Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reflection – Engage Your Heart

Christianity is not a mental exercise; it is a heart exercise.       Until someone falls in love with Jesus, Jesus remains just an intriguing historical figure.  Not until we are able to engage Jesus with the wonder of a lover can we begin to experience the profound change in ourselves that only love can bring.  
Jesus’ love changed people. Time and again in the scriptures we see it – the blind man alongside the road in Jericho, Jarice whose daughter was brought back to life, the Apostles, Mary Magdalene, St. Paul, the woman at the well, the centurion whose servant was sick, or the centurion present at Jesus’ death, and so many more.  He liberated them and opened them to a new and powerful life. The Greek word the scripture writers used to describe the change is metanoia.  A metanoia is a moment of profound change of mind and heart; an opening of the eyes of the heart, a sudden new way of seeing everything.  

The goal of the Christian life is to so love Jesus, 
that we begin to feel and act like him

St. Paul said to the Philippians – “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”  How do we put on the mind of Christ?  How do we see through his eyes? How do we feel through his heart?  How do we respond to the world with that same wholeness and healing love? 
It is so easy to think Christianity is merely about right belief,
but in truth … it’s about right living.
It is seeking to become like, act like, feel like the one we love – Jesus. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Called to love like Jesus loved ... Really?

Reading - from John Chapter 13
When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

”As soon as Judas walked out that door that night, Jesus knew his days were limited. Even though he had spent three years with these men and women now he knew for sure every moment, every word counted.  These were his last before his execution and he wanted to leave them with the most important message in his heart. After dinner he looked at them all with great love and said: “Let me give you a new command:  Love one another. In the same way I loved you … love one another.”

You have to wonder what jumped into their minds when he said this: 
In the same way I loved … you must love.

Over the three years they were together, they saw him love in a way they’d never seen before.  They must have thought about all those times they were shocked by his love.  Like the day he embraced and cured the most outcast person of their culture – a man with leprosy. If we are going to heed his call to love in the same way he loved, we have to ask ourselves:  Who are the lepers in our lives?  There are people today who have been driven out from their own families, ostracized by their own kin. There are those who for one reason or another are shunned at work ignored and treated poorly. In our schools bullying, mistreating those who are weaker or more vulnerable, is widespread.

Jesus calls us to reach out and love those who are the outcasts – 
in our world.

They might have thought of the day that he fed 5000 people.  Out of love he gave every one food that day, and made sure there were leftovers!   Who is starved for love in our lives?  There are spouses here today you haven’t heard the words – I love you – in a very long time. There are children who may have never heard their dad say – I love you – or not often enough. There are aging mothers and fathers who never hear from us and see us rarely. 

Jesus calls us to reach out and love those starving for love all around us.

The apostles also knew that Jesus’ love wasn't always easy. A rich young man came to him one day who claimed to have kept all the commandments and asked Jesus what else he needed to do.  The passage tells us that Jesus loved that young man, and said: “Sell your possessions give the money to the poor and follow me.”; because in his love for that young man, he knew those possessions were what he need to let go of. If we are going to love as Jesus loved, we need to have the courage to tell those we love the truth.  We need to speak the truth about Jesus’ love to those who have allowed something to come between them and God.

Who in our lives needs to hear this message? 
Do we love them enough to tell them the truth?

The apostles certainly thought of all the sinners they had seen Jesus love: the hated tax-collector Zaccheus; the woman caught in the act of adultery.  If we are going to LOVE like Jesus, we must let go of judging others.  Who in our lives do we need to stop judging and start loving? Maybe it’s just me, maybe none of you are like this, but rarely does a day go by before I catch myself judging someone.  We judge our spouse, our siblings, children, colleagues, friends and acquaintances.  We feel at liberty to label them as self-centered, inconsiderate, lazy, aggressive, overambitious, irresponsible … on and on. These labels are barriers to love.  Mother Teresa said,     “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

Who in our lives do we need to stop judging and start loving?

