Sunday, December 25, 2016

...He's Been Here All Along!

Christmas Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

On December 26th 1957 a usually fun-loving and joy-filled man woke up in a foul mood.  As he stood there brushing his teeth and staring at himself in the mirror his own reflection seemed monstrous.  Sure, it was his face, his eyes, his nose, his mouth and eyebrows.  It was indeed his own teeth that he was brushing – there was no doubt about that.  But there was a strange, gloomy, joyless countenance that he saw staring back at him.  He could almost see the gloom that had settled over him floating around his reflection like a dirty green haze almost.  And he began to think – there had been no real joy that year during the holidays at all.  

He was befuddled – and a slight bit angry at first.  He thought to himself, ‘Something must have gone wrong with Christmas!’  And then he felt a bit betrayed – after all, if Christmas couldn’t give him some joy and life, what could?  What good was Christmas anyway if it couldn’t bust him out of his funk… Something must have gone wrong with Christmas…so much for Christmas.  All he saw in the mirror that morning after Christmas in 1957 was (in his own words) a “nasty anti-Christmas monster that was really [himself].”

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Then something clicked …telling the story later, he says he realized that Christmas wasn’t to blame; it was more likely that something had gone wrong with him.  “I wrote the story about my sour friend the Grinch to see if I could discover something about Christmas I had obviously lost,” Dr. Seuss said.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas tells us the story of finding the light and love of Christmas when we’ve lost it.

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I think we all have Grinch-like tendencies from time to time.  Think about it – isn’t there a moment every year when you realize you’ve not quite got into the season yet?  We might not be roaming around sneaking into the houses of our neighbors stealing their Christmas toys and decorations.  But nearly every year there is that moment when I looked around and see all the Christmas preparations taking place around me and began to wonder why it all seems to be happening out there and nothing seems to be going on inside.  

We say our simple prayers, trying desperately not to miss the boat – but we’re not sure if it really worked or not.  We try our best to get ready – we go to confession or think about it.  We try not to be afraid – because we know that Jesus is coming.  We hear our pastor ramble on and on for four weeks about it all – and we try our best.  But I think all of us at some point end up a bit Grinchy.

It’s not a knowledge problem – we’ve got that pretty much down.  Knowing wasn’t the Grinch’s problem either.  ‘Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot – but the Grinch who lived just north of Whoville DID NOT!  Now please don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason… I think the most likely reason of all – may have been that his heart was two sizes two small!’  You see – all the ideas and truths about Christmas can be firmly planted in our heads – but the struggle to get into the Christmas spirit is that we can’t do it with our heads – we have to do it with our HEARTS.  Until our hearts experience the joy and truth of what we’re celebrating, we’ll be Grinchy – if not on the outside, then certainly on the inside.

Remember what happened to the Grinch that changed everything?  It wasn’t a change in ideas or reasoning – he tried to think things through – in fact, he ‘puzzled three hours until his puzzler was sore!’  That didn’t work for him, and it won’t work for us.  Do you remember what made the difference?  ‘What happened then?  Well…down in Whoville they say, that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.

The secret of Christmas – the secret to being transformed by the joy and beauty and miracle of Christmas is to let the small baby in the manger into our hearts.  And then – in those moments of pure joy – to realize that we didn’t do that to ourselves…but that it was really Jesus – really the One born that first Christmas – really the One John tells us has been here all along – that it was really Jesus who has come and transformed our hearts.

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If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready – Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…He’s already here!

Every year when I notice that the world around me seems to be getting ready for Christmas ‘out there’ I find myself missing what I know should be happening ‘in here’…and I get…well, I get Grinchy.  But then something happens.  I find a gift to share with someone I love.  Or I hear a Christmas song on the radio…I bake some cookies or make a Christmas cake.  And then it happens…without even noticing it’s happening I discover that my heart has swollen ‘three times its size’ – and I’m singing along with the songs or whistling a Christmas tune; I have a little more giddy-up in my step…and all of a sudden what’s been happening ‘out there’ has made a home ‘in here’ …and I discover, I’ve been made ready for Christmas.  And just in time, too. How did it happen?

