Dear friends on the journey,
Merry Christmas, Blessed Solemnity of Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, and Happy New Year!
The first of January ushers in a new year, a fresh beginning, and a time when we resolve to improve ourselves. Typically, these resolutions are focused on improving our body, our physical well-being through new diet and exercise routines, or perhaps we desire to expand our minds by trying a new hobby, reading more, or expanding our knowledge base. All good and necessary, but this year I invite you to consider a spiritual resolution, a commitment to attending to your spiritual life with the goal of deepening your relationship with God, understanding your Catholic faith better, seeking ways to encounter Jesus, and living as an intentional disciple here at church but in your daily living.
According to a New York Times article, resolutions will be successful if the SMART principle is used. They need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. If you choose to include a spiritual resolution for 2023, I think you’ll find we have just the tool to assist you.
Today as we usher in 2023, our Pastoring Team is happy to share a new parish covenant. Three years have passed since our last one so I’ll refresh your memory. Our annual parish covenant between the Pastoring Team and parishioners is meant to draw us into discipleship by committing to a level of engagement in a Catholic way of life and a closer relationship with Jesus. The document you received this weekend is the result of collaborative efforts between our Parish Council and Pastoring Team who spent the last six months brainstorming and crafting a fresh new document. Know that the Pastoring Team is committed to our promises, our guiding principles. And I hope you find the proposed parishioner promises to be just - simple, practical, yet challenging. Growth happens when we step out of comfort into the new, different, or unknown.
Please read the covenant prayerfully, sign it, keep a copy to post on your fridge, and return next week. I pray this new covenant will be a helpful aid in living your new year’s spiritual resolution all year long.
Our first reading from Numbers offers these beautiful words for the new year:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!
I love the Christmas story. There is so much heart and hope, so much promise amidst the straw and animals. Luke’s infancy connects with our love of our babies and with our sympathy for women’s swollen ankles, when well advanced in pregnancy. It playfully hints at the presence of animals and fodder. It fills our imagination with heavenly choirs, inspiring our Christmas carols.
Even so, for the second time in thirteen years, I’m preaching on the opening of John’s Gospel at Christmas Masses, and not the stories of the manger or the shepherds and the angels. John’s prologue is, not so much warm, as magisterial, a hymn to the eternal Son of God, second person of the Trinity, creator of all that is. The Church offers us this reading as an alternative. It can be good to move our vision to the bigger picture, serving, perhaps, as a corrective to all the fluff that has made its way into our Christmas consciousness.
Santa and elves on shelves are light and heartwarming. The Grinch teaches us about small hearts and generosity. Christmas canes and cookies both fatten and delight us. What is lovelier than a neighborhood all lit up with colorful lights? The giving of the perfect gift is such a sweet pleasure. All the sweet delights of the season captivate us and hold our attention ... perhaps at the expense of a greater truth.
When the shepherds, responding to the angelic message made haste to the place where Mary had given birth, they had been promised a savior, confusingly wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2:11). Even that word, “savior,” though, is far too little for whom they found. The shepherds will glorify and praise God for what they had heard and seen. It’s unclear if they had the slightest inkling that they were in the holy presence of God, Himself, all swaddled as He was.
Our theology is clear. We know that the Baby of Bethlehem is so much more than any other baby is, as precious as they all are. We use important words for the Baby: lord, messiah, redeemer, etc. They all help us narrow down on Jesus’ importance to us. Every now and then, even when swept away by all the warming hearts of our celebration of Christmas, it is good for us to remember. The lordly, anointed and redeeming Baby is the eternal self-expression of God, His Word, through whom all things came to be, God from God, Light from light, shining on in the darkness, which could not overcome Him.
He is the very Holy Presence of God with us.
Amidst all the joyful fluff of Christmas, do not fail to make your way to a nativity scene, and worship – not the images, but the reality they represent, of our God who enters into our history to teach and heal, to challenge and comfort, to redeem the fallen as savior. His is truly Emmanuel,
“God with us.”
May you and yours find joy in the stunning closeness of our God.
picture provided https://publicdomainvectors.org/en/free-clipart/Classic-nativity/59635.html
Dear Friends, Our Advent focus turns from the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time to his birth into our world, our history, our joys and our sorrows. It is right that we should celebrate that arrival – and we are good at it, aren’t we, in our culture?
We begin our masses this weekend singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” In our first reading the prophet Isaiah says “Therefore the LORD himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” The reading from Matthew’s gospel makes clear that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that prophecy and tells us that the name Emmanuel means “God is with us.”
What does this mean and why is it such good news? In the 4th Eucharistic Prayer we pray: “And you so loved the world, Father most holy, that in the fullness of time, you sent your Only Begotten Son to be our Savior. Made incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, he shared our human nature in all things but sin.” (emphasis mine)
Thinking back to the story of the little child who repeatedly woke his mother with bad dreams and was told to pray who then answered that he needed a God “with skin on,” we have been given just such a savior. Everything we experience in our humanity – love, anger, fatigue, joy, heartbreak, calm, worry, hunger, thirst, illness – has also been experienced by Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus Christ. When we pray, he knows our hearts, our weakness, our trials because he is one of us, one with us. This is truly something to celebrate and it is much more than a cute baby in a manger – as adorable as that baby is.
