Sunday, December 9, 2018

Make Way!


2 Sun Advent - Yr C - 2018
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

Ummm…did you really preach about torpedoes in the water and submarine movies to start off the Advent season?  This is the conversation I had with myself as I was sitting down to finish up this homily.  Why yes, yes I did preach about Crimson Tide last week for the 1st Sunday of Advent.  Ummmmm…

Maybe you better make sure folks don’t think you said Jesus was coming at them like a torpedo in the water…’cause I don’t think that’s what you meant.  Of course that’s not what I meant!  I only used that as an example of the difference between a warning and an alarm.  Warnings are designed to frighten us and often leave us running away – but alarms are different.  Alarms make sure we wide awake, paying attention, and doing the things we need to be doing to be OK.  Like the alarm that goes off when a torpedo is in the water makes sure all the sailors are where they’re supposed to be doing what they’ve been trained to do so they can be ready for what comes next – so they can be safe. 

Oh…OK…that makes more sense. 

Right!  Alarms give us hope – they make us alert and ready – Advent is an alarm, not a warning.  We know what to do – we know what’s coming next – and we know if we’re paying attention and living the way Jesus taught us then there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of.  That’s why Jesus told us to ‘Stand erect and raise your heads! Because your redemption is at hand!’  There’s nothing to be afraid of it we’re paying attention, alert and ready, if we’re doing what we’ve been taught by Jesus to do.

Advent is our great, hope-filled alarm calling us to alert action:  Stand up!  Make Way!  He’s Coming! To You!  (Let’s try that – Stand up!  Make Way! He’s Coming! To You!)  That’s right – Advent is about hope, courage, and readiness.  There’s nothing to run away from if we’re alert and ready…and if we’re not alert and ready…

Well…if we’re not alert and ready, it’s time to get that way.  Not out of fear – but out of hope and certainty and courage – because we believe if we’re alert and making ready, our salvation is assured:  Stand Pp & Make Way!

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Up Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights and look East toward the rising Sun – a new day is dawning!  Jesus is coming!  God is leading us to joy by the light of His glory, with his mercy and justice for company!  Our readings this week pick up right where we left off last week – calling us to attention so we not distracted; filling us with courage and hope.  Jesus is coming – but there’s nothing to be afraid of if we’re alert and making ready – if we’re trying.  If we’re trying St. Paul encourages us even more:  I am confident – I agree with St. Paul…and I want you to be encouraged too, so listen closely, OK?  – I am confident that if you’re paying attention, not drowning in the anxieties of daily life or drunk on whatever deadens your senses or leaves you spiritually unaware or asleep – I am confident that if you’re alert, paying attention, and trying to get ready…that the One who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion! 

Advent isn’t a season of fear and trembling.  It’s a season of anticipation, of courageously standing alert with our heads up, confident and unafraid… because we’re getting ready for Jesus to come!

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But are we?  That’s the question, isn’t it?  Are we alert?  Or are we so busy with our so-called Christmas preparations that we’re not really paying attention to what and Who is soon to come at all?  Are we making ready for Jesus?  Or are we so focused on shopping & wrapping paper & bows & cards & family & friends & parties & cooking & celebrating that we’re aren’t really looking for Jesus at all?

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Have you ever seen that TV show called Hoarders?  In every episode someone who struggles with compulsive hoarding is given the chance to shake loose of all the things they’ve packed into their homes that are, literally, ruining their lives.  Whole rooms of their homes can’t be entered and are literally piled floor to ceiling with ‘stuff’.  Their homes are so full – floor to ceiling, wall to wall, that they barely have any room to walk – just one tiny little path to get to the toilet and the bed.  There is – literally – no room in their lives to breathe – no room in their lives for other people – no room in their lives for anything.  In every episode, the very first thing that has to be done is the same:  they have to make way.  Clear out some of the ‘stuff’ – make a path.  Make a path so they can move toward healing.  Make a path so those who are trying to help can get to them.  The very first thing that has to be done is to make way.

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We’re not hoarders, Father…

OK.  But is there room in your life for Christmas?  Is there room in your life for Jesus?  Was there room in your life to get to a holy day Mass to celebrate Immaculate Conception…or was life too packed, the schedule too full, too many things crammed into life to make way to celebrate Mary?  Is there room in your life for 30 minutes of prayer?  15 minutes?  10?  Prayer here in the Church before the Blessed Sacrament – or during your car ride home from school or to the mall?  Is there room in your life to pray together as a family while you’re running between this practice and that competition and shopping for him and having supper with her?  Is there room in your life – is there time and space – is there room in your life for Jesus?

