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!”

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!

Prelude to Advent: Come, Lord Jesus!

Readings: 1 John 1:1-4, Luke 1:1-4, Luke 4:14-22

[Mass for the School Children.]

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah preached about 750 years before Jesus was born. At that time, the Jewish people were in a time of great turmoil and persecution. Isaiah preached to them God’s promise that he would send a savior to deliver the people from being unjustly imprisoned, from their blindness, and from their suffering. Jesus reads this promise to the people gathered in the synagogue, and then does something very startling: he tells them that the promise that Isaiah preached has come true, and that Jesus is the savior God promised to send.

I’m sure that you all know very well that Christmas is less than a month away. What do we celebrate on Christmas day? The birth of Jesus our Savior. On Sunday, we will 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, we’ll be hearing all about God’s promises. As you look around today, you can tell that the church is different: we have already begun to decorate the church for Advent. But we left one thing out, and that is the candles for our Advent wreath. Here at St. Raphael, we are really the advent wreath, as we gather in kind of a circle around the Altar. And we place the candles at the four corners of the Church. So now, some of the eighth graders are going to help me put those candles in place as we walk around the Advent wreath and think about God’s promises.

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 be sorry for our sins. The readings that we hear that day will 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.

On 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 are mean to 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 say we’re sorry, 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 to be sorry for our sins and to change our lives, we can still be joyful because Jesus is coming. 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.

Advent gives us the chance to get rid of all the darkness in our lives and to try to get rid of the darkness in our world. As we light our candles every Sunday, we might also take the opportunity to lighten our world by going to confession before Christmas, by reaching out to the poor and needy by buying a gift for someone on the Sharing Tree. We can lighten our own hearts by listening to the readings at Mass and praying for ourselves and our families and friends, and for those who have no one to pray for them.

I want you all to memorize one little prayer 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. When I see you in the halls or anywhere around here, 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. Let’s say it together: Come, Lord Jesus. And again: Come, Lord Jesus. Now by yourselves…

If we pray this prayer every day of Advent, we will truly be ready to celebrate the birthday of Jesus on Christmas Day. Let’s pray it just one more time together: Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday of the 34th Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

I think for most of us, the whole idea of giving testimony to anyone or anything can be more than a little daunting. And then to be dragged in before courts, and national rulers to do it – well, that just puts fear into our hearts doesn't it? That is, however, just what Jesus promises that will happen in those cataclysmic days of the end of time. For those who are not used to speaking in front of people, that can be frightening. But Jesus also promises that we need not worry about what to say on those occasions, because he will provide us with the defense that we are to speak.

Which is why it is so important for us to always work on our relationship with the Lord. For those who don't have a relationship with him, they will never know the words they are to say, nor could they possibly recognize them if they were given those words. But for those who seek the Lord every day of their lives, they will be used to seeing God's grace and knowing the right words to say.

It's a little like the woman who was desperate for the solution to a problem in her life. She finally knew that she had to pray about it, but because she hadn't really done that very much, she didn't know how to pray. So she got the old dusty Bible off the shelf, opened it at random, closed her eyes, pointed to a verse and read, "Judas went out and hanged himself." She knew that couldn't be the answer, so she tried again. She opened up to a random spot, pointed to a verse, and read, "Go and do likewise." That frightened here a bit, so she figured she would try one more time. Opening the Bible at random, she pointed to a verse and read, "Go quickly and do what you must do."

That's an old joke, but it illustrates my point. If we want to be prepared to witness to Christ before courts and nations and rulers, we need to know who Jesus is. If we want to have the words to speak on those frightening occasions, we have to have a relationship with Him in the first place. Then we truly need not worry about what to say, because we will be able to sing God's praises before the whole world. And we can join in the song with all the victorious ones in the Kingdom of God:

Great and wonderful are your works,
Lord God almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O king of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
or glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

With all this talk about the harvest, and deception, and the great winepress of God’s fury, the end of time can be an absolutely frightening thought. The readings today almost make it seem like at some point, God will have had quite enough of our foolishness and return to wipe out the living and the dead. But that’s not the promise.

The psalmist today makes the promise a little more clear to us:

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
Before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.

The promise of which this psalmist sings is one of great joy, a joy that will envelop and lift up all creation. The occasion for this joy is that all creation has finally come to what it was destined for: the praise of God. This makes the judgment day not at all like the great destruction of God’s wrath, but more of a celebration of creation finally developing into what it was made for.