That night just a few moments before Jesus gave his disciples this challenge – this new command – he got down on his knees, took their filthy feet into his hands and cleaned them; humbling himself beyond all reason. Is that how we treat the people in our lives? Do we let go of our pride and humbly serve them? Don’t forget Jesus washed Judas’ feet before he left that night, knowing he was going to betray him. 

When Jesus said, “In the same way…I loved you … love one another” … 
he meant all of these things.

But his greatest act of love was yet to come. As he hung on the cross the next day, he stretched out his arms and said:  “I love you this much.” That day he willingly gave his life for all of us – every one of us.  No matter who we are – or – what we've done. He even loved his enemies, who he forgave and blessed that day as they executed him.

Can we do that? Love that much? 

Certainly the events we just witnessed at the Boston Marathon have challenged us to love and not hate.  What do you do with the pain in our hearts from the events like this bombing?  How to process these unholy sights in the streets of Boston?  Sights that are common in Syria and Afghanistan, Jerusalem and Gaza and all the other places on earth where violence is visited upon the innocent.

Jesus says we are called to love … in the same way … he loved.

We mus try to love those who no one seems  to care about … to love those … who are starving for our affection.
We must try to tell the truth – even when others may not want to hear it - about those things that are barriers to faith and God.

We must try to love others ... rather than judge them.
We do this by humbling ourselves as Jesus did and serve the people in our lives.
We must try to love even those who would do us harm.
If Jesus could forgive and love those who killed him, we can forgive – out of love – those in our lives we need to forgive. That night at the end of his three year mission, he shared with them – and with us – the most important thing he ever came to say:

Love one another … in the same way … I have loved you!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Gospel - John 4:5-42 - The Woman at the Well

Can you hear how radically changed that whole community of Sychar was through this encounter between Jesus and a rather imperfect woman? Most Jewish men would have looked down on this lowly Samaritan woman, but Jesus treated this woman with dignity, and it changed a whole community.

This story reminded me of an event that is seared in the minds of many in my generation;an event that not only changed a whole community but our whole country. In 1957 the federal government ordered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas to become racially integrated.  The image of armed shoulders escorting nine very dignified, stoic black girls and boys into school is something none of us who saw it will forget.

Melba Patillo was one of the nine Black students escorted to class by U.S. marshals. Whites lined the sidewalk and jeered as she went into school. In the course of that year Melba was spit upon, tripped and called names. What pained her most, however, was being ignored by the other students. She wrote a book about her experiences entitled: Warriors Don’t Cry.  
In it she writes: “All I wanted them to say was, ‘Hello, how are you? What a nice blouse.’ ” Melba recalls lying in bed at night filled with fear. But she rarely cried because her grandma kept telling her, “God’s warriors don’t cry.” One day she wrote in a diary:  I am growing up too fast.  I’m not ready to go back to Central and be a warrior. I just want to stay right here listening to the songs of Nat King Cole. The story of Melba Patillo highlights the whole problem of prejudice. And she represents the kind of change one person can make in a community.

Unfortunately prejudice is as old as the world.  And it was part of the world in which Jesus lived as well. Jews harbored a deep prejudice against the Samaritans. Jesus spoke out against it forcefully, in a variety of ways. He shocked his Jewish listeners by making a Samaritan the hero of one of his best-known parables: the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Many Jews were no doubt irritated when Jesus pointed out that ten lepers were healed one day, but the only one to return to give thanks was a Samaritan. And many Jews were no doubt shocked to learn that Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink from a common cup Samaritans used. It was like a white man in the south in pre-civil-rights days asking a black woman for a drink from a common cup that blacks used.  Even the Samaritan woman was shocked, saying to Jesus:  “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” But Jesus did something even more dramatic to make a statement about the prejudice against the Samaritans of his time. He revealed to this lowly woman who he was, Jesus tells the woman that she has been married to five men and she was living with a man who wasn't her husband. He knows us through and through.  Shocked that he knew this, she responds: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.”  “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he.”

The woman left her water jar, went into the town, and exclaimed to the people there “Come meet Jesus!”  And they came, and they believed.  And – what did she tell them? He knew me.  He knew my whole messed up history, and he didn't judge me. He loved me, and offered me new life. That’s the “living water.”  It’s the unconditional love of Christ.  A love we all experience through our baptism.  New life, and a call to mission!