I hear a voice crying out in the desert of our calendars and schedules and responsibilities and obligations – I hear a voice crying out in our overworked and overbooked lives – I hear a voice crying out in the wilderness of our hoarder-packed days and nights – I hear the voice of one crying out in the stacked full little pathways of our too-busy lives “Make way! Prepare the way of the Lord! Make way to see and touch and encounter the very salvation of God!”

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Is there room in your life for Jesus?  Room to go to confession?  Room to send a prisoner a Christmas card?  Room to turn off the TV and shut off the screens and look in each other’s eyes and laugh and smile and spend time together unplugged?  Is there room in your life for prayer – to drive to the Church and walk right in these doors and say, “Jesus – Hi.  I don’t know how to do this, but hi.  I’m making room for you.  I love you.”  Is there room in your life…is there room in your life for Jesus?

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Stand up – Make Way – He is Coming – To You!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

High School English Class and Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception - Yr C - 2018
Ss. Peter & Paul - Danville


Our readings today invite something like a classic “compare and contrast” essay from High School English class.  I can almost hear Mrs. Todavine rattling it off easily:  Read the story of Eve in Genesis, and the story of Mary in the Gospels, and give me 500 words comparing and contrasting the two women.  That might be a fruitful prompt for prayer; give that a try sometime.

In that simple comparison we find the essence of what it means to grow close to Jesus, to live lives for Him, to become holy and reach our heavenly homeland.  In that comparison we find the essence of our struggle – a good examination of conscience that might invite and encourage all of us to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation whether the rules suggest we have to or not.  The grace we receive in Confession is something we might actually want because we recognize we’re living life more like Eve’s folly than Mary’s grace and want to do better. 

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There are some important things that are the same with both Eve and Mary.  We don’t often mention it, but Mary isn’t the only woman to ever have begun life without sin.  Mary is the only person to have ever been conceived without sin – but when Eve was created by the hand of God in the garden and began the journey of life she too was without sin.  Both Eve and Mary begun their lives without sin, God had a plan – and invitation – for both of them; a plan for both of them that would lead to an eternity face to face with God loving and being loved by Him without any barrier.  And for both of them, following that plan, accepting that invitation, had implications for the whole world of peoples who would come after them. 

The difference – the contrast – is what preaches to us today.  The difference shines a bright cleansing light straight into our own lives and helps us see our sins right at their root.  The difference between Eve and Mary is the difference we struggle with in our own journeys, the struggle that only God’s grace in the sacraments can help us overcome. 

Eve thought she knew better than God, replaced her own wisdom for God’s divine plan, and brought sin into the world.  Mary, on the other hand, trusted God at His word even though it made absolutely no sense from the human perspective; Mary accepted God’s wisdom over her own plan and understanding, and so brought forth healing and salvation into the world.  In every moment and every action, we do one or the other – either bringing sin or salvation into our own lives and the world around us.

All too often we approach God like Eve approached the tree.  Surely God doesn’t mean I can’t do that, have that, be that… Surely God didn’t mean it when it says thus-and-so plainly in Scripture.  Surely that isn’t a sin.  Surely God doesn’t really mean I should turn the other cheek, give all of my extra to the poor, actually give my second coat to someone who has no coat.  Eve’s story is our story.  She knew what God had said – she told the serpent as much: ‘We may eat fruit from every tree except that one…’  Eve knew what God had said…but thought ‘nah – He couldn’t have meant that.’  She paid more attention to what she wanted and what she thought than what God wanted and what God thought…

Mary, on the other hand, did the opposite.  A virgin becoming pregnant seemed as illogical and impossible as not being able to eat from one particular tree for no apparent reason.  But when Mary heard what God had to say, she paid more attention to God’s plan, God’s perspective, God’s wisdom than her own; she accepted God at His plain word, gave herself completely to His plan, and by doing so changed the world…

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In every way that we live life like Mary, we encounter Jesus and move toward salvation.  When we approach God, His Holy Church, the sacraments and the disciplines of the sacraments, the teachings on faith and morals – in every way that we live life like Mary, being humble enough to say “yes” to God’s plan and God’s invitations – in every way that we live life like Mary we move toward Jesus, toward heaven, toward love and eternal joy.  Humble enough to recognize that our own intelligence and understanding is so very small compared to God’s, we – like Mary – become servants of the Lord, we live like beloved sons and daughters, living His divine plan for our own lives and the world around us, working for salvation.  And in every way that we live life like Eve, we crucify Christ, move toward eternal darkness, following our pride that elevates our personal opinion or understanding over God’s, becoming servants of ourselves, sewing seeds of sin and moving further and further away from God’s love…like Adam and Eve running away from Him in the Garden.

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Every movement and moment of our lives is either “I can decide for myself what to do no matter what God says” or “Behold, the servant of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Your word.”  Pride or humility.  Living for ourselves or living for God.  Moving toward eternal death or eternal life.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Warning...or an Invitation?


