They met in the temple: Mary and Joseph, Anna, Simeon – and Jesus. What brought them to that place of meeting? What brings us to our temple – this place where God resides?
Mary and Joseph came in obedience to the Jewish law, to present Jesus to God and offer a sacrifice according to what was written in the law.
Behind the legalities, however, there was longing: a search and need for light in their lives.
Anna never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. Her intent, however, was not about a rule of life or asceticism – it is about longing: a search and need for light in her life.
Simeon was guided by the Spirit. He was righteous, devout, and looking for the consolation of Israel. But it was more than piety that took him to the temple. . . You guessed it: it was longing: a search a need for light in his life.
And Jesus is brought to the temple, not as a passive baby – and not just to fulfill a rule or regulation – but as the embodiment of God’s longing for humanity: Jesus came as a light to the nations so those who walked in darkness would not have to stay stuck there – but could walk in light – and so we sing: Christ our light!
As a mother tenderly gathers her children God, you embraced a people as your own and filled them with longing: for a peace that would last and for a justice that would never fail. . .
Today’s feast of the Presentation is a sign that the longing has been fulfilled. This feast reveals the fulfillment of the longing between humanity and divinity.
Our deepest longings are to know and to be known. And those longings can only fully be fulfilled in our relationship with God. And with God’s Son, Jesus Christ – who is light from light, true God from true God.
This deep kind of knowing and being known – are matters of the heart – not the intellect. It is about the union between humanity and divinity that sets us free, the oneness that allows us to depart this place, our Temple, in peace --- walking in the light of Christ --- and it’s about the relationship that brings us salvation.
For this type of relationship to happen we must live with and offer the fragileness, vulnerability, and joy of an open and longing heart. A heart which is free from sin and safe from all distress. A heart that is free from all those things we stuff down in them and don’t want to name, much less deal with.
Our hearts are the temples of meeting --- the place where today we find Mary and Joseph, Anna, Simeon, and Jesus. Longing for that peace that would last and for that justice that would never fail. Longing for the light of Jesus Christ.
Longing is not an absence or an emptiness waiting to be filled. Longing is a presence and fullness waiting to be expressed – waiting to be manifested – waiting to be shown, shared, and experienced.
Two people don’t long for each other just because they apart. They long for each other because they are in love.
We are all too quick sometimes to quench our deepest longings and satisfy our deepest desires by anything that comes along. That type of satisfaction never takes us to the Temple – to our heart -- the place of meeting. But keeps life superficial and us moving from one fix to another.
Real longing and its fulfillment – if trusted and followed --- always takes us to the temple, and there we discover that Christ is already in our presence – we just have to open our eyes and our hearts in faith to realize it.
Through countless generations your people, God, hungered for the bread of freedom. From them you raised up Jesus, the living bread, in whom ancient hungers were and are satisfied. Who comes to us today, in this Temple, in this place of meeting – to fill our hearts and lives with his light and love.
May we open our hearts and find him. As we sing: Christ our light!
So last week I asked you to begin thinking about the pains, sorrows, and hurts – that have broken your heart. I have invited you to generically write them on the hearts in the gathering space and leave them in the box – so we can begin to invite Christ healing power into them through our prayer.
So what is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?
I think that’s a tough question --NOT because we can’t remember –because unfortunately it is the bad things in our lives that we tend to hold onto – they are hard to forget.
No, I think it’s a tough question because in calling that person or event or situation to mind – it can just be painful to think about – we can be re-victimized in rehashing it – it can bring back feelings of embarrassment or fear or dread or despair ---- so we usually choose not to think about it --- so we stuff it down deep within our hearts and minds.
But we have to name it – in order to heal it. Otherwise it just sits there and festers. We must first diagnose before we treat. . .
So, what’s the worst thing that has ever happened in your life??
For ancient people, those who lived in Old Testament times -- their WORST experience was sometimes a famine or some kind of natural disaster.
Sometimes it was a plague or disease that struck their cities and killed their loved ones.
But more often than not, the WORST thing to happen to people was at the hands of others, through some sort of aggression – which is still the case for many of us today.
The Jewish people were no exception. In the time of Jesus the aggression was by the Romans occupying their homeland.
Very early in their history there was their bondage of the Jews in Egypt.
Later, there was their two-generation exile in Babylonia.