The Samaritan woman was the least likely person imaginable to become a missionary … to become an evangelist.  A woman, a Samaritan woman at that!  One who started out as an outcast – like Melba Patello – she became Jesus’ very first missionary to the non-Jewish world … amazing!

That Samaritan woman is all of us.

That’s the message in today’s Gospel for each one of us.  We can change our world, our community.  We are qualified.  We are good enough.  We are all sinners, and we too can respond to our encounter with the mercy of Christ - his unconditional love of us - the way the Samaritan woman did.  We can share with others the Good News.  That our God knows us, and loves us – as we are – and offers us new life!  The living water of Divine life.Being an evangelist isn't hard.  It’s just telling others what we've found; sharing our story.  

There are 67 million Catholics in the United States.  Only 24% come to Mass once a week regularly.  That means there are 50 million Catholics that are inactive in their faith.  Statistics show that the best missionaries to inactive Catholics are … friends … neighbors … or family members. Statistics also show that nearly two-thirds of all Catholics who became active again do so because a friend or relative invited them to return.

That is our challenge.  There lies an area of missionary work that every Catholic in the church can … and should … become involved.  We all know inactive Catholics!  If you truly want to make this Lent something special, make a loving invitation to someone you know to come to Mass with you one week.  You never know, your simple invitation might be the cause for them finding their way back to the Church.  

If Jesus can change a whole community through the witness of one humble woman,  and nine courageous black kids with a sense of mission can change an entire country, we can change our world too – our community – our family.

If you think you don’t have what it takes to be an evangelist, just read this Gospel again,  no one was less likely in the time of Christ for this call then a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and was living with a sixth man.

You are worthy! You are capable! And, you are called!   

Invite someone to Mass.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gospel Reading - Luke Chapter 21 verses 5 to 19.

This story in Luke’s gospel comes near the end of Jesus’ life, the end of his work here on earth.  Jesus uses this moment to make sure his disciples understand what was coming, and what it means to be his follower, to be his disciple. He is not just talking to them; he is talking to us too. 

They have just been admiring the great Temple in Jerusalem. He tells them – As great as this building - this Temple - is all that you see here, he says, will be destroyed.  There will come a day when there will not be left a stone upon another stone, it will all be torn down. 

In a few days Jesus would be hanging on a cross, and their world would be turned upside down.  Jesus wanted to prepare them.  Everything they knew was about to change and it wasn't going to be easy for them. He said – a time is coming when you will be handed over for persecution, even by parents – brothers – relatives – and friends.  You need to be ready for the end.

When St. Luke wrote this story, sometime after the year 70 AD, the Romans had destroyed the Temple as prophesied by Jesus.  It was a time when St. Luke’s community was suffering the persecutions that Jesus predicted. So in today’s Gospel Luke was trying to encourage them by telling them this story.  He was saying – don't give up because God is always with us. God has a plan that leads to LIFE.

The signs Jesus gave that day for the end of time seem to always be with us. Wars and natural disasters seem to come and go in every generation.  Just think of the last few years.  We have had an earthquake in Haiti, a super storm Sandy in the east, the Tsunami in Japan, brush fires in Australia; and a Typhoon in the Philippines. In my lifetime there seems to have been a war, somewhere in the world, every year. The world seems to be at war nearly all the time. We have become so conditioned by the death and destruction of man-made and natural events that we ignore them as signs of the end of time, of the fragility of life.
The early Church lived each day as if Jesus might return … that day!

After the death of Jesus the apostles all lived as if the of the end of the world were coming immediately.  They lived as if each day might be their last because of Christ’s return, or being persecuted for their faith.
Today here in San Diego, on a beautiful weekend, when we hear Jesus say in the scriptures that following him may cause people to persecute us that idea seems - well -crazy. This message doesn't seem for us, and so it has little or no impact on how we live our lives day-to-day. Even though in the United States we feel quite safe from persecution, perhaps the point that Jesus was making that day – for us – is that the standard by which we should be living, the measurement of our faith life should be weather we would be willing, if required, to face martyrdom. 

