Saint Francis Xavier, Patron of the Diocese of Joliet

Today’s readings

We celebrate the memorial of Saint Francis Xavier as a feast today, because he is the patron saint of the Diocese of Joliet.  Francis Xavier was a sixteenth century man who had a promising career in academics.  He was encouraged in the faith by his good friend, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and went to join the new community founded by Ignatius, the Society of Jesus, better known today as the Jesuits.

Francis had a passion for preaching the Gospel and living a life of Gospel simplicity.  He would live with and among the poorest of the poor, sharing their living conditions, ministering to the sick, and preaching and teaching the faith.  In fact, we might say that he reminds us of a current Jesuit, Pope Francis!  Saint Francis Xavier lived in the East Indies for a time, before going on to minister to the Hindus, Malaysians, and Japanese.  He even learned a bit of Japanese in order to communicate well with his people and to preach to them.  He dreamed of going on to minister in China, but died before he could get there.

Francis Xavier truly took to heart the words of Saint Paul who said he made himself all things to all people in order to save at least some.  He made it his life’s work to live as his people lived, preaching to simple folk, and calling them to Jesus.  He was also able to live freely Jesus’ Gospel call today: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

That same Gospel call is the inspiration of our diocese’s current focus on missionary discipleship.  This year, Bishop Conlon wrote to us in his pastoral letter, “’Go,’ He Said” that missionary discipleship needs to be the priority for the Church and her members in order to bring the Gospel to “every creature.”

In that letter, Bishop tells us what this means for us: “Discipleship begins when you sense that Jesus Christ loves you and is calling you to follow Him. You are a disciple if you, in turn, acknowledge that He really is the Son of God and the true source of your life here and for eternity, that you love Him more than anyone else, that you want to form your daily life and its decisions around Him, and that you want to talk about Him with others.”

So we might not have the opportunity to live as Francis Xavier did and to actually go out to distant shores to preach the Gospel.  But we certainly are still called to preach it with our lives.  We are called to witness to Christ to everyone we meet: family, friends, coworkers, neighbors-anyone the Lord puts in our path.  Our diocese chose Francis Xavier for our patron because our founders took seriously the call to proclaim the Gospel to every person in this diocese.  We are called upon to do the same, according to our own life’s vocation and state of life.  May all who hear our words and see our actions come to believe and be saved.

The First Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

I don’t know about you, but I always find this weekend after Thanksgiving to be a little strange.  Here is a weekend when we can barely clear the plates at the Thanksgiving dinner table before we have to make room for Christmas.  And I’m not talking about the religious observance of the Incarnation of our Lord, but rather all the secular trappings of that holy day.  It begins about Halloween, or maybe a little earlier, when you start to see the stores slowly make room for the Christmas stuff.  They sneak in some “holiday” signs here and there, and start to weave the garland into the end of the aisles, just past the Halloween costumes.  On Thanksgiving day, you hear the great “thud” of the daily newspaper, heavier than it is on most Sundays because of all the “Black Friday” sales.

And then there’s Black Friday itself, which now starts bright and early on Thursday morning – Thursday, you know, Thanksgiving Day.  We then get to be treated to Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  What a commercial mess this has all become, what a sad commentary on what makes our society tick.  We barely have time to gather up the pumpkins and corn stalks and autumn leaves before we have to set out the Christmas stockings and brightly-lit trees and candy canes.  

I find that this rampant consumerism is really just part of the ambient noise of our society.  From television to social media to email spam to Christmas jingles on the store loud-speakers, the noise never seems to stop.  Whether it’s political bantering and bureaucratic infighting, or the latest pop culture scandal, it seems like there’s always a lot of noise going on.  And we could add to that our own noise: sin in our lives, unaddressed family strife, and so much more.  It’s no wonder we often have the television on as background noise, we seem to clamor for it.

But all that noise comes at the peril of our spiritual lives.  The noise fills up the space that God wants to use to speak words of encouragement, solace, or challenge.  When we are constantly listening to other things, we can’t hear the voice of God who wants to be part of our lives, who wants to give us himself.

