John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

A long time ago now, someone once gave my family an ornament for our Christmas tree. It was very curious: basically just a large nail hung from a green ribbon. You probably already know the significance of the nail: when looking at the manger, we remember the cross. When gazing on the Christmas tree, we remember the tree from which our Savior hung. When glorying in the Incarnation, we remember the Paschal Mystery. Jesus was born into our world to die our death and take our sins with him. The nail was a reminder that Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are all part of the same mystery.

When I think about the great men and women of Advent, John of the Cross seems a bit out of place for me. Born in Spain, he eventually became a Carmelite. He came to know a Carmelite nun by the name of Teresa of Avila, and through her urging, joined her in a reform of the Carmelite order. His great writings helped to accomplish this and are noted as spiritual masterpieces, and helped him to be recognized as a Doctor of the Church. But the other side of being a reformer is that he was also persecuted. Not everyone, of course, agreed with the reform of the order, and he paid the price in prison for it. St. John of the Cross reminds me so much more of Lent than Advent. But then, so does that nail ornament.

Even today’s Gospel reading reminds us of the Cross:

From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.

Even as we wrap ourselves in the hope and promise of Advent, we have to pause and remind ourselves of what the promise is all about. Jesus came to pay the very real price for our sins. Today we should reflect on John the Baptist, John of the Cross and that nail ornament on my parents’ Christmas tree. May we all be truly grateful for the birth of our Savior who died on our Cross.

Advent Reconciliation Service

Readings: Malachi 3:1-7 and Luke 3:3-17

reconciliation3I have to say that Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. As a person who prays with music, the hymns of Advent just speak to me of the hopeful expectation that we live during this season. I find that the gradual progression of lights on the Advent wreath leads me to open myself more and more to the warmth of God’s presence. The growing numbers of Christmas lights on people’s houses lights up the darkness and reminds me of the light of Christ. The truth is, our world has all sorts of reasons not to hope in anything, but our Church reminds us every year at this time that we have the only reason for hope that we need: the promise of Jesus Christ.

Throughout Advent this year, I have chosen to reflect on God’s promises. I am finding that the hope that reflecting on those promises brings casts out the darkness and depression of barren trees, cold weather, and earlier nightfall. The hope of God’s promises also casts out the darkness of sin and death that seems to surround us and creep up on us in every moment. Last Friday night, I turned on the evening news, only to be filled with worry for my brother-in-law who works downtown and travels in and out of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, which had been closed due to gunfire in the building. The news continues to bring worry and concern for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s so obvious that our world needs a Savior. Not just two thousand years ago, but right here and right now. We need a Savior who will lead us to justice and peace. We need a Savior who will lead us to reach out to the poor and oppressed. We need a Savior who will bind up our wounded lives and world and present us pure and spotless before God on the Last Day. We need a Savior who can bring light to this darkened world and hope to our broken lives. We need a Savior who can bring us God’s promise of forgiveness.

This Advent, I’ve been teaching about an ancient prayer of the early Church. In the years just after Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, the early Christians would pray in their language, Maranatha or “Come, Lord Jesus.” So I’ve been saying that we should all pray that prayer every day during Advent. When we get up in the morning, and just before bed at night, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” When you need help during the day or just need to remind yourself of God’s promises, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” The early Christians prayed this way because they expected Jesus to return soon. We do too. Even if he does not return in glory during our lifetimes, we still expect him to return soon and often in our lives and in our world to brighten this place of darkness and sin and to straighten out the rough ways in our lives. Let us keep the expectation of the Lord and the hope of his promise of forgiveness alive in our hearts:

Come, Lord Jesus and change our hearts to be more loving and open to others.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to pray; help us to grow in our spiritual lives.
Come, Lord Jesus and dispel our doubts; help us always to hope in your forgiveness.
Come, Lord Jesus and heal those who are sick and comfort all the dying.
Come, Lord Jesus and bring those who wander back to your Church.
Come, Lord Jesus and turn us away from our addictions.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to be patient with ourselves and others.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to eliminate injustice and apathy.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to welcome the stranger.
Come, Lord Jesus and give us an unfailing and zealous respect for your gift of life.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to be generous; teach us all to practice stewardship of all of our resources.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to work at everything we do as though we were working for you alone.
Come, Lord Jesus and bind up our brokenness, heal our woundedness, comfort us in affliction, afflict us in our comfort, help us to repent and to follow you without distraction or hesitation, give us the grace to pick up our crosses and be your disciples.