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Whatever has brought us here this morning – Grinchy or as happy and filled with joy as little Cindy Lou Who – whatever has brought us here this morning…Jesus is doing everything He can to break into our hearts.  He was in the beginning…but that wasn’t enough.  And so He came in the flesh…he came as a baby…he broke into the darkness of our shrunken hearts in His miraculous birth in Bethlehem that first Christmas.  And every year at Christmas – He bursts in again…

It’s that moment when Christmas finally comes to you – that moment when you feel the joy of Christmas through the eyes of a child.  It’s that moment when Christmas starts to feel like it’s happening ‘in here’ not just ‘out there’.  It’s that moment of happiness and peace, that moment of relief and nostalgia and fullness – fullness that wells up into a fountain that love starts to pour out in laughter and stories (and yes, sometimes even in tears) – that moment when Christmas is different somehow than any other day of the year…

…you know the moment I’m talking about…

…you’ve felt it……you might be feeling it now…

...don’t fool yourself – that moment is real…that moment is Sacred…

That moment …that moment is Jesus – He’s been here all along.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

But Don't Be Afraid...

Advent 4 Sun Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid

For weeks now, we’ve been preparing for Jesus to come – and its only days away.  We’ve been getting our hearts and minds on the same page as a family of faith to help us prepare.  Our young people are hearing the message – they’re repeating it at home and using it to decorate for Christmas – reminding us:  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready – because Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…  Say it with me, family – If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready – because Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…  

Just days away from Christmas and there’s still time to pay attention – saying our simple little prayers asking Jesus to help us notice him so we don’t miss the boat like the folks of Noah’s time; so that we don’t miss Him in all the ways He comes to us.  Just days away from Christmas and there’s still time to get ready – to follow the urgent plea of John the Baptist to produce fruit of our repentance in the confessional.  Just days away from Christmas and there’s still time to recognize that Jesus is coming – and to get excited enough to rejoice and make our plans around Him above everything else.

But, if we’re honest, sometimes all that leaves us a little afraid…

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Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid…

Have you ever noticed how often the announcement of Messiah’s coming is followed by the words do not be afraid?

On the surface, it doesn’t seem to make much sense.  Christmas is joyful and happy…the coming of Christ is exciting…at least it’s supposed to be.  But as I prayed – I could admit I’m afraid in some ways this Christmas.  Sometimes I’m afraid I won’t find the right gift for the people I love.  Often I’m afraid I won’t have time to do all the things that need to be done, and I’m afraid of what others will think of me if I don’t get it all done – truth be told, I’m sometimes afraid of what I’ll think of myself if I don’t get it all done.  Sometimes I’m afraid of the sadness Mom and I will feel in these holidays without my dad and my Grandmother – afraid the grief will overwhelm us.  (Many of you experience this fear whether your loved ones have gone this past year or years ago.)

If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat – so we have to get ready, because Jesus is coming!  But - what if He comes before I’ve found a way to show how much I love Him?  What if He comes before I find a way to love those in my life well enough?  What if Jesus comes before I’ve taken care of my spiritual things to do list?  What if He comes before I’ve been able to overcome the same pesky sins and habits in my life that I know the Just Judge of All Creation finds contrary to His goodness?  Sometimes ‘Jesus is coming’ leaves us a bit afraid.  

Sometimes there are parts of us – mingled with our genuine Christmas cheer – that are afraid when we hear that Jesus is coming because we realize we can never get ready on our own.  And we wonder…are we worthy…have we done our part…have we done enough…will we be ready?

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That’s why I think we so often encounter the reminder to ‘be not afraid’ when the coming of Christ is announced in Scripture.  To refocus us.  To remind us that the coming of Jesus Christ is the coming of Emmanuel – God with us; that this Jesus who is coming comes to us – as one of us – to save us.  His name literally means “God saves…”  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, the God who is Mighty enough to kill death, destroy sin, and SAVE US!  And in light of His coming, we have nothing to fear – not even our own inadequacy.    