The emotions we feel at this time of year are palpable and often conflicted.  The Church knows this, and in Her great wisdom, gives us the season of Advent every year.  It’s a season that recognizes that there is this hole in our hearts that needs to be filled up with something, and can be filled up if we will just be quiet and make space.  That something isn’t going to be an item you can pick up on Black Friday, or a trite holiday jingle, or even a gingerbread-flavored libation.  Those things can’t possibly fill up our personal sadness, or the lack of peace in the world, or the cynicism and apathy that plague our world and confront us day after day.

And so in our readings today, rather boldly, the Church is telling us to cut out all of this nonsense and get serious about our eternity.  Because if we’re only living from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, we are going to be left behind with our cheap electronics and gaudy trinkets, and have none of the real riches of the Kingdom of God.

And so our first reading, from the second chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy, has us taking a step back to look at our lives:  “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”  We need to go a little higher and look down on what we’ve become in order to see how we fit into the bigger picture.  Do we see ourselves as concerned about peace and justice in the world, looking out for the needs of the needy and the marginalized, blanketing our world in holiness and calling it to become bright and beautiful as it walks in the light of the Lord?

Or do we take part in those deeds of darkness that Saint Paul writes about in his letter to the Romans today?  Do we participate in these dark deeds to the point of giving scandal to those who carefully watch the activities of people of faith?  If we do, then Saint Paul clearly commands us to get our act together: “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us conduct ourselves properly…”

So this Advent season is clearly about something more than hanging up pretty decorations for a birthday party.  It’s about something more than perpetuating rampant consumerism and secularism.  And it’s definitely about more than participating in the same old noise we encounter all the time.  The stakes are too high for that.  Because while we are distracted by all of that ambient noise, we are in danger of missing the joy for which we were created.  Just as in the days of Noah, as Jesus points out in our Gospel today, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, so it will be in the coming Day of the Lord.  Just as those oblivious ones were surprised by the flood, we too are in danger of being surprised by the second coming.  God forbid that two men are hanging lights on the house when one is taken and the other is left.  Or that two women are getting some crazy deals at Kohls and one is taken and the other is left.  Or that two people are having a Twitter feud and one is taken and another is left.  We have to be prepared, because at an hour we do not expect, our Lord will certainly return.

Don’t get me wrong: the return of our Lord is not something to be feared.  Indeed, we eagerly await that coming in these Advent days.  I’m just saying that if we aren’t attentive to our spiritual lives, if we don’t create a space for silence and reflection, if we aren’t zealous about living the Gospel, if we aren’t intentional about making time for worship and deepening our relationship with the Lord, then we are going to miss out on something pretty wonderful.  And that pretty wonderful thing isn’t in the far-off, distant future.  If we quiet ourselves and open our eyes, He’s right in front of us, walking with us, calling us to become more than we are, to become the glory for which we were created.  We have to stay awake, we have to turn off the noise, we have to live in the Lord’s daylight and not prefer the world’s darkness.  We have to eagerly expect our Lord’s birth into our hearts and souls, right here and now, and not in some distant day.

Or we’ll miss it.  God forbid, we’ll miss it.

So we are going to give you some quiet time right now, and also after Communion.  You can read more about that in my bulletin column today.  But now, I want to give you an opportunity to pray in that silence…

So take a moment now to call to mind something positive you’ve been meaning to do.  Maybe it’s a practice of prayer, or getting up on time, or exercising regularly, or reaching out to a friend or family member you haven’t talked to in a while.  If you’re like me, you could come up with a whole list of those things, but I want you to call to mind the one that is most tugging on your heart right now.  In these moments of silence, I invite you to talk to Jesus about that thing.  Offer it to him, and ask him for the grace to accomplish it, or at least begin it, in these Advent days.  And then listen for his support of you in that endeavor.

Friday of the Third Week of Advent: O Radiant Dawn

Today’s readings

There’s a little more light today.  As we get toward these last days of Advent, we find ourselves in a time when more light is beginning to shine.  More and more of the candles on our Advent wreath are lit, and the only thing that can make our world brighter is the coming of our God in all his glory, dawning brightly on the earth.

Today’s “O Antiphon” tells us as much.  Today we hear “O Radiant Dawn,” and the antiphon for Evening prayer is this: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

This light is the source of the joy of which Zephaniah the prophet speaks today.  He tells the broken people Israel that God has forgiven their sins, and that he continues to walk among them, which should be cause enough to remove their fear.  That enduring presence among the people Israel, of course, is a foretaste of the enduring presence that we experience in the Incarnation of Christ.