Eucharistic Prayer III says “all creation rightly gives you praise.” This is what we were all made for; this is what everything was made for; this is the meaning of life. In these waning days of the year, we are called to look forward to the new creation, and called to partner with God in re-creating the world. We start with ourselves, by becoming the people we were created to be. That may give us stuff to work on in the coming year, but we can do that work with joy because we know that God “shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

Today’s readings

“My kingdom does not belong to this world.”

feastofchristthekingpaintingToday we celebrate the great feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. Here, at the end of our liturgical year, we celebrate the one who has led us through the year. As we look back, there may have been times of great achievement, or times of failure. We may have celebrated life, or had to deal with sickness and death. We may have been blessed by wonderful, nurturing relationships or we may have had to deal with discord and strife. But if this year has meant anything, hopefully we can say that we have come through it with the help of Jesus our Savior, who is our Lord and King.

In today’s first reading, we have the promise of a king: one like a son of man with an everlasting dominion. This part of the book of Daniel comes from a series of visions. In these visions, particularly the one we have today, Daniel gives the Jews hope in persecution. This is no mere dream, and he is not just sharing his dream with a friend at work the next day. This is a vision that is spoken to lift the people up and help them to know that their hope is in God.

The Jews of his day have been being persecuted by the Greek tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes IV. He and his henchmen were certainly persecuting the Jews who insisted on living the Jewish way of life. But what is even more evil and more disastrous to the community, is that some of the Jews were starting to think that giving up their way of life and instead worshiping the gods of the Greeks was a good idea. They saw how powerful the Greeks were and attributed that to the gods they were worshipping. So, why not give up their own faith to follow one that seems to be working better? The biggest danger they faced was losing their faith to the pagans by adopting pagan ways of life.

So, when did you see your first Christmas display? I’m not sure when I did, but I know it was way before Halloween. I was also amazed to hear Christmas music on WLIT in the first week of November. And on Thanksgiving Day, I was awakened early in the morning by the sound of a heavier than usual newspaper hitting the sidewalk outside my door. I wasn’t shocked to discover the reason for this rude awakening was that the paper contained tons of Christmas-related advertisements for after Thanksgiving sales. The mad rush for the hearts and souls of Christmas shoppers has begun. In just the last week, we’ve all seen long lines waiting for the latest video game system. People camp out in tents and brawl for the first places in line. Peace on earth, good will to all. Yeah, sure.

So, we clearly are not under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, but we are definitely in danger of losing our faith to the pagan forces of this world. And there are so many other seductive ways that pagan forces weasel their way into our lives and tempt us to give in to their power over us. Everything that promises us power, success and wealth has the ability to take our hearts and souls with it. Why not just give in? Won’t paganism and evil win out in the end?

Well, Daniel sure didn’t think so. He prophesied that there would be one like a Son of Man who would triumph over Antiochus and others like him. This One would deliver them from the persecution they suffered and from the seduction that confronted them. This One would rule the world in justice and peace, and would lead the persecuted ones to a kingdom that would never pass away.

The early Church identified this Son of Man with Jesus Christ. He is the One who has power to rule over all and he is the One whose kingdom is everlasting. He even referred to himself as the Son of Man, and made it clear that he was the Son of Man who would suffer for the people. He came to deliver those first Christians from persecution with the promise that he would indeed come again, and that same promise is made to us as well.

But the problem was, he didn’t return right away. People lost faith, gave in to persecution, and just went with the powerful forces of the day. The delay in his return led some to believe that he was not returning, and so they should just do what seemed expedient. Why not go with the victorious pagan forces of the world? It’s a question that we must answer too.

As we end this liturgical year and take a look back, maybe we can see some areas for improvement in our lives. Much like the resolutions we may make January 1st, we may be able to make some resolutions for our spiritual lives in the coming liturgical year. I don’t mean losing weight or getting more exercise: those you can make in the new calendar year. But maybe in this liturgical year we could resolve to pray more or work for justice and peace, or reach out to the needy. If we were to make some constructive resolutions for our spiritual lives, we could begin to take away the hold the pagan forces in our world have on us. We could even proclaim with our lives that Christ is our King.

Jesus told Pilate in today’s Gospel that his Kingdom was not of this world. That should be the red flag for us. When we begin to worship and follow the forces of this world, we know that we are in the wrong place. Christ is the King, the Son of Man, who will lead us to a kingdom not made by human hands, a kingdom that will not pass away, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of love and mercy, a kingdom of grace and comfort, a kingdom of eternal beauty and unfathomable joy. The choice is ours, though. Will we follow the pagan forces of this world, or will we follow Our Lord Jesus Christ the King to that perfect and everlasting kingdom?