St. Andrew the Apostle

Today’s readings

As is the case for most of the apostles, we don’t know a whole lot about St. Andrew.  And I think that’s appropriate, because what we need to know about them is that they were followers of Jesus, and were devoted to him.  We too are called to that same great devotion.

There are two presentations of Andrew’s discipleship in Scripture.  In the Gospel story we have today, Andrew is called at the same time as his brother Peter.  They are both fishermen, and are casting their nets into the sea.  Jesus, of course, has plans for them to cast nets for bigger fish, for souls for the kingdom, and so he calls them.  They immediately drop their nets and leave their father and turn to follow them.

I always wonder what would make them do something like that.  After just one call, they drop everything they have ever known, turn away from their family, and go off to pursue the admittedly greater call to follow Christ.  But why?  Yes, we know who Jesus is, but did they?  Maybe they had heard him preach, or had heard about him in some way, but I often think of my own call, which took years, and am amazed by their seemingly instantaneous decision to drop everything and follow Jesus.

The second presentation of Andrew’s story comes in the Gospel of John.  In John’s Gospel, Andrew is a disciple of St. John the Baptist.  One day, Jesus is passing by and John says, “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Andrew and another one of the disciples follow Jesus and he asks them what they want.  Andrew says, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  To which Jesus replies, “Come and see.”  So they do, and then it is Andrew who goes to get Peter and present him to Jesus.

Either way, the call is a great one, and the response of Andrew is one of wonder and openness.  We are called often in our lives to follow Jesus in some new way.  May Saint Andrew be our patron in those calls, and may his example lead us to drop what we are doing and follow our Lord.

First Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

We’ve gathered here today on the precipice of something new.  Do you feel it?  Do you come here with a sense of hope and expectation?  Are you on the edge of your seat?  Well, if not, we hope you will be by the end of Advent.  That’s what it’s all about.  The readings for these four weeks will focus on hope and expectation and will give us a view of the salvation God is unfolding for his own people.

And the newness is one that we celebrate in a real way in the Church.  Today I wish you a very happy new year.  And I do that not with tongue in cheek, but quite seriously.  This is the new year of the Church; it begins each year on the first Sunday of Advent.  And each new year gives us an opportunity to see once again the grace that God brings us; the hope he has in store for us; the promise he intends to fulfill among us; the salvation he wants for us.

Let’s be honest.  Don’t we need that hope today?  This has been a hard year, and so many of us come here with significantly less hope than we usually have.  There have been economic woes, even right here in Glen Ellyn: families losing their homes, people finding themselves out of work at the worst possible time.  Others come here in the midst of illness – either their own or that of a loved one.  This last year might even have see the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, or some other significant event.  As we end another year, some of us might be doing that with some regret as they look back on patterns of sin or the plague of addiction.  And so, for most of us, it doesn’t take too much imagination to know that there is a lot of room for renewed hope in our lives.

When our lives get as messy as they may have been these last days, it can often seem like the whole world is falling apart.  We might very well relate to today’s Gospel reading which foretells “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.”  Events of our lives may make it seem like the end is near, or at least that we wish it was near.

So what do we do while we are waiting?  How do we live among the chaos?  How do we keep on keepin’ on when every fiber of our being wants to pack it in and hope for it all to be over real soon?  The Gospel warns us that people will die in fright when they see what is going to happen, but it cannot be so for people of faith.  Even in the midst of life’s darkest moments, even when it seems like we can’t withstand one more bout of hopeless worry, we are still called to be a hopeful people.  “Stand erect,” Jesus tells us, “and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”  God is unfolding his promise among us and even though we still must suffer the sadness that life can sometimes bring us, we have hope for something greater from the one whose promises never go unfulfilled.

So what does a hopeful people do while we are waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises?  How is it that we anticipate and look for the coming of our Savior in glory?  Our consumerist society would have us get up at midnight on Black Friday (which I still contend is at least a mildly evil name) and battle it out with a few million of our closest friends for the latest gadget or bauble or toy.  And to that kind of thinking, Jesus says, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.”  Getting caught up in the things of this world does us no good.  It does not bring us closer to salvation or to our God, and all it does is increase our anxiety.  Who needs that?