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St. Paul tells us why we have no reason to be afraid.  Yes - the Just Judge is coming – but we don’t have to be afraid, because through Jesus we have received – you and I have already received by virtue of His first coming the grace that brings about the obedience of faith.  In a manger, beneath the shadow of a cross cast by that glorious star and among the triumphant serenade of heaven’s choirs, Jesus came and did the work that would give us the free gift of grace that can make us ready.  We have no need to fear the coming of Christ… because He accomplished at His first coming everything we need in order to be ready for His second coming!

//

The Blessed Mother was troubled by the message of the angel because she was called to be something that seemed beyond her reach.  St. Joseph was afraid because life circumstances were spinning wildly out of control and beyond what he’d prepared for or imagined.  But – they were told:  

Do not be afraid!

Do you ever fear who you are called by God to be?  Priest?  Deacon?  Mom?  Dad?  Husband?  Wife?  Do you ever fear the way life seems to be spinning out of control – heading in a direction vastly different than what you’d planned or what you thought you wanted?  Those are ways that Jesus is coming to you!  Can you hear it?  In these last days before Christmas can you hear God saying Do not be afraid…for you have found favor with God…You can do this thing that God has called you to do…you will be mother or father to these children…you will serve the Church in this ministry…you will witness to my love throughout the world…you will teach others to know me personally as Lord and friend, Mighty God and Wonderful Counselor…(you will be my priest…)…you will do this because the Most High God has already done the work needed in your life…just keep paying attention…keep getting ready…because Jesus is coming…but don’t be afraid – just follow the example of Mary and Joseph; say:  Behold, I am the servant of the Lord…let it be done to me according to your word…, and then get up and do what God is asking you to do.

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Tanner Clark is a contemporary Christian artist; one of my favorite songs of his is not a Christmas song on its surface.  It’s called “Do Not Be Afraid.”  But it speaks to us in these last days of Advent.  Fear ain’t nothing but a liar – you don’t need to be afraid!  The coming of Christ means we can always hear these words in our heart: Don’t be afraid for I am with you, do not fear – I won’t let you fall. Do not be afraid.

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If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready – Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Because Jesus is coming...

Advent 3 Sun Yr A/2017
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

Two weeks down – two to go.  How’s Advent unfolding for you, family?  Most of the presents are bought – or at least some of them.  Christmas cards are getting in the mail; I know, because in your kindness you’re sharing your cards with me, along with pictures of your families and reflections on this past year.  We’re getting ready for our family celebrations – and many of us are getting ready spiritually, too.  This past Wednesday was one of my most amazing days as your pastor.  And hour of confessions before Mass – 45 minutes after – and a packed house for a weekday Mass.  Some of us are getting ready for Christmas – that’s great!!

Because – for two weeks now we’ve been singing the same song together – getting on the same page with our Advent readings this year.  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!  Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid.  Say it with me family – If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready.  Because Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…  

Two weeks ago we began our Advent journey – our season of preparation for the coming of Jesus – recognizing that we have to pay attention.  You remember what Jesus said: “As it was in the days of Noah so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…they didn’t even notice anything was happening until the flood came and swallowed them up.”  In other words, if we’re not paying attention we’ll miss the boat!  We talked about how ironic it is that all of our preparations for Christmas – shopping, cards, wrapping, lights – all of our preparations for Christmas can distract us so much we miss Jesus.  Are you saying those little prayers before whatever Christmas preparations you make?  “Jesus, help me see you in the people I encounter and the preparations I make for Christmas…”  There’s still time – keep praying those prayers, or begin to pray them for the first time.  Because if we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So we’ve got to get ready!

