Monday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s readings, God proves himself trustworthy, yet again. He appears to Jacob in a dream and promises that he will be with him wherever he goes, protecting him, and bringing him back to the land, which he would also give to Jacob’s descendants. In his joy, Jacob reacts by consecrating the land to the Lord.

In the Gospel, Jesus heals not one, but two people: he stops the hemorrhage of a women who had suffered from the malady for twelve years, and then he raises the daughter of one of the local officials. In their joy, news of Jesus’ mighty deeds spread all throughout the land.

The Psalmist prays today, “In you, my God, I place my trust.” It’s a call for us to do the same today. We certainly don’t know how God will answer our prayers or even when he will do so. He might bring healing, but maybe in a way we don’t expect. But his promise to Jacob is one in which we can trust as well: he will be with us wherever we go, and he will protect us.

The First Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

Sometimes I think when it was time to pass out patience, I was in some other line. Waiting can be a real challenge for me, and I usually fill up the waiting time with worrying or something equally pointless. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. None of us likes to wait: that may be the hallmark of our current society. We want to get rich quick, have what we want when we want it, and if someone in traffic gets in front of us going slow, we go nuts. Well, maybe that last thing is just me, after all!

That’s too bad, really, because it means we miss a lot of stuff. When we can’t be in the moment, hanging in there and waiting to see what’s about to happen, then we distract ourselves with all sorts of things and really miss the grace that we’re meant to have. And to all of that, the Church gives us an antidote today. That antidote is Advent, the New Year of the Church.

And so 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, I certainly 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.  It’s a message that I think we need now, more than ever.

Just look around us. Yesterday, I was writing the Universal Prayers that we’re going to pray in a few minutes, after the Creed. I knew I wanted to have a prayer in there about all that is happening in Chicago, and I looked back at last year’s Universal Prayers for this First Sunday of Advent, and you know what? We were praying for Ferguson, Missouri. That gave me a little chill. Then there is the growing unrest with Isis, and so many terrorist events around the world. If ever there was a time for hope and expectation, I think it’s now.

We might need a little hope and expectation in our own lives as well. As we come to the end of the year, maybe this was a year filled with blessing or maybe it’s one we won’t miss. Most likely, it was a little bit of both. Perhaps this last year might have seen 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, looking back on patterns of sin or the plague of addiction.  And so, for many of us, maybe even 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.

But it’s hard to wait for the fulfillment of that hope, isn’t it? If we can’t wait for Thanksgiving to be open before we go Christmas shopping, it’s hard to wait to see what God is doing in our lives. There’s a scene in the movie “Christmas Vacation” that I thought of when I was getting this homily ready. Clark Griswold is in his boss’s office, bringing him a Christmas gift. There’s an awkward silence and then he tells Clark that he’s very busy. He picks up the phone and says, presumably to his secretary, “Get me somebody. And get me somebody while I’m waiting!” None of us likes to wait.

So we have to find the grace in the waiting. Maybe that’s why I love Advent so much. I’m so generally impatient, that Advent has me slow down and re-create that space so that it can be filled with our Lord’s most merciful presence. 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?  Today’s 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.

Then 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 contend is at least a mildly evil name) and battle it out with a few thousand 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, laws that protect religious freedom and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, to challenge world powers to pursue true justice and real peace, to give of ourselves so that those in need might have Christmas too, 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?

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There are two things: the promise, and the response.

The promise has echoed down through the ages.  God called Abraham and promised descendants as numerous as the sands on the sea shore or the stars in the sky.  Through Moses, God made known his intent to bring his people out of slavery and into the promised land.  Through Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who speaks in today’s Psalm, God announces that he will make good on his promise to send a Messiah to his people.  And through Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of all the promises, we have the promise of salvation and eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  From Abraham to us today, the promise has echoed, and still echoes, in the Church and in the world, down through the ages.  There is the promise.

The response has always taken many different forms.  One would think the response would be complete adoration, obedience, and devotion to our God who keeps his promises.  But sometimes the response has been arrogance, thinking that anything good that happens is the result of our own feeble efforts, like the foolish rich man in today’s Gospel.  Sometimes the response has been entitlement, as if we were actually worthy of grace, and due the gifts that come our way.  Sometimes the response has been apathy or disinterest, not even taking the time to notice the graces and blessings that come to us.  Sometimes the response has been outright rejection – refusing the gift and ignoring the Giver.  Sometimes we have been very unworthy and unappreciative of the promise.

But there is still the promise.  And there is always time for a different, better, more appropriate response.

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

The story is quickly coming to its climax. Jesus’ claims of divinity are really starting to rile the Jews.  They have placed their hope in Abraham and the prophets – great men to be sure – but seem to have forgotten about the promise of a Messiah, and so they totally miss the Christ who is standing right in front of them.  It’s a sad situation, to be sure.  But it is also quickly becoming dangerous for Jesus.  These are the ones who will stir up the trouble at his trial and get them to release Barabbas, putting Jesus on the cross instead.

And I feel like it’s necessary to make a quick aside here.  We have heard and will hear many references to “the Jews” in John’s Gospel.  This wording was used for centuries to make legitimate anti-Semitic comments and policies, blaming them for killing the Lord.  But this is John’s Gospel, and Jesus is in full control.  He knows what is in their hearts.  The Jews may indeed want to take his life, but Jesus instead willingly lays it down.  Because that was his mission; that is his mission – to give himself completely for our salvation, and the salvation of the whole world.  And honestly, if we want to blame someone for sending Jesus to the cross, we know only too well that we don’t have to look any further than our own hearts.

What we see in today’s Liturgy of the Word, ultimately, is that God made a promise to Abraham, and, in the person of Jesus Christ, kept that promise.  Abraham was made a mighty nation, God’s promises have always been kept, and we have salvation in Christ.  That’s our Good News today, and every day really.  As we enter the somber days ahead, we have the joy of keeping the end of the story clearly in mind, that Resurrection that Abraham himself so longed to see.

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