Letters from a Pastor to His People

The Three Comings of Christ

Dear Parishioners,

Advent, as I'm sure you are well aware, means 'coming.'  There are three 'comings' of Christ that we recognize during this Liturgical season.  Cistercian monk and (recently deceased) spiritual writer Thomas Keating writes, "The first is his historical coming in human weakness and the manifestation of his divinity to the world; the second is his spiritual coming in our inmost being through the liturgical celebration of the Christmas-Epiphany Mystery; the third is his final coming at the end of time in his glorified humanity."

In other words, there is a past, present, and future coming.  The past is the memorial-aspect of Christ's coming 2,000 years ago.  The future is the apocalyptic-aspect when he will come again at the end of time to bring the earth to final glory.  The present is the grace-aspect of our Lord into our hearts right now.

A good image for Advent, particularly the "present" coming, is light.  By the way, the major liturgical seasons of the year each have an attribution.  Advent/Christmas/Epiphany is light; Lent/Easter/Ascension is life; Pentecost/Ordinary Time is love.

Light is pretty obvious for this present season.  We have Christmas lights and, of course, the candles on the Advent wreath.  The rose-colored candle we light this Sunday, being Gaudete Sunday when we rejoice looking ahead to Christmas. 

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I Do!

Dear Parishioners,

When a man is ordained a priest, he kneels before the bishop and promises obedience.  The bishop encloses his hands around the candidate's folded hands and asks him, "Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?"  The candidate responds, "I do."  The bishop then says, "May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment." 

The bishop's line is taken from Paul's letter to the Philippians, the segment of which we have in our second reading this weekend.  "I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6).

It's a great line.  We could meditate and reflect on just this one line for an hour.  God began some project in each one of us, and the project is fundamentally good.  Each one of us is here for a purpose.  Remember that when you're feeling down, depressed, alone, and without meaning.  As bad as things might seem or be, it does not erase the fact that God began a good work in you. 

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'Tis the Advent Season

Dear Parishioners,

Happy first Sunday of Advent.  Life is busy.  Do you notice whenever you ask someone how he or she is doing, the response is often, "I'm doing well…just busy." Advent, though it should be a peaceful and focused time, is a particularly busy time of year.  Added to the busyness is a sense of anxiousness and impatience. 

With that in mind, I'd like to share with you a prayer/poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

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King and Queen of Hearts

Dear Parishioners,

We celebrate this weekend the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.  Let me talk a little theology with you all, unpacking, albeit cursorily, what it means that Jesus is King. I won't take offense if you fall asleep while reading.  Hopefully my homily will be more engaging.

When Jesus came upon this earth and then died for our sins, he offered himself to the Father.  This offering to the Father obtained our salvation.  Jesus then also took the fruits of this offering, or merits, theologians might say, and applied them to each of us.  Thus, there is an upward movement of Christ to the Father, as well as a downward (or lateral) movement of Christ to us. 

Mary, by the way, works with Jesus in that lateral movement.  She assists those divine graces coming to us from the fruits of Christ's offering.

So Christ dying was just one part of the equation.  We need to receive, each of us, the fruits of that death.  It is possible for us to not receive the fruits; for us to reject the graces Christ won for us.  To help fight against this, Jesus has established himself as King (and Mary as Queen).

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Thank Him!

Dear Parishioners,

As I have mentioned before, I teach 7th grade religion once a week in school, and I give time each class for the students to ask me questions.  The questions are always fascinating and entertaining.  In fact, I usually will mention their questions in some of my daily Mass homilies, so perceptive and thought-provoking are they.  One student asked me this on her quiz the other week: "What do you do when God answers your prayers?"

I highlighted her question (I do that when the question is very good). I had never been asked that before.  The answer I wrote on her quiz: "Thank him!"

It's a profound question.  That's because we don't think too much about our prayers being answered.  I usually hear more from people angry that God didn't answer their prayers.  I usually don't hear the "success stories", though I know they are out there.

We don't hesitate to be religious beforehand.  That is, we quickly pray and ask God for help.  Afterwards, we become secular.  That is, when something goes our way, we just move on to the next thing, or we chalk up the good outcome to our effort, the normal occurrence of events, or even luck.  God doesn't enter our radar.

The 7th grade student's question was so striking because she demonstrated consistency and deep faith.  She went to God beforehand and wants to go to God afterwards.  She has faith. She believes 'things went her way' because of God.  He prayers were answered. So, what should she do? My response: thank him!

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The Best Story in the World

Dear Parishioners,

We have two more weeks left of the Gospel of Mark.  November 25th is the Feast of Christ the King, the end of the liturgical season, and we will read from the Gospel of John that day.  It's been a fascinating journey the last several months.  Labor Day weekend we were in the 7th chapter of Mark.  Jesus was ministering and preaching around the Sea of Galilee.  Around the middle of October, Jesus left Galilee and set out for a journey to Jerusalem.  On this journey the rich young man approaches the Lord with the question about what he must do to inherit eternal life (October 14th).  James and John make the request to sit on the Lord's right and left when he enters into power in Jerusalem (October 21st).  Jesus heals the blind beggar, Bartimaeus (October 28th), and at last makes it to Jerusalem. 

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I Love You Lord, My Strength!

Dear Parishioners,

I was struck two weekends ago at the 11am Family Mass by the post-communion reflection, read by one of the children.  I did not compose this reflection (Patty Collins, a teacher in the school and CCD head, along with the Family Liturgy team composed it), and I must confess I did not read it ahead of time either.  That Mass after communion was the first I heard it.  It was beautiful, and hearing it from a child made it ever more moving.  Here it is:

Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to me. Thank you, for giving yourself to me. Make me strong to show your love wherever I may be. Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay close by me forever and love me, I pray. I’m ready now, Lord Jesus, to show how much I care. I’m ready now to give your love at home and everywhere. Amen.

