January 1st, 2010 - Mary, Mother of God

Today's Readings

Happy New Year today! At the beginning of the New Year, during the first reading, we read the blessing of the Lord for Israel. Through Jesus Christ, this blessing is now the blessing for every nation, including our nation. So , may the Lord bless all of you this year. May the Lord keep you all safe this year. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you. May the Lord be generous to you. May the Lord be kind and merciful. May the Lord give you peace.

This blessing is not simply well-wishing. The Lord says that the point of the blessing is so that his name will be invoke over the people. Aaron and his descendants gave this blessing by using the name of the Lord. Following long-standing tradition, we do not pronounce that name, that mysterious name, at Mass. Anyway, we do not know how exactly to pronounce it.

But we do pronounce the name of the Lord: Jesus. This was the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. This was the name given by the human parents of Jesus at his circumcision. This is the only name that has been given to humans so that we might be saved.

How sad it is that some people only call upon the name of Jesus in blasphemy and cursing, when they are angry or surprised. We have been given the name of God, and the power to call on God by that name. Never misuse that power by saying the name “Jesus” without meaning it.

But do not be afraid to call on the name of Jesus at all times. The world makes fun of us for praying to Jesus. If a football player prays before a game, they fun of him for the idea that Jesus cares about a football game. They are right that he does not care about the game, but he does care about every single person involved.

Whatever we do, every single moment of our life, should have the name of Jesus invoked upon it. If you cannot say, “In the name of Jesus I pray that I may do this well” then you should not do it. We cannot ask Jesus to help us sin, but otherwise we should ask him for grace to do whatever it is that we are going to do each day.

Happy Mother’s Day today! Hallmark might insist that Mothers’ Day is in May, but the Church celebrates maternity today, on the first day of the year. Today the Church celebrates the maternity of Mary, Mother of God.

The title of Mother of God is truly the primary title of Mary. By calling her the Mother of God, we first of all declare that Jesus, her son, is God. Thus Mary is called the Mother of God not by analogy or simply as a phrase to honor her but because she truly is the mother of a person who is God.

Mary is the Mother of God because Jesus took his human nature from her. In modern scientific language we would say that his DNA was constructed from her genetic material. God did not simply put a baby inside of Mary. When the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, a baby was conceived in her womb. The exact medical way this happened is not revealed to us and does not need to be, but it is important that we understand that Jesus is truly the son of Mary.

Mary is the Mother of God because of the nine months during which her womb contained what the universe could not contain. Mary's unimaginable relationship with God is emphasized by this time. Mary could feel God growing within her. Mary felt God kick as his legs and arms grew. Mary protected and nourished God with her own body because God chose to be weak, as weak as a fetus.

Mary is the Mother of God because, without loss of her virginity, she gave birth to God. Whether this birth happened in the way that we normally see or if it was free of the pains that usually accompany childbirth, we do not know. We know only that she gave birth to her son, Jesus, who is God, and then wrapped him in swaddling clothes and held him and nursed him and changed his diapers. In all the ways that a mother cares for a little baby, Mary cared for Jesus.

Mary was the Mother of God when she saw Jesus suffer and die. She experienced all the pain a mother could know to see her beloved child suffer. She was present for the first step and the first word and the first miracle. She was present throughout his whole life here on earth. She participated in that life according to her proper role. She stood at the foot of the Cross, giving no thought to the suffering she experienced, she was there to give whatever little comfort was in her power by suffering with him.

When Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to many, but it is not recorded that he appeared to his mother. This may be because the intimate meeting is not in Scripture, or it could be that Mary was glad to receive every blessing, and was the blessed one who did not see and yet believed.

Jesus cared for his mother. On the cross he made certain that she would be cared for for the rest of her life on earth. At the end of her earthly life, God brought her into heaven, body and soul, where she is with her son for all eternity, forever worshipping the Most Blessed Trinity. There she was crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth. There she prays for us, her adopted children.

Mary is the Mother of God, and she is also our mother, given to us by Jesus. In heaven our loves will all flow through God, so we will love most dearly the one whom God loves most dearly: his mother. The stronger our relationship with God, the more we will love Mary. Anyone who says that they love God but not his mother, is seriously mistaken. There can never be a question of jealousy on God's part when we honor Mary. She will always say, as she said at Cana, "Do whatever he tells you."

December 31, 2011 - The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

Today's Readings

We read again today the prologue to the Gospel according to John, one of the greatest treasures of Christian literature. It used to be that this passage was read at every Mass, every day of the year. That was taken away with the new ordinary form of the Mass, but it was rarely appreciated in those days. Priests would try to read it as quickly as possible in order to finish Mass on time. We only have it a few times a year, but we can read it in English and slowly, so as to really appreciate the poetry.

St. John builds a poetic structure starting in the beginning, exactly like the Book of Genesis, except that whereas that book begins with the heavens and the earth being formless and void, John begins before that. Before God created the universe, he existed, and the Word of God existed then too, from the very beginning. Just as God created the universe by means of words, “Let there be light”, so John affirms that it was through the Word of God that everything came to be.

That Word was not really “Let there be light”. Clearly not. The Word of God is not a word in English or even a word in Hebrew. No human language could contain the Word of God, for the word as with God and the Word was God.

Then John claims that this Word came into the world. Now the Word is a divine person, so we always ought to pause at the moment that John affirms that the Word of God became a man and dwelt among us. How amazing! How stupefying! We cannot fathom what it means for God to have come down so low as to be one of us. Here we have returned to the Garden of Eden where God walked with Adam and Eve before they sinned.

Then John takes us to Moses and the 10 Commandments. The Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. The Law was good. Grace and truth are better. The Law tells us what we do wrong. Grace empowers us to do what is right. This is grace in place of grace. God gave the world a gift when he gave the Law to Moses, but God replaced that gift with something better: grace and truth. God has not repeated himself; he has given more generously than ever before.

December 29, 2011 - 5th Day of Christmas

Today's Readings

St. John gives us a simple way of determing whether we know God: Do I follow his commandments? The logical correlation to this of course is that no one who knows God would not follow his commandments. Our sins, our failings, our disobedience stem from a fundamental ignorance. We might know the command, but if we do not know the one commanding we do not know why we should obey.

Why should we obey God? First, he is intelligent, perfectly intelligent. It is not possible for him to be wrong. He is omniscient, which means that he knows everything. Second, he is omnipresent. This means that he is aware and can act in every situation at every moment at the same time. We would say that we could never have forseen a particular situation when we gave an order, but God is simultaneously giving the order and present at every situation to which the order applies. God does understand exactly what you are going through. Third, God is all-loving. He is love. He does not give commands because he wants to be in charge or he likes bothering people.

Every command of God is intended for our benefit; it is given to us out of love, as a parent commands their child to do what is good. "Don't burn your finger", is not the command of a tyrant. "Don't commit adultery", is purely good advice. If we knew the power and love of God we would realize that every command is for our good, not in a "for your own good" kind of way, but really the very thing we would do if we knew better.

Simeon was told that he would see the Messiah before he died. Some people in that situation would be afraid of death. When they saw the baby Jesus and knew he was the Messiah they would scream and cry. Simeon does not. Simeon trusts God and God's plan. He celebrates the coming of the Savior of Israel and of the whole world.  He believes in God's plan, so when he sees Jesus he holds the baby and says, "Lord, now you can let your servant go in peace." Simeon knew God, and surely he knows him today in a more perfect way.

Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. This is not a physical sword, but the sword of sorrow that she experienced at the foot of the Cross, more painful than any metallic sword. She did not scream or cry to hear this. She was ready for the will of God. She wanted whatever God had planned for her. Mary knew God, and now she knows him better than anyone.

December 27, 2011 - Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist

Today's Readings

Today we celebrate the feast of the Apostle John. He wrote the Gospel according to John, whether he wrote it down or his students put it together based on his words. He was the only apostle who was not martyred. Although the stories say that people tried to kill him many times, including boiling him in oil, it did not work. We also know that John was given the responsibility to care for Mary by Jesus. When Jesus was about to die, he said to John, “Behold your mother,” and from then on, John took her into his home.

In our first reading today, the beginning of John’s letter to the churches, we have the essence of John’s theology. That which was in the beginning is that which I touched. He who created the world is the one who ate dinner with me. The source of all life is the one who I saw die. John’s theology is simultaneously transcendent and corporeal. He cannot overemphasize that God is above and beyond all creation, but he never allows the least qualification when he says that God was a man who he lived with and ate with for a few years. The Word was God in the beginning, and the Word became flesh.

John does not sort through this paradox. He simply emphasizes the realities that he experienced. Jesus is not merely an impressive human being: he is God. God did not just appear among humans: he dwelt among humans. John’s writing is the writing of a man who has seen something and never at any point in his life did he ever really recover from the shock of it all, nor did he want to. What he saw made everything else seem silly and useless, but what he saw made him love everything else so much more.

