrific on Mom’s refectory table, where she has chosen to keep it up all year long. We all love it for its beauty.
Mom’s other crèche is older than my earliest memories. It’s made of once brightly colored, though long since faded, plaster and has been much chipped over the years. I’m certain that statues from other nativities have made their way into the set, as there are two dogs, two cows and multiple shepherds. There is also an old, beaten up stable, which once had hay in it, long lost now. While the children are not to touch Mom’s beautiful alabaster nativity, they have free rein to do what they want with this older, ragtag collection of figures. My nieces and nephews happily rearrange them. Sometimes they are left in twosomes, everyone having a private conversation, Mary with Joseph, the shepherds with each other, the donkey with the cows, and so on. Other times, various animals will end up on a roof, or the wise men will make their way, along with their camels, to some distant shelf, far from the stable, still on their journey. The children have free reign to do whatever is necessary and good, as they see it.
I love that beaten up old set because of the memories attached, and the scent of living Christmas trees that accompany it in my mind.
Of the two crèches, the one I think gets to the real moment of Jesus, born into this world a helpless babe, is the old and battered set. Somehow it manages to get closer to the stories told in Luke’s Gospel, of there being no room in an inn, of a food trough for animals, of shepherd guests. It’s a stark contrast to our bright lights, gilded bulbs, and lawn ornaments.
Don’t get me wrong – I have gilded bulbs on my tree…the better to celebrate the Lord of Light breaking into the world, but I think it very important not to forget the humble reality of the only nativity staged by the one born. In all of human history, only Jesus chose His own circumstances of birth, and they are telling. No bassinette, no fine linens, no doctors or nurses…no soft blue blankets, no safe warm home, no long prepared baby room…and for a king, no palace, no soldiers, no servants…no courtiers, no power, no glory…and for a child of his own time, no extended family, no fire in the fireplace, no neighbors to come and chortle over the newborn.
While you enjoy your Christmas feast, have a thought for that baby in the manger. From the very first, He embraced the human struggle, for love of you. We have good reason to celebrate, and even better reason to remember.
Merry Christmas from your priest,
During the third week of Advent, a rose-colored candle is added to the advent wreath to remind us of the gift of joy that God gave us in his only son, the infant, Jesus Christ.
Jesus was born at a time when there was significant suffering, hardship and heartbreak. He brought the Holy Spirit, hope, unconditional love, courage and strength. By his words and deeds, he showed us how to care for each other in good times and bad.
It’s important to remember that God’s joy, Jesus, is always with us. While at times it may feel quite small, the hope, joy and resiliency of the Holy Spirit is not extinguished even during times of despair and heartbreak. The resiliency of our faith carries us one step at a time through the rough patches. It helps us come together as a community to support one another and to do as Jesus would do…
I initially struggled to find joy in this Advent season as I reflected upon recent events that impacted our community and parish family. And then it came to me with greater understanding when I read the following quotation from Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaugium, 6. “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.”
So, while my outward expression of joy this Advent season may be a bit different from previous Advents, my inner peace, belief, hope and trust in our Lord is unwavering. I feel this renewal and promise as I look at the infant, Jesus. I celebrate in all that He represents, all that He has done for us and all the blessings to come.
I thank all of you, my Parish Family, for being a beacon of light for each other and for others in need during times of struggle and sorrow.
Joy is a gift from Jesus himself. The more we help spread Joy to others, the more we live in the way God intended.
Merry Christmas and God bless.
We are a week into our Advent observance. For the church, Advent is a season with two themes. The first is preparing for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, whose kingship we celebrated recently. The second, to which we shift from December 17th on, is celebrating the coming of Jesus in history where he became human – Emmanuel – God with us.
So if we are preparing for Jesus’ Second Coming, how might that look? Today’s Scriptures give us some idea. From the first reading from Baruch and the Responsorial Psalm (126) we encounter the following: There will be no more mourning nor misery. We will be “wrapped in a cloak of God’s justice.” There will be a sense of restoration: children returning “borne aloft in glory” after being taken from us by our enemies. We will be laughing and rejoicing, as in a dream. Where we had gone forth weeping, we will come back rejoicing, led by God, with mercy and justice for company.
In the second reading, Saints Paul and Timothy pray that our love may increase more and more, that we may be pure and blameless.
How will this restoration, this unbelievable joy come to us? It is made clear in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 3. In a very specific time and place (lest we are tempted to relegate all of this to a cozy myth), John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, prompted by the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, quoting the prophet Isaiah the whole time: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
Repentance is key. It’s much more than merely feeling sorry. It is a sincere desire to change course, to turn away from what keeps us from God, and making an effort of will to turn toward God. We can ask God for help changing course. He is delighted by every faltering step we take toward him, no matter how humble. Since, as the second reading tells us, God will bring to completeness in us the good work he has begun in us, in his own good and mysterious time and way, we will experience a healing of all losses, all brokenness, all incompleteness, all grief, all mourning.
To get in touch with the enormity of this, and to bring it from an idea “out there” to a reality within, spend some time with the first reading and responsorial psalm. Realize that the powerful emotions prophesied are not exaggerations, nor are they merely symbolic. They are a foretaste of the joy we will experience at the coming of Jesus Chris in glory at the end of time.
This is a lot to wait and hope for – there is real depth in Advent if we’ll let it in. Let’s pray for one another that we can do so! Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!