And sandwiched right in-between these last two was a terrible event in the life of the Jewish people – an event hinted at in both the First reading and the Gospel – it was the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
As you probably know, if by no other way than Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream coat ---- the Jewish people were organized into twelve tribes – named for each of the 12 children of Jacob.
Each tribe had its own territory – and when the Assyrians stormed into Palestine – they essentially wiped out the ten tribes in the northern kingdom – which we often times refer to as the “lost” tribes of Israel.
It’s easy to see how this would have impacted those two tribes who remained in the south, in what was called the kingdom of Judah – just imagine how we would feel if over forty of the United States no longer existed – except as the possessions of a foreign country. . .
And so when the prophet Isaiah mentions two of the conquered tribes in his writing today: Zebulun and Naphtali --- it would have immediately struck a painful chord in the hearts of his listeners.
It would have resurfaced all those pains and hurts that had been stuffed down deep within the consciousness of the Jews.
Put simply, this was a really bad time for Israel as a nation. Their very survival was in question.
And so what does the Prophet Isaiah say to them? Did he ask them just to stew in their gloom and doom? Did he talk about the horror of it all and what a terrible, unforgettable experience it was??
NO – Isaiah says:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. . . You, God, have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing.”
The people Isaiah was speaking to would probably have thought “what the heck is he talking about??” Because for them it was all darkness, it was all sadness, grief and fear. . . and there was no light on any horizon for them.
Their world seemed to be coming completely undone.
So what did Isaiah see that they did not see?
What exactly was this “great light” they were supposed to place their hope in? And why this call to optimism?
Again – think about what is the worst thing that’s ever happened in your life? In the life of this parish? Within the Church? Was there, or is there still – no light on the horizon??
Of course, we look back with a certain kind of focused hindsight, and we see in the words of Isaiah a prediction of the birth of Jesus Christ – a distant glimmer of hope being placed in the hearts of the Jewish people that one day things would get better.
One day they would thrive again.
One day someone would come who would make everything right, someone who would save them from all who wanted to do them harm,
someone who would come and restore them as a people called by God to be holy. Someone to heal their broken hearts. . .
And of course we have confirmation of this through the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel in which he invokes this very passage of Isaiah to refer to himself: “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death – light has arisen.”
And although we like to think about this prophecy in a strictly historical context – it’s important to remember that this “great light” –
the person of Jesus – does NOT only dispel the darkness of this world in a general sense,
or only brought light into the world at the time he lived ---- but also Christ has the power to dispel the darkness in every human heart and every human life: Christ has the power to dispel the sorrow, the pain, the disappointments, the fears, the despair ---- of all people, at all times, and in all circumstances: the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light!!!
“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark – you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off the train. You sit still – and trust the engineer.”
And so what is the worst thing that has ever happened in your life – in the life of this parish – within the Church??
Whatever it is or was – it isn’t the end of the story – no matter how painful it may be or may have been – God can always bring something new out of our toughest times.
Even the deepest darkness will ultimately disappear in the face of the love of God, the saving acts of the Son, and the transforming power of the Spirit. God’s love is just that strong.
And so let’s be determined to come out of the other side of the dark tunnel – and let the light of Christ shine upon us – shine upon our parish – upon our Church – and upon our world: so we can be the evangelists God is calling us to be!
From the very moment John the Baptist met Jesus – when a pregnant Mary came to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, John leapt in his mother’s womb with joy – because he knew who Jesus was.
And probably much like our own families – these two cousins, only 6 months a part in age – most likely spent some time together as they both grew in wisdom, age and favor before God.
John the Baptist was of course present at Jesus’ Baptism – as we heard last weekend. So no doubt, John heard the voice which came down from heaven: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”
All these experiences gave John the Baptist the confidence he needed to boldly proclaim today: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
John the Baptist’s whole life – was spent recognizing who Jesus was – and long before any of the Gospels were written – John was the perfect evangelist: pointing others to Jesus Christ.
Now my mother always told me, as I am sure many of your mother’s told you – it is impolite to point at other people in public.
The only exception to that maternal wisdom, I think -- is if we are pointing at Jesus – as did John the Baptist. By our words and by our actions – we should always be good evangelists: pointing others to Jesus.