In Matthew’s gospel that we hear today the angel in Joseph’s dream who tells him to go ahead and take Mary as his wife because the child she’s carrying was conceived through the Holy Spirit and that “... you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
That we are all “his people” is made clear in the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans:
Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ ... called to be holy.”
Yes, called to be holy. All of us. No one is exempt. The Universal call to holiness was recently affirmed in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. A tall order, perhaps. But worth it. And the One who calls us to holiness is Emmanuel – God with us, who knows our need and has shown us the way to get there – nourishing us along the way with his body and blood, and guiding us with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s pray for one another this last week before Christmas!
Dear friends on the journey,
Each of today’s readings offer words of comfort. Isaiah’s message is “courage, do not be afraid.” In the second reading, James encourages us to “be patient, do not lose heart.” In the gospel, Jesus’ message to John the Baptist is “happy the person who does not lose faith in me.”
Sitting in a dark prison awaiting death, John must have felt hopeless, his faith tested. Surely Jesus’ words brought him comfort and strength. Well they’re meant for us today too and we need to soak them in.
Throughout our life, we find ourselves in dark places when we experience personal crises like serious illness, death, addiction, or family discord. Perhaps the crises are not ours personally but are happening around us. I have been deeply saddened lately by news of the sudden death of a 35-year-old woman, a toddler hospitalized with pneumonia, RSV and influenza affecting babies and the elderly and everyone in between, and a longtime friend just diagnosed with a brain tumor. In these moments, we have Isaiah’s words: have courage, do not be afraid. There is hope.
The news is filled with stories of continued senseless violence, anti-Semitism, racism, political division, war in Ukraine, natural disasters and we feel powerless and wonder if this world will ever experience true peace. Many of us worry about our children, especially in their adulthood, and their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. In these situations, we can look to James’ comforting words: be patient, do not lose heart. There is hope.
We can be the most faith confident people, working hard, doing our best only to be sideswiped by unemployment, car trouble, and unexpected expenses. Throw in the added stress and work of the holidays, as joyous as they are. Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope we can wonder why God let us down and doubt his love for us and even his existence. In these times we can look to the gospel message: happy the person who does not lose faith in me. There is hope.
This hope is Jesus. In the Old Testament, God promised a savior. God delivered that savior in the person of Jesus. Jesus conquered death through resurrection, allowing us eternal life in the heavenly kingdom. This is hope. In these dark places of fear, overwhelm, and doubt, we have only to look back in salvation history to see that courage, patience, and faith have always conquered darkness. This is
hope that struggle does not last forever, that good will always come again.
This Christmas we celebrate the Jesus of history, the Jesus who is present in us and to us today, and the Jesus who will come again. This gives me great hope. How about you?
1965 - 2022
1928 - 2022
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
As has been our tradition for years, decorating for Christmas in our house begins just after Thanksgiving. After taking down and packing the Fall and Thanksgiving decorations, we move some furniture around to make room for the Christmas tree. The rest of the day is spent putting up and decorating the tree and the rest of the house. When we finish, we sit down to enjoy the newly decorated tree and think to ourselves, “our home is prepared for Christmas.” Our Gospel today teaches about a different kind of preparation.
While his followers are being baptized, John the Baptist is teaching them (and us) to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). For John, repentance does not only mean acknowledging our sinfulness and whatever it is that keeps us away from God. It also means a willingness to live our lives in a new and different way. John scolds the local religious leaders who come out to be baptized for the sake of appearing repentant but are not willing to demonstrate their repentance by their actions.
When we hurt someone we love, we feel sorrow for having caused the hurt and if we truly love the other, we will experience a desire to right the wrong and restore our relationship with the one we hurt. But, if we don’t confront the root of what caused us to hurt, we are likely to repeat the hurt. A lasting change requires a conversion of heart.
In our relationship with God, the sacrament of reconciliation provides us the opportunity to encounter our loving God in a deep and personal way. In the sacrament, we acknowledge those times when we have fallen short and express our desire to do things differently.
If we can take that incredible moment of grace and really work on that constant relationship and conversation with Jesus, He will guide you toward being a more selfless, kind, tolerant, and centered soul. If we allow this time of Advent to truly prepare for Christ’s birth into our heart and world, we will experience the love of God in a new and transformative way.
As we near the celebration of Christmas and the coming of our LORD into our world, we can prepare by examining how we treat each other and making a genuine effort to remove that which prevents us from being disciples of Jesus. When we can do this, then we can say that we’ve prepared our hearts for Christmas.
Deacon Joe Torti