We are all being asked this morning:
Would you give your life for your faith?

We take our freedom for granted. Over the past few years thousands of Christians have lost their lives. Right now, as we sit here in this beautiful church, in many countries gathering for Mass is illegal. To people in those countries Mass is so important that they’ll risk their lives to go.  

Is Sunday Mass that important to us?
That is what Jesus is asking each of us … today.  How are you living your faith? Are you persevering – living a purposeful, unwavering, vibrant faith? Because today might be the day you meet Jesus – face to face. 

Our faith in Jesus our following him, our choosing to be his disciple, his follower is not meant to be a casual commitment; it is meant to be everything. It is meant to define us, and drive us, and be the foundation of the way we live our lives. And … it is also meant to bring meaning and joy to our lives too.  

Rachel Remen is a doctor who has been counseling people with chronic and terminal illness for more than twenty years. She is co-founder and medical director of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program. She tells a story about a women in her thirties who was told that Remen worked with the dying, and confronted her, telling her she resented all this talk about death as something meaningful. 

Then she recounted the story of her young husband’s death a number of years earlier.  He had been diagnosed with cancer and as therapy after therapy had failed he became bitter, lashing out at everyone, rebuffing anyone who tried to comfort him.  When he looked back at his young life he regretted the choices he had made. He died angry and withdrawn.  She ended her telling of this ordeal saying – “I do not want to die this way.”
Remen asked her – “So how do you need to live?” The woman looked puzzled. So Remen asked her again.  “How do you need to live to be sure that you do not die this way?” This time she got it. She looked past Remen for a moment, making eye contact with something intensely personal. Then she reached out and touched Remen’s hand and turned away into the crowd.  

Some months later, Remen receives a note from this woman.  She realized she was not living as authentically as she wanted.  There were many things left undone; many roads not taken.  She began to revise her life in the light of her death. In her case, life was still tested in the dying but in a reverse fashion. Contemplating her death started a process that lead to her rearranging her life.

That’s what Jesus is saying today
He is saying – time is short – persevere, stay focused on what is truly important and really live - your life.

We should not be afraid that our life will end 
rather we should be afraid that it will never begin.  
Worry about tomorrow only steals the joy from today.

God’s greatest gift to us is life.

How we live it is our greatest gift to him.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wonder and Awe

Wonder and Awe
                        The Earth spins around its axis at the speed of 1,000 miles an hour at the equator.  To spin around once takes 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.1 seconds.  As we spin, we are also on another circular journey as we orbit around our sun.  Traveling at the speed of 66,000 miles an hour, this second journey takes 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes, and 9.54 seconds to complete.  In the annual pilgrimage around our great star we travel 595,000,000 miles.  And, as a member of a solar family composed of the sun and with eight other planets and their moons, we are racing through space at 43,000 miles an hour!  In the space of one turnaround we travel a million miles outward into space in a gigantic path that spirals like a winding staircase.  Contemplation of these fact instill in most of us a since of wonder and the emotion of awe for the architect of creation.
            Since the beginning of time man has expressed words of worship when confronted with the awesomeness of the universe.  Countless ancient people and many still today have realized that they and the Earth are somehow part of the mystery of God.  Sacred – at one with Divine Mystery – is our tiny earthen vessel.  Sacred, too, are the billions of stars, planets, comets, and other creations that travel together through the Universe.  The awesomeness of it all buries deep within each person a God seed, a compass and map of our final destination. The wonder and awe of creation; the wonder and awe of contemplating an ever expanding universe constantly casting outward newly created, wondrously beautiful, full of unexplored galaxies should fill one’s heart with praise of the Creator.  
And yet sadly, some among us see all this wonder as a mere accident … a random event without meaning.  How can that be?
            There is an ancient Sioux Indian prayer which says:  When you arise in the morning, give thanks for your life and your strength. Give thanks for your food and give thanks for the joy of living.  And if you see no reason for giving thanks, rest assured the fault is in yourself.
To see creation and not a Creator
is to be blinded by one’s own arrogance;
to believe in nothing greater than oneself
is to think of ourselves as the center of universe.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy!