Certainly not an easy thing to do. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. And sometimes, many times really – it is hard for us to be the evangelists we are called to be – because of the pain and hurt we have suffered in our lives – sometimes at the hand of the very ones we are called to trust – and who should love us the most – family members, clergy, and friends – who abused us by their words and actions --- and did not set a very good example for us to follow.
God knows – that the Church and its leaders have done some terrible things over the years – that have let us down, and who have darn near extinguished the light of Christ we carry within us – and so haven’t made us enthusiastic to do what we are called to do --- which is carrying the Good News of the Gospel to others. . .
You know how I love to read and I enjoy collecting quotes from things I read – because you never know when you’re going to have to say something profound. I recently came across this quote from the Dutch author, Corrie ten Boom:
“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark – you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off. You sit still -- and trust the engineer.”
This coming from a woman who saw the darkest days in the Netherlands during WWII – who saved many Jews from the Holocaust – and then paid the price by spending several years in Ravensbruck concentration camp.
“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark – you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off. You sit still – and trust the engineer.”
Within the Church in general – and at St. Patrick in particular – and perhaps because of circumstances in our own lives --- we have been in a dark tunnel – but as we continue to trust the engineer --- Christ --- whose Church this is after all – it’s time to make our plans for the other side of the tunnel ---
to place ourselves back into the bright light of Christ – to be proud of who we are as Catholics and as the faith community of St. Patrick.
In his vision for the Diocese, Bishop Johnston, described us as One family, who must be restored in Christ – so that we can be equipped for mission.
To be equipped for mission – to be the John the Baptists –the evangelizers we are called to be – pointing to Jesus by our words and actions – we must first be healed and restored in Jesus Christ.
This fall, on October 24 – Bishop Johnston will be here to celebrate a Mass marking our 25th anniversary of being in this Church building.
For some of you – that might be hard to believe – 25 years being in this Church – I was here for the dedication all those years ago . . .
I want that celebration in October to mark for all of us – the time that we come out of our dark tunnel --- it doesn’t mean that we forget the past and all we have been through – and some wounds may never be healed – I will always cringe at the name of Bishop Finn ---- but it can mean that we will no longer let the past determine who we are. From that point on, let’s claim that we are fully in the light of Christ –
and we only look forward to a future full of hope: so that we can be a light to the nations so that Christ’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Between now and then – and in particular during the season of Lent – as individuals and as one family of faith of St. Patrick – we must first be healed and restored in Jesus Christ.
I think the most effective way to deal with pain, and hurt, and wounds --- is to name them. We must first diagnose before we treat. By naming our wounds, our hurts, our pain, those things which have broken our hearts -- we claim them – and then we have power over them to call Christ’s healing upon them.
Over the next few weeks – between now and the beginning of Lent actually, there will be tables in the gathering space with these broken hearts on them –
Take some time to write on them what has broken your heart – your wounds, your hurts, your pains. And leave them in the box. Don’t get to specific with names – keep them generis enough – so that we can use some of them for the prayers of the faithful – inviting Christ’s healing power upon them.
Also, the ever capable Fr. Joe Nassal – will be here on March 25 & 26 for a parish mission – and I want to provide him with the list of things that our laying heavy on our hearts – so he can fine-tune his mission toward some of them –
helping us to come out of the darkness into the wonderful light of Christ.
And now just a short memo from our Advent friend: Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God – to the Church of St. Patrick: to you who have been sanctified in Christ – called to be holy – grace to you and peace.
Those who have walked in darkness, have seen a great light. . . And so I challenge you to deal with your pain, and hurt, and wounds – by naming them. And then inviting Christ’s healing power upon them.
You have been in the darkness of a tunnel – and I am sorry you have had to deal with so many things that have hurt you ---
but don’t throw away your ticket and jump off the train or out of the Church – sit still – and trust the engineer – Jesus Christ – whose Church it is after all. . AMEN!
Deacons Jim Koger and Mike Lewis preached: No homily to post.
Billions of them dance across the night sky – like diamonds in the darkness, little points of light against a sea of endless black.
Stars have shone for ages and ages and ages – lending their glow to the night sky for millions of years.
Venture outside the city sometime, way far away from the street lights and neon signs shining in strip malls, parking lots, and in front of box stores.
Get away from all that can pollute the urban or suburban sky – and look up. Gaze in wonder.