Mary and Elizabeth celebrate that light in today’s Gospel.  Mary’s greeting of Elizabeth is an act of hospitality, and Elizabeth’s welcome, along with the Baptist’s reaction in his mother’s womb, is an act of faith.  That faith incredibly affected the salvation of the whole world.

And all of this light continues to shine on our sometimes-dark world.  A world grown dark and cold in sin is visited by its creator, and that world is changed forever.  The darkness can never now be permanent.  Sin and death no longer have the last word for us, because that was never God’s will for us.  We have hope for eternal life because our God eagerly desires us to return to him and be one with him.

And so we pray, Come, O Radiant Dawn, shatter the darkness that sometimes reigns in our cynical world.  Give us the warmth of your light to warm our hearts grown cold with sin.  Shine on all who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Come quickly and do not delay!

O Sacred Lord

Today’s readings

I love these late days of Advent. The expectation of the Savior is heightening, the time of deliverance is at hand, the Lord is near. During these days, we pray the “O Antiphons:” the call for Christ to come and visit us under his many titles. Yesterday was “O Sapientia” or “O Wisdom.” Today is “O Adonai” or “O Sacred Lord.” The antiphon for Vespers this evening prays: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” We pray for the Lord of our salvation to come quickly and not delay.

This was the message Joseph received in his dream. No, the child to be born was not a random child born out of wedlock. He was instead the hope of the nations, the Lord of Lords, the one who would save his people from their sins. Just as Isaiah foretold one who would be called “the LORD our justice,” so Joseph would name his child Jesus, a name which means “the LORD is salvation.” We await the coming of our Savior who is our salvation, our justice, our hope of eternal life. He was long desired of every nation, and he is needed in our hearts today.

It was necessary for Joseph to set aside his plans for his life so that salvation could come to all the world.  His decision to dismiss Mary quietly was a just one, considering he could have exposed her to shame.  But even that just decision was not God’s will.  Joseph went to God in the stillness of his heart, and was open to his angel’s message in a dream.  Openness to God’s plans is necessary for all of us if we would be one with the Lord.

And so we pray, come O Sacred Lord, do not delay. Fill our hearts with your presence and come to us with your great salvation. Free us from our slavery to sin, open our hearts to your will for us, and bring us into your presence. Come Lord Jesus, come quickly and do not delay!

O Wisdom

Today’s readings

That was quite a list of names, wasn’t it? Forty-two generations of the pilgrim people Israel led by some real characters. Some of them were heroic like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah and to some extent David and Solomon. But some of them were pretty wicked, especially Manasseh, whose wickedness in shedding innocent blood incurred God’s wrath such that he allowed the Babylonian captivity that took place during Jeconiah’s reign. So we have forty-two generations of saints and sinners, great men and flawed men, all leading up to the Incarnation of Christ, who was the only remedy to the cycle of sin that spiraled all through the story.

Today we begin the more intense period of Advent that extends from December 17th through the morning of Christmas Eve. During this time, the Liturgy leads us to call all the more longingly for the presence of Christ. Just as forty-two generations of a mix of wisdom and foolishness could only be remedied by the presence of Christ, so the foolishness of our time calls for that same remedy.

During these last days of Advent, we pray the “O Antiphons,” from which we derive the verses in the Advent Hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The verses are also used during Evening Prayer. Today’s is “O Wisdom,” and the verse from Evening Prayer is “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care: Come and show your people the way to salvation.” We trust the governance of God, the Creator of creation, to satisfy our longing for wisdom with the presence of the Incarnate Christ.

Come, Lord Jesus and bring us peace. Come, Lord Jesus and put an end to the world’s foolishness. Come, Lord Jesus and bring us your Wisdom. Come quickly and do not delay.

The Third Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

Today’s readings and liturgy call us to rejoice.  That’s the reason for the rose-colored vestments and the more joyful tone of today’s readings.  This is called GaudeteSunday: gaudetebeing Latin for “rejoice,” the first word of today’s introit or proper entrance antiphon which says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed the Lord is near.”  The Church takes that antiphon from the words of the second reading today.

And there is reason to rejoice.  The prophet Zephaniah tells the people Israel that, even though their sins had displeased the LORD to the point that he gave them over to the hands of their enemies, he has relented in his judgment against them and will deliver them from their misfortune.  Their deliverance is so complete that the LORD will even rejoice over them with gladness!  