It was John who tells us that Jesus came because God so loved the world. In his writing he constantly refers to the people as “Beloved”. He came to be described as the disciple whom Jesus loved, which is to say that his identity was no longer caught up in a name or occupation. The one meaningful fact was that Jesus loved him.

Beloved, Jesus loves you. The supreme God, life itself, he who is with the Father, was made visible to John, and he saw him with his own eyes, and touched him with his hands, and he wants us to know: God loves us.

December 25th, 2011 - Christmas, at Dawn and during the Day

Today's Readings (Mass at Dawn)
Today's Readings (Mass during the Day)

Today our readings concern an appearance. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has appeared to humans. He existed before, but he was not visible to us before. He was completely present, but we were ignorant of his presence, so he became present in a new way: he took a human body and a human soul, a whole human nature, and joined it to his divine person, remaining one person but with two natures.

He did not merely have the appearance of a man, such as if he had appeared fully grown. Then we would say that Jesus Christ appeared like a man. No, he began his human life in the earliest stage of human formation, with a single cell, multiplying into an embryo, growing into a fetus, maturing into a newborn baby.

If there were no other reason for honoring human life at every stage, then we would have this: our God was embryo, our God was a fetus. We say that a person is a person no matter how small, but even if someone doubted whether a child just formed in its mother’s womb is a human being, they can be certain that God once looked just like that.

But today we do celebrate an appearance. Today is not the feast of the Incarnation, which happened 9 months earlier. No, God has been a human for 9 months now, sharing an intimate relationship with his mother, Mary. But today he is born; today he is given to the world; today not only Mary but also Joseph and some shepherds and some donkeys get to see the Savior of the world. He was present in the world before he was present in Mary’s womb, and he was present in Mary’s womb before he appeared to the whole world.

So today we celebrate this appearance. God has appeared among humans, and that is remarkable. People talk of “feeling God’s presence” or perhaps they even say they heard his voice, but not until that first Christmas could anyone say that they had seen God. The prophets had seen angels and burning bushes and symbolic renderings of the Glory of God, but no one could see God. But now, anyone who has seen Jesus Christ has seen the Father. Not because Jesus is the Father: he is not; he is the Son, but because he and the Father are one.

In Jesus Christ, God is completely revealed. If we cannot see God, it is because our eyes are weak. When those shepherds looked at the newborn baby they saw the one who had created the world, who had created them. If they only saw a newborn baby, that is because they did not know how to look. The shepherds were more amazed by the message spoken by an angel because there they could see the power and glory of God. They told everyone they could about the message they had heard, but the message and the messengers were nothing in comparison to the child, who is God himself.

This morning, as we sit here and contemplate the mystery of Christmas, families are waking up throughout this city, throughout this country, and there is a tree and under the tree there are presents wrapped in shiny paper. Parents all over the world have worked hard to create an impressive spectacle for their children. They do this because they love their children, and they want to give a gift to them more valuable than any individual present under the tree. They want to create an atmosphere of joy and wonder and excitement. A tree, some lights, a few toys, juice and Christmas cookies for breakfast: all work together to create an appearance, a visitation. We try to describe this experience by saying, “Santa Claus has come!”

A myth is not an untrue story. It is unfortunate that people use the phrase “It’s a myth” to characterize any mistaken belief. “It’s a myth” that a myth is no more than a mistake. A myth is a story, whether true or not, that captures something which cannot be described even with many words. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a myth is worth a million. In that one sentence, “Santa has come”, we have captured the hopes and dreams of every good parent. For one morning, perhaps for an hour, a family can live inside a myth. The illusion will be dispelled soon enough, when toys fail to be as amazing as the commercials promised, children start fighting or whining, and the beautiful paper is being shoved into trash bags.

We might say the same about the appearance that underlies the celebration today. The shepherds were amazed. Then they went back to shepherding. They probably lived the rest of their lives before Christ began preaching. Perhaps they never heard anything more about this child. Indeed the myth that best describes the whole world as it is now is a house on the 26th of December: a mess with children fighting. Christ visited the earth for a little more than 30 years, but that was 2000 years ago. We remember that something amazing happened, but since then we have had war and disease and cruelty. It would seem as if that appearance had no more reality, no more depth, than the appearance we create each year on Christmas morning.

But that Christmas morning myth is not quite as shallow as a cynical person might have it. For one morning each year, parents provide for their children in a way that symbolizes how they would like to provide for them every day. The paper and the toys and the tree are all disposable in the end, but the love that parents have for their children is real. Indeed it is more real than what someone would call “the reality of everyday life.” Parents do provide for their children every day: healthy food instead of Christmas cookies, an education instead of toys, heat and light instead of Christmas lights. They do this, even though it makes the children very unhappy, because they are preparing them to grow up. If a child will never grow up, they may as well have Christmas every day.

That baby grew up and gave us some very hard teachings about loving one another, about being poor, about suffering. He does this because he wants us to grow up; he is preparing us to live in full maturity, so that we might be heirs according to the hope for eternal life. Jesus Christ first made his appearance in the world 2000 years ago. Since then, he has slowly been winning this world over. Not as a human race, but in the individual saints who have let God appear once again. Every time someone overcomes their selfishness and is able to love, it is a little Christmas.

That is what Christmas is all about: the possibility of something better in this Earth of suffering and hatred. The illusion is not “peace on earth, goodwill to humans”. The illusion is how we are living right now. When this illusion passes away, we will receive the gift of Jesus Christ once and for all. When the New Earth comes, we will not celebrate Christmas anymore once a year: everyday will be Christmas.

December 24, 2011 - Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Mass at Midnight

Today's Readings

Today we celebrate the birth of Savior, Jesus Christ, who was born in a stable and laid in a manger. I think that most people today, since we do not get to see mangers very often, think that a manger is a place where the baby Jesus was laid. A manger is a feeding trough. A place that cows and sheep eat hay out of. It was the best that Mary and Joseph had, so it was what they used. I saw that manger once, myself. It is in Rome, in the Basilica of Mary Major, just a few logs really. You can see it too, if you go to Rome.

Consider the imagery of Jesus, the bread of life, born in the town of Bethlehem, which means house of bread, and laid in a feeding trough, a place for food. This baby, Jesus, is the bread that we eat at Mass, which is not bread. Although it looks like bread, it is Jesus.

Consider the poverty that Jesus was born into. A woman gave birth in a stable. That woman is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. The child she gave birth to was laid on the cleanest hay Joseph could find, which probably was not all that clean. That child is the King of All Creation. God could have provided the best bed in the world and the most luxurious room, but Jesus did not descend from heaven to earth to spend time with the rich and powerful. He was always poor.

Consider how Jesus had begun 9 months earlier as a little zygote. He grew up into an embryo, then a fetus, then a baby, then a child, then a teenager, and then a man. If there were no other reason for honoring human life at every stage, then we would have this: our God was embryo, our God was a fetus. We say that a person is a person no matter how small, but even if someone doubted whether a child just formed in its mother’s womb is a human being, they can be certain that God once looked just like that.

Consider the shepherds, humble men who did not expect to see a king that night. When God chose people to witness his birth and to announce the message to the whole world, he sent his angels to shepherds: dirty, uneducated, poor shepherds.

Consider the angels. Since God created them, they had been waiting to announce this message. What a source of happiness it was to them to be chosen for that choir which sang for a few shepherds and sheep. We can hear in their message their pleading with the world to comprehend what a great honor has been bestowed on us. The angel spoke to those shepherds 2000 years ago, but the message was for everyone, “good news of great joy that will be for all people”, including you and I who hear the message proclaimed on the other side of the earth all these years later.

Consider Mary, watching over the child. First she holds him; then she lays him in a manger. This child, whom she has known for 9 months, whom she has felt for 9 months, she can now see with her eyes. He is now shared with a cruel world. What thoughts went through the mind of the Mother of God seeing her baby boy, we would not understand if we knew them. We can only imagine the love of the sinless mother seeing the child who she worships and adores.

Consider Joseph, standing a little apart, standing guard, keeping watch. He is not able to join the intimacy of mother and child, but he does see, and he knows that this child will take away his sins and the sins of all the world. When the shepherds arrived, a crowd of rough men, I wonder what thoughts went through his mind, whether he was getting ready to fight them off when he found out that they had come to worship the child and honor the mother.

Consider the animals in the stable. Here was their creator, and here was the new Adam and the new Eve. Not since the days of the first man and woman had they been what they ought to be. Humans were given authority over all the animals, and since humans fell the animals had never quite been right. But these oxen and donkeys were ennobled by the presence of the King and Queen who could rightfully take on that authority once again.

Consider the people who were asleep in beds that night. Kings and queens and farmers and workmen: the whole world: people in China and people in England and people in South Africa and people in America and even people right there in Bethlehem. They went to bed that night with no idea of what was going to happen. They woke up the next morning and did not know, but the whole world was different.