Those stars will be there shimmering and glimmering whether you look at them or not – as if they have been freshly hurled across the dark expanse by the hand of God Himself – which of course they were.
Stars, billions of them, dance across the night sky. Most of them are nameless, few of them ever noteworthy on their own.
In the history of the universe, one star outshines the rest. That star made a statement. That was the star that heralded hope for all who would ever gaze heavenward again.
Perhaps it began as an ordinary star and grew brighter and brighter until all others seemed dim.
Or perhaps it burst against an ebony backdrop like a singular bottle rocket on a 4th of July night.
Whatever the case, it hung like God’s favorite ornament in the sky that night and it commanded the attention of the mere mortals below.
I could write the story myself, in my own words, but I could never express it as dignified and grandly as St. Matthew did in the Gospel that bears his name:
“…. And behold, the star which they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.”
This star called the wise men, the kings, the magi – whatever we choose to call them – to worship and caused them to rejoice. But it was nothing more than a light for their pilgrim path. It was not the object of their worship: it simply pointed the way. And when it stopped, when at last it stood still in the sky, they knew they had arrived at their destination and their journey had ended.
But it had really just begun.
There in the stable under the star, those wise men: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar as they are traditionally called – first laid eyes on holy flesh. They encountered God on earth. They must have known in their hearts the magnitude of the moment.
When they entered the place where the little Boy lay, they fell down and worshipped Him.
I wonder how long it took for them to compose themselves in the presence of such greatness, even though His majesty was small enough to hold in their hands?
The radiant star they had followed as they traveled to see Him must have vanished from their memories when they looked into the tiny face in the manager. In fact, in this story of the Savior’s birth, there really is only one STAR: and his name is Jesus: God from God and light from light.
I believe He is the Star of the great drama called history.
I believe that, without Him, life is missing its focal point – and our lives would be missing a center.
Without Him, the paths we travel on during our years here on earth would be rocky and slippery, our days dark and empty.
He is not only the One we worship: He is the One we follow. He is the only One we can trust to lead us, the only One worth walking behind.
Many of us have walked behind this Star for years, following Him day by day on the most adventurous and amazing journey.
Hopefully during the Advent and Christmas season, you have re-experience His presence – and re-ignited the flame He has placed within your heart.
And hopefully in the midst of the hustle and bustle that we call life – when nothing seems to be going right and you have lost your way --- you won’t forget to look up from time to time –
and re-center yourself--- by following --- the Star: Jesus Christ who is God from God, and light from light.
My name is Simon –and I grew up in Bethlehem. You know who I am – but you won’t realize this until after I finish telling you my story.
Life was hard for me as a boy – you see, I was disfigured from birth – I had a crooked back and could not stand up straight and tall – and so many in Bethlehem, especially other boys my own age – shunned me because of my repulsive looks- you know how cruel people can be. . .
More often than not –when I asked for alms or help --- I received blows and curses instead.
I never knew my father – and when my mother died two years ago – I lost my one and only friend.
So I was all alone – no home, no friends, no means of support – I just wandered the streets of this little town of Bethlehem – hoping to find my next meal in the piles of trash left in the back alleys.
Once or twice a week, when evening rolled around, I would make my way out to a little inn at the outskirts of town. The cook there would often let me sit by the fire pit as he prepared the meals for the guests in the inn.
Oh -- To sit in the glow of the heat from the charcoal cooking fire, to smell the delicious odors of the roasting meat, these were the finest experiences I knew --- and when I was given the scraps of bones and fat discarded by the guests at the inn –
I felt like I was at a great banquet as this was the most nourishing food I had all week.
Later, I would slip into the stable built into the hillside behind the inn. There were found a cow and donkey belonging to the innkeeper, as well as the horses of the more affluent travelers.
Also, in a little stall at one end, were kept a few sheep – where I slept. The sheep were gentle beasts, and their soft, wooly sides were a fine protection against the chill of the night, allowing me to fall fast asleep.
Late one night, I was awakened by a commotion the likes of which I had never heard before. I lay there for the longest time –
terrified that the sounds might be made by robbers attempting to steal a horse or a cow – or maybe even a sheep!
But at last within the very stable walls, I heard the joyful cry of a small baby! At hearing this, I could not contain myself any longer: I rose to my knees, and peered between the boards which separated the sheep pen from the rest of the stable. I gazed in amazement on the scene – and had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. . .