In his letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul calls us to rejoice too.  The reason he calls for rejoicing is that “The Lord is near.”  He was referring to Jesus’ return in glory, of course, which they thought would be relatively soon in those days.  While he never saw that in his lifetime, we may.  Or perhaps our children will, or their children.  One thing we definitely know is that the Lord is near.  He does not abandon us in our anxieties but instead listens as we pray to him and make our petitions with thanksgiving.  Our Lord is as near to us as our next quiet moment, our next embrace of someone we love, our next act of kindness.  Rejoice indeed!

Maybe this call to rejoice rings a little hollow today, based on the continued presence of terror and mass-shootings and civil unrest in our society. And even perhaps a bit closer to home, maybe we ourselves are experiencing the illness of a loved one, a broken relationship, job or financial insecurities, or any other kind of sadness.  The world can be a very bleak place, our lives can be in turmoil, and rejoicing can be the furthest thing from our hearts and minds.  But our faith tells us we can rejoice anyway.  The Psalmist sings today about the kind of hope our world needs right now:

God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.

And it is up to us to bring this kind of hope to a world that has almost become accustomed to horror and shock and terror and sadness.  Sometimes it seems that the world may almost prefer to sit in this kind of darkness, even find some kind of weird comfort in it, but not people of faith.  People of faith instead light a candle of hope and rejoice in the light of Christ!  People of faith can rejoice because even in times of sadness and despair, the presence of our God is palpable, realized in stories of heroism and seen in acts of charity and grace in good times and in bad.

And so today we rejoice because our Lord is near.  We light that third, rose-colored candle on our Advent wreath.  We look forward to celebrating the Incarnation, perhaps the greatest and best of the mysteries of faith.  That God himself, who is higher than the heavens and greater than all the stars of the universe, would humble himself to be born among us, robing himself with our frail flesh, in order to save us from our sins and make his home among us for all eternity – that is a mystery so great it cannot fail to cause us to rejoice!  Indeed that very presence of God gives hope even in the worst of times – THE LORD IS NEAR!

The people who came to Saint John the Baptist in today’s Gospel knew of the nearness of their salvation, because John preached it with intensity.  So today they come to him and ask them what they should do – what’s the next step?  And he tells them.  They need to repent, to reform their lives, and keep watch for the One who is mightier still than he is.  The coming Savior will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and the only way to be prepared for that is to turn away from their practices of darkness and live with integrity.

It’s a message that is intended for us too.  Because, honestly, we also could clean up our act a bit.  We too have need to repent – all of us, me too.  Maybe we have big sins or maybe little ones; maybe we have patterns of addiction that we have been struggling with – we all fall short of the glory God intends for us.  None of us is Jesus or Mary, so we have sin in our lives and it is from that sin that Advent calls us to repent.

Because sin is what keeps us from rejoicing, brothers and sisters in Christ.  Sin keeps us mired in the darkness.  Sin breaks the relationship with God and others that keeps us from seeing that the Lord is near.  But we rejoice because our God came to us to give us the antidote to that.  He came to pour out on us his great mercy.  That’s good news, and that’s why we celebrate the sacrament of Penance.

In order to help you to prepare so that you can rejoice, all of us priests will be hearing confessions next Saturday afternoon at 3.  We will also have several priests available next Sunday after the 12:15 Mass until all are heard.  If those times do not work for your schedule, our bulletin has a list of confessions at parishes in our area. I am urging you to go to confession before Christmas because I want you to be able to rejoice.  If you have not been to Confession in years and maybe are a little ashamed or scared or don’t know how to do it, then go anyway and put an end to the awkwardness so you can rejoice.  The priest will welcome you back warmly and help you to make a good confession.  That’s what we do; that’s why we are priests, and it’s our privilege to help you experience the Lord’s mercy and kindness so that you can once again rejoice.  So if you haven’t been to confession yet this Advent, I really want you to go this week.  You’ll rejoice and be glad when you do.

These final days of Advent call us to prepare more intensely for the Lord’s birth.  They call us to clamor for his Incarnation, waiting with hope and expectation in a dark and scary world.  These days call us to be people of hope, courageously rejoicing that the Lord is near!  Come, Lord Jesus!  Come quickly and do not delay!

