Saturday, December 24, 2011

“See here, this boy was born and that changed everything.”

I don’t know how many of you read the comic strip, Family Circus, but I’m a big fan. Just a few years ago, there was a great Christmas scene. In it, the young girl, Dolly, was sharing with her two young brothers the story of Christmas. Here is how she recounted it, “Mary and Joseph were camping out under a star in the East…It was a Silent Night in Bethlehem until the angels began to sing…then Santa brought Baby Jesus in his sleight and laid Him in a manger… Chestnuts were roasting by an open fire and not a creature was stirring…so the Grinch stole some swaddling clothes from the Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.” And then Dolly says to her brother, “Pay attention, Jeffy, or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!”

Although Dolly got the details a bit mixed up, she’s right – if we don’t pay attention we might just miss the real story of Christmas. There is so much in this season that can distract us from what is real. We get caught up in holiday parties, last minute shopping, and all of the frenzy that seems to come with this time of year. Unless we truly pay attention – with our hearts and our minds – we may miss the importance of this day.

As I was preparing for today’s Christmas Mass, a movie scene came to mind. It is from Steven Speilberg movie of a number of years ago called, Amistad. This movie is about a group of slaves who were able to win their freedom from slavery in the Supreme Court long before slavery was abolished in this country. It is a powerful movie. But, there is one point in the movie when a slave is given a copy of the Bible by an Abolitionist. The slaves, though, speak no English and have never heard of Jesus Christ and so he doesn’t know what this book is. But, this version of the Bible had pictures in it. The man was fascinated looking at these pictures. At one point in the film, two of the slaves are sitting alone in their jail cell, waiting. One slave thinks that the other one carries the book everywhere simply to impress people and he says to the one looking at the Bible, “No one is watching you here, you can put the book down.” The other one responds saying, “No, I think I have figured out the story.” Pointing to the pictures he says, “See, here, things were very bad for these people, it was a dark time, and they were oppressed. Worse even than us.” He flips a page to the scene at the manger in Bethlehem, “But, see here, this boy was born and that changed everything.” Referring to the drawing which depicts Christ with a halo he said, “You can see that he was very important, even the sun followed him where ever he went.”

“See here, this boy was born and that changed everything.” My friends, this is the great message of the feast we gather here to celebrate today. With the birth of Jesus, everything is changed – for our world and for each of us. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of this season, we can be like little Jeffy and fail to learn the true story of Christmas. Our world can tempt us to lose sight of what we gather here to celebrate – the incredible reality that our God became one of us; the Lord of the Universe so humbled Himself to be born a defenseless little child. We need to remember always that nothing can ever take away the wonder of that event.

We often find ourselves looking for signs. We want God to show us the way, to give us a sign that he loves us. In my own life, when I was praying about my vocation to the priesthood, I was trying to decide if God was really calling me. I would often hear other young men talk about how God had told them this, or how they received a sign for that. I went to church one day to pray and I was a little angry with God, demanding a sign. I prayed, “God, why can’t you give me a sign? Is that too much to ask for God?” After leaving the Church, I was driving home when all of a sudden I passed a billboard that said, “Are you looking for a sign from God?” Now, the rest of that sign read, “Join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” I didn’t take that sign literally to mean I should become a Mormon, but rather to stop asking for such things from God because He’s already given to each of us the greatest sign possible – His Son.

Today we celebrate this great sign – God Himself, in the form of a little baby born in a humble manger; the Light of the World that shone in the darkness; the Word become Flesh; the Savior of US ALL. We hear in John’s Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” No matter what trials we have in our personal lives, in our relationships, marriages, in our families, our work lives, this Son of God has come to triumph over them all. He can make everything right again in our lives. His Light can shine in our darkness – if we let him.

That is why we celebrate this day with such joy. We gather to hear this Good News of great joy that God showers on the world at Christmas. But, we still need to do something so that we can experience this joy in our lives, in our families, and in our world more personally.