Gospel from Matthew 6

Jesus said to his disciples:
“No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’or ‘What are we to wear?’
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.


A few years back a very silly simple song became a huge hit.  It was a reggae tune sung by Bobby McFerrin called:  "Don't Worry, Be Happy"    I’m sure many of you remember it.

For a while it seemed everywhere you went someone was humming or singing this silly song. People would pass each other and smile and then greet each other with a – Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

The main lyric went: 
“In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double:  
don't worry, be happy.”

That is what Jesus is saying to us today. Three times Jesus insists that his disciples – and we – not worry about life, food or drink, the body or clothing and he urges us to put our confidence in God, to serve God FIRST

There are two types of worries:
  • The worry that comes from constantly wanting  more …
  • And the worry that comes when you truly don’t have enough … 

Many of us fall into the first category. We have enough we have food and clothing and a roof over our heads, but we are constantly seeking more. What is Jesus saying to us?
He says don’t try to serve two masters God and mammon or God and money. You can’t do it! You must choose. If you serve money – if that is what you think about most, work for most, constantly wanting more, always living for tomorrow and the possessions it will bring – that only produces anxiety and worry. The Gospel warns those of us who have enough of life’s necessities, not to give in to the greedy desire to always want more.   
Jesus says: Be happy with what you have!

We who are blessed with enough need to listen when Jesus says:
 “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

Jesus says to each of us today – seek God first and be happy because happiness will not come from making money your God!  He says if you really want to be happy ask yourself these questions:

·         Do I put Christ first in my life?
·         Do I spend time with Him each day in prayer? 
·         Do I study and meditate on His Word so that I can grow in my knowledge and understanding of Him and how He desires me to live?

To seek God’s Kingdom also requires us to find our place of service in that kingdom; using the gifts, talents, skills and abilities that He has bestowed on each of us for this very purpose.

Jesus says to us today – stop worrying about tomorrow and live for God’s kingdom today, in the now of life.  Make this moment count for God.

He tells us the way to find happiness, contentment and security is by embracing the mission of spreading the good news about Jesus and his kingdom to the world.

To those who suffer from the second type of worry, who are struggling just to survive, to those of us who truly worry about how we will feed our families, these words are more challenging.   When you aren’t sure if you can pay the rent, or put food on the table, or when you face serious health issues; the simplistic instruction “Don’t worry, Be Happy” is a bit harder to hear.  Jesus says, seek the Kingdom of God first and have trust. Trust that when you do you will see the Kingdom of God working as it should.

That’s really what Jesus means by “the Kingdom of God.”  He means all of us loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Is it enough for us who have plenty to tell those who do not have enough “Don’t worry Be Happy?”

This question reminds me of the great teaching in the Epistle of James, where St. James says:
           “My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith
            if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you? Suppose
            there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don't have enough
            to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you!
            Keep warm and eat well!” if you don't give them the necessities of life? 
            So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead.”
James 2:14-18

Jesus said: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”
Jesus is asking each of us today to help make The Kingdom of God a reality

We do that when those of us with enough, make sure those who truly do struggle, have the blessings God promises. That is how the Kingdom is meant to work.  Christians – followers of Christ – taking care of each other, loving each other.  This is the kind of conduct that characterize the reign of God. For this to be, requires that those of us who do have enough of life’s necessities not be fixated on a quest for more, but rather cooperate with God in providing for those truly in need in his Kingdom

God has actually set up for us a win-win situation.  When those who are better off help those who are less fortunate, those who are poor can let go their worries about survival; and those better off can be released from the anxiety that comes from enslavement to possessions.  That way both rich and poor can truly to live out McFerrin’s lyric:
“Don’t worry, be happy!”

When we shift our focus from worrying about money or the future, to walk in the way of Jesus – building the Kingdom of God – then we begin to find true contentment and meaning in our lives?            

And that really is good news. 

This Christmas let's be different.