Instead, we people of faith are called to wait by being “vigilant at all times.”  We are called to forgive those who have wronged us, to reach out to the poor and the vulnerable, to advocate for just laws and laws that protect the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, to challenge world powers to pursue peace, and even to love those who drive us nuts sometimes.  When we do that, we might just be surprised how often we see Jesus among us in our lives, in our families and schools and workplaces and communities.  It might just seem like Jesus isn’t that far from returning after all, that God’s promises are absolutely unfolding before our eyes.

We are a people who like instant gratification and hate to wait for something good to come along.  Maybe that’s why the Christmas shopping season starts about two weeks before Halloween.  But if we would wait with faith and vigilance, if we would truly pursue the reign of God instead of just assuming it will be served up to us on a silver platter, we might not be so weary of waiting after all.  That’s the call God gives us people of faith on this New Year’s day.

We’re gathered here on the precipice of something new, on the edge of our seats to see God’s hope unfold before us and among us.  Do you feel it?  Are you ready for it?

St. Andrew Dung-Lac & Companions, martyrs

Today’s readings

St. Andrew Dung-Lac was a priest in Vietnam in the early nineteenth century. He and his 116 companions, including Spanish Dominicans, members of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris, and 96 Vietnamese, including 36 other priests, were all martyred around the year 1839. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were martyred in Vietnam during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”  That ominous news from today’s Gospel can have us shaking with fear, but that fear can never distract us from our mission, or else the fear has won.  St. Andrew and his companions never gave in to the fear, and even gave their lives for the faith.

As our Church year ends, may we take courage from the example of the Vietnamese martyrs and courageously rededicate ourselves to witnessing to the faith, regardless of the cost.

Monday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You know, every time we hear this story about the widow’s mite, the story is equated with the call to stewardship. That’s the classic explanation of the text. And there’s nothing wrong with that explanation. I might even go so far as to preach it that way myself on occasion. But honestly, I don’t think the story about the widow’s mite is about stewardship at all. Yes, it’s about treasure and giving and all of that. But what kind of treasure? Giving what?

I think to get the accurate picture of what’s going on here, we have to ask why the Church would give us this little vignette at the end of the Church year, in the very last week of Ordinary Time. That’s the question I found myself asking when I looked at today’s readings. Well, first of all, it’s near the end of Luke’s Gospel so that may have something to do with it. But I think there’s a reason Luke put it at the end also. I mean, in the very next chapter we are going to be led into Christ’s passion and death, so why pause this late in the game to talk about charitable giving?

I think the key here is to figure out why the woman would have done what she did.  Why would she, a poor widow without anyone to take care of her, why would she have tossed her last two coins into the treasury?  It’s totally irrational when you think about it.  But I think maybe, just maybe, she gave everything because she was used to sacrificing for the one she loved, which until recently would have been her husband.  Now she doesn’t have anyone left to give everything for, except for God alone.  The love she had for her husband has to go somewhere, it doesn’t just disappear, so now she can give everything for God.

In this last week of the Church year, we have to hear the widow telling us that there is something worth giving everything for, and that something is our relationship with Christ our God.  Here at the end of the Church year, we are being invited to look back on our lives this past year and see what we have given. How much of ourselves have we poured out for the life of faith? What have we given of ourselves in service? What has our prayer life been like? Have we trusted Jesus to forgive our sins by approaching the Sacrament of Penance? Have we resolved to walk with Christ in good times and in bad?

In short, have we poured out everything we have, every last cent, every widow’s mite, for our life with Christ? Have we given our whole livelihood?  Or have we held something back, giving merely of our surplus wealth?

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings: Zechariah 2:14-17, Luke 1:46-55, Matthew 12:46-50

This particular Gospel reading is sometimes difficult to proclaim, because I think it’s out of context enough that we could get the wrong idea about the relationship between Jesus and Mary.  It almost seems as if Jesus doesn’t care about his mother, and his brothers – whoever they were – that’s a can of worms I don’t care to open this morning!  I just know that if I treated my mother and my family like that, well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be too good.

But our gut – or rather our faith – tells us that Jesus and Mary had a relationship that transcended that kind of thing.  It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t care about Mary, it’s just that he knew he really didn’t have to worry about her.  She could take care of things herself, and when she couldn’t, well he’d commission John to take care of her at the foot of the cross.

And that relationship in which Jesus instinctively knew that his mother was okay and he needed to attend more to the people he ministered to is the reason we celebrate Mary’s presentation today.   As with Mary’s birth, we don’t really know anything official about Mary’s presentation in the temple. An unhistorical account tells us that Anna and Joachim offered Mary to God in the Temple when she was three years old. This was to carry out a promise made to God when Anna was still childless.