How do we do that? The answer is in the word “JOY” itself. Just look at it. It’s a small word – just three letters: first J, then O, and lastly Y. Well, let me propose tonight that the J stands for Jesus, the O for Others, and the Y for You. So, to know joy in our lives is simple. Just live in such a way that Jesus and Others always come before You. Place Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem, first in everything. When we place Jesus first, He encourages us to place others before ourselves. And that is the recipe for true joy. That is how we can convert the Christmas “Joy to the world” into a personal “Joy in our lives” now and always.

So, even as we hear the great story of Christmas tonight, we see this principle in action - those who practice J-O-Y are the ones who enjoy peace and joy, and that those who practice “me first” are always the unhappy and miserable ones. Just look at the shepherds who leave everything they own and their flock in the fields to go adore Jesus first. Or the wise men from the East who leave the security of their homeland and make a long and dangerous journey to Bethlehem just to worship the new-born Jesus and bring him gifts. They are the one's who receive God's favor, they are the ones who experience in their hearts the true peace and the true JOY of Christmas.

My brothers and sisters, today – this Christmas – let us resolve to follow their good example by always being people of JOY – placing Jesus and others before ourselves and then the true joy of Christmas will always be ours. This is the Christmas story that we all must learn by heart, in our hearts.

“Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

My friends, “See here, this boy was born and that changed everything.”

On behalf of Fr. Giles, Deacon Ernie, and our parish staff, let me wish you all a happy and holy Christmas!
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Have a Mary Christmas!

Three sons lived far from home and weren’t able to get home for Christmas. Instead, they arranged for their elderly mother to receive some special gifts. The first built a big house for his mother. The second sent her a brand new Mercedes Benz. But the third son smiled and said, “I’ve got them both beat. Mom is such a holy woman, she loves reading the Bible. But, now, her eyesight is so bad she can’t read it anymore. I sent her a remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible. It took the monks 12 years to teach him. He’s one of a kind. Mom just has to name the chapter and verse, and the parrot recites it.” Soon after Christmas, the mother sent out her letter of thanks: “Dear Milton,” she wrote one son, “The house you built is too big. I live in only one room, but I have to keep the whole house clean!” “Dear Gerald,” she wrote the second, “I am too old to travel. I stay at home most of the time, so I rarely use the Mercedes.” “My Dearest Donald,” she wrote to her third son, “You have the good sense to know what your Mother likes. The chicken was delicious!”

Anyone who’s read a newspaper or watched a news broadcast knows that the annual Christmas Wars are upon us. Lots of commentary on whether or not to say “Merry Christmas” or what kind of tree stands in a town square. Even the comedians get in on this with their combination of all religious holidays into one generic greeting, “Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah.” Try and say that 10 times fast. Now, I generally don’t enter this battle mostly because I don’t look to politicians, secular settings or department stores to help me live my spiritual life – I look to the Church, of course, I’m going to wish people a Merry Christmas.

Not only that, but for me, I want our celebration to be not generic, but even more distinctly Catholic. A few years ago, someone had shown me some handmade Christmas cards that young people in my parish had made to send to military personnel overseas. One of the cards, made by a first grader read, “Have a ‘Mary’ Christmas.” Notice the difference, I didn’t say “Merry” m-e-r-r-y, but “Mary,” m-a-r-y. Now, I think this was actually just a spelling error, but the more I think of that card, especially with today’s Gospel passage, I thought, this is a good Catholic greeting for this season. Never mind the generic “Happy Holidays,” how about the extremely Catholic “Mary Christmas.”

Reflecting on today’s Gospel, we realize this season is really about Mary perhaps as much as it is about Jesus. First and foremost, Mary is the only woman in all of human history to be given the unique distinction - the almost incomprehensible distinction - of being the Mother of God. And by wishing a Mary Christmas we are being reminded that we are called to be just like Mary in the way that we welcome the Christ child into our lives and into our world.