The good that John the Baptist preaches in this evening’s Gospel reading, is that God does indeed promise to forgive us. Wherever we are on the journey to Christ, whatever the obstacles we face, God promises to make it right through Jesus Christ. We may be facing the valley of hurts or resentments. God will fill in that valley. Perhaps we are up against a mountain of sinful behavior or shame. God will level that mountain. We may be lost on the winding roads of procrastination or apathy. God will straighten out that way. We may be riding along on the rough and bumpy ways of poor choices, sinful relationships and patterns of sin. God will make all those ways smooth. And all flesh – every one of us, brothers and sisters – we will all see the salvation of God. That’s a promise. God will forgive us all of our sins.

All we have to do is to take God up on it. And that’s why we are here tonight. God promises us forgiveness, and we are here to receive it. As we confess our sins and receive absolution, we make Christ’s light a little more brilliant in our world and in our lives. There may only be one unforgivable sin: the sin of thinking that we don’t a Savior. When we think we’re okay and that there is nothing wrong with our lives or our relationships, then we’re lost. When we live our lives as if we’re the only one who matters, we’re very far from God. It’s not that God doesn’t want to forgive us this sin, it’s more that we refuse to have it forgiven. If Advent teaches us anything, it’s got to be that we all need that baptism of repentance that John the Baptist preached, that we all need to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, making straight the paths for his return to us.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

Sometimes I think our spiritual imaginations are stunted. That certainly seems to have been the case for the scribes and Pharisees who were among those crowded into the place where Jesus was teaching in today’s Gospel. Seeing the man lowered down from the roof in front of him, Jesus at once gets to the heart of the matter and forgives him his sins. Sure, he was paralyzed, but that was the least of his problems as Jesus looked at him. Jesus saw the real issue and moved at once to heal him from the inside out.

But the scribes and Pharisees were indignant. Maybe in some way they did not want to see themselves as just as bad off as the poor paralytic was. If his real problem was his sins, well, they could have been seen to be in the same way as he was. And that, for them, was unacceptable. In addition, they were angry that he presumed to forgive sins because only God could do such a thing. Their spiritual imaginations were stunted, and in a way, that made them even worse off than the paralytic.

We have to stop trying to decide how God should act in our world and in our lives. If we follow the example of the scribes and Pharisees, we stand a good chance of missing the real gift that we are offered this Advent: the gift of God’s healing in our lives. God promises to forgive us whatever stands in the way between him and us. We have but to let him do that.

Tomorrow is our Advent Penance Service. I encourage all of you to be there for that. When we turn to the Lord for forgiveness, we can receive much more than we can ever imagine. That’s the joy of Advent. Then, as Isaiah says to us today, “will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”

Come, Lord Jesus, and give us your promise of forgiveness.

Second Sunday of Advent: God’s promise of forgiveness

Today’s readings

candle2Okay, so we live in this area of the country where there are just two seasons, right? The season of winter, and the season of road construction. And even winter doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent to road construction: it seems like improving our roads is so constantly ongoing that we almost never get to enjoy them improved before they’re improving them all again. My dad says there are two groups who work on the roads, the tearer-uppers and the fixer-uppers. He estimates that there are up to ten times as many tearer-uppers as there are fixer-uppers. I think that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but only a little one.