Our country has experienced a tragedy this year that I am sure has affected every person.  Families in Connecticut are suffering and the country suffers with them. This kind of event causes us to ponder deeply on what life is all about.  Advent is meant to be a time to reflect on what life is all about – on the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ.
It is meant to be a time of joyful anticipation of Christmas Day and of the second coming of Christ. 

And while events like the one last week can leave us feeling profoundly sad, in a strange way, they can also help us. Help us to focus on the right things this year. Even the worst that humanity can throw at us can help us to find joy, deep joy, real joy this holiday season. I’m sure parents hugged their children a little tighter this week. 

There is a temptation at Christmas to get caught up in all the wrong things: presents, parties, food and even family tensions, family squabbles.  The tragic events last week are a reminder to us to put the emphasis on the right things this year.  To have meaningful celebrations focused on Jesus; with acts of love, forgiveness and service to family and community.

Let’s all make a commitment this year to change the focus  this Christmas holiday from presents, parties, food to what really matters faith, family, friends, giving and forgiving.
This Christmas let’s all make a commitment to prayerfully seek out ways to forgive each other for hurts of the past and remember what really matters at Christmas is loving each other.

We’ve had a wakeup call this year that should show us that the deep and profound joy of the season comes from being thankful for the people in our lives. That the deep and profound joy of the season comes from just loving each other, not taking each other for granted, because we have been reminded how fragile this life is.

We have a great example of this in Luke’s gospel today.  Mary's visit to Elizabeth is such a gentle scene. It reflects the very best of humanity – one cousin going to help an older cousin as she prepares to give birth.  It is when we serve others that we encounter Jesus Christ.  It is when we give ourselves in love that we find that we are loved. It is in the simple and ordinary kindnesses to each other that we find delight.

Christmas is really about Jesus coming into the world and what that means for us. Focusing on what the coming of Jesus means this year will help us experience HOPE and JOY. The same hope and joy John the Baptist felt in today’s gospel reading. It’s the hope and joy that made him jump inside his mother’s womb, when he experienced the coming of Jesus as Mary approached.  

What John experienced, what made him jump in his mother’s womb, was a powerful magnetic presence.  It was a presence so powerful that he could feel it with his whole being. It was a presence so magnetic that he was drawn to it with every fiber of his being. It was a presence, hopefully, have all experienced at moments in our lives. One of the most interesting things about Jesus is that it is in the challenges of life where we can often feel his presence the most. I personally met Jesus face to face in the midst of cancer treatments. 

Jesus came into the world so that we can cast off our burdens and feel His joy and embrace His promise of eternal life. Because of Jesus there is hope even in the worst of challenges. It’s fascinating how the images have transformed this week from tragedy and horror to images of prayer, candles, church services and people supporting and loving each other – praying together. Even in our darkest hours, because of Jesus, there is hope – there is love, we’ve seen that this week.

These last few days of Advent are a great time to ask yourself: 
·         What did Jesus coming into the world mean for me?
·         Where am I with Jesus right now in my life?
·         What’s my relationship with Him ?
·         I’m I ready?  If God should take me today – I’m I ready?

Have you ever wondered why the son of God left the perfection of heaven to become a part of creation? Why Jesus came to earth? Jesus told us – he said:  “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” He said: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  Jesus came into the world to give his life as ransom for humanity for you and me… to save you and me. His life, death and resurrection opens the way to our own resurrection and to a new life.

That is the good news that we cling to this week.
That is the good news that can bring us joy – even in the darkest of times.

The difference between the presence of Jesus and the absence of Jesus is incredible.
It is illustrated well in a novel called The Apostle.  The story takes place in early Rome about the time the Apostle Paul was martyred. A striking scene occurs toward the end of the novel. Hundreds of Christians are condemned to death for their faith. They are lowered into a dark dungeon through a tiny trapdoor. They will not see the light of day again until they are hauled back up through the trapdoor and taken to the arena to meet their cruel fate for the amusement of Roman spectators.  Meanwhile, they wait in total darkness.  The atmosphere in the dungeon is one of profound sadness. Everyone in it is thinking of what is about to happen. Suddenly the trapdoor opens. A shaft of daylight pierces the darkness. The prisoners below grow deathly silent.  As they do, they can’t believe what they see and hear.  A new prisoner is being lowered into the dungeon to await death with them. But, unlike them, he is not sad. He is singing and praising God at the top of his voice.  “Who is this man?’’ everyone asks. Then the word spreads like wildfire. The new prisoner is the Apostle Paul. Paul’s joy and happiness are so contagious that everyone in the dungeon begins to join him in singing and praising God.
In a matter of seconds, the coming and presence of Paul transform the dungeon from a place of sadness and despair into a place of joy and hope.