Some children were preparing a Christmas play. Little Cynthia was assigned the part of Mary, but she wanted to change parts with her friend, who was playing an angel. When asked why, she said, “Because it is easier to be an angel than to be the Mother of Christ.” The little girl is certainly right. To be the mother of Christ is no small matter. Yet difficult as it sounds, that is exactly what we are all called to be. In fact, we could say that even though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, his real desire is to be born not once in a limited place and time, but to be born over and over again in the hearts of all believers.

“Mother of Christ” is a title we usually reserve for Mary. But Mary is mother of Christ in two senses. She is mother of Christ in the physical sense. She carried Jesus in her womb and gave birth to him. This is an unrepeatable event and an honor that no other human being could share with her. But she is also mother of Christ in a spiritual sense; and in this spiritual sense the role of being mother of Christ is available to all Christians. We all can and should become mothers of Christ. The idea of Christians called to be mothers of Christ is very common among Christian mystics. The mystic, Meister Eckhart, said that God made the human soul to bear the divine Son, and that when this birth happens it gives God greater pleasure than the creation of heaven and earth.

What is this spiritual motherhood of Christ and how does it happen? Well, in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear, “While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

This passage shows us that Jesus expects His followers to be not only His brothers and sisters but His mothers as well, and the way to be the mother of Jesus is by doing the will of God. Spiritual motherhood of Christ is attained by saying “yes” to God, even when God appears to demand from us what is humanly impossible, like asking Mary to be a virgin mother. To become mothers of Christ we need to make the prayer of Mary our own prayer: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

This prayer of Mary has been known as the world’s greatest prayer. It is the prayer that brought God down from heaven to dwell in the soul and body of a young woman. It is the prayer that brought about the greatest event in human history, God becoming human in Jesus. It is a prayer that changed forever the course of human history some 2,000 years ago. It is the prayer that can change forever the course of our own personal history today and everyday if only we say it, pray it and mean it.

Yes, little Cynthia was right. It is not easy to be the mother of Christ. But in today’s Gospel Mary shows us how. It is in hearing God’s word and saying yes to God even when His will seems to go against all our plans for the future. As Christmas draws so very near, Mary reminds us that the best Christmas, in fact the only true Christmas, is when Christ is born not in the little town of Bethlehem so long ago, but in the very depths of our hearts today and every day.

May God give you peace and may you all have a very Mary Christmas.

Christmas Cookie Recipe (Third Revised Edition)

Note: Now that the Third Edition of the Roman Missal is in use, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy and Vox Clara have some time on their hands.  They thought it might be useful to offer an updated translation of the classic Christmas Cookie recipe from the original Latin:

Serves: you and many

Cream these ingredients, that by their comingling you may begin to make the dough: 1 chalice butter, 2/3 chalice sugar

In a similar way, when the butter is consubstantial with the sugar, beat in: 1 egg

Gather these dry ingredients to yourself and combine them, so that you may add them to the dough which you have already begun to make: 2 1/2 chalices sifted all purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix the precious dough with your venerable hands.

Into the refrigerator graciously place the dough so that it may be chilled, for the duration of 3 or 4 hours, before the rolling and cutting of the cookies.

When, in the fullness of time, you are ready to bake these spotless cookies, these delicious cookies, these Christmas cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out the dough and taking up a cookie cutter or stencil of your choosing, fashion the cookies into pleasing forms.

Sprinkle colorful adornments over cookies like the dewfall.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cookies have just begun to manifest the brownness that is vouchsafed to them by the oven's heat.

May these cookies be found acceptable in your sight, and be borne to a place of refreshment at your table, there to be served with milk or hot chocolate, or with your spirits.

(This originally appeared in Commonweal Magazine.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Messiah is among you!

HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, Gaudete Sunday, December 11, 2011:
Patrick went to the mall to do his shopping just two days before Christmas. He drove around the parking lot for an eternity, but there wasn’t a space to be found. Finally, he prayed, “Lord, you know that I haven’t really practiced my faith in many years, but if you find me a parking spot I promise I’ll stop swearing, give up whiskey and gambling and I’ll go to church every Sunday!” Suddenly, lightning flashed and a parking space opened up right in front of him! And Patrick looked up to heaven and said, “Never mind, Lord. I found one.”