We all know that it is important to have the roads fixed up and made safer. But we all know how frustrating it can be to sit in traffic tied up for miles because of construction. We have this tendency to want to speed past all of it, and that’s just not safe. We also wonder if this construction will ever be done, since we have to travel the same roads every day of our lives.

The spiritual life has often been likened to a road, and today’s Liturgy of the Word does that quite well. In the first reading, the prophet Baruch says that “God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, so that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.” John the Baptist echoes this sentiment as he begins his preaching and ministry in today’s Gospel, proclaiming a baptism of repentance, preparing the way of the Lord with straight paths and smooth travel. St. Paul says to the Philippians that no matter how long it may seem to get there, they shouldn’t worry because God will clearly bring the good work in them to fulfillment, so that they can rejoice with the Psalmist that “the Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy.”

My question is this: if IDOT were in charge of filling in the valleys, leveling the mountains, straightening the winding roads and smoothing over the rough ways, do you think those things would ever be completed so that we could reach Jerusalem in time for Christmas?!

But seriously, here is the important piece to take away from today’s Liturgy of the Word: we all have rough spots, crooked ways and assorted obstacles on our spiritual paths. Our intentions to be friends with God may be good, but often we have lost our way or been stuck in a kind of spiritual traffic-jam. Our goal is communion with our friend, Jesus Christ. Our best intentions are to get there. Our frustration is that often we are derailed and never seem to reach the goal. But the promise is that God will indeed bring that good work to fulfillment, and we will then rejoice in our salvation with all God’s holy ones.

The good news in today’s Liturgy of the Word is that God does indeed promise to forgive us. Wherever we are on the journey to Christ, whatever the obstacles we face, God promises to make it right through Jesus Christ. We may be facing the valley of hurts or resentments. God will fill in that valley. Perhaps we are up against a mountain of sinful behavior or shame. God will level that mountain. We may be lost on the winding roads of procrastination or apathy. God will straighten out that way. We may be riding along on the rough and bumpy ways of poor choices, sinful relationships and patterns of sin. God will make all those ways smooth. And all flesh – every one of us, brothers and sisters – we will all see the salvation of God. That’s a promise. God will forgive us all of our sins.

That’s what Advent is about. The coming of Christ in our world isn’t just something that happened two thousand years ago. Advent means that Christ is coming into our world today, and every day, if we would just open our hearts and smooth out a place for him. God becomes incarnate in our world every time someone turns back to him and repents of their sin. God’s love comes to birth every time we accept the gift of forgiveness and the unfathomable grace of the Eucharist. Advent means that Chris is Emmanuel, God-with-us NOW. Advent means that the salvation and forgiveness that God promises us is available to us NOW.

I’ve been teaching our teens, the people at daily Mass, and the children in our school about an ancient prayer of the early Church. In the years just after Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, the early Christians would pray in their language, Maranatha or “Come, Lord Jesus.” So I’ve been saying that we should all pray that prayer every day during Advent. When we get up in the morning, and just before bed at night, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” When you need help during the day or just need to remind yourself of God’s promises, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” The early Christians prayed this way because they expected Jesus to return soon. We do too. Even if he does not return in glory during our lifetimes, we still expect him to return soon and often in our lives and in our world to brighten this place of darkness and sin and to straighten out the rough ways in our lives.

So whenever you see me, say “Come, Lord Jesus” and I’ll say “Amen.” If I say to you, “Come, Lord Jesus,” you say “Amen.” Let us keep the expectation of the Lord and the hope of his promise of forgiveness alive in our hearts:

Come, Lord Jesus and change our hearts to be more loving and open to others.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to pray; help us to grow in our spiritual lives.
Come, Lord Jesus and dispel our doubts; help us always to hope in your forgiveness.
Come, Lord Jesus and heal those who are sick and comfort all the dying.
Come, Lord Jesus and bring those who wander back to your Church.
Come, Lord Jesus and turn us away from our addictions.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to be patient with ourselves and others.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to eliminate injustice and apathy.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to welcome the stranger.
Come, Lord Jesus and give us an unfailing and zealous respect for your gift of life.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to be generous; teach us all to practice stewardship of all of our resources.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to work at everything we do as though we were working for you alone.
Come, Lord Jesus and bind up our brokenness, heal our woundedness, comfort us in affliction, afflict us in our comfort, help us to repent and to follow you without distraction or hesitation, give us the grace to pick up our crosses and be your disciples.