This striking scene gives us a faint idea of how the coming and presence of Jesus on the first Christmas transformed our world from a place of sadness to a place of joy. It also gives us a faint idea of how Jesus’ coming and presence will transform the world … when he comes again at the end of time.

It is these two comings that we prepare for in the season of Advent. That give us hope.

We have hope and joy at Christmas because as it tells us in the Book of Revelation:
“God will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death no more grief or crying or pain.”   Revelation 21:4
We have hope and joy this Christmas because of the promise St. Paul so beautifully described saying:  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”   1 Corinthians 2:9

This is what we celebrate this Christmas

Is sin still relevant?

The Gospel - John 1:29-34

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

The Homily

There is a story about President Calvin Coolidge who was well-known for being a man of few words a man who went straight to the point.  It seems that after attending church one day someone apparently asked him what the preacher preached about. “Sin,” Mr. Coolidge replied. “And what did he have to say about it?” the questioner persisted. After pausing for a moment’s thought Coolidge replied:
“He was against it.”

There was a time in our Church when the homilist at Mass would preach against sin. Today, you might even ask: “Whatever happened to sin?”  We don’t talk about it much anymore. We live in a day in which man minimizes the seriousness of sin. Sin has been trivialized.  Everything is relative. The whole idea of sin has been dismissed.

For example: 
·         People don’t lie … they “juggle the facts” or “stretch the truth”
·         People no longer steal … they “borrow” or “file share”; somehow downloading pirated films or music isn’t stealing
·         People no longer commit adultery … they “fool around” “hook up” or have “casual sex”
·         People no longer cheat … they “pad expenses” or “fudge figures”; or say to themselves “the government gets enough of my money already.”

The media today – movies, television, the Internet – try to make sin look good, to look glamorous, to make it look like it is the “in” thing to do.

There was a time when sin was something we talked about at Church.  We had homilist we called: “hellfire and brimstone” preachers, because their emphasis was always on the consequences of sinning.  They would warn us of the punishment of hell.

Thankfully, today the emphasis is on the love of God, and that is how it should be.

John called Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” We Christians believe that Jesus came into the world for one purpose, and that was to take away our sins.  So we are preaching today from the correct place emphasizing God’s compassion - God’s love - God’s forgiveness.

But … I’m not sure we appreciate it much anymore!

Do we really feel our greatest need is to be saved from our sins?  We don’t seem to worry about it anymore.  Humanity seems totally focused on information, on technology, on money and on pleasure.

But … If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
            If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
            If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
            If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
            But our greatest need is … forgiveness … so God sent us … a Savior.

The bible says:                                                                                                                                                      “If we say we have not sinned that we make a liar out of God and his word is not in us.”  1 John 1:10

We are fools if we think that sin is on longer relevant.

We live in a time when it seems fewer and fewer people recognize Christ.  Perhaps that is because they do not recognize that they need a Savior.  If we have no sins that need forgiving, we have no need for Jesus Christ.  There is no need to come to Church on Sunday to celebrate the mystery of Christ in joy, if you don’t first recognize in sorrow that we are sinners who need a savior.

All of us are fragile human beings. 
All of us fall victim to various sins at various times in our lives. 
All of us stand in need of Christ’s forgiveness. 
All of us stand in need of Christ’s salvation.

Instead of downplaying our sinfulness, or denying it, we should admit it and seek out Jesus – “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  We should admit our sinfulness and seek God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (another neglected feature of our Catholic faith).