Seated upon a robe atop a pile of hay -- a mother held an obviously newborn baby in her lap.
Gathered before her in attitudes of worship were a small group of shepherds --- seeing all of this --- I just had to get a better look!!
Almost without willing it, I climbed over the boards of the stall – thoroughly expecting to be driven from the stable with blows and curses – because that’s what I was used to getting. . .
But instead, a roughly dressed man – he must have been the baby’s father – took my hand and led me toward the child. The shepherds moved aside to let me pass – as though I was a prince or person of great importance.
So, I found myself kneeling before this newborn child. And then his mother turned the child in her arms so his gaze rested squarely upon me.
I knelt there trembling in nervous fear and awe. The child’s dark eyes were looking right at me - -and without knowing why – I felt compelled to return his gaze.
I then felt like I was drowning – or falling into a bottomless pit of that fathomless gaze. There was a feeling of fiery force which seemed to flow through my body, and then I turned and twisted in a way I could not understand. There was a moment of almost unbearable pain, and then I rose to my feet.
For moment, I could not understand what had happened: things looked so different!! And then it came to me that I had never before looked upon the world from this height, or from this angle – because my back was straight and I had never felt so strong or more ------ normal.
The father of the child came suddenly to lay a hand upon my head. “My son”, he said, “tonight you have been given the gift of a strong, new back. Such miracles are not wasted. I do not know how, but someday, when this baby has become a man, he will have need of a strong back. When the times comes, though you have roamed to the very end of the earth, you will be there beside him. . . By what name are you called, and where have you come from?”
“I am Simon, Sir,” I answered. “I am an orphan. My father was the leader of a mighty caravan. But he was killed by robbers in the year I was born. He used to live in Cyrene, before he came to Bethlehem and met my mother. Now that I am whole and strong - -I think I will go there. Perhaps some of my father’s people are living there still.” So saying, I turned away, and went out into the first light of morning.
All of these memories came crashing back to me as I was caught up in a great crowd many years later on the streets of Jerusalem. It was the feast of Passover and the streets were crowded with many pilgrims – and there was an execution in process by those dreaded Romans.
One of them grabbed me and had me pick up the cross of one of those about to be executed. . .
This time a man’s dark eyes, rather than a child’s, were looking right at me. And once again I felt as if I were falling into a bottomless pit of his fathomless gaze.
He simply mouthed the words “Thank You” as I took up his cross on my strong, straight, back – and remembered how this man, as a newborn child, blessed me with it.
I am Simon of Cyrene – and this is my story. But what does it have to do with you???
Well let’s face it – each of you have been given gifts and talents by God:
strong backs, strong minds, strong hands, strong hearts – Why you even celebrate the gift you have of each other ---- by exchanging gifts on this most holy of days --- all to show your love for one another.
As someone once said: Christmas is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give – it’s Christmas. When we give any gift: our time, our talent, our treasure, our strength – or just a smile: it is Christmas.
Just know that gifts are given not to be wasted – but to be shared. In this way, it’s possible to have Christmas all year round! And someday –we don’t know when, where, how or why ---
God is going to want us to use our gifts for the good of the kingdom . . . So cherish the gifts in life you have been given – and never forget who it was who gave them to you: the same person wo gave me the gift of a strong new back!
Use your gifts to take care of those around you – and be willing to offer them in service to others.
So have a blest Christmas – and welcome, anew, the gift of Christ into your hearts and lives this day!
Live with gratitude. Live with intention. Live with joy. So please join me in singing:
O come let us adore Him. O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him --- Christ, the Lord.
Sisters and brothers of St. Patrick – how quickly time passes! Here it is already the 4th Sunday of Advent – and my final time to write you. I hope these weeks have been meaningful for you.
So Advent is a time of watching and waiting. A time of preparing our minds and hearts and lives to receive the Lord anew at Christmas. A time for slowing down and turning inward so as to fall in love with Jesus all over again.
There are certainly things that can slow this process down – and possibly block it all together. We have looked at some of them over the last few weeks
Lack of focus and the lack of paying attention to what God wants to tell us and where God is trying to lead us – because we are too distracted by what the world is trying to tell us and where the world is trying to lead us.