Consider the love of God for the world. He so loved the world that he sent his only Son as our Savior. All we have to do is love him in return. He does not force us to love him by being strong, but by being weak. The weakness of God: the weakness in the manger and the weakness on the cross. The weakness of God is stronger than the strength of humans. How can we help but love a little baby? How can we help but love a man who suffered and died for us? How could our hearts be so hardened?

How are we going to respond then? We know that Jesus is forgiving. We know that Jesus only wants us to be saved. We know that even some of those who helped kill Jesus are now with him forever in heaven. We do not have to be afraid of God striking us with lightning if we make a mistake. The time has passed when God was revealing his holiness to the world in that way. Now God is revealing to us his love. Will we take advantage of his forbearance and offend him freely? No. We will look at that child, the newborn child (not even like the one we see in manger scenes who is more like a tiny adult) but a newborn child, so fragile and weak, and we will love him and we will know without the least doubt that he loves us.

December 24, 2011 - Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, at the Vigil Mass

Today's Readings

Today we celebrate the birth of Savior, Jesus Christ, who was born in a stable and laid in a manger. I think that most people today, since we do not get to see mangers very often, think that a manger is a place where the baby Jesus was laid. A manger is a feeding trough. A place that cows and sheep eat hay out of. It was the best that Mary and Joseph had, so it was what they used.

Consider the imagery of Jesus, the bread of life, born in the town of Bethlehem, which means house of bread, and laid in a feeding trough, a place for food. This baby, Jesus, is the bread that we eat at Mass, which is not bread. Although it looks like bread, it is Jesus.

Consider the poverty that Jesus was born into. A woman gave birth in a stable. That woman is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. The child she gave birth to was laid on the cleanest hay Joseph could find, which probably was not all that clean. That child is the King of All Creation. God could have provided the best bed in the world and the most luxurious room, but Jesus did not descend from heaven to earth to spend time with the rich and powerful. He was always poor.

Consider the love of God for the world. He so loved the world that he sent his only Son as our Savior. All we have to do is love him in return. He does not force us to love him by being strong, but by being weak. The weakness of God: the weakness in the manger and the weakness on the cross. The weakness of God is stronger than the strength of humans. How can we help but love a little baby? How can we help but love a man who suffered and died for us? How could our hearts be so hardened?

So why then, was Joseph going to abandon Mary and Jesus? There are some who speculate that Joseph was going to divorce Mary quietly because he suspected that he had been betrayed. This is unsupported by the text. It says that Mary was found with child through the Holy Spirit. No doubts are suggested. Moreover, when the angel appears, he does not say, “Joseph, son of David, do not doubt.” He says, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.” Guided by the words of the angel, we can be confident that the reason Joseph was going to divorce Mary was that he was afraid.

What did Joseph have to be afraid of? We are told that his fear arose because he was “a righteous man.” He had the fear of God in him. In the Old Testament, the priests Nadab and Abihu are killed by fire because they offer the wrong kind of incense; God struck down Uzzah because he touched the Ark of the Covenant in order to prevent it from falling off the cart that it was on. Then there was the unnamed prophet killed by a lion because another prophet told him that God said to eat some food, but he was lying. Serving God can be dangerous.

Joseph was not suspicious. He was afraid. Probably, the job of protecting the Blessed Virgin Mary which he had accepted, already seemed more than he was capable of. Now, hearing that she was carrying a child within her who was the Son of God, the Savior of Israel and of the Whole World, pushed him over the top. Mary was now the new Ark of the Covenant. The child would be God himself. What if Joseph made a mistake? What if he said the wrong thing, or did the wrong thing?

What father has not looked at his newborn child and not had these fears? These are normal fears for any parent, but how magnified they were when the child was God. Mary had been judged worthy. She was sinless. But Joseph was a sinner, like the rest of humanity, even though he was a good person. He knew that he was not worthy to care for Jesus. His did not suspect Mary, he suspected himself, that he was incapable of what he had gotten into. So it was that Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to shame Mary, resolved to divorce her quietly.

And then the angel came in a dream. Better in a dream for such a man, in such a situation, than while awake. He might have had a heart attack right then and there. The angel tells him not to be afraid, “For it is through the Holy Spirit.” Not only the conception was through the Holy Spirit, but everything. Joseph is told the first thing he has to do: name the child Jesus, so at least he knows the first thing.

The angel tells Joseph something else, which is very important: this child will save his people from their sins. In this sentence, the angel affirms that Jesus is God. He will save his people. Who has a people except God? The Israelites are the Lord’s people, and so is the rest of the world. And then the angel says that he will save his people from their sins. By this, the angel tells Joseph that times are different now.

Surely Joseph made a few missteps. He was a sinner, like you and I, but he did not have to be afraid. God knew that Joseph was a sinner, but he still chose Joseph to care for his only Son. We know of only one other time that God spoke to Joseph in a dream, when it was time to flee to Egypt. Perhaps God had other messages for Joseph that are not recorded, or perhaps those were the only two that Joseph needed. But Joseph did the best he could, and it was good enough. Once he knew that God actually wanted him to do this, he could only obey.

How are we going to respond then? We know that Jesus is forgiving. We know that Jesus only wants us to be saved. We know that even some of those who helped kill Jesus are now with him forever in heaven. We do not have to be afraid of God striking us with lightning if we make a mistake. The time has passed when God was revealing his holiness to the world in that way. Now God is revealing to us his love. Will we take advantage of his forbearance and offend him freely? No. We will look at that child, the newborn child (not even like the one we see in manger scenes who is more like a tiny adult) but a newborn child, so fragile and weak, and we will love him and we will know without the least doubt that he loves us.

December 24, 2011 - Saturday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Today's Readings

As we conclude Advent today, we once again see a theme that runs through Advent, that of beginning and end. In John the Baptist, we have the end of prophecy and the beginning of the Kingdom of God. In the Annunciation, the visit of Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we have the end of the time of promise and the beginning of the time of fulfillment. And Advent also commemorates the end of the world, which we call the end of the world because it is our world and we are used to it, but it is really the beginning of the next world.

Our readings today carry this theme. In our Gospel, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist gives one last prophecy, the last prophecy of the Old Testament. It is like the prophecy of Abraham, and the prophecy of Balaam, and the prophecy of Moses, and Isaiah, and Ezekiel, and Malachi, and the other Zechariah, except that it is being fulfilled even as he speaks.

What is the difference between us and someone 3000 years ago? They did not have cars or smartphones or computers. They did not know anyone who had been to the moon. But the greatest difference is not any of this. The greatest difference is that they did not have Jesus. Of course, Jesus existed. He is God. He has always existed and always will exist, but he had not come yet in a body, he had not yet lain in a manger.

This difference is captured by Zechariah at the end of his prophecy: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will visit us, to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.” Back then, death cast a shadow across one’s whole life. No matter how good life was, whether the emperor of Rome or the richest man in the world, the looming prospect of death overshadowed every pleasure.

But it is not so for us. The dawn from on high, Jesus Christ, has come, and just as the dawn out there is destroying every shadow, so this shadow is being destroyed. Death remains, but it no longer casts a shadow over life. We do not have to be afraid of death anymore. It no longer signifies destruction. It is an end but also a beginning.

December 23, 2011 - Friday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Today's Readings

I suppose that many of you are currently in the midst of preparation. Christmas Eve is tomorrow and there are many things to be prepared: food, decorations, last-minute gifts and cards, stockings to be hung by the chimney with care, cookies to be frosted, a turkey to be defrosted. I would bet that some of you have even made a list. You want to be ready. We all agree with the Whos down in Whoville that Christmas is more than presents and roast beast, but such things must still be prepared if they can be. If everyone showed up for the Christmas dinner and nothing was ready, a moral lesson about the true meaning of Christmas would not go over very well.

And if we prepare our homes and tables for honored guests and families, how much more ought we prepare our hearts for the Lord! The Lord is coming, but who can stand on the day of his coming? Will our work and preparations endure? Of course, we are in the position of children, as a mother helps her children make cards for their father, so the Holy Spirit is preparing us for the coming of the Lord. God prepares us for himself, which means that we will have no excuse on the day of his coming if we are not prepared. God will not accept us if we are unprepared, but he will prepare us if we cooperate with him.

There was a time, back in November, when Christmas seemed a long way off. Plenty of time to do what needed to be done. Now Christmas begins tomorrow. From where we stand now, it might seem like the end of the world or our own death is still a long way off, but it will come. On that day, we will stand before the throne of God. We will see Jesus face to face. No excuses will be accepted. We would not even have the courage to offer any. Now is the time of preparation, then it will be too late. Let us make use of this time, good use of this time. We do not have time to kill; we do not have time to waste. The time to prepare is now.

December 22, 2011 - Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Today's Readings

If you look around the world, if you watch the news, you might be worried about where the world is headed. It all seems to be going to Hell in a handbasket or maybe a racecar. We humans ruin this world and everything good in it with our selfishness and greed. Some people are looking for a politician who can save us, but we already have a Savior. Jesus came and saved us, and he is coming back. In the meantime, he would do more if we would only let him.