The truth is, brothers and sisters in Christ, we come to this holy place to this sacred Liturgy, each of us at different places in the spiritual road. Our goal – all of us – is to advance on that road, tackling the obstacles that face us, and defeating our sin by the power of God’s forgiveness and mercy. There may only be one unforgivable sin: the sin of not needing a Savior. When we thing we’re okay and that there is nothing wrong with our lives or our relationships, then we’re lost. It’s not that God doesn’t want to forgive us this sin, it’s more that we refuse to have it forgiven. If Advent teaches us anything, it’s got to be that we all need that baptism of repentance that John the Baptist preached, that we all need to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, making straight the paths for his return to us.

This week, we have the opportunity to celebrate this promise of forgiveness in our lives. We will have a penance service on Tuesday at 7:00pm. There will be some readings and prayer, and then an opportunity for each of us to approach one of several priests to take advantage of the great promise of God’s forgiveness. Maybe you’re hearing this and you know you need to go, but you haven’t been to the sacrament in what seems like a hundred years. If you let that stand in your way, I’d be heartbroken. I don’t care if you’ve forgotten how to go to confession, come to one of us and tell us that and we’ll help you. Nothing – absolutely nothing – should stand in the way of you receiving God’s forgiveness. If you can’t come on Tuesday, and I sure hope you can, then come on Saturday at 4:00 to go to individual confession. On Saturday the 23rd, both Fr. Ted and I will be here from 3:00 on to hear confessions and will be there as long as it takes to hear everyone. We want to make sure that you can receive and celebrate what God promises us today. His forgiveness is better than anything we could possibly hope for. Don’t miss receiving it.

The new Act of Contrition concludes by saying “Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy.” Today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us that that is just what God promises to do, if we will but let him in.

Come, Lord Jesus!

The Immaculate Conception of Mary

[Mass for the school children.]

Today’s readings | Today’s feast (more)

Immaculate ConceptionI know that I could ask you all what holiday we are getting ready to celebrate and you’d all tell me… But what do we call the season of the Church year that we are in that helps us get ready for Christmas? That’s right, Advent. Advent is a time that reminds us that God’s promises to us will always be fulfilled.

Advent is a time that we can see how dark our world is. Since it comes in winter, the days are “shorter:” there is less daylight and sunshine than we have in the summer. The days are also colder. This makes us think about how dark and cold our world can sometimes be. When we see war and crime and people hating one another on the news, the world looks darker. And even closer to home, when we hurt our family or friends or don’t act the way we should in school or in Church, our hearts can look darker and colder.

But the Good News is that God has promised that none of this has to stay that way. God has also promised that we don’t have to worry about changing it all on our own, because well, we can’t. God has promised us a Savior: Jesus Christ, who would come to our world and lead us back to the warmth and light of God’s presence, where we were always supposed to be in the first place. During Advent, we are waiting for God’s promise of a Savior.

And there’s still more Good News. During Advent, God gives us some special people to help us in our waiting. Those people remind us of God’s promises and direct us back to thinking about how much God loves us. One of those special people is the Blessed Virgin Mary, and today we celebrate her feast day.

Today we remember that Mary was always special. In order to be the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, she would have to have been a very good person. Today we celebrate that God made her special even before she was born; God made her special all the way back to the very beginning. Because of that, she was chosen to be Jesus’ mother, the one who would give birth to him and raise him as a child.