We heard John the Baptist tell us last week to get ready: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  His message is urgent.  Not next year or next month or next week – right now.  The axe is already laying at the root of the trees to cut down the ones that don’t produce fruit.  Do you remember the kind of fruit John said we must produce to show that we’re ready or Jesus to come?  “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance,” John said.  Compared to the number of hours we’ve spent shopping, wrapping, sending cards – how much time have we spent bringing forth evidence of our repentance?  And what’s the primary fruit of repentance we can produce?  You remember – I know you do.  That’s right – going to confession.  Our 12 2nd graders preparing for 1st communion know it – we can’t be ready to receive Jesus until we’ve first made our confession.  And many of you know it too – those of you who’ve made your confessions in the last couple of weeks.  And there’s still time!  Remember, if our scheduled confession times don’t work, all you have to do is call me.  My cell number is right on the front of the bulletin – I’m available to you – to all of you – any time day or night.

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If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  Say those little prayers…  So get ready!  Make your confession…  Why?  Because Jesus is coming!  Friend – Jesus really is coming.  He’s on the way.  Just like Isaiah says, “Here is your God – he comes with vindication – with divine recompense.”  Here’s the real kicker, friends: “He comes to save you!”  Here is your God – He comes to save you!  And how will he do that?  Wherever in your life you feel blind – unable to see God’s plan, unable to see where to go or how to go forward – wherever in your life you feel blind – He comes to save you!  The eyes of the blind will be open.  And wherever in your life you feel unable to hear God – unable to hear Him call your name – unable to hear Him proclaim His love for you – wherever in your life you feel unable to hear – He comes to save you!  The ears of the deaf will be cleared.  Wherever you are lame and mute – unable to leap with the joy of the Lord this season because of grief or illness or difficult circumstance; wherever you are unable to raise your voice in praise of God and to encourage and love your neighbor – wherever you are lame and mute – He comes to save you!  The lame will leap like a stag – the tongue of the mute will sing!

Isn’t it exciting?!?!?!  Isn’t it amazing?!?! Can’t you feel it in the air?  Jesus is coming – He really is!  He’s coming to us – coming to be with us – coming as one of us.  Jesus is coming to save us!!!  That’s why we pause in our purple anticipation to bask in the warm and rosy glow of the promise!  All of our preparations, all of our waiting, all of our Advent – it all really will lead somewhere!  The promise is real – the excitement will get us there if we let it – if we let the promise fuel the preparations and move on from this place ready to greet Him when He comes!  If that doesn’t stir something in you – if that doesn’t excite you or at least help you hope for the excitement of Jesus coming to you in new way – a bigger way – a broader way – if that doesn’t stir something in you, even if its deep down in a place that’s hard to reach, then nothing will.  But it’s there, friends.  It’s there, even if its way deep down there – it’s there or you wouldn’t be here.  And you know what?  If it’s there, the Holy Spirit can reach it – the Holy Spirit can reach you – and Jesus will come to you even more completely than before…

if you let Him…

If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!  Get ready friends – because Jesus is coming.  He’s coming at Christmas.  He’s coming today.  He’s coming into your heart.  He’s coming to call you…to take you on a great adventure.  He’s coming.  So…keep up the little prayers asking Him to help you pay attention to Him.  He’s coming…so get ready – make your confession.  He’s coming…

If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss the boat.  So get ready.  Because Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…

Sunday, December 4, 2016

So Get Ready!

Advent 2 Sun Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

So – family – how’d we do?  Last week kicked off Advent – our season of preparation for the coming of Jesus – recognizing that we have to pay attention.  Do you remember?  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready! Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid…  Can you say that with me?  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready! Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid…  

We said that Advent was a training ground for living the Christian life, because the Christian life is lived waiting for Jesus.  We’re waiting for Him to come at the end of our lives and at the end of time – we’re waiting for Him to come every day to help us become more holy, more free from sin, more free for love – for loving God and others.  And do you remember what Jesus said in last week’s Gospel about His coming: “As it was in the days of Noah so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…they didn’t even notice anything was happening until the flood came and swallowed them up.”  In other words, if we’re not paying attention we’ll miss the boat!  

Every day of the Christian life is a struggle to pay attention to Jesus…and that’s especially hard when we’re doing all these things to try to get ready for Christmas.  Isn’t that ironic?  Shopping, Christmas cards, wrapping presents and stringing up lights – and even our Christian service if we’re not careful – all these things we’re telling ourselves we’re doing to get ready for Christmas can be do distracting that we miss Jesus.  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat!  