There is a story about a certain monastery that was going through a time of crisis. Some of the monks had left the monastery; no new candidates joined them in years; and people were no longer coming for prayer and spiritual direction as they used to. The few monks that remained became old, depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a holy man; a hermit living alone in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how bad things had become and that only seven old monks remained. Praying on this, the hermit told the abbot that he has a secret for him: one of the monks currently living in his monastery was actually the Messiah, but He was living in such a way that no one could recognize Him.

With this revelation the abbot returned to his monastery, and recounted what the holy hermit told him to the community. The aging monks looked at each other in disbelief, trying to discern who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has a holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Joseph who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and cannot fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of disguising His true identity. This only made them more confused and they could not figure out who was Christ among them. At the end of the meeting what each one knew for sure was that any of the monks, excepting himself, could be Christ.

From that day the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could, in fact, be Christ. They began to show more love for one another, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to a simple truth: that Christ was living in their midst as one of them.

Advent is, of course, a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord: recalling His coming to us as a Baby at Christmas; and His coming to us collectively at the end of time. Now, suppose that we were told, like the monks in our story, that the Christ whom we are waiting for is already here in our midst as one of us, what difference would that make?

In today’s Gospel John the Baptist tries to announce the same powerful message to the Jews of his time who were anxiously awaiting the coming of the Messiah. John tells them: “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

The reason the Jews of Jesus’ time could not recognize Him as the Messiah is that they had definite ideas on how the Messiah was going to come. The Messiah would suddenly descend from heaven in His divine power and majesty and establish His reign by physically destroying the enemies of Israel. No one would know where He came from, humanly speaking, because He came from God. So when finally Jesus came born of a woman like every other person, they could not recognize Him. He was too ordinary, too unimpressive, and so, for too many – they missed the very presence of God right in front of them.

The challenge remains to this day for us as well. We too have our definite expectations of what the presence of God in our midst should look like. This might be different for each one of us. And, it is good for us to anticipate God in our midst. But, not to the exclusion of seeing God as He is right in front of us in Word, in Sacrament, and perhaps where we miss Him most often - in ourselves and in every man, every woman we meet. After all, this is what our new translation of the Mass hopes we will see more clearly when we respond, “And with your spirit,” a recognition of God’s presence in those around us.

A group of young children were asked to answer the question: what is love? They gave many interesting answers, for example, 5 year-old Karl answered, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on cologne and they go out and smell each other.” But, my favorite answer came from 7 year-old Bobby who said, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

We all know that “love” is just another word for God. St. John reminds us that “God is love and all who dwell in love dwell in God and God in them.” So, as our Christmas preparations perhaps take on a more hectic pace in these next few weeks, I have a secret for you, one of the members of our community is actually the Messiah, but they are living in such a way that they aren’t quickly recognized. So, how will we recognize this Godly presence in our midst? Let me paraphrase young Bobby and say that God is in our midst when we stop the hustle-and-bustle and just listen expecting to find Him all around us.

“There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” My friends, do you see what I see? Let us all pray that God will continue to open our eyes, our minds, our hearts, our very lives to see His presence in us and around us today, as we approach the Feast of Christmas, and always.

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Born free!

You may be familiar with the book or movie, The Song of Bernadette. It is the true story of 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous, who in 1858 reported having an apparition of the Blessed Virgin on a hillside outside of the village of Lourdes in France. At first, the authorities scoffed at her claims and even threatened to punish her if she did not stop speaking of the story. Then one day, the apparition told Bernadette to dig into the ground. She obeyed and a spring of water bubbled up. Soon miracles began to occur at this spring. A blind man washed in the waters and regained his sight. A mother washed her paralyzed baby in the waters and it became well within 24 hours. Years after Bernadette’s death, the same child, now an old man of 77, was an honored guest at her canonization in Rome. Today, literally thousands of cures are on file at the Medical Bureau in Lourdes.

One of the things that Mary said to Bernadette during an apparition was, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The 14 year old girl wasn’t too sure what these words meant, but every adult knew their meaning. Just four years earlier, on December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX, defined as Catholic doctrine the traditional teaching of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This teaching goes back to the early days of Christianity. It says simply that Mary was untouched by original sin from the very moment of her conception in the womb of her mother Ann, and she remained that way the rest of her life.

The teaching of the Immaculate Conception finds its support in Sacred Scripture. For example, in today’s second reading we heard , “he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” And in today’s Gospel, the angels says to Mary, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!” It is not surprising that God preserved Mary from sin. After all, she was to be the mother of His Son. What is more fitting than for the Son of God to be born of a sinless mother.

There is a story that may help us appreciate better how Mary could be born without sin while everyone else is born a slave to sin. At one point in history, many Christians were captured in battle and sold as slaves to non-Christian countries. These enslaved Christians had children and because they were slaves, their children were also doomed to live as slaves. In time it became a practice among Christians to purchase the freedom of these children born of slave parents. And sometimes that purchase was arranged before the child was born – or even conceived. In other words, even though the child was conceived and born of slave parents, it was free. Its freedom had been purchased in advance.

We may look upon Mary’s birth in a similar way. Even though Mary was born of parents enslaved by original sin, she was born free. God’s grace, of which Mary was full of, had purchased her freedom in advance – even before her conception.

This freedom is not reserved to Mary alone. Unfortunately for us, we were not so graced as to be born without original sin. But, instead for us, what God gave Mary through birth, is offered to us through Grace and faith in Jesus Christ. As we prayed in our Opening Prayer, “as you preserved her” so too may we “be cleansed and admitted to your presence.” Mary’s grace can be ours through the Sacrifice of her Son, through our membership in His Church availing ourselves of the saving Sacraments He bestowed upon us and our imitation of Mary’s life, saying our own personal yes to God at every moment.

We American Catholics have always had a special devotion to Mary under this title of the Immaculate Conception. It was to Mary, under this title, that we dedicated our country in the early days of our nation’s history. And so today we celebrate the Solemnity with special joy and gratitude as it is in a special way “our” feast. And so let us conclude with a special prayer to Mary today. It is the prayer that was prayed daily by the sailors on board the ships of Christopher Colombus during the voyage that resulted in the discovery of our great country. Each night at sunset the crew would gather on deck for evening prayers. These prayers would always end in the singing, in Latin, of the Salve Regina. Many of us are familiar with the English translation of this prayer. Please say it along with me if you know it:

Hail, Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn the, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us,
and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

May our Blessed Mother pray for us; and may the Lord give us peace.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Worth the wait!

A young man considering a vocation with the Franciscans was invited to dinner at the local friary one evening. As dinner went on, from time-to-time, one of the friars would stand up and say a number and the rest of the friars would laugh hysterically. One stood up and said, “72,” and everyone laughed. Later, another stood and said, “149,” and again everyone laughed. Another stood and said, “14,” and again, everyone laughed. Confused, the young man asked the friar beside him what was going on. He answered, “Well, you see, we’ve all lived together for a long time. By now, we know each other jokes by heart, so we numbered them all to save time. Someone says a number and we remember the joke and laugh,” then he said, “Why don’t you give it a try. We have 300 jokes, just stand and say any number you like.” The young man stood tentatively and said, “107,” but this time there was nothing but silence. The man sat down sheepishly and asked the friar what went wrong. He said, “What can I tell you? Some people can tell a joke, some can’t.” (Special thanks to Fr. James Martin for this joke.  His new book Between Heaven and Mirth makes a great Christmas gift!) 

We hear this familiar command in our Scriptures from both Isaiah and John the Baptist today, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” It’s certainly appropriate as this is, after all, a season of preparation. We are preparing ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, the great feast of God’s Incarnation as one of us; and we await His future return to us at the End of Time.