And we know how special Mary was as a mother. Even when she had no idea how she could become the Mother of God, she said, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.” She gave birth to Jesus in a very lonely place. She raised him and helped him to become a strong and wise man. She followed him as a disciple and stood by him, even when he was nailed to the cross and died for all of our sins. After he rose from the dead, she stayed with the first Christians and helped to spread the Word about her son. Finally, at the end of her life, Jesus took her up body and soul into heaven, because he would not let death touch someone who was so special to him.

And the Good News doesn’t stop there. Because Mary was so special to God, she shows us how special we are to God. As we celebrate God’s love for Mary today, we can also celebrate his love for us. Mary got to hold her Savior – the One God always promised us – in her own arms. When those of us who are old enough come to Communion today, we will be able to hold our Savior – the one God always promised us – in the palm of our hand. Mary’s life was brightened when Jesus was born. Our lives will be brightened too, this Christmas time, and every time when we make room in our hearts for Jesus.

Winter can be a dark and cold time, and we can see lots of darkness in our world and feel coldness in our hearts. But Advent always reminds us, with the help of special people like Mary, that God will always keep his promises. God promised Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus because by the power of God, she was special. God promised us a Savior and he sent us his only Son. God promises all of us that we too can be his special people, and he will fulfill that promise just like all the others.

Today, we pray with Mary’s help, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Manger Six

I just got done posting Manger #6 over at my photoblog, part of my Advent Manger photo project. That got me to thinking about the (twisted) tune “Manger Six” by Bob Rivers. Always made me laugh. Head over to his site to hear it in streaming audio. Here are the lyrics:

(Parody of Motel 6 Commercial)

Hi this is Tom Bodett for Manger 6. We know you have been traveling alot this holiday season and you’ve probably been
told there is no room at the Inn. Well that’s just not the case here at Manger 6.

Why, for just 29 drachma we’ll put you up in a warm comfortable stable with plenty of fresh milk for the new born. There’s even individual stalls for your
mules, camels, or what ever happen to be drivin’ across the desert.

And in case unexpected visitors drop in on ya; Shepards, Wisemen, holy ghosts. It’s not a problem at Manger 6. There is plenty of Frankensence and Muir to go around.

This is Tom Bodett for Manger 6 remindin’ ya there’s always room in this Inn. We’ll even keep a star out for ya.

St. Ambrose

Today’s readings | Today’s Saint

St. Ambrose was a man who heard well the words of today’s Gospel:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

While he was still a catechumen, St. Ambrose was chosen as bishop of Milan and was consecrated on December 7, 374. Ambrose was a classically educated man, a revered Scripture Scholar and a solid preacher. It is his preaching that in some ways influenced St. Augustine to convert to Catholicism, and it was Ambrose who baptized Augustine.

Ambrose was a man not just of great learning, but also great courage. He strongly defended the Church against attacks by the Arians, and also by the empire. Ambrose specifically admonished Emperor Theodosius for the massacre of 7,000 innocent people. The emperor did public penance for his crime.

St. Ambrose’s sermons and his works tell us that he was a very educated man who was willing to roll up his sleeves and get involved in the issues of the day. He practiced what he preached and he was not shy about calling people to repentance. He was able to influence learned men such as Augustine, and won many converts to the Church.

Indeed, St. Ambrose knew well that it was imperative to build one’s spiritual house on rock by hearing and acting on the words of Jesus. As Isaiah tells us today, those words are trustworthy, and have power to trample out the proud and arrogant. May all of our thoughts and actions this day and every day aim at building on that solid rock.

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Today’s readings

Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

How willing are we to see everything and every situation as a gift from God? And granted, sometimes that kind of attitude can be quite a challenge. When everything is hectic at work, or when your work goes unappreciated, it’s hard to see that work as a gift. When your kids are making you nuts or your spouse seems distant, it can be hard to see your family as a gift. When aging parents are suffering from illness or children are sick, it can be hard to see life as a gift. There are many obstacles to seeing the beauty of every person and situation.