Sin – and the inability for us to admit that we have fallen short of who we are called to be. The need to feel remorse or regret for what we have done and have failed to do in missing the mark of being like Jesus.
Doubt – about our need for a Savior, or in thinking we can be saved by someTHING rather than someONE. . . and also doubt about who we are and who we are called to be.
Our readings of Scripture during this season gives us one more stumbling block to an open heart to consider on this 4th Sunday of Advent --- and that stumbling block is ---- FEAR …..
Now we are certainly not the first to experience fear – when it comes to God’s call or God’s plan for us. . . .
Why just last week, the Prophet Isaiah told us: “Be strong, and fear not! Here is your God who comes to save you.”
And when the angel Gabriel announced the good news to Mary that she would be the mother of God’s son, the angel said: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
Or on the night Christ was born, angels appeared to shepherds in a field and told them: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”
Today, in the Gospel, it was Joseph who was experiencing fear: for an angel was also sent to him in a dream to say: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”
Many times throughout his ministry Jesus had to calm the fear of his disciples and others. . .
What is with all this FEAR??? I think it is because when God comes knocking at the door of our hearts – it always mean change is coming – and let’s face it, not many of us like change –
we like who we are and who we have become, we get comfortable where we are at –and so we fear change.
What else do we have to fear when God comes a knocking – besides the fear of change?
How about fear of failure. . .
Or fear of success – that God will actually change us into the people we pray we can be???
There is fear of losing control of our lives – because God will be in charge, and we will not.
Fear of standing out in the crowd.
Fear of not fitting in.
Fear of rejection.
Fear of pain.
Fear of being asked to do something uncomfortable – or something we don’t really want to do – like forgiving someone. . .
There is fear of losing our freedom.
Fear of looking weak, or funny, or silly.
Fear of losing status.
Fear of being made fun of.
Fear of being misunderstood.
Have I hit any of your fears yet – or are these just some of mine??
Yes, when God comes knocking --- there are lots of things to be fearful of ----
but remember what Jesus once told his followers: perfect love casts out all fear. . .
If we love the Lord with all our minds, hearts, and souls – then God will deal with our fears – AND our doubts, and our sins, and our distractions. . .
If we say YES to God – as did Mary, as did Joseph, as did the disciples --- God will place his spirit within us – not a spirit of cowardice – but a spirit that calls out, Abba, that is father. . .
Those who know they are loved – can do incredible things --- and have no doubt --- God is calling us to incredible things! We do need to know that God definitely loves us – that’s why God has given us the gift of his son.
“And this is how the birth of Jesus Christ comes about ---- today” -- by our kind words and generous actions.
By others seeing us act as Jesus acted.
Speaking as Jesus spoke.
Caring as Jesus cared.
Loving as Jesus loved.
Giving as Jesus gave.
In these ways, Jesus continues to be given birth. . . but NOT if we wrap ourselves in fear – rather than love.
So my final message to you is to – open your hearts and let the king of glory in.
Allow the Wonder-counselor, God-hero, and Prince of Peace – to be the focus of your life – and he will mercifully deal with all of your sins, all of your doubts and all of your fears.
No ONE else – or no THING else is going to be able to do this for you!
So my brothers and sisters, called to be holy and blameless before the Lord, I hope in some small way my words to you over these weeks of Advent will allow you to do what you need to do ---- to make room for Jesus in your hearts. It won’t be easy – if it was, everyone would be doing it.
Know that you are special – because you have been chosen from the first moment of your existence to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. So do your ministry with great joy and great conviction.
Remain faithful to God’s word and to the strength which comes to you in this faith community of St. Patrick.
Someday I will pick up my quill again – and write you a few words of encouragement and challenge. But for now, I will always remain your brother in Christ --- PAUL
Brothers and sisters of St. Patrick: you should know the routine by now. . . I am Paul and I am writing to you during this busy season of Advent just to remind you of a few things. . .
But before I get to the gist of what I have to say today – I want to tell you to REJOICE! For this is Gaudete or rejoicing Sunday – always observed on this 3rd Sunday of Advent. We get to rejoice – and wear rose vesments – because time is passing – we are half way through Advent – and our salvation draws ever nearer.
So rejoice – smile a little today – and make everyone wonder what you are up to!