1 Sun Advent - Yr C - 2018
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

An invitation or a warning?  Courage or fear?  Hope or despair?

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One of my favorite movies of all time is Crimson Tide.  I thought about that recently when a priest friend I went to seminary with tagged me on Facebook with one of those social media games.  10 days, 10 films, no comments – just post an image from one of your all-time favorite films each day.  I don’t think I made it ten days, but it was fun.  The first day I put up an image from Shoes of the Fisherman – the seminarians who are assigned to me expected that.  The second day, I put up an image from my favorite scene in Crimson Tide – a submarine movie starring Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington.  If you haven’t seen it, check it out.  It’s awesome.

I’ve been thinking about Crimson Tide as we began to turn toward Advent this year.  I love sub movies of all kinds.  Crimson Tide, The Hunt for Red October, K-19 the Widow Maker, U-571.  Even classic sub movies: Run Silent – Run Deep, The Enemy Below, Das Boot.  Crimson Tide is my favorite.  The intensity of the “Con” – the way the communicate orders back and forth: “Radar, Con – report all contacts.  Con, radar – report all contacts aye, sir.” 

At some point in every sub movie there’s a torpedo in the water (‘Con, radar – torpedo in the water baring zero-nine-zero’) – heading straight for you.  The same order always comes – ‘steady course two-three-zero, dive-dive-dive-take ‘er deep – take ‘er deep – go go go.’  And then, the order:  “Sound the collision alarm!” – and the yellow lights start flashing.  “Sound collision aye sir!”

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But…why?  Is it an invitation or a warning?  What’s the point of the alarm?  Is it to scare the stuffing out of you – to make sure everyone in the whole ship knows they’re about to die so they can put clean underwear on real quick?  What’s the point?  Does the captain think, “I’m scared to death, and I want to make sure everyone else dies being afraid, too?”  When the captain turns on the fasten seat belt sign on an airplane…when the tornado sirens begin to wail…when the low fuel light turns on the car dings at us…what’s the point? 

Is it an invitation or a warning?  Is it about fear and despair?  Not at all.

Alarms are designed to get everyone’s attention so that we can all do what we know needs to be done to be ready, to survive, to make sure no one is caught daydreaming right when something is about to happen that we need to do something about?  Warnings are meant to instill fear – but an alarm…an alarm is meant to wake us up, give us courage to do what needs to be done to save us; an alarm isn’t about making us despair and give up – but to remind us that there’s reason for hope because we know what to do next.

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Advent is our great ‘collision alarm’ every year.  Mother Church reads the signs of the times and sounds the collision alarm:  If you’re not paying attention you’ll miss the boat, so get ready because Jesus is coming – but don’t be afraid!  Sometime soon our world – yours and mine – is going to collide with the culmination of all time and history, when Jesus returns.  We practice the drills that make us ready to meet Him when He comes.  We run these practice drills in the weeks leading up to our celebration of His first coming – because practice makes perfect, and because how can we be ready to celebrate the first coming of Christ at Christmas unless we’re doing the very best we can right now to be ready for His second coming?  During Advent we “sound the alarm” – but not to scare us or lead us into despair. 

We ‘sound the alarm’ in Advent to stir up hope, shake us awake from us stupor and make sure we’re paying attention, because our hope lies in being ready, being alert, making preparation.  Because if we’re not ready, we’ll miss the boat – if we’re caught off guard fright and anxiety will overtake us – if we’re paying attention to the wrong things…busy just going through the motions of life, the surprise will trap us, and we will surely die.  “Jesus said to His disciples: ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth the nations will be in dismay, perplexed…people will die of fright…”  If we’re drowsy or distracted by the anxieties of daily life, or drunk on too much drink, too much work, too much screen time, too much living life for money and success – if we’re not alert and ready we’ll be trapped by whatever is distracting us when Jesus comes.  So we sound the alarm.  But not to inspire fear or despair – quite the opposite, in fact:  Our alarm has a different tenor – it strikes a different note – this alarm inspires courage and awakens us to be about the things that assure our survival:  Stand erect and raise your heads! Because your redemption is at hand!

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Stand up – make way – He’s coming – to you!  Can you say that with me?  Stand up – make way – He’s coming – to you!  That’s a quick outline of our Advent together this year.  Stand up – make way – He’s coming – to you; there’s nothing to be afraid of if we’re alert and ready – if we’re making our confession and faithfully receiving the sacraments, if we’re serving those around us and staying close to Jesus in prayer.  It’s not a warning – it’s an alarm – an invitation – one designed to stir up our courage and give us hope.

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Stand up – make way – He’s coming – to you…