Saturday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

One of my favorite things about the season of Advent is the people we meet along the way.  In the early days of Advent we have celebrated the Immaculate Conception of Mary as well as Our Lady of Guadalupe.  We also remembered St. Juan Diego, St. John of the Cross, St. Lucy and St. Nicholas. We’ve been hearing from Isaiah all along in our first readings, and he has more to say to us still before we hear of his words’ fulfillment on Christmas Day.

Then there’s the prophet Elijah, about whom we hear in today’s first reading.  Tradition and Scripture tell us that Elijah didn’t die; he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot on a whirlwind as his successor, Elisha, looked on.  It was expected that one day he would return.  And so ever since, even to this day, the Jewish people have left an empty place at the table for Elijah at every major celebration.

Jesus makes it clear, however, that Elijah has already returned.  In today’s Gospel reading, we meet Jesus and the disciples coming down the mountain from the Transfiguration.  They have just seen Elijah on the mountaintop along with Jesus and Moses.  And so they ask Jesus, as they make their way down, about the return of Elijah.  When he tells them that Elijah has already returned, but nobody recognized him, they realize that he is speaking of Saint John the Baptist, that other Advent character that we have been privileged to meet.

And it’s a bit of a foreshadowing.  Just as the people missed Elijah’s return, so they will miss Jesus’ return too.  The Resurrection is a sure sign of God’s love and presence in the world, but how many didn’t believe then, and how many still don’t believe!  For people to come to know that Christ has come and lived and died and risen for us, Isaiah’s voice must still be heard.  John the Baptist did that by crying out in the desert.  Now it’s our turn.

Saint Lucy, Virgin Martyr

In every age, young people have the difficult task of remaining pure. Some ignore the task, but some take it up at great personal cost. This was true of Saint Lucy, who desired to remain pure because of her commitment to Christ. She was born of noble parents in Sicily around the year 283. Her father died early in her life, and so she was dependent on her mother. She consecrated her virginity to God and sought to renounce worldly possessions in favor of caring for the poor. Her mother, after suffering from a hemorrhage for several years, decided to make a pilgrimage to Catania, to see the relics of St. Agatha. She was indeed cured of her disease, and in her joy consented to Lucy’s desire to give greatly to the poor.

But that generosity, probably mixed with frustration over her commitment to virginity before marriage, was viewed with great skepticism by her unworthy suitor, who denounced her as a Christian to the Governor of Sicily. She was condemned to a life of prostitution, but prayer rendered her immovable and she could not be dragged off to the house of ill repute! At that point, logs were piled around her and a fire was set, which had no effect on her at all. She was finally put to death with a sword and suffered martyrdom for her dedication to Christ.

As one of the prominent figures of Advent, St. Lucy points the way to the coming Christ. The details of her story have been disputed, however the point of the story is not to provide a historical record, but rather a spiritual record. Her commitment to Christ provided a rich and unobstructed pathway for the entrance of her Lord into her heart.

We too have challenges along the way to Christ. We might not be called to give our lives rather than forsake our virginity or even our belief in Christ, but we are called to lay down our lives to cover the rough places in the road so that others can come to find Him. Along the way, we are encouraged by great saints like Agatha and Lucy. Every single one of them points us in the right direction: to Christ our God who comes to be incarnate among us in every age.

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

In this morning’s readings, our God is doing everything possible to get our attention. Salvation is God’s number one priority and he won’t rest until all have come to it. And so he sends Isaiah to “cry out” so many truths that we need to absorb: flesh is fading, but the word of the Lord is forever; the glory of the Lord will be revealed; our guilt is expiated. And this is all good news if we would receive it, but humanity is prone to tuning God out, especially if times are good.

And so he literally jumps up and down to get our attention: Isaiah runs up to the top of a high mountain crying out, “Here is your God!” And failing all of that, God becomes the good shepherd, who notices us lost sheep and sets out to bring us back, even though it would seem – to us – to be wiser not to do so.

God wants us all to come to salvation. He wants us all to open our hearts and receive him. He comes among us, as the Psalmist says, “to rule the world with justice, and the peoples with his constancy.” God urgently seeks to bind up all the broken and lost ones and bring everyone to the kingdom. That’s Advent. Blessed are we when we hear God crying out to us and respond.

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