Last week I offered two simple, concrete suggestions to help us pay attention.  The first was to say a little prayer asking Jesus to help you notice Him in whatever you do to get ready for Christmas – and the second was to do one concrete thing to pay better attention to Jesus, like attending a daily Mass each week of Advent or reading the daily reflections in the little purple book.  There’s still time – we’re only one week in – I hope you’ll still do those things… because if we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!!!

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So get ready!  That’s what John the Baptist seems to have been all about, don’t you think?  Trying to tell people to get ready.  He even wore funny so folks would notice him, maybe hear his message above the buzz of everyday life: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  Everything John the Baptist said or did was in service of that one message:  Get ready!

There was a sense of urgency about it too, wasn’t there? “Even now the axe lies at the root – produce good fruit to demonstrate your readiness – every tree that does not bare good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  There’s no ‘maybe next year” in his sentiment; no “there’s plenty of time” – no, there’s a sense of urgency.  If you’re a tree, and you’re expected to produce fruit or be cut down and tossed into the fire, things are urgent when the axe is already laying by your roots.

Do you feel a sense of urgency when it comes to getting ready for Jesus?  Let’s try a little comparison to open our eyes a little bit.  Raise your hand if you spent any time shopping or considering Christmas gifts this past week…let’s see, how many is that? OK.  Now consider: this past week I heard only 5 confessions apart from our boys and girls who made their first confession… Is it possible that our children get it better than we do?  How does your sense of urgency to get to the mall or get that online shopping done compare with your sense of urgency to get to confession before Christmas Eve?
Let’s try another one – how much time have you spent decorating your home for Christmas, writing Christmas cards, or wrapping presents since Thanksgiving?  3 hours?  5 hours?  More?  How does that compare to how much time you’ve spent praying…?  Friends – there’s no doubt that we’re busy getting ready for something... but if how we’re spending our time is the measure – and I think it is – I’m just not sure what we’re getting ready for is Jesus. That’s why John’s message is so important!  “Repent!  The Kingdom of heaven is at hand!  The axe is already laying at the root of the tree!  Get ready – Jesus is coming!!!

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How do we get ready for Jesus to come?  Well, John the Baptist gives us a concrete recommendation: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance,” he says.  We’re Catholic.  We believe that Jesus works most powerfully in our lives through the sacraments.  And each and every one of us here today has room for repentance – each of us has sin (mortal or not) – each of us has something to confess.  In that context, it would seem the primary ‘good fruit’ we can produce to show our repentance is to get ourselves to confession.  Many of you will not like this truth – but it is the truth nonetheless:  No one can be ready for Jesus to come without making their sacramental confession.  Period.  All around the world – and all through our parish – people are celebrating the breath of fresh air that Pope Francis is bringing into the Church.  I see bumper stickers that say “This pope gives us hope!”  And that’s wonderful!  But many of us who are celebrating Pope Francis are only celebrating the parts of what he says that we want to hear.  If you listen to his whole message, you’ll realize Pope Francis is a champion of sacramental reconciliation and believes we need to go to confession to get ready for Jesus to come!  If you’re a Pope Francis fan, it’s time to get to confession…

Our 12 second graders preparing to receive the Eucharist for the first time did it – because they know there’s no way to be ready to receive Jesus when He comes without confessing.  Is it really possible that they need confession before Jesus comes more than you and I do?

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If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boar.  So get ready!  Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid…

Friends – this week, let’s keep our hearts and minds focused on paying attention by saying our small little prayers asking Jesus to help us notice Him in our Christmas preparations and by coming to a daily Mass or reading our Advent reflections each day.  And let’s get ready by making our confession. 

This week, confessions will be heard 5-6pm on Wednesday, and after Mass as time allows.  There will also be confessions on Friday evening at 5:30 until everyone in line has been heard, and again on Saturday from 3-4.  And if those times don’t work – let me know and we’ll schedule something – my cell number and email address are right on the cover of the bulletin.


If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready! Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid…