Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The joy of the Church is seeking those who are far off. | Pope Francis

“The Church does not need to have 'a perfect organizational chart' if that would make her sorrowful and closed on herself, if that would make her 'not a mother.' The people have need of consolation. The very presence of the Lord consoles them. The greatest consolation is that of mercy and forgiveness. This is our God. Allow yourselves to be consoled by the Lord; He alone can console us."

"I ask myself, what is the consolation of the Church? Just as an individual is consoled when he feels the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord, the Church rejoices and is happy when she goes out of herself. In the Gospel, the pastor who goes out goes to seek the lost sheep – he could keep accounts like a good businessman. He could say: ‘Ninety-nine sheep, if I lose one, it’s no problem; the balance sheet – gains and losses. But it’s fine, we can get by.’ No, he has the heart of a shepherd, he goes out and searches for the lost sheep until he finds it, and then he rejoices, he is joyful.”

“The joy of going out to seek the brothers and sisters who are far off: This is the joy of the Church. Here the Church becomes a mother, becomes fruitful: When the Church does not do this, then the Church stops herself, is closed in on herself, even if she is well organized, has a perfect organizational chart, everything’s fine, everything’s tidy – but she lacks joy, she lacks peace, and so she becomes a disheartened Church, anxious, sad, a Church that seems more like a spinster than a mother, and this Church doesn’t work, it is a Church in a museum. The joy of the Church is to give birth; the joy of the Church is to go out of herself to give life; the joy of the Church is to go out to seek the sheep that are lost; the joy of the Church is precisely the tenderness of the shepherd, the tenderness of the mother.”

“May the Lord give us the grace of working, of being joyful Christians in the fruitfulness of Mother Church, and keep us from falling into the attitude of these sad Christians, impatient, disheartened, anxious, that have all the perfection in the Church, but do not have ‘children.’ May the Lord console us with the consolation of a Mother Church that goes out of herself and consoles us with the consolation of the tenderness of Jesus and His mercy in the forgiveness of our sins.”

- Pope Francis, daily homily, December 9, 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Worth the Wait

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 7, 2014:

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.”

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.” Advent is, of course, a season of preparation, a season of waiting, as we prepare 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. 

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 awaiting the birth of 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.

Let me just suggest a few things that can mark the way we wait for the Lord this Advent. 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 Emeritus 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 hrist 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 the Lord give you peace.