Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Do Not Love the World

Here's a pertinent message delivered today:

Do not love the world or what is in the world.
If anyone does love the world, the love of the Father finds no place in him,
because everything there is in the world - 
disordered bodily desires, 
disordered desires of the eyes, 
pride in possession -
is not from the Father but is from the world.
And the world, with all its disordered desires, is passing away.
But whoever does the will of God remains forever.

It sounds like it could be Pope Francis' message today, but it's a little older.  It's from 1 John 2: 12-17.

As Americans, we love the world - I mean we really love the world.  Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The pursuit of happiness usually means a healthy dose of capitalism and materialism.  He who dies with the most toys wins, right?  Gluttony, lust, greed, selfishness - we have them all in spades. I'm certainly not preaching at everyone else - I have them too.

Isn't it ironic that one of the ways the world has perverted Christmas is to focus on all of these things?  We look forward to eating too much and getting gifts.  Even in one of the most holy times of year, the world manages to entice us with these sins.  Don't get me wrong - there are wonderful things in the Christmas season that get emphasized even by our culture.  We are expected to gather with our families, donate to the poor (although this might be more motivated by end of the year tax considerations) and even attend church.  For some this might be the only time of year they do these things.

This week I'm enjoying time with my children.  We're doing some fun things together, just hanging out and generally trying to get away from the stress and worries of life.  I'm trying to keep it simple.  It's not always easy.  I think Heaven will be like that - no stress or worries and just being in the present with loved ones and God.  I want to keep my focus on that because what the world is offering seems to result in an endless pursuit for more with no satisfaction.

I won't lie - I like the good things the world offers.  I'm just trying not to love it.


Monday, December 29, 2014

A Holy Family

Merry Christmas!  No, it's not too late to say it because Christmas lasts through the Baptism of the Lord.  (I have several weeks left.)  Today we celebrate the Holy Family.

I was talking to a priest friend and a seminarian this morning and I was bemoaning the fact that it takes a long time for a man to become a priest (about 7 years).  My priest friend pointed out that family life can be equally hard, but there is very little preparation time for marriage.  As an example, our diocese has a preparation time for marriage which is considered long -  9 months.

I've always thought of priests as holy people, but never thought about God's call to those of us who are married and have children as models of holiness.  Most young people will choose a vocation of marriage and parenthood, yet there is very little preparation for that.  The best "preparation" is by example.  Children look to their parents and dating couples look to other married couples they know.  Are we really holy families?

With all the pressures of family life, it's good to stop and take a look at where our priorities should be.  Although the following reading from Colossians inevitably results in lots of eye rolling and smirks among families while it is read at mass, it is the guide we are asked to follow as holy families:

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another, 
if one has a grievance against another;  as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, 
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, 

as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, 
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, 
giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.
Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph were the first Holy Family.  We can be holy families too if we have the same dynamic as the Holy Family did - Jesus was in the center.  


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 18

Wow - Advent can take a sharp right turn these days!  It did for me over the last week when my posts have been conspicuously absent.  No, you didn't miss them - they weren't done.  Like many people, I was caught up in the business of the season - multiple rehearsals, concerts, events, kid finals, etc.  This is always the hardest for me as a musician - Advent is a very busy season!  I try to use the opportunities to pray while singing.  (Doesn't it count twice?)

Today I want to show you a new way of thinking about Isaiah 61: 1-3; 10-11:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn;
To provide for those who mourn in Zion -to give them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
My whole being shall exult in my God;
For he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots, 
And as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

In Luke, chapter 4, Jesus reveals that he is the person spoken about in Isaiah 61.

This is a different Messiah that is in other passages described as the Prince of Peace.  This is someone who is more counter-cultural, more revolutionary.  He will deliver God's justice in a spirit of righteousness.  Not everyone is getting peace.  This is consistent with what Jesus tells us we should expect when he comes again.  Perhaps this is why we should have at least some penitential attitude toward Advent.  Jesus comes to bring peace and joy, but he also comes to bring "the day of vengeance of our God."  Things will change.  Are we ready for change?  Are we ready to be revolutionaries?

It seems to me that given what is happening in the world and our own country, the time is coming soon or might already be here.  We need to be ready to espouse joy, but with a sense of righteous change.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 12

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico.  Several days ago on the feast of St. Juan Diego I offered the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Our Lady of Guadalupe pray for us!

One of the things about Advent that confuses me is whether it is supposed to be a time of penance like Lent or a time of joyful anticipation.  I have heard both.  Our friends at The Catholic Underground call Advent "Lent Lite."  I like that.  On one hand the Church uses purple liturgical garments and that is the color of Lent and penance.  On the other hand, the time before Christmas is joyful - we are waiting for the coming of the King.  It is a little difficult to know which way we are supposed to go.