Yet that’s just what Jesus tells us we should do. We are blessed to see what we see. When I was in seminary, working as a hospital chaplain, I saw my share of death and disease. My fellow chaplains were going through the same thing. Then, one day, one of them brought in this very Gospel reading for discussion in the morning. When we reflected on the truth of the reading, we found that we were able to see grace in the middle of all the suffering, pain and sadness.

Sometimes even when things are hard, God can accomplish great things by helping us to carry those crosses. Even more important, God can help us to see great grace happening that would not otherwise happen. It’s difficult to get there, but today we can pray that we would consider ourselves blessed to see the things we see, and to hear the things we hear. Let us pray that God can help us to see the grace in every person and situation.

The First Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

candle1[This weekend, I am not preaching at the regular Church Masses. We are having a special appeal, and the priest associated with that ministry is ginving the homily. But I do have two youth Masses that day: one at a retreat, and the other a Mass for one of our High School Religious Education groups. You’ll notice the homily is quite similar to my homily for Friday’s School Mass (which didn’t happen due to snow) below. Here, I want to use the catechetical opportunity to teach the youth about Advent and to give the season a good introduction for them.]

Today, we begin the season of Advent, which is the time that we as a Church prepare for the coming of Jesus. In the readings every Sunday of this season, we’ll be hearing all about God’s promises. I wanted to take a moment to talk about the promises we’ll be hearing, and to associate them with the candles of the Advent wreath.

On the first Sunday of Advent, we will light this first purple candle. Purple is the color of repentance, the color that reminds us to pray for help in overcoming our sins. The readings that we hear tell us all about God’s promise to save us. Jesus, who has risen from the dead and has ascended into heaven, will come again in glory and will usher in a kingdom of peace and justice. He tells us to watch for his coming every day and to pray for the strength to hang in there until he comes back for us.

Next week, the second Sunday of Advent, we will light the first two purple candles. The readings that we will hear that day will tell us about God’s promise to forgive us. We all have moments when we sin against God, when we break our friendship with him. Whether we don’t go to Mass on Sunday, or disobey our parents, or cheat on our school work, or cut down our brothers and sisters and classmates, all of these things break our friendship with God. But the good news is that God still wants to be friends with us, and he promises to forgive us of our sins. When we confess our sins and repair our broken relationships, we are preparing the way of the Lord in our hearts.

On the third Sunday of Advent, we will light the first two purple candles, and then light the pink candle. The pink candle reminds us that even in a time when we are working hard on repentance of our sins and reforming our lives, we can still be joyful because Jesus is coming with his power to help us to change. The readings we will hear that day will tell us about God’s promise to make everything new. Even when everything seems hopeless, and the days are dreary; even when we hear about wars and crime and all kinds of sadness, we can hope in God. God never meant for all this sadness to be part of our lives, and he promises to send the Holy Spirit to recreate the world and to recreate our hearts so that we can all share in God’s love.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, we will light all the candles, including this final purple candle. On that day, with all the candles lit, we will know that the birth of Jesus is very near. On that day, our church will be brighter with all four candles lit, and our hearts will be brighter because Jesus will enter our lives once again. On that day, the readings will tell us about the promise that we can be God’s holy people. Even though we have sinned and have made the world darker, Jesus comes to brighten our darkness and claim us as his own people. We are made holy because Jesus, who is holiness itself, is in our lives.

I am going to give you all a little prayer to memorize this Advent. I want you to pray it every morning when you get up, and every night before you go to bed. I want you to pray it whenever you think of it during the day. Whenever you see me at Church, I’d love it if you prayed it with me right then and there. It’s a simple prayer, and there are just three words: Come, Lord Jesus. If someone comes up to you and prays that, you should respond “Amen!” It’s a prayer of the early Church, when they were waiting for the Lord to come again. For us, it’s a prayer that we will be truly open to God’s presence. Come, Lord Jesus!