Though it cannot be proven historically, Mary’s presentation has an important theological purpose. It continues the impact of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the birth of Mary. It emphasizes that the holiness conferred on Mary from the beginning of her life on earth continued through her early childhood and beyond.  We celebrate Mary, full of grace from the moment of her conception and all throughout her life.

We pray the words of Mary in the Responsorial Psalm today: “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”  Mary was always aware of the amazing grace that sustained her throughout her own very difficult life-long mission.  We are graced like that too, and we celebrate that grace with Mary today.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.

Friday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We have been hearing this week in our first reading from the books of the Macabees.  All week long, the message we were getting was that there is something more. Maybe eating a little pork, or tossing a few grains of incense on a coal in worship of an alien god would save one’s life, but upright Jews like Eleazar, and the Maccabee brothers insisted that that kind of life was not a life worth living. The something more to life is our relationship with God, and living without God is not really living at all. Living without God divorces us from who we are and forces us to live like the walking dead.

Today we can celebrate that our identity as children of God is worth fighting for, or even dying for. We give thanks with Judas and his brothers that God has called us to be his children, that he will not abandon us, and that he gives us the grace not to abandon him and abandon who we are. God is faithful and sovereign and if we persevere, we can rededicate the Temple of our lives to the God who made us and gave us life.

Thursday of the Twenty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

People look to great leaders to be an example to them.  In theory, anyway, that’s how it’s supposed to work.  So it comes as no surprise, really, that those enforcing the apostasy wanted Mattathias and his sons to enthusiastically sacrifice to the pagan gods, according to the order of the king.  Because if Mattathias gave in to the apostasy, others would find it easy to do so also.  Then, they told him, he would be known as one of the king’s friends.

But Mattathias remembered where his leadership came from.  He knew that it was a gift from God, and that he as a leader could only do God’s work.  So he refuses to give up and give in, to go along with the king’s order, even to make a pretense of it so that they would get off his back.  Instead, he is consumed with zeal, and on seeing one of his countrymen giving in, strikes him dead on the spot and leads the righteous in the nation in rebellion.

Mattathias knew which king he wanted as his friend.  He knew that God alone was worthy of worship, and his Kingship was greater than the rule of a mere mortal man.  A leader needs to keep his or her priorities in order, and needs to know the source of the gifts he or she possesses.  Keeping focused on the One who is the giver of those gifts helps us to lead rightly, to the honor and glory of God.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Today’s readings

St. Elizabeth was the daughter of the king of Hungary, and she married Louis IV of Thuringia when she was fourteen years old. They were happily married and had three children together. Together, they tried to live the ideals of St. Francis, so they sold their possessions and gave the money to the poor. This upset Elizabeth’s in-laws, who probably were hoping to inherit the things Louis and Elizabeth owned. When Louis was on the way to fight in a war, he was killed. Elizabeth’s in-laws forced her out of the palace, and she and her children went to live with her uncle who was a bishop. After Louis’s friends returned from the war, they restored Elizabeth to the palace and her rightful place. St. Elizabeth is a woman who lived a simple life and dedicated her life to loving others and helping the poor. She is the patron of Catholic Charities.

As the nation was edified by the example of Eleazar in today’s first reading, so many were edified by the example of St. Elizabeth.  May our convictions and our work on behalf of the poor be a shining example of faith to those who see it.

Monday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s first reading has one of the most chilling lines in all of Scripture: “and they did die.”  Their faith was sorely tested: would they give in and worship the false gods of the people around them so that they could have some kind of peace and security, or would they prefer to stand up for what they believed and more likely than not, give their lives for their faith?  Many gave up and gave in and worshipped the false gods.  Many stood their ground and clung to their belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But, let’s be clear about this: they all died.  In some way.  Those who were martyred literally gave their lives for the faith, we get that.  But those who chose to give up and give in brought about the death of their culture and the death of their souls.  Sure, they may have had some kind of peace and security now, but who would protect them if the people they allied themselves with were overtaken?  And that is to say nothing of their eternal souls.