But, what kind of waiting do we do as we approach Christmas? Well, first and foremost, it must be a purposeful waiting. In life we are certainly used to waiting. Just think of the hours spent waiting in traffic, or time spent waiting in line at stores – especially at this time of year. These forms of waiting are not exactly purposeful. More often than not, they’re not worth the wait. Just think of department stores this time of year. I know for myself, I’ll inevitably end up waiting in a long line at the check out. While waiting I’ll usually take a look at what I plan on purchasing and ask a simple question of myself – is it worth the wait? Often enough, I’ll decide it isn’t worth the wait and put down what I have a leave the store.

During Advent, we ask the same question – is it worth the wait – but with a very different answer. It is in fact worth the wait because instead of a frustrating waiting with undefined benefit, our Scripture today call us to wait in an effective and purposeful way. They give us something to do in our waiting, we are to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The readings put before us some examples of waiting purposefully. We have of course, Isaiah and John the Baptist who both offer us a waiting that involves reform of life, they call us to prepare for the arrival of Jesus by living a life of repentance. They call us to reflect on our own lives as ask “are we ready for Jesus return?” But, there is another Advent example that I find even more helpful in understanding how we are to wait – the example of Mary.

If we look at our Scriptures as a story, at this point in the story, Mary is pregnant. She has not yet given birth to the baby Jesus. We can learn a lot about purposeful waiting from pregnancy. Pregnancy is all about waiting. I remember a few years ago, I was visiting with a friend and his wife who shared the news that they were expecting their third child. I responded excitedly, “Congratulations! That’s great! You must be so excited!” But to my enthusiasm, my friend’s wife looked at me, rolled her eyes a bit, sighed and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m really excited about having another baby. I just wish I could do it without going through pregnancy.” We tend to romanticize pregnancy don’t we? Pregnancy is so beautiful. Women look so radiant. But, for my friend’s wife, and many women like her, pregnancies are difficult. With her two prior pregnancies, they were so difficult that she had to remain bed-ridden during the final months. She experienced serious medical issues during her last pregnancy. For this third child, she was also very closely monitored.

The simple point is that being pregnant is not easy and can even be quite difficult, but it is worth the wait. And it is I think the most helpful image for our time of Advent waiting and preparing. We, too, all of us, are in a sense pregnant and waiting – waiting to give birth once again to Jesus in our lives. And so, God calls us all to make real change in our lives; to acknowledge His Son and “make straight our paths.”

As God calls each of us to reform our lives, depending on what we need to change, this might be for us a difficult pregnancy. But, if we can wait and prepare, it will bring forth new and wonderful life – but just like any pregnancy, it takes time, it takes patience, it takes the will to be transformed into the image that God calls us to.

I would suggest three things that we can do this Advent to help us wait fruitfully and prepare the way for the Lord. First, pray. Advent is the perfect time of year to jumpstart our prayer life. So many times God is trying to give us guidance and light, but because we don't spend time in prayer, we haven't learned to recognize His voice, so we miss out. Pope Benedict said a few years ago, “Do you leave space to hear God's whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Let His word shape your journey." The second things we can do is make good use of the Sacraments. Sometimes in personal prayer we are unsure of God's presence, but in the sacraments Christ guarantees that He is truly present. During Advent we can spend time with Christ in the Eucharist, maybe going to daily Mass to receive Holy Communion more frequently, learning to listen and letting Him teach us to follow Him. During Advent, a trip to confession is the most direct way to clear all the debris that comes from life's storms off the roads of our souls. As I said last week, let’s not carry our sins all the way to Christmas Day. And the third things we can do is reach out to others, to those who don't know Christ, or those who are suffering. As we reach out to them, we too come closer to Christ.

Jesus is eagerly looking forward to Christmas, because He wants to make a fresh entrance into the Jerusalem of our souls, and fill us with His comfort. Let us pray through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, for the patience and the courage to allow God to create new life in us – as individuals, as a parish community, as a Church. Let us use this time of Advent to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

May God give you peace.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...