I do know that the euphoria of secular Christmas is NOT the way to go.  Continuous Christmas music begins on Thanksgiving and store decorations are put up on November 1 after Halloween comes down.  Everyone has parties, puts up a Christmas tree and sends out cards before Christmas.  It's a manic celebration that lasts the entire month of December.  Worse yet, it drives me crazy when I hear about people who push back from the table after Christmas dinner and proceed to take down their Christmas decorations.  The party's over - Christmas has arrived.

Where is the waiting and watching?  Christ was born once, rose once and will come back one more time.  The rest of the time in salvation history has been spent waiting - looking skyward, praying Maranatha (which can mean "Come Lord Jesus!" or "Our Lord Has Come!").  It seems like Advent should better represent that - the proper way to wait.  The patient way to wait.  The humble way to wait.  We should prepare ourselves - not just by decorating, buying gifts and going to parties - but by personal reflection and prayer.  That sounds so rational - but gosh it's hard when everything around you is in party or hustle mode!

So I think Advent should be reverent, humble and joyful anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ, whether celebrating his birth or looking forward to his return.  I think it's a little like cleaning your house before the guest arrives.  Cleaning is no fun and hard work, but doing it in anticipation of a long-awaited visit makes it a lot more joyful and exciting.

So when my Christmas cards and gifts are late or I never get around to having a party before Christmas, I say good riddance - people are more likely to notice my card or gift after Christmas and goodness knows their calendars will be more open!


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 11

Listen to the words - I bet you'll never hear this Mumford & Sons' song the same way again:

Keeping it simple.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 10

More Isaiah and more Messiah!  It's easy today to see the connections between Isaiah's prophesies and the God-man Jesus, but imagine what it was like to the ancient readers waiting for a person who could fulfill these prophesies!  This is the reading used on Christmas Eve at twilight.

Isaiah 9: 2-7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Cue the music:


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 9

Today is the feast of St. Juan Diego.  What does that have to do with Advent?  Well, nothing.  However, in preparing for the coming of Christ, St. Juan Diego, like Our Lady of Guadalupe (who we celebrate on December 12), believed the message God sent him.  Juan Diego, like all saints, are people we can look to for inspiration and example of what it means to live a life of obedience to God.

The story of St. Juan Diego is that of a simple man.  Born in the 15th Century in what is now Mexico, he saw a vision of a woman who identified herself as the Virgin Mary.  She told him she wanted a church built on the site in her honor.  Juan Diego went to the local bishop to make the request, but the bishop asked for evidence that the woman was actually the Virgin Mary.  Juan went back to the location of the first vision and Mary appeared to him again.  She asked him to go to the top of the hills and pick the flowers he would find there and take them to the bishop.  It was winter and the roses Juan Diego found on that hill were Castilian roses (not then grown in Mexico).  He gathered the roses and put them in his tilma, a traditional cloak.

When Juan Diego found the bishop he opened his tilma to show the bishop the roses as proof the vision was that of the Virgin Mary.  But the bishop didn't notice the roses which fell to the floor.  He was transfixed by the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was on Juan Diego's tilma.  Needless to say, the bishop believed and a basilica was built on the site.  The tilma with the iconic figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe is framed on the wall in the basilica where you can see it today.

St. Juan Diego reminds me that God doesn't speak through the rich and powerful.  He (and His Blessed Mother) come to the humble, to the people who will listen to the message.  Isn't that consistent with the birth of a baby in an obscure location who turned out to be God?

He comes quietly in humble conditions.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 8

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holyday of obligation (that means you should have gone to mass today just as if it was a Sunday).  For every Catholic kid who gets tripped up on his or her theology test, let's be clear:  today we celebrate the immaculate conception of Mary, not Jesus.  AND your teacher slapped her head in frustration after you asked why Jesus' conception wasn't free from sin.  (Of course the Son of God was conceived without sin!  God can't sin dummy!)

First, let's review what it's about.  This is one of the Marian dogmas - things you have to believe in order to be a Catholic.  It causes so much confusion until you give it a little thought.  Mary is the Mother of God (also a Marian dogma) and that has been an accepted teaching since the earliest days of Christianity.  The Mother of God cannot be stained with original sin.  So, when Mary was conceived by St. Anne and St. Joachim (her parents), she was preserved from the original sin of Adam which stains us all.  Only four people have been created and born free from original sin: Adam & Eve (sinless before the fall), Jesus and Mary.  Mary is the new Eve - why should she bear original sin when she was going to bear the Son of God?

So what's the point of this solemnity in the middle of Advent?  For me, celebrating this feast in Advent reminds me of Mary's visit to Elizabeth during their respective pregnancies.  When Elizabeth saw Mary, her infant (John the Baptist) leapt in her womb and, full of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth cried: "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?" Luke 1: 42-43.  