Mary said that all generations would call her blessed, and so we have. For the past 2000 years she has continuously been referred to as the Blessed Virgin Mary. She did not say that all generations would call her blessed because she did great things. She said that all generations would call her blessed because the Almighty has done great things for her.

There is a temptation to think of a great person as someone who has done great things. Mary turns that idea on its head. Indeed, the great thing that Mary did was allow God to do his great things. Her heroic feat was allowing God to work. In the Blessed Virgin Mary, from her Immaculate Conception to being crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth, God accomplished marvelous things. Of course, the greatest of these was the Incarnation, in which God himself took flesh, took DNA, from the body of the Blessed Virgin and formed a body for himself.

Just imagine the great things God would accomplish if we would let him! We do not let God work because we are too conventional: the world watches TV so we watch TV, the world buys and buys and buys stuff, so we go shopping. To be a saint it is necessary to be unconventional, unusual, to be weird. Not every strange person is a saint, but no saint was ever normal. The one way that is definitely the wrong way is the well-worn path that the whole world is going down.

Once we have decided to not be like everyone else, we have to decide who we are going to be like. For that, we cannot choose a better example than Mary. Mary, who never prevented God from working in her life, who was devoted to Jesus from the Incarnation to the Cross, who always believed in the Resurrection, is the most unusual human person in the history of the world. We should be weird, like Mary.

December 21, 2011 - Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Today's Readings

Our first reading today, from the Song of Songs, is part of a love song. Throughout history, some people have complained that this love song should not be in the Bible. It never even mentions God. These people have such little imagination. The story of salvation is a love story. In this song sung between the lover and the beloved in alternating verses, we have a true image of our relationship with God. He is the lover, and we are the beloved. He tells us to “Rise up, my love, my beautiful one, and come.” He repeats this invitation over and over. God is always saying to you: “Rise up, my love, my beautiful one, and come.” It is not flattery. He loves you, whether anyone else does or not. He sees you as beautiful, whether the world says you are or not. He is calling you. How can you resist?

Our Gospel today shows us what the beloved of God should be like. Mary was in a hurry. She went into the hill country with haste. Was she running away? No. She was in a hurry because there were things to be done. She goes to her cousin Elizabeth, to help her during her pregnancy. How unselfish this girl is! She does not think of her own needs; she thinks about what would help someone else.

When she received God’s gift to the world in her own womb, she did not withdraw into hiding; she went out into the world. She went forth as the Christ-bearer. She wanted to give what she had received. She does not greedily hold on to the gift given to her by God; she immediately, and with haste, gives it to the world, beginning with Elizabeth.

No gift from God is as great as the gift of his Son to the world. In Jesus Christ, God gave himself to the world, but this gift of love was not given to everyone at once. This gift was entrusted to one person – Mary, the Mother of God. God relied on Mary. He trusted Mary. So it was that the whole world received God’s gift through Mary. No one has received Jesus Christ except through his Mother. Though Peter and Paul preached Jesus to the ends of the earth, Jesus entered this world in one particular place, and that place is the womb of the Blessed Virgin. All generations will call her blessed.

December 20, 2011 - Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Today's Readings

We can thank King Ahaz that he did not ask for a sign. I am confident that whatever sign he would have thought of would be nothing in comparison to the sign he was given. He might have thought that it was very deep, but it would have been shallow in comparison to the depth of the mystery of the Incarnation. He might have thought that it was very high, but it would have been transcended by the height of God himself, who is the child to be born. He was right to not choose the sign, though it frustrated Isaiah.

When Isaiah made King Hezekiah a similar offer, he had asked the sun to go backward in the sky. Imagine all that was involved in reversing the rotation of the Earth without the planet breaking apart. This is an easy thing for God, who holds the world in his hands, but we should be amazed nonetheless. Yet this sign was a little thing compared to the sign that King Ahaz received.

Of course, Ahaz was not around to see the fulfillment of the sign. It would be over 700 years before the sign was fulfilled. Ahaz was as long before the coming of Christ as St. Thomas Aquinas was before our time. So this prophecy is not recorded for Ahaz’s sake but for ours, so that we would know that centuries before it happened, God knew what he was going to do.

The Lord has all of history planned out. While the dinosaurs were still wandering the earth, he knew about Adam and Eve and their sin. Before he made Adam, he knew that we would need a savior. He breathed life into the first man knowing that someday, thousands of years later, some humans, descendents of that man, would kill him. God is never surprised by what happens.

God did not delay the coming of Christ. He told Ahaz that it would happen and for 700 years it did not happen. Then, when the time was right, in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to the town of Nazareth, and a virgin conceived and bore a son and named him, Jesus, which means “God saves”, but he could also be called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”. So also, it has been almost 2000 years since he said he would return, and he has not. Someday, though, he will.

December 19, 2011 - Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Today's Readings

Zechariah is really severely punished. He just asked one question: “How am I to know this?” Where did he get this question? He got it from Abraham. It is the exact question that Abraham asked when God told him that he and Sarah would have a son even though they were very old. So when Zechariah is told the same thing, he follows the example of Abraham, but instead of being given a sign like Abraham received, he is given a different sort of sign: he is punished by having his ability to speak removed.

So what is the problem? The problem is that in 2000 years, there should have been some spiritual progress. What was good enough for Abraham who was the first to believe was not good enough a hundred generations later. Just as we ought to be more spiritually mature than the early Christians after 2000 years of Christianity, so Zechariah ought to be more spiritually mature than Abraham.

This is not to say that Zechariah is better than Abraham, or that we are better than the early Christians. Who is the greater artists, Da Vinci or the first caveman to paint an animal on the wall? Who is the greater scientist, Einstein or the first person to map the stars? The point is that Zechariah had the benefit of Abraham’s experience, so he should not have asked Abraham’s question.

Contrast this conversation with another conversation that Gabriel had. Mary asked a question too, but her question shows a wisdom and spiritual maturity that the old priest lacked. She simply asks, “How can this be?” She does not doubt. She simply wants to know how she is going to become pregnant and yet remain a virgin her whole life. She does not ask for proof, just a little clarification.

Of course it is not fair to compare Zechariah to Mary, the Immaculate Conception, the sinless girl who would never sin. None of us is going to look very good in comparison with Mary, but that is just the point: Mary is exactly what we ought to be; her “let it be” is exactly what we ought to say. Mary is the perfect disciple. Zechariah erred by looking back to Abraham as his example, but we will never go wrong if our example is Mary.

December 18, 2011 - Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today's Readings

There are two kinds of debt. The first kind is like credit card debt or a car loan or a mortgage. We receive a benefit for nothing, so we owe an equivalent amount. If you receive a car, you owe what a car is worth. This is your debt. This is the same kind of debt that we incur when someone does us a favor. We owe them a favor. This is also the kind of debt we owe to God. He gave us this planet and the air and the food and life itself. We owe him a lot, and we can never pay him back because anything we have we got from him, including our selves. We owe God this first kind of debt, but he can never owe us this kind of debt. What can we do for God? He needs nothing. He is perfectly happy. If he did want something, he could create it.

However, he can owe us the second kind of debt. The second kind of debt is what we owe through a promise. If we make a promise, we are in debt to the keeping of the promise. Although we are never obligated to keep any evil promises, any other promise is just as binding on us as the first kind of debt. When you make a promise, you put yourself in debt. Since God can make a promise, he can be in this kind of debt. Since God has made many promises, he is in this kind of debt.

What does God owe us? He promised Noah that he would never flood the earth again. He promised Abraham that he would make him the father of many generations. He promised Moses to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land. He makes lots of promises. He promised Ezekiel that he would give us hearts that know his will. He promised Jeremiah that he had plans for his welfare.

So God and you have this in common: you look over your credit card bills and see how much you owe. Sometimes you have to think for awhile about what this charge is and that charge. God looks at the Bible filled with so many promises and sees what he owes. Does God ever look at all those promises, wondering when he ever promised this or that? Of course not, he is God; his memory is quite good.

But we might wonder why he promised so much to a people who can do nothing for him. The answer is simple: he loves us. Like a father who promises his son the world, like a mother who promises her daughter happiness, like any parent who makes unreasonable promises to their children, so God has promised us so very much. We can be sure, however, that God is good for it; he will keep his promises. With God, nothing is impossible, and he would not promise what he did not intend to fulfill.

In our first reading today, we see God make a promise to King David. In our Gospel today, we see that promise fulfilled. God promises David a son, an heir who will reign forever. God promises David that his throne and his house will endure forever. For awhile it seemed as if God would not keep his promise. For over 500 years, the throne of David lay dormant. The descendents of David were poor, not kings.

Then God sent the angel Gabriel to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. Promise fulfilled. King Jesus will be king forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Up until that day, a person could have wondered about the promise of God, but when it was fulfilled, it was fulfilled.

It is the same with all the other promises of God. Jesus promised us a room in his Father’s house. You can be sure of that room. It is waiting for you. It might be possible to doubt the promise of God, but someday there will be no doubt anymore. Hopefully, on that day, you and I will be resting comfortably in the rooms he prepared for us.