The persecution never ends.  It would be easier in our own day to give in and accept abortion as a necessity, or keep our faith private and never share it or show it in any way.  Our culture would like that; they would appreciate our willingness to blend in and not give offense.  But that would be the death of our way of life and our spirituality.  It will surely cost us to witness to our faith, to challenge co-workers when a business deal blurs the lines of morality, to insist that our children attend Church on Sunday before they go to a weekend-long soccer tournament, or whatever the challenge may be.

But better that we die a little for our faith than our faith die out completely.

Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Why are we still here?????

Have you ever thought about that?  Why is it that Jesus has been so long in returning?  Why hasn’t he come back to put all things to their proper conclusion?  Why do we still have wars being fought all over the earth?  Why is there still terror, and death, and sadness, and pain?  Why do our loved ones still suffer illness?  Why do relationships still break down and why do people still hurt one another?  Why can’t God just wrap things up and put an end to all this nonsense?  Why can’t we all go home to be with our Lord and our loved ones?

If you relate to those questions, then you probably can relate to the readings that we have from the prophet Daniel and from Mark’s Gospel today.  These are what we call “apocalyptic writings” which are usually written to give people hope in the midst of very hard times.  So you can see why they would be so important to us today.  Because we have hard times of our own, don’t we?  I would venture to guess that everyone sitting here is either affected in some way by the economic downturn, or else they know someone who is.  Do you know someone whose son or daughter was stationed at Fort Hood?  Judging from the number of funerals we have had here lately, I would say that a lot of you have lost loved ones recently, or know about someone who has.  And that’s to say nothing of the day-to-day stuff like relationships ending, and the darkness of our own sin.

When these things confront us, who among us wouldn’t call to mind the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel?  “The sun will be darkened,” he says, “and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  It often seems like our whole world is falling apart, and we are desperately looking for some sign of hope.

They are hard readings today, really kind of dark in nature.  They remind me of the darkness of the days that we have at the end of the year.  The sun sets a lot earlier than it did, and the skies are often cloudy.  It’s a darkness we can almost feel, and these readings that we have at the end of our liturgical year really echo that sentiment for me.

But I think that’s the point.  A lot of fundamentalist folks have spent the greater part of their lives trying to figure out when all these things would take place.  They want a day and time when the end will come, and they sometimes tell us they have figured it out, only to have the time come and go, and they have to return to their lives, if they can.  But these readings aren’t supposed to be a roadmap.  They are supposed to accompany us when our lives are as dark as the autumn nights.  The message they give us is one of hope.  No, we will not be spared the disappointments, frustrations, and sadness that can sometimes come in our lives, but we never ever ever have to go through them alone.

God will be with us.  He will, as the Gospel tells us, “gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”  As the prophet Daniel tells us, “At that time [God’s] people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book.”

And so that is why we are here today.  That’s why we are still here.  We are here to allow God to gather his elect, and we are here to help him do that. To that end, we have gathered eight of our brothers and sisters today, to welcome them and support them in their journey to become one of us.  Two of them are now promoted to the Order of Catechumens.  Catechumens are those being instructed in the ways of the faith.  This pertains specifically to those not baptized.  At the Easter Vigil Mass, they will receive all three of the Sacraments of Initiation: baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist.  Catechumens have rights in the Church: they can receive a Christian burial if they are called home before the Sacraments can be administered; they can be married in the Church sacramentally, and they have a right to the sacraments.

The others being welcomed today are candidates for full communion with us.  They have been baptized, some Catholic, some not, and so they already share with us the foundation of grace and are being called to confirmation and first Eucharist to complete their union with us.

If we take the readings today seriously, and I think we should, then these eight people are simply a nice start.  We know that one day, we won’t still be here, that Jesus will return to complete all things and initiate the reign of God’s kingdom.  And we want everyone to be there.  In many ways, we cannot any of us go if we all don’t go.  It’s not just “me and Jesus.”  Salvation is not an individual thing, it’s something we all receive together.  And that’s why we have the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.  That’s why we actively reach out to those not among us and call them to communion with us.  We need to gather up all God’s people so that, one day, we can all be seated around the banquet of God’s people in heaven.

Back to my first question, then.  Why are we still here?  We’re still here because there is work still to be done.  There are many more people to gather from the four winds so that their names can be written in the book of life.  God is still working salvation among us; we need to cooperate with that saving work.  It’s not going to be easy, and some days may seem oppressively dark, but we are never alone.  Heaven and earth might pass away, but God’s word is forever.  It will not pass away.