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?  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 suffer from disease, 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 what seemed to be more than my share of death and disease.  My fellow student-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

To you, I lift up my soul, O my God.
In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame.
Nor let my enemies exult over me;
and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

Those are the very first words in the Roman Missal’s Proper of Time.  This is today’s proper entrance antiphon, and with these words, the Church begins the new Church year.  We stand here on the precipice of something new: a new Church year, a new season of grace.  We eagerly await God’s new creation, lifting up souls full of hope and expectation.  We come to this place and time of worship to take refuge from the disparaging enemies that pursue us into our corner of the world.  And we wait for God on this first day of the year, keenly aware that our waiting will not be unrewarded.  This is Advent, the season whose very name means “coming” and stands before us as a metaphor of hope for a darkened world, and a people darkened by sin.

When we’re praying through Advent, perhaps we feel a sense of longing.  We do long for that newness.  This time of year, we long for warmer days.  In the news, we long for peace in the world and even in cities and communities.  Perhaps we long for peace in our families, and ourselves.  As a community of faith, we long for the One who alone can bring the real, lasting peace that makes a difference in our lives and in our world.  We long for the promised Savior who will bind up what is broken in us and lead us back to the God who made us for himself.

I sure think Isaiah had it right in today’s first reading, didn’t he?  “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways,” he cries, “and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?”  What a wonderful question for all of us – it’s a question that anyone who has struggled with a pattern of sin has inevitably asked the Lord at one time or another.  He goes on to pray “Would that you might meet us doing right, and that we were mindful of you in our ways!”  We so much want to break free of the chains of sin and sadness, and turn back to our God, but so often, we encounter so many obstacles along the way.

Whether it’s our own personal sin, which is certainly cause enough for sadness, or the sin in which we participate as a society, there’s a lot of darkness out there.  Wars raging all over the world, abortions happening every day of the year, the poor going unfed and dying of starvation here and abroad.  Why does God let all of this happen?  A quick look at the news leads us to ask ourselves, what kind of people have we become?  Why does God let us wander so far from his ways?  Why doesn’t he just rend the heavens and come down and put a stop to all this nonsense?

There is only one answer to this quandary, and that’s what we celebrate in this season of anticipation.  There has only ever been one answer.  And that answer wasn’t just a band-aid God came up with on the fly because things had gone so far wrong.  Salvation never was an afterthought.  Jesus Christ’s coming into the world was always the plan.

[And so I think it is very appropriate that we welcome catechumens here on this first Sunday of the year.  They too wait and have longing for a deep relationship with God.  They yearn from the day when they will be given the fullness of salvation in the church’s sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.  As we support them as a community through their time of formation, it is a sign of our hope for salvation, when God brings us all together to everlasting life.]

I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite Advent hymns this week.  One of my favorites is “O Come, Divine Messiah,” a seventeenth-century French carol translated into English in the late nineteenth century.  It sings of a world in silent anticipation for the breaking of the bondage of sin that could only come in one possible way, and that is in the person of Jesus Christ:

O Christ, whom nations sigh for,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Come break the captive fetters;
Redeem the long-lost fold.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

As we prepare to remember the first coming of our Savior into our world at Christmas, we now look forward with hope and eagerness for his second coming.  You’ll be able to hear that expressed in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer today.  That second coming, for which we live in breathless anticipation, will finally break the captive fetters and put an end to sin and death forever.  That is our only hope, our only salvation, really the only hope and salvation that we could ever possibly need.

All of this requires vigilance; we must be watchful, be alert, as Jesus instructs us in today’s Gospel.  We want our God to meet us doing right.  And so our task now is to wait, and to watch, and to yearn for his coming.  Waiting requires patience: patience to enjoy the little God-moments that become incarnate to us in our everyday lives.  Patience to accept this sinful world as it is and not as we would have it, patience to know that, as Isaiah says, we are clay and God is the potter, and he’s not done creating, or re-creating the world just yet.  And so we watch for signs of God’s goodness, alert to opportunities to grow in grace, with faith lived by people who are the work of God’s hands.

We wait and we watch knowing – convinced, really – absolutely positive – that God will rend the heavens and come down to us again one day; that Christ will return in all his glory and gather us back to himself, perfecting us and allowing hope to sing its triumph so loud that all the universe can hear it, dispelling the night and putting sadness to flight once and for all.  Brothers and sisters, be alert for that day.

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think we all wonder what Jesus meant when he said, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”  Certainly the then-current generation has come and gone, and it doesn’t seem like we’ve come to the end of the world.  But the Church would pose two very important questions about the coming and going of that generation.

First, what constitutes that generation?  Did Jesus mean just the people that were alive at that time?  We tend to think not.  All of us who believe in Jesus and live the Gospel are the members of his generation.  Jesus came to create the world anew, and we are all creatures of that wonderful new creation.  We will all live, in some way, to see the end of days, either here on earth, or from the joy of heaven.

Secondly, what was it that generation was supposed to see?  They were to see the signs of a new creation.  Just like the first buds of the fig tree and other trees that Jesus spoke about, all of which signaled the beginning of summer, so the signs of the new creation are evident among us.  Sins are forgiven, people return to God, miracles happen.  Granted, all these are imperfect in some ways now, given that they happen to us fallen creatures, but one day they shall be brought to perfection in the kingdom of God.  Then, we will see “One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven,” whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”

Saint Andrew, 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.