God has made so many promises, and every one of them will be fulfilled. And when they are fulfilled, they will not be fulfilled in a meager way. God’s promise to David was amazing enough, but the fulfillment in Jesus Christ is far, far greater than anything David could have imagined.

God has made so many promises because he wants us to love him in return. We stand between gift and promise. We have been given so much, and we have been promised even more. The gifts prove that God is rich enough to keep his promises. The promises prove that we are still in need. If we had everything we wanted, we would not realize that what we really want is the giver and the promiser. If we had everything we would not have a longing for God.

This world is good, but it is not good enough. The world only seems evil at times because it is not good enough. What is loss if not the loss of something good? Because this world is good but not good enough, because we stand between gift and promise, we can freely love God. We have the ability to choose to love God, and we have good reason to do so.

God is wooing us with gifts and promises. He wants us to love him, not because he needs our love, but because there is nothing greater in this universe than to love God. God himself is the greatest gift he can give to us. To love God is to be happy. To love God freely is to be freely happy. God has given us the opportunity to be in love with him.

When we do love God, we will find that he loves us more. David tried to do something for God today; he wanted to build a house for Ark of God. Instead, God did something better for David. “You are going to build me a house? You are going to build me a house?”, the Lord says, “No. I will build you a house, and it will last forever.”

December 16, 2011 - Friday of the Third Week of Advent

Today's Readings

Jesus does not accept the testimony of a human, not even a human he himself sent to give testimony. For who sends the prophets? They are inspired by the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Jesus does not rely on human testimony. That would be a contradiction. The creature testifies to the greatness of the creator, indeed all creation shows forth the glory of God, but the glory of God is not limited to what is shown by creation. No one can make God greater or less than he is. He is not defined by the testimony of any creature. He transcends creation because he existed before it and it only exists by his will.

There can be no doubt about John the Baptist’s allegiance to the Jesus, but Jesus is not great because John prepared the way for him; John prepared the way because Jesus is great. Perhaps this is easy to see now, 2000 years later. I do not think that anyone today believes in Jesus Christ because John the Baptist says so, but at the time that was a very high endorsement. John the Baptist was a star in ancient Jerusalem; we could compare him to the stars of today. We might be tempted to point to a football player or a movie star who believes in Jesus. Yet what does it matter if Tim Tebow believes in Jesus? It matters for Tim but not for me. I do not think that Jesus is great because Tim says so. Perhaps someday he will change his mind. Then what? Should I stop following Jesus?

I am glad to see famous people following Jesus, but I am also glad to see normal people following Jesus. There are two billion Christians in the world, but Jesus Christ would still be Jesus Christ if every one of them abandoned him. We have seen some high profile Christians abandon the faith. It is their loss. It is a cause of sadness to lose a sister or brother, but our faith was not in them. Our faith is not in any athlete. Our faith is not in any movie star. Our faith is not in any priest. Our faith is not in any holy man or holy woman or visionary or healer or appearance. Our faith is in Jesus Christ, and he will never disappoint us.

December 8th, 2010 - The Immaculate Conception of Mary, Mother of God

How beautiful is the Gospel today!  From this one reading we learn so much about our Mother.  First we learn that she is greater than the angels.  To whom else did an angel, a messenger of God, come and say "Hail, full of grace"?  With these words Gabriel acknowledges that he is speaking to someone greater than himself.  We also learn by those words that she is free from all sin, for what is sin but a denial of grace and how could someone who ever denied grace be full of grace.  Sin is an emptiness, but Mary was full.

From this Gospel we also learn that Mary is betrothed to Joseph, but also vowed to a lifelong virginity.  How else could she say "I have no relations with man" and not "I have not had relations with a man"? What woman, even though a virgin, would be unable to figure out the meaning of the angel's words?  No woman before was promised a child without expecting to conceive that child in the normal way.  Mary is betrothed to Joseph.  Without a prior commitment to virginity, any reasonable girl would expect to conceive the child during her imminent marriage.

From this Gospel we learn that Mary is the Mother of God.  Gabriel calls her child the Son of God.  The son of a dog is a dog.  The son of a human is a human.  The Son of God is God.  If he were not, the title would be contradictory.  We can be adopted sons and daughters of God, but the Son of God, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, can only be God, and the Mother of the Son of God must be therefore the Mother of God.

From this Gospel we learn that Mary is courageous.  St. Joseph was terrified at the prospect of having a role in raising the Son of God, so much so that he was going to divorce Mary quietly.  Mary, however, asks only for the practical details before submitting to the will of God.

From this Gospel we learn that Mary is humble.  She, though courageous, is afraid.  What frightens her who was not afraid either of the judgement of others or the terrible responsibility of being the Mother of God?  She is frightened by a greeting.  She is frightened to see an archangel bow before her.  We sinners would rejoice to see an angel bow to serve us, and it would be Satan dressed as an angel of light to inflate our pride.  Mary, who is destined to be Queen of Heaven, is too humble to understand the greeting.

From this Gospel we ought to learn to love Mary with a tiny portion of the great love by which God preserved her free from all sin from the moment of her creation.  From this Gospel we ought to learn to love God with a tiny portion of the fearless, God-fearing love by which Mary said "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

December 5th, 2011 - Monday, Second Week of Advent

Today's Readings

Well, which is easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven" or "rise and walk"? They seem about equally easy to say. Of course, Jesus did not speak English, so we cannot have a truly informed answer without comparing the original Aramaic phrases, which are lost to us. Even a scholar of Aramaic could only guess at what was originally said. Was one phrase more of a tongue twister? Neither will be many more syllables in any language. One includes a noun and a verb and the other two verbs and a conjunction. But whoever translated Jesus' words into Greek, whether Q or Matthew or a theoretical translator of Matthew, did not think that the original language had to be preserved for understanding the point, so we can comfortably answer the question then. Which is easier to say? It does not matter.

Since neither is easier to say, then Jesus' question implies that they mean the same thing. The Pharisees want to suggest that, while neither is easier to say, the healing is much easier to do. Jesus is telling them that he never heals except when he forgives sins. This bothers us modern people. We have rightly rejected the idea that sickness and sinfulness are correlated. Neither are the sickest the most sinful, nor are the most sinful always sick, and what of innocent children? However, just because sickness and sin are not strictly correlated does not mean that they are not related in some way. As our first reading and tradition agree, in heaven there is neither sickness and death nor sin.

Jesus looked at the man on the stretcher and knew that while his body was disfigured by sickness, his soul was more disfigured by sin, as all our souls are. Though the crowd saw a man who could not walk, Jesus saw a man who could not love God. Any doctor knows that to heal a lame man so that he can immediately stand up and walk would require many healings, of nerves and muscles and blood vessels. When Jesus heals, he does not name every healing individually but only the central healing, and, without doubt, the central healing that every one of us needs is the forgiveness of sins. No healing, be it ever so amazing, would be complete without it, and Jesus would never heal us incompletely.

December 4th, 2011 - Second Sunday of Advent (B)

Today's Readings

It is written in the Old Testament that nothing new ever happens and that is basically true. One of the essential steps to maturity is realizing that the world has been going on like this for thousands of years. You meet someone and get married, but billions of people have met and gotten married. You have your first child, but it is not the first child in the history of the world. Each person has many new experiences throughout their life, but Adam and Eve had those experiences too. A child has new experiences every day, but as we grow older these experiences are fewer and farther between, so it becomes easier to reflect and realize that life is just repetitive. Our life repeats itself, and certainly a very similar life has been lived before by some person in history.

Of course, this is difficult to believe in an era of rapidly expanding technology. Something better always seems to be around the corner. Ten years ago, it was difficult to watch movies on your phone. Twenty years ago, it was impossible. What will we be able to do in ten more years? This rapid progression of technology has changed our outlook on the world. It can seem as if something new is always just around the corner. In month or year, we will be able to buy happiness, or at least a small share in it.

Some people have begun speaking about what they call the singularity. It is the point when computers become more creative than humans. Then computers will invent the new computers, and the new computers will invent newer computers, and on and on, until we suddenly advance in one year as far as technology can be advanced. Then we will know how to prevent people from dying, so everyone alive when the singularity comes will not die until every star in the universe burns out. So there are people right now who are anxious to bring about the singularity as soon as possible, perhaps in fifty years or so.

And what if it did happen? What if we manage to not destroy ourselves with another world war before it comes? And if it all worked out, and the computers do not just take over, what then? Will a life have more meaning because it lasts a trillion years? Will we find something new if we can travel to distant planets? We might at first. We would be like children make new discoveries all the time. We might visit every planet in the universe, but then we would discover that some are just like the others. During the second trillion years, we would come to the same conclusion: there is nothing new under the sun, this sun and every other sun.