So just a little review before we move on. The world is in a totally different place this time of year than the heart of a Christian should be. So the first week of Advent I reminded you to stay awake! And to pay attention – not to what the world is telling you or where it is trying to lead you --- but to what God wants to tell you and to where God wants to lead you.
I challenged you to quietly turn inward rather than frantically outward – to prepare a place in your heart for Christ to come and dwell anew. I hope you have actually tried to do that. If not, then it isn’t too late. . .
Last week the challenge was to REPENT—to feel remorse or regret for what you have done or for what you have failed to do. I asked you to work on feeding your eagle, the best part of yourself – by quieting your heart and your life – by listening and waiting – and by falling in love with Jesus all over again.
This, too, I hope you have taken the time to do. If not, then it’s not too late.
So now, let’s consider a third obstacle to deal with in our lives coming from this week’s readings – DOUBT: to be uncertain or skeptical about; to tend to disbelieve or distrust.
John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus: “are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another. . .?”
John, as we heard, is in prison. John had put all his eggs in one basket preparing the way for the Lord – and now he is starting to doubt whether or not that chose the right basket! Perhaps Jesus ISN’T the one. . .
Jesus simply reassures John that he has made the right choice – the right commitment. And he should have no lingering doubts.
So let’s talk about doubt for a bit. . .
It is possible to get so immersed – so caught up in the false gods of the world --- that we fail to recognize the need to be saved. But everyone has a need for a savior – because everyone has the need to be saved from SOMETHING. . .
Have no doubt about it--- Jesus wants to be your savior. He can save you from your sins, from your fears, from your negativity, from your compulsions and addictions, from the bad relationship you are in – Jesus wants to be your savior.
But sometimes people get confused in thinking they can be saved by someTHING, rather than someONE. And that’s when the ways of the world can take over our lives:
buy this, and you just hae to have this, and be sure to get this while it is on sale --- having more stuff will make you happy!
A Christian dares to believe that Christ is the reality beyond and beneath and around all things: visible and invisible. And that Christ provides for us and loves us and blesses us AND saves us. . . Christ is the one who fulfills us and makes us happy ---- Have no doubt!
But let’s also talk about having doubts about who we are – or more precisely – doubts about who we are called to be.
We usually think of adolescence as the time to be figuring out who we are – and while a lot of identity work is done in the teenage years – we really spend our entire lives discovering and rediscovering who we are.
A big part of our identity comes form who we are in relationship with: so we are a wife – in relationship with a husband. We are a father – in relationship with our children. We are a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, a parishioner, a student – all because we are in relationship.
But don’t forget – Christianity is not just a religion or a philosophy – but a relationship – and a way of life. . .
our relationship with Jesus Christ should be THE defining relationship we have – because it determines our conduct and character: it determines who we are or should be, our relationship with Christ determines what we stand for, the values we hold to to as a person.
Living out our identity as those who know Jesus is never a done deal ---- every day we need to discover anew who Jesus is – and then we make choices revealing to others the Jesus whom we have come to know.
Others either see us acting as Christ acted, speaking as Christ spoke, caring as Christ cared, loving as Christ loved, giving as Christ gave ----
Or they DO NOT. . .
Have no doubt about it – Jesus is the defining relationship in your life. Have no doubt about who you are and who you are called to be.
Finally, my brothers and sisters – heed the advice of my colleague, James, a pillar in the early church: BE PATIENT – with yourself AND with one another.
We are all works in progress – God isn’t quite finished with any of us just yet --- so be patient, and don’t complain. Lift each other up with words of encouragement. Be slow to judge and quick to forgive. . . And then the world, especially your little part of it --- will be a better place. AND DON’T FORGET TO REJOICE!
Brothers and sisters of St. Patrick – let me, Paul, your brother in Christ – start by just repeating what the great prophet John the Baptist said today in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Repent: I know you have heard the word many times before – but have you ever taken the time to find out what it means??? To repent – means to feel remorse or regret – for what one has done or has failed to do. It has its origin in a Latin word which simply means: to be sorry.
You used those very words at the beginning of this Mass in the prayer known as the Confetior:
“I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. . .”
So repent and repentance are closely tied to another word you are used to hearing --- SIN -- so let’s talk about sin for a bit, although no one probably wants to do that. . .
When you listen to people these days – no one steals anything anymore – they simply LIFT something . . .
No one lies anymore ---- they simply misrepresent the facts.