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I really don’t like that over-used phrase “at the end of the day.”  You hear it all the time, and it’s one of my least favorite corporate-speak phrases.  But I can’t help but think about this tired old phrase when I read the Scriptures for the Liturgy in these last days of the Church year.  Because the Liturgy is calling our attention to the fact that the end of the year is near, and asking us to reflect on our experience in the year gone by.  Have we been changed?  Are we responding to the Gospel?  Is our relationship with God any different than it was this time last year?

God is always ready for the harvest, with the sickle at the ready.  But our Scriptures today take care to point out that we must not be overly-anxious to jump the gun.  We may hear of Nostradamus prophecies, or revelations from some very obscure mystic that lead us to fear the end is upon us.  Lots of people will misinterpret all of the things that are happening in the news all over the world.  But God wants us to know that he is still at work, redeeming the lost, calling those who have strayed, binding up those who are broken.  So much has to happen before the end of days, so many still need to be redeemed.  Even we ourselves can use conversion and repentance and a renewed relationship with our God, if we’re honest.

So at the end of the day, are we any different?  Have we been changed?  Are we responding to the Gospel?  Has our relationship with God grown?  If not, we need to take the opportunity that next week’s beginning of the new Church year affords us.  We can allow Christ to be the King of our hearts and our lives.  We can be intimately connected with God through prayer and acts of peace and justice.  Seeking the Lord, we need not fear all those powerful earthquakes, famines and plagues.  We can instead cling anew to our Lord who earnestly longs for everything to be made right, at the end of the day.

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Very often, when we hear this story about the widow’s mite, the story is equated with the call to stewardship. That’s a rather classic explanation of the text. And there’s nothing wrong with that explanation. 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?

Obviously, the widow’s mite means something other than giving of one’s material wealth. 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? Or have we held something back, giving merely of our surplus wealth?

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 Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today’s readings

I think this Gospel reading is wonderful because of the rather vivid picture that it paints.  When I hear it, I can’t help but picture the king separating the sheep from the goats, making known their good works, or lack thereof, and ushering them into their version of eternity.  It would seem that the moral of the story is very clear: we are all put here to do some very important things for the Kingdom of God; we are called to use our time, talent, and treasure to serve those in need.  These are the corporal works of mercy, and we should all certainly know them and do them.  They aren’t mere suggestions, they are, apparently, the way that we get into heaven.

And that would be a very good message, but I think Jesus is going for something else because that message would be a good one any time of the year.  So, the question we have to ask ourselves is why this message at this point of the Church year?  And perhaps just as poignantly, why this message so close to the end of Jesus’ life?  This reading comes from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which is just twenty-eight chapters long.  Indeed, in the very next chapter, Judas begins to conspire against Jesus.  So here at the end of Jesus’ life, and on the very last Sunday of the Church year, why this particular parable?

Well, we don’t have to look very far for the answer.  The very setting itself tells us what Jesus was getting at: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…”  So this is clearly a prediction of the end of time, particularly the day of judgment.  And I think this setting makes that vivid picture even more vivid.  Here our Lord has all the nations before him, and he begins to separate them out.  There are two places that they might go: the kingdom or eternal fire.

I think we all know what line we’re supposed to get into.  But just in case there was any doubt, the Gospel makes it very clear.  The kingdom, he says, was “prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  For you.  The eternal fire, on the other hand, was “prepared for the devil and his angels.”  So not for you.  And this echoes a truth that has been preached all along the way of this Church year.  We were made for heaven, heaven is our true home, and we are just passing through this place.

But just because the kingdom was prepared for us doesn’t mean we can’t make the wrong choice.  The devil and his angels have already made their choice, and they’re hoping to take as many of us with them as they can.  They do that by convincing us that we can live our lives any way we choose.  They try to convince us that morality isn’t really objective, that anything is okay as long as it works for me.  What they want us to say is that we are in charge, that there isn’t any God.  They want us to choose life outside the Kingdom of God – you know, that kingdom that was prepared for us from the foundation of the world.  And the really frightening part of that is that they are having quite a bit of success.  Just reflect on the news, and even your experience in the community.  Aren’t these attitudes prevailing ones?

And we ourselves can choose that if we want to, but it will be a lonely place, with more than our share of sadness.  To get to the real Kingdom, all we have to do is to accept the wonderful sheep and shepherd imagery that we have in today’s readings.  In our first reading, Ezekiel portrays our God as a shepherd who goes out of his way to seek out and save the ones who are lost.  This is a shepherd who wants to heal our brokenness and make us fit for the Kingdom of God.  In just the same way, the sheep who are destined for the Kingdom might recognize the Son of Man throughout the Church year and throughout the Gospel and respond to his call to live for the Kingdom and not just for today, to care about others and love as we have been loved, and let that Love take us to our rightful place.

Today, on the last Sunday of the Church year, we celebrate Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe.  We proclaim boldly that our Jesus is King of kings and Lord of Lords and there is absolutely no other.  We profess that one way of life isn’t just as good as another, that there is only One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that is our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is King of the Universe and King of our hearts and our lives.  When we make the right choice to follow our King and do what he has commanded, we can follow him to that Kingdom that was prepared for us from the foundation of the world.