And if we follow this contemplation to its very extremes and consider ourselves to be weary travelers of the universe, or if we keep our feet on this planet, in life as we now know it and our years on this planet have been enough to produce a kind of world-weariness, then we are ready for the gospel today. We call it good news, and it truly is new. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” Here, finally, is something new. Even though it is 2000 years old, it is new, it is unique. It happened once.

A man appeared in the desert, clothed in camelhair and eating locusts. That is not new. It might be rare, but such men have appeared before. Yet this man is not a prophet, he is a messenger. He is preparing the way of the Lord. So it is something new because it is the prelude to the something new. It is, simultaneously, the last act in the old play and the first act in the new play. If any technological singularity is ever achieved, it will not be as important, as interesting, as the message that this man came to announce: “Someone is coming.”

Who is coming? John tells us that he is “mightier than I”, but that is nothing new. We have seen strong men before. Is there anything else? “I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Well, it must be God then. No matter how important a merely human person is, no one could literally be unworthy to untie their shoes. If someone asked you to be the official shoe untier of the pope or some emperor, you might take the job or leave it, but you would not say, “I am not worthy”, not seriously anyway.

But we knew God existed, and while it is interesting, and new, that he will have sandals, which means that he will have feet, which means that he will have a body, which means that he will be a human, what is in it for us? How does it affect our lives? Is God just going to stop by and visit? Surely that is exciting for anyone in that time and place, but how does it affect us 2000 years later? Is the world any different now than before he came? “Yes,” John says, “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Before, a human could be sorry for their sins; now, we can be forgiven. Before, humans could only love each other a little; now, we can love each other with the love of God. Before, every human lived and died; now, we can live, and die, and live again. Before, it was impossible to please God; now God dwells within us.

I am not sure if the technological singularity will ever come, but I am confident that if it does, we will just use the technology to commit old sins in new ways. No matter what powers we may discover in the universe, we will find a way to use them to be cruel and selfish and powerhungry. But in the Holy Spirit, there is something new. There is power beyond any technology that could ever be developed, and there is wisdom to use it well. And there is another advantage that the Holy Spirit has over any technology. Someday, Jesus is coming again, and when he comes this universe “will be dissolved in flames, and the elements melted by fire.” It says so right there in the second reading. No technology is going to work when that happens.

December 4th, 2010 - Saturday, 1st Week of Advent

Blessed John Paul the Great was the first to say that “we are the Easter people and ‘Alleluia’ is our song.” There is no cause to disagree with him, but I would like to expand the idea a bit. We are indeed the Easter people, but we are no less the Lenten people and the Christmas people. The seasons of the Church year give us an opportunity to concentrate on these various aspects of our relationship with God.

For the past week, and for the next three weeks, we are the Advent people and “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” is our song. The readings this past week have been building an atmosphere of expectation. We can see how the people of Israel were anxious for a savior. We have heard the promises that were extended throughout the Old Testament. We have seen their fulfillment each day in the Gospel. There will be food for all, and so there was. The lame will walk, and so they did. The blind will see, and so they have.

Today marks an important line. Up to this point Jesus has been like a great prophet, but nothing more. What has he done that Moses or Elijah did not do? Today, however, he does something new. He sends forth the twelve Apostles with power like his. This is truly a new power. Jesus does not simply have a special relationship with God, giving him power to work miracles. The power comes from within him, and he, himself, is able to give this power to anyone he wishes. When we consider that even Judas, a greedy thief who would be the betrayer, received power from Jesus for healing and casting out demons, we are assured that our own unworthiness is not an impediment to God using us as his instrument. It is also clear that when he does so use us, that will be no proof of our salvation.

We are the Advent people, and Advent does not mean "waiting" but "coming". Jesus Christ has come into the world. Jesus Christ will come again in Glory to judge the living and the dead. Meanwhile, which is to say right now, Jesus is coming into the world. He is ever more and more present as he fulfills his extravagant promises, fulfills them through us, in spite of ourselves. Jesus is using us in this way, so we, the Advent people, ought to pray that we may be apt instruments in his hands, not obscuring his coming with our sins and pride, but being lampstands, so all the world may see that everything has changed, that the promised one is coming.

December 2nd, 2011 - Friday of the First Week of Advent

Today's Readings

Our Lord, in the Gospel today, says something surprising. Even though we are accustomed to it from years of familiarity with the Gospels, we should not forget how strange it is that, after healing two blind men, he instructs them to see that no one knows about the healing.

Various commentators have put forth explanations for this command and the others like it. Some we should reject: that it is a dramatic device introduced by the writers or that our Lord knew that his instruction would be disobeyed and was trying to encourage the stories to spread with a bit of reverse psychology. Of the other theories, to judge between them would require knowing the mind of God.

Why the Lord would tell them to keep the story quiet is unclear. That he told them is certain. Their duty, therefore, was just as certain. Their disobedience shows how very little faith they had in Jesus. They had faith that Jesus could make the blind see, but they did not have faith that his commands were good.

This partial faith is bad. A Christian should have complete faith in our Lord. The faith is incomplete in the simple believer who prays for miracles of healing but does not believe that morality can heal their life, not even morality taught by him from whom the healing is sought. We ought not put up with an incomplete faith. It is illogical. It is unreasonable. If God is God, why would we disobey him?

God is not trying to hurt us. His goal is not to make us unhappy, thwarted creatures. What he forbids is bad, and what he commands is good. Our God can divide the Red Sea, he can stop the sun in the sky, he can made this universe and everything in it, including us. We can trust him. Christ is powerful and wise. He knows what he is doing, and he is capable of doing anything. We can trust him. In Christ, we can, finally, let go of every defense and follow the advice of our Blessed Mother, “Do whatever he tells you.”

December 1st, 2011 - Thursday, 1st week of Advent

Today's Readings

We could just nod along with our Lord’s analogy today, taking the general idea, not searching for the wisdom that our Lord wants to give us, but how much better it is to look deeper and understand the meaning of the image that our Lord gives us!

Both men in the analogy today see the storm coming. Both men are philosophers. The storm is inevitable, wherever you build your house. The wind, the waves, and the rain are on their way. Both men know this, which is why they are building their houses. We live in a stormy world. Jesus does not say that if we do as he says then the storms will not come. Christians do not suffer less in this world than other people. Christians have the same storms in their lives as anyone else does, but we have rock solid foundation that will stand up to the storm.

Both men in the analogy today build their houses against the storm. I have never built a house, but I can easily imagine that it is a complicated and arduous task. It is not the work of a single day. This fact stresses the foolishness of the fool; he has expended great effort and cost to no purpose. They both see the great destroyer, death, approaching, so they build. What house can be built against death? Many can be built but only one will stand. Every philosophy has tried to build something which cannot be conquered by death, whether meaning or pleasures or knowledge. Only the fullness of truth, however, will stand up to the storm when it comes. Every effort which is founded on partial truths and shifting opinions will show itself weak in the end.

It will be insufficient, when the storm arrives, to have built a great house unless it sits on the true foundation. It will be insufficient, when the waves come crashing, to fight them with whatever seemed right to me at the time. God has come to Earth and revealed what is required to stand, revealed a truth that can serve as a rock-solid foundation. Any effort on our part, even one combining all our skill, intelligence, being, strength, and every good intention, will be as useless as no effort, unless it is founded on the truth as revealed to us by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior.

November 30, 2011 - Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle

Today's Readings

“How can anyone believe the Gospel unless they have heard it? How can anyone hear it unless someone preaches it to them? How can anyone preach unless they have been sent?” The first and second questions are self-evidently true. No one can believe in the Gospel if they never heard it, and no one can hear something which has not been preached, whether aloud or in writing or communicated in some way.

We must agree with the first two questions, but the third question is not so clear for us modern people. “How can someone preach unless they have been sent?” "Well, they could go on their own initiative", we think. Does a person really have to be sent in order to preach? Perhaps someone has an education, a command of the English language, and an inbox full of funny stories. What prevents them from preaching the Gospel? Nothing prevents them, but neither does anything impel them.

Preaching is not a hobby. Preaching cannot merely occupy an occasional weekend. Preaching is a charism of the Holy Spirit. Preaching is a supernatural vocation. Preaching must become a man’s whole life. The apostles show us what is involved in preaching: suffering many hardships and privations, being insulted and imprisoned, and, finally, martyrdom. A preacher who does not want to be a martyr is not a witness for the faith, rather, they are a scandal. No one can live the life of a preacher without a supernatural vocation. St. Andrew could never have been a preacher, could never have gone out to all the world, could never have died upon a cross, had he not been sent, were he not continually sent by the Holy Spirit.

St. Andrew was called by Christ, and, when he had come to Christ, he was sent forth from him to preach. We too must go to Christ, who calls us, and then go forth, not to wherever we desire or plan to go, to do whatever we feel like doing, but go forth sent by Christ, impelled by the Holy Spirit. Some will be sent to preach. Others will be sent to other tasks. Each person has their own vocation, their own mission from God. Together, guided by the Holy Spirit, we will help Christ establish the Kingdom of God.