Today’s readings are calling us all to ask ourselves a few questions:

·         When was the last time you went to confession?
·         What does Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for your sins mean to you?
·         Do you believe He died for your sins?  That it was personal?
·         What difference does it make in your day to day life?

Maybe it’s time to stop taking his sacrifice for granted.  Perhaps we should view his sacrifice for us like the young person in this story:

The story goes … that a man dove into a raging river and saved a drowning young person.  A few days later, after recovering from the shock, the young person visited the man and said, “How can I ever thank you for what you did for me?”  The man looked at the youth and said, “The best thanks you can give me is to live the rest of your life in a way that will have made it worth saving.”

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 
He came to save us from our sins. 
His sacrifice was personal.  
It was just for you … your sins. 
And the best way that you can thank Jesus for what he has done for us
is to live the rest of your life in a way that will have made it worth saving.

Anger and Lust ... Jesus says be careful.

Jesus said to his disciples:

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment.

“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”   Matthew Chapter 5

Today we hear some of Jesus’ most challenging teachings. 
He says that anyone who gets angry with their brother commits a sin comparable to murder. Is Jesus saying there is no difference between us who get angry and someone who has taken another’s life?  No, but he is saying anger should be avoided.  Anger is deadly to the human soul.

Jesus goes on to say everyone who looks at a woman with lust commits a sin equal to adultery. Men and women are being challenged today in the area of sexuality like no generation before them.  Lust is beyond an accepted part of our culture.  It is a driving force in our culture.  It’s big business.  Jesus have mercy on us. 

The standard Jesus sets for his followers is high … very high.  We Christians are called to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way – just as Jesus did. But we also need to consider, whenever we hear Jesus speaking like this saying things that seem a bit extreme, we must always remember he was a tremendously effective public speaker; maybe the best ever.  And one great tool of public speaking, to get people to listen and remember what you’ve said, is the use of hyperbole.  Hyperbole is an exaggerated figure of speech.  Not for literal translation but for effect.

In Luke’s Gospel we have one of the best examples of this when Jesus says:
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple.”  Luke 14:26 

Jesus often uses extreme language to stress a point.  He once said: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  Matthew 7:3

Of course there is no plank in our eye, but we get his point. He once said:  “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” It is not possible for a left hand to "know" anything.  The thought is absurd. He is exaggerating for effect,
and it does get the point across very well; which is that we are to give without expecting recognition.  Christ’s teachings are full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea. He exaggerates for effect.  

In chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus also says: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; … if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away”  Matthew 5:29-30  Was Jesus teaching us that we should mutilate ourselves in this fashion?  That hardly seems likely.  Here Jesus is clearly using hyperbole to make his point. 

If you get angry and argue with your sister does he mean you literally commit the equivalent of murder? Of course not, but he got your attention didn’t he.

What Jesus is saying about anger and lust is that these are serious problems that we need to work on!  He is saying don’t fool yourself into thinking, these seemingly less significant offenses, don’t matter.  Anger and lust offended God very much!  He is saying, when you are tempted to lose your temper and become angry … don’t.  Resist that temptation and move to love, move to forgiveness, that’s what pleases God. God wants us to be a person of peace – not of anger.  To be a person of peace means bringing forgiveness in place of anger. He gave us the most profound example of this as he hung on the Cross, when he forgave those who were killing him unjustly.

When we are tempted to lust,  when we feel ourselves going off course in the area of sexuality; Jesus says … don’t go there.  Jesus is saying – as dramatically as he can so we will know he means it … don’t lust.  God created sex for something far nobler, and we must not degrade God’s great gift.  Pope John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, stated it beautifully this way, he said, “The human body reveals the mystery of God!”

To be a person who controls their lustful thoughts means to be a person who sees Christ in the other always; to see them as temples of the Holy Spirit; to see them as God sees them … not just body parts.  When we separate God from the beauty of his creation that’s wrong, that’s disordered, and like committing adultery.  

Jesus says to us – never stop working on yourself! In the book of Sirach it says: “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”
Sirach 15:17 

Jesus says – choose wisely.  Hold yourself to a high set of personal standards.