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The Greatness Of Sunday In and Sunday Out

Dear Parishioners,

We have two more weeks left of the Gospel of Mark.  November 25th is the Feast of Christ the King, the end of the liturgical season, and we will read from the Gospel of John.  It's been a fascinating journey the last several months.  Labor Day weekend we were in the 7th chapter of Mark.  Jesus was ministering and preaching around the Sea of Galilee.  Around the middle of October, Jesus left Galilee and set out for a journey to Jerusalem.  On this journey the rich young man approaches the Lord with the question about what he must do to inherit eternal life (October 14th).  James and John make the request to sit on the Lord's right and left when he enters into power in Jerusalem (October 21st).  Jesus heals the blind beggar, Bartimaeus (October 28th), and at last makes it to Jerusalem. 

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Don't Quit Too Soon

Dear Parishioners,

If you have found yourself waiting recently at the DMV or the doctor's office, or waiting on hold for the cable, you can probably imagine well this scene from today's Gospel.  Bartimaeus, a blind man, has been sitting, begging for a long time.  He waits for something to change.  Nothing does. 

Until that monumental day when Jesus of Nazareth walks by.

Listen to what happens when Bartimaeus' name is at last called, and not just called by anyone, but by the Savior of the world: "He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus (Mk 10:50)."

It's kind of like what I do when my name is called. I bolt from my chair and run to the counter.  Or a child trick-or-treating who rings the bell and there is no immediate answer.  He waits a minute and rings again.  He looks around the side to peer through the windows.  The house is dark.  Is anyone home? Should the kid wait or move on to the next house? At last the door opens! Someone is home.  And they've given out a king-sized Butterfinger! Smart move by the kid waiting! It was worth it.

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We Are Gifts to the Church and the World

Dear Parishioners,

"The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity" (Is 53:10).

Scripture scholars believe the prophet Isaiah is referring to Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.  Yes, Lord, please crush Rodgers.

Just kidding.

But seriously, who is being crushed in our first reading? And is God really pleased to see someone crushed?

From the Christian vantage point, it is Jesus Christ being crushed.  Jesus is the 'offering for sin.'It can also be us. We are called to be crushed.  We are called to be offerings.  It's our suffering that will justify many.  It is us who will be able to see the 'light in fullness' in our affliction.

It's a difficult, though certainly fulfilling, point to pray with: you are an offering.  I am an offering.  An offering entails sacrifice.  In ancient religions an offering was burned.  Today, when you make an offering, you are letting something out of your possession and it usually entails a financial cost.

On the other hand, an offering entails purposefulness.  We don't make an offering unknowingly.  If money falls out of your pocket into the collection basket, you've lost your dollar bill; you haven't offered it.  When you offer the money, you intend it and have a purpose behind it.

God uses us as offerings.  Our lives and every good thing we do go to some good purpose, like building up the church and the Body of Christ. This is what pleases the Lord.  This is why he 'crushes' us.

Our lives are not only about us.  Our joys and sufferings are not strictly our own.  We are offerings.  We are a gift to the church and to the world.

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Follow Christ and Experience Fulfillment

Letters from a Pastor to His People- October 14, 2018

Dear Parishioners,

We can learn so much from this rich young man!  Little did he know that his 2-minute encounter with the Lord would impact millions of people for millennia.  For instance, many other "rich young men" would likewise run up to the Lord and ask the same question.  St. Anthony, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Charles de Foucald, among others, would not make the same mistake this man from the Gospel did.  These saints would be able to give up everything.  They would not walk away sad, but, on the contrary, would follow Christ and experience fulfillment.

Yes, a path of discipleship entails sacrifices.  If we are to be committed Catholics, intentional in our faith and not lukewarm, there are many deaths, some little, that we will undergo.  We should always keep the rich young man in mind.  He was afraid to give up his wealth.  He could not make that sacrifice.  He thought holding onto the money was a wiser decision.  Was it?  No!   He went away sad. 

Those things we think we "need" in our life—those things we cannot live without—often don't bring us true happiness.  If we keep them, and instead let Christ go, we will be sad, like the rich young man.  That's the pitfall we all have to avoid.  That's the temptation to shun.  Possessions and attachments do not give us the safety or happiness we think they do.  Only Christ does.

Jesus calls us to poverty. "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Mk 10:25).

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Family Trees

Letters from a Pastor to His People- October 7, 2018

Dear Parishioners,

A boy once asked his mom where human beings came from.  "From God," she said. "God created us, starting with Adam and Eve." The boy then went off and asked his dad the same question. "We descended from apes," came the father's response.  When the boy went back to his mother and told her the contradicting answer, the mother said.  "That's okay, honey. Dad is just telling you his family tree. I'm telling you mine."

Ah, marriage, the topic of our readings this week. What shall I say about it?

Sticking with the joke theme, my grandpa likes to kid, when asked how he and my grandma, married for nearly 60 years, have persevered, "we go out to dinner twice a week...she goes Mondays, I go Wednesdays."

I wonder if there's some wisdom in that.  Temporary separation is healthy in any situation and in any relationship.  We need time off.  We need vacations.  We need "alone time." Time away not only refreshes us, it also gives us an appreciation for what/who we have. 

Let's be clear, though.  We're never completely separated from our spouse or work or whatever.  It's not like a husband who takes a golfing trip with his friends is "unmarried" and single for those five days.  Or the fireman ceases in his heart to be a fireman during furlough. 

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