November 29, 2011 - Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Today's Readings

Today our reading from Isaiah lists the traditional seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah lists them because he prophesies that Jesus, the green shoot from the stump of Jesse, would possess these gifts. However these gifts can be ours if we will have them. So what are they?

The first gift is wisdom. Wisdom is knowing the best action in any situation. Wisdom helps us make decisions especially in difficult cases. Like the other gifts, there is an earthly form of wisdom which comes with experience, but Isaiah is speaking of something greater, a divine gift unrelated to experience. Even a child can display great wisdom through the Holy Spirit.

The second gift is understanding. Understanding means seeing the truth even when it is hidden. It can be the truth of a difficult Scripture passage. It can be the truth of the dignity of another person.

The third gift is counsel. This gift allows a person to give good advice. Giving really good advice is very difficult, almost impossible. Many people think that they can give good advice, but they cannot. Counsel requires both wisdom and understanding, and also knowing exactly what words will convey the advice in the most helpful fashion.

The fourth gift is fortitude. Fortitude is the willingness to die in battle. It may be an actual battle, or it may be a battle against our own pride. We want to defend ourselves, but sometimes we must be willing to die.

The fifth gift is knowledge. The gift of knowledge allows us to learn about the creation of the world by God. Through this gift we see the creator in the created things.

The sixth gift is the fear of the Lord. Also called piety, it is the feeling we get when in the presence of the holy. It is what keeps us from chattering in church. When I was a child, I would never have walked into the sanctuary. This fear is a wonderful gift. Life without piety is boring; nothing is special.

The seventh gift is once again the fear of the Lord, but this time we consider it differently. It is the fear of sinning. For an immature person it is the fear of hell. For a more mature person, it is the fear of disappointing our Father. For a very mature person, it is the fear of being separated from God.

These are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. May God give them to his Church in abundance.

November 28, 2011 - Monday of the First Week of Advent

Today's Readings

How marvelous that we have restored to us this verse from the Gospels. The centurion says, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.” We repeat these words at every mass, changing “servant” to “soul” because we are not asking for the healing of someone else but for our own healing.

Why do we repeat this at every mass? It is because we are about to receive Communion, and it is most appropriate that we should say something signifying great faith, for we would not dare approach the sacred sacrifice without faith. Now we could say something like, “Jesus I believe in you” or “Jesus you are the Christ, the Son of God, God himself”, but we say this phrase instead. Why? Because Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, I have not found such faith.” If Jesus considered these words to be the highest expression of faith that he found, why would we say anything else?

We should know what we are saying though, since simply pronouncing the words is not an act of faith unless we mean them. Jesus offers to come heal the centurion’s servant, as he had healed many people. We know that Jesus can heal without touch, even from a far way off. He is God. He can do everything. The centurion is telling Jesus that he knows that the actually coming to the house and laying on of hands is an unnecessary part of the healing. He is telling Jesus that he has faith in Jesus’ power and does not need the external helps to faith.

He is also asserting his faith by acknowledging that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter under his roof. The centurion was an officer in the Roman army. He was a great man as the world judges greatness, yet he judged that Jesus was greater yet. He sees in addition to the power some less definable characteristic: holiness.

In this one sentence the centurion states that Jesus, though he looks like an ordinary human, is nevertheless very powerful and very holy. No wonder then that Jesus praised the faith of this man. When we repeat his words at each mass before receiving Communion, we acknowledge the same reality: what looks like bread and wine is nevertheless very powerful and very holy.

November 27, 2011 - First Sunday of Advent

Today's Readings

Today we begin the new year in the Church. Today is the first day of Advent. The first thing that can be said about Advent is that it is not Christmas. Though the world thinks that Christmas begins in November and ends on the 26th of December, we believe that Christmas is a season that begins on the 24th of December at the Christmas Eve mass and is celebrated in various ways until the 2nd of February. I cannot too highly recommend that you celebrate in the Church’s way. If you pick the way of the world, you will miss Advent entirely, which would be sad, because Advent is a wonderful season.

It is as question of ticipation and what sort of ticipation we ought to have. The world likes to have anticipation, but we ought to have participation. The world is rushing, rushing, because it is always anticipating what comes next. Our God lives in eternity, and when we choose to patiently participate in the present we come as close to sharing in eternity as we can. The world does not have enough time because the world has made plans months in advance and then rushes to meet those plans. We can have all the time in the world if we make use of it as it arrives.

But what is Advent if not merely pre-Christmas? The word Advent means “Coming”. During Advent we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ. Both comings. We celebrate his coming among us as a man, which is how Advent is related to Christmas, and we celebrate his coming in the future as the judge of the world.

God wanted to reconcile the world to himself, so he sent his Son among us as a man, one like us in all things but sin. The Son of God had to come to us because we were not able to go to him. We could not go up to heaven, so he came down to earth. I say that God had to come down, but of course he did not have to come down. He could have left us in our sinful condition. Advent is above all a celebration of God’s love. He so loved the world that he sent his only Son.

And he will come again. When he comes it will be the end of the world as we know it. The dead will rise from their graves. Then they and we who are alive will go up to meet him in the sky. Then the whole world, every person who has lived since the creation of the world, will go to the Valley of Jehoshaphat and be judged. It will, of course, take a very long time to judge all those people, but we will have all the time in the world.

Some people talk about the end of the world as if it were something to be afraid of, something we would prevent if we could, but we Christians should not. The end of the world, the second coming of Jesus Christ, is something we celebrate every year in Advent. We know that it is coming, and we will be glad to see it come. If we love Jesus, how could it be otherwise? Who is afraid of the coming of one whom they love?

Yet even in this eager expectation, we do not abandon the present moment. Jesus did not tell us when he would return again, only that he would. The reason he kept the date from us was to show us what should be our frame of mind as we work in the present moment. Perhaps he will come next week. If we knew that we would give up all our plans for the coming year. People would stop working. It would be bad because Jesus wants to find us at work when he comes back. Or if he will not come for another thousand years, we would forget to wait for him. The date would seem so far off and unimportant. Instead, because he kept the day hidden from us, the Church has been expecting him for 2000 years and will go on expecting him until he suddenly arrives.

So what is the right attitude? Jesus’ advice to us today, which he repeats over and over throughout the Gospel today (contrary to this translation) is “Stay awake!” Obviously he does not mean this physically. Whether we are awake or asleep physically, we should be awake spiritually. He is telling us to be to the rest of the world what an awake person is among sleepers. It is interesting to be awake while others sleep. To get things done before others even get up or to finish things after others have gone to bed. This can often seem like the most fruitful time of the day, whether early morning or late at night.

The whole world is asleep right now. Most people are merely sleepwalking through their lives. They do not know why they do what they do. They work hard for vanities that disappear as soon as they have them. In the dream world many things seem important that are not important. How often have I had a dream where something seemed so crucial to have or to do, but when I woke up I realized that it was something silly and pointless.

It is easy to be awakened for a moment by a book or a piece of art or a retreat, but the temptation is to roll over and fall asleep again. Many people can remember a time, perhaps only a day, when they were awake, but it is difficult to actually wake up and stay awake. So Jesus tells us, “Stay awake!” He sounds like a man trying to wake up a groggy world.

For the next four weeks, as we celebrate that Jesus has come and that he is coming again, we ought to take this command particularly to heart. Fight off the weariness of this world. Fight against the desire to return to sin like a person rolling over and returning to sleep. For now it seems like so much effort is required to stay awake, but that is only because we are not fully awake. When we have really woken up, washed our face, and gotten to work, nothing could ever convince us to go back to bed.

November 26, 2011 - Saturday of the Thirty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus does not want us to burden ourselves with the anxieties and stresses caused by useless tasks. Consider how much stress has been experienced over trifles: that a game is won, that many people come to a party, that a television program not be missed. Consider the tears that have been shed since the creation of the earth over party dresses and other amusements.

Recreation is supposed to refresh us, but we modern people are worn out by our recreations. Video games are hard work. Television keeps us up at night. Sports involve crowds and expense. We would be happy to avoid all the trouble, but we have come to believe that the trouble makes us happy.

Whenever the thought occurs that we ought to be less of this world, less devoted to its distractions, the tempter asks, “What is the harm in a little television? Why not spend a night partying and drinking?” Jesus tells us why not. Our lives were not meant to be wasted. Time does not exist to be killed. We are servants of the Most High, and we ought to have a purpose to our lives so definite that we know what we want to do with every minute.

Our purpose is two-fold: to love and to be strengthened. We are strengthened, as Jesus says, by praying constantly. Every moment is an opportunity either to pray or to love. If we consider the world in this way, there is no time for drunkenness or entertainment. We know this, but we are afraid; we are afraid of wasting our lives. We are afraid that the whole world will be having fun, and we will miss out.

Jesus does not make a new commandment here against fun. Instead, he tells us to guard ourselves lest our hearts be burdened. Happiness does not come from indulging boredom. We know how our hearts are lightened by love and prayer. It is a wonder that the tempter is able to convince us that we want anything else.