No one commits adultery --- they simply fool around.
And no one kills an unborn baby – they simply terminate a pregnancy.
This way of talking is simply a clever, if not a dishonest way, of candy-coating the reality of sin. And sin is not something that should be candy-coated!!!
The concept of sin – when seen through the eyes of biblical writers is simply – missing the mark. . .
As when one is shooting an arrow at a target and misses – they miss the mark. The mark that we are supposed to be hitting with greater and greater accuracy throughout our lives --- is the mark of Jesus Christ ----
Christ sets the standard – and we are to follow in his footsteps --- and when we don’t talk or act like Jesus ---- we miss the mark – we sin.
Many people think that our spiritual maturity is measured by the amount of biblical information or the amount of doctrine one knows – or perhaps how often they are seen in church.
While all of those things are important – it isn’t the whole story.
The Christian life is far more than creeds and convictions and recited Biblical quotes – it includes most of all --- conduct and character. As Christians – our deeds must be consistent with our creeds --- and our beliefs must be backed up with Christ-like behavior.
Christianity is not just a religion or a philosophy --- but a relationship and a way of life. And at the core of this way of life is thinking and acting like Jesus. When we don’t do that – we miss the mark – we sin.
So how do we know what to do as Christians? Well, that’s why we should come to Church Sunday after Sunday – to be schooled in the ways of Christ:
To listen to Christ’s words.
To be transformed by consuming his body and blood.
To be strengthen and challenged by those who gather with us --- so all of us can leave this place renewed and recharged to live like Christ.
But again, you might ask – how do we know what to DO as Christians? Well just today, we were given some powerful words in the readings of Scripture to lead and guide us:
JUSTICE: if we care nothing about those who do not have the basic necessities of life, if we are only looking out for ourselves – then we miss the mark—we sin – in what we have done and in what we have failed to do.
FAITHFULNESS: when we stray from who we are called to be, when we don’t keep Christ at the center of our lives, when we choose to chase after the false values of the world rather than the values of the Gospel --- then we sin – we miss the mark.
ENCOURAGEMENT: when we are constantly critical of others, when we speak words that tear each other down rather than build each other up –
then we miss the mark – we sin – we are not thinking or acting like Christ.
HARMONY AND PEACE: when we argue, belittle, judge harshly, exclude rather than include – then we miss the mark – we sin.
WELCOME: when we are not open to new people or new ideas or situations – when we insist that this is the way things have always been and we are unwilling to change – then we sin – we miss the mark.
MERCY: when we are not as forgiving of others as Christ is forgiving of us, when we don’t accept people where they are and gently encourage them to be something more – then we miss the mark—we sin.
And these are just some of the things from today’s readings on just one particular Sunday. That is why we come to Church Sunday after Sunday to listen to God’s word –
to be schooled in the ways of the Gospel ---- to learn how to be more like Christ.
I think when you come right down to it – most of us know when we hit the mark – and when we don’t. Knowledge of what is right or wrong usually isn’t our problem --- but consistently choosing to do the right thing usually is. As I said in one of my other letters – even within myself – the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!
There is a story coming from your Native American culture that goes something like this:
There is a great battle that rages inside each one of us.
One side is the soaring eagle. Everything the eagle stands for is good and true and beautiful and right.
The eagle soars high above the clouds. Even though it dips down into the valleys – the eagle builds its nest on the mountaintops.
The other side within each of us – is the slithering serpent – the rattlesnake. That crafty, deceitful snake represents the worst aspects of a person – the darker side. The snake feeds upon one’s downfalls and setbacks --- and justifies itself by its presence in the slithering masses and messes of the world.
Who wins this great battle in my life or in yours??? None other than the one we feed the most – the eagle or the rattlesnake. . .
During these days of Advent, my brothers and sisters of St. Patrick ------ feed your eagle – by allowing Christ to move in and take possession of your heart, your will, your soul, your life.
Feed your eagle – by quieting your heart and your life – listen and wait – and fall in love with Christ all over again.
Feed your eagle - -by daring to believe that Christ is the reality beyond and beneath and around all things – visible and invisible ----
and that Christ provides for us and loves us and blesses us and saves us. . .
Feed your eagle – by repenting: by feeling remorse for what you have done and for what you have failed to do --- for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
Until next week -- -I am affectionately your brother in Christ, Paul