It also drives home the critical truth of the Incarnation - God became a man.  He had a human mother and her blood coursed through his veins.  The fact that God came to us is humbling enough (see my post yesterday), but today we are reminded about how God came - He humbled himself to become a man!

This gentle creature that God made free from sin, and saved by her own son is our model.  She doesn't ask why, she gives her fiat and accepts what God asks her to do.  So today we honor her and in the United States we are dedicated to her patronage.  

Mary, the Immaculate Conception, pray for us!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 7

Today I'm getting excited.  The Christmas tree is up, the house is decorated and concerts are in full swing.  We're still more than 2 weeks until Christmas, but this is where the momentum picks up for me, especially as I start to hear those familiar Scripture passages.

I need to stay back, to live in the waiting, to reflect more on the message.  But oh, what a message!  I could read this all day.  The poetry is captivating, but it's the message that is even more riveting.  He's coming.  God is coming.  Enough with the fits and starts of history, the inconstancy of God's people.  He's coming to save - a fresh start for God's people.  A time when God will dwell with his people.

Isaiah 40: 1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

A voice says, "Cry out!"  And I said, "What shall I cry?"
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings, lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"
See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

If the language isn't beautiful enough, as a musician I hear the music too.  If hearing the message that way appeals to you, here it is:

The Christmas tree may be up, but He's not here just yet.  There is joy in the waiting.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 6

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

If you received some gifts today (especially in your shoes), you might already know a little about St. Nicholas.   His name is sometimes used interchangeably with Santa Claus, but St. Nicholas was a real person.  Want to know more?

St. Nicholas - giving back in Christ's name before it was cool.  Hope you find a little bag of gold in your shoes.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 5

It's hard to include you on the specific Day 5 activities because the paper behind our Advent Day 5 door says:

"Make sandwiches!  We're feeding the homeless tomorrow!"

We've done this before during Advent and it is really rewarding.  People are genuinely grateful for what they receive.  Isn't that interesting?  People are genuinely grateful for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a few Christmas cookies.  Thing is, you can tell it's not necessarily about the food.  More often the comments we get are "Thank you for coming out to see us and thinking about us."

The other thing that strikes me whenever we do this is "We should do this at other times of the year."  The poor receive more at Christmas than at other times of the year and Christ didn't limit his generosity to a virgin birth in a stable.  He gave his life - the last three years of his life was a continuous ministry.  The poor are with us all year and they need us to come out and think about them all year round.

Maybe this year instead of giving more gifts that won't be remembered two days after Christmas, we should make a gift to the poor and needy.  For many of us that may mean writing a check to a mission, but if it is possible for you, try going to a homeless shelter or a food bank.  Look at the grateful faces who receive your gift.  You might just get a gift yourself.

Happy Advent.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 4

Today I turned in a slightly different direction and asked my family to consider doing for others this Advent season.  Jesus didn't come for his tight knit group of family and friends and shower them with expensive gifts they didn't need.  He came for people who didn't know who he was and who didn't care.  He served people who had problems that kept them from asking who he was.  They just knew he cared.  Without ribbons or bows, he gave what they needed.

I challenged my children to each find a charity that supports poor children.  They will pray for the charity by name during Advent and if God puts it on their heart, they will donate their money.

Here is a video from the Advent Conspiracy which brings these concepts to light from a secular as well as religious perspective.  It's from 2011, but Advent Conspiracy brings the message of giving every year.  Find out more at www.adventconspiracy.org

Go light up the world.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 3

Today's reading from the Gospel of John:

John1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is one of my favorite passages of the New Testament.  It pretty much sums everything up in a couple of verses.  Think of just how much the Holy Spirit was moving through this inspired author less than 200 years after Jesus Christ died!  Equating Jesus - who they knew as a man - with God the Creator of Life!  Stunning.

My kids are 11 and 13 so some of our Advent Calendar is pitched to a slightly younger audience.  Here is the message they are receiving today:

It's a cute presentation, but are you getting the message?  He's coming soon!  

The baby - the man - the Creator of the Universe.

Will we be ready?


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent Calendar Day 2 - A Message from the Catholic Church

Well, it's not exactly an official message, but it sure is a nice video to get you warmed up for waiting for the Guest to arrive.

My kids have Hershey kisses included in their Advent Calendar - sorry there are limitations to the internet.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 1

Been a long time, but I am still here.  What better way to kickstart a new liturgical year than with an electronic Advent Calendar.  I'm using the same videos/readings I am giving my kids in their "brick and mortar" advent calendar.  Check back in every day for another step on the Advent journey.

Without further ado, here is "Advent in 2 Minutes":

Let the waiting begin . . .