Yet he does convince us. We fall over and over again, choosing the pretty fruit and forgetting that paradise is all around us. It is not that these things Jesus mentions and I mention are sins exactly. Rather, they are lost opportunities. It would be a sin to miss too many opportunities. We are afraid of missing out on fun, but then we miss out on life. Do not be afraid to do great things for God!

November 25, 2011 - Friday of the Thirty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Daniel’s vision is somewhat obscure to us. These beasts are fantastical creatures. They are symbolic of something (that is how Daniel spoke), but whether these beasts have already come or are yet to come, whether they symbolize countries or individuals, we do not know. This prophecy seems like something from the book of Revelation, and like that book, interpretation is often pure speculation and rarely fruitful.

But the last part of Daniel’s prophecy is as clear as day. One like a son of man approaches the Ancient of Days on the throne and receives dominion, glory, and kingship. And “his dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed.” Even the simplest Christian without any theological education at all can discern that the Ancient of Days is God the Father and the one like a son of man is God the Son. At the time Daniel wrote it, no one knew what it meant, but now we all do. Much prophecy is given simply so that when we see it fulfilled, we will believe.

Jesus tells his disciples the coming of the Kingdom of God is as obvious as the coming of summer. I am sure it was to his eyes. Yet this analogy is apropos to us 21st century people. I am sure that I miss many natural signs that would have been obvious to the disciples, to anyone 2000 years ago. I spend so much time indoors that I do not see the buds on the trees until it is almost in full bloom. Even then I would not be able to tell a fig tree from an apple tree until the fruit appeared.

So too the signs of Kingdom of God are not obvious to those who are not looking, and without experience it would be impossible to interpret those signs. I cannot tell if we are almost at the end of the world. It might be the beginning of the end or only the end of the beginning. There might be ten years left, and there might be 10,000. I have neither the eyes nor the mind to see the signs and interpret them, but I do not doubt that they are there. No one can predict when the end will arrive, but when it has come it will be obvious to everyone that the signs of the coming were everywhere.

November 24, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Andrew Düng-Lac, priest and martyr, and his companions, martyrs

Today's Readings

We are told throughout our first reading today how it was the fault of “some men” that Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den. It emphasized over and over how the king himself did not want to put Daniel in there. He “worked until sunset to rescue him” and “sleep was impossible” that night. After Daniel himself, we are supposed to feel bad, I suppose, for the king, but who issued the royal decree? Who insisted that no one should pray to anyone except the king for one month?

Those men who are accusing Daniel tell us who it was, “Daniel, the Jewish exile, has paid no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you issued.” The king issued the royal decree. So if he spent a sleepless night without dinner or entertainment, I think he deserved it. He never does, but he could have even taken responsibility for his own actions.

What could he have done though? As the men remind him, “under the Mede and Persian law” royal decrees are irrevocable. Perhaps, but under the law of God, throwing a human into a lions’ den because they were praying is wrong. When human law conflicts with divine law, it is obvious what ought to prevail. The king should not have thrown Daniel in the lions’ den, no matter what. He was not forced to.

The king dug a hole for himself with his stupid decree. Then he felt that he had no choice but to follow through. He was wrong. We always have a choice to do what is right. Like a businessman who is forced to lie under oath or a single mother who is forced to kill her own child, it is possible to arrive at a point where the choice is between self-sacrifice and doing wrong. The businessman is not forced; he could always go to jail instead. The mother is not forced; she could always struggle to care for the child instead.

It is never impossible to do what is right. In every circumstance, no matter what choices we have made up to that point, we can always begin doing what is right. It may be difficult. We may lose everything except our souls. Who knows what would have happened if the king had refused to thrown Daniel in the loins’ den. He might have lost his kingdom. It would have been worth it though, to do what is right.

November 24, 2011 - Thanksgiving Day

Today's Readings

How blessed are we to gather as a country each year and give thanks. This holiday transcends any political sentiments or particular religious belief, but, at the same time, it is central to all true religion. To give thanks is to acknowledge the existence of a Creator whom we can thank. We do not merely celebrate how much we have today; we celebrate how much we have been given. Given by whom? By the Creator of all.

Thanksgiving is the most important feast in the Catholic Church. It is more important than Christmas and more important than Easter. This is revealed to us if we say that word, “thanksgiving”, in Greek. The word is “Eucharist”. Every Sunday, indeed every day of the week, we gather in this Church and give thanks. On Christmas and Easter and every other feast day, we gather in the Church and celebrate the Eucharist; we celebrate Thanksgiving. Though our country celebrates Thanksgiving once a year, we celebrate it without end.

What is God looking for from us except thanks? Imagine how proud a parent is the first time they hear their child say, “Thank you, Mommy” or “Thank you, Daddy”. It is a sign that the child is maturing beyond the basic selfishness of infancy. It is impossible to be purely selfish and grateful at the same time. When we are perfectly grateful, we will be generous without fault. We cannot begrudge another what we ourselves received as gift.

To be perfectly grateful is to know our place in this world. We are creatures of God and loved by him. Everything we possess was a gift from God, even our own bodies and souls. Even our talents and abilities are reasons not for pride but for thankfulness.

There is no prayer more appropriate for us creatures. Prayers of petition are important, and prayers of praise are proper, but in the prayer of thanksgiving all the rest are summed up. When we give thanks to God we admit the truth: we are dependent on him. We can thank God for every gift he has given us. We can thank God for every struggle that he has not put in our way. We can thank God for the strength to endure the struggles that do confront us. We can thank God for his great glory. We thank God for everything; without him there would be nothing.

November 23, 2011 - Wednesday of the Thirty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Our first reading today is the source of a couple of sayings in English. The first is “seeing the hand writing on the wall”. When someone says that they have seen the hand writing on the wall, they mean that they are aware of what is coming next, usually something that cannot be avoided. In the reading today, the writing hand is a visible expression of the will of God. God gives the king this sign so that there can be no doubt that the end of the empire of Babylon was not a mere accident of history; it was part of God’s plan for the world.

Another saying taken from the reading today is an insult: “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” This insult is profound: it implies a judge of the world able to weigh emperors on a scale; it implies a minimum standard which everyone ought to meet. This statement is an expression of pure justice: no one can debate with a scale; no one can give excuses or explanations; no one can bribe a scale; the scale measures dispassionately. Thus we have the image of blind Justice holding the scales.

The king is terrified. In fairness, he did see a disembodied hand writing on the wall, but how did he know that the hand was writing something against him? The hand could have been writing something good. Such a hand would surprise anyone but it will only cause fear in the mind of a guilty person. The king knew that he deserved punishment, so he presumed that his punishment had come. When we have a clear conscience very little can frighten us, but a person with a guilty conscience is afraid of their own shadow.

Was this king guiltier than other men? I do not think so. No guiltier than I am, perhaps less so. We all have a guilty conscience because we all have sinned. We are afraid of ghosts and darkness because we know that we deserve punishment for our sins, and we fear that our punishment is just around the corner. We need someone to save us from our guilt, from our fear, and we have such a Savior. How many times did Jesus say, “Be not afraid”? In Jesus Christ, our sins will be forgiven so that we do not have to be afraid anymore.

November 23, 2011 - Memorial of Blessed Miguel Pro, Martyr

Today we commemorate Blessed Miguel Pro, who died about 90 years ago. He was a Catholic at a time when it was illegal to be Catholic. He was a priest at a time when it was illegal to be a priest. He celebrated Mass though the Mass was illegal. He used to sneak around from place to place in disguise, celebrating the sacraments for all those criminals who refused to stop worshiping God in the way handed down to us from the apostles. Then they caught him and shot him.

Miguel Pro is special among the saints. We only have photographs of the most recent saints, those who lived during the last hundred years or so, and these photographs are precious relics. Yet even in this case Blessed Miguel is special, for we have a photo of him taken at the moment of his martyrdom. We actually are able to see how he died. He was shot by Mexican soldiers while standing like this – like Jesus on the Cross. This was a very common way of praying in Mexico and it is a perfect image of how we ought to live and how we ought to die.

In his posture, Blessed Miguel is giving the meaning of his own martyrdom. He is unified to Christ in that moment captured in the photo. Christ told us that the world would hate us for believing in him. Blessed Miguel experienced their hatred. The hatred of the world is an ugly thing; human suffering and death is repulsive, but his death became beautiful because he joined it to the Cross.

We might not see the kind of persecution that arose in Mexico in the 1920’s, but then not many people would have expected that to happen in Mexico until it did. Christians are the most persecuted religion by far. Though we have no persecution right here, there are Christians suffering throughout the world. Perhaps someday there will be a persecution right here. Whether we face martyrdom someday or we go on living as we are and die as we expect, we can learn how to die from Blessed Miguel. Whether we die suddenly or after a long decline, whether we suffer much or little, if we die like this – like Jesus – then it will be a beautiful death.