Sunday, December 25, 2011

What Does Christmas Feel Like?

On Thursday I was out for the day finishing my Christmas shopping.  If you remember it was an unseasonably mild day, close to 60 degrees.  Throughout the day I heard people remarking on the temperature and many of them said because of the days’ mildness, “it doesn’t feel like Christmas.”  That statement got me thinking, because I have heard it before. Sometimes, because particular events affect our preconceived notions about what we should feel like at Christmas, we say, “It doesn’t feel like Christmas.”  In fact I found myself thinking that it did not feel like Christmas as I was preoccupied checking football scores right up until the beginning of the 4:00 Mass on Christmas Eve.  And after that game I am sure it doesn’t feel like Christmas for Jet fans.  In a more serious way, I am mindful of some of the people I sent Christmas cards to in the last few weeks.  We sent special Christmas cards to the families of those who last a loved one this year.  Certainly people who have experienced a loss or are going through an illness or other difficulties may be saying it doesn’t feel like Christmas, because surrounding events have made this year less joyful for them.  What then is Christmas supposed to feel like if the weather or more importantly the events of our lives can inhibited us from feeling what want to feel?  What does Christmas feel like?
Prior to the procession to the altar at the beginning of Mass, I picked up some of the straw or hay from our manager.  I did so because the hay and straw of the manager feel like Christmas.  The straw is simple.  It is one of the simplest things we can encounter in life, dried up grass, yet I could sit outside a peacefully play with a straw in my fingers, letting my thoughts wander.  It was in this simplicity that mine and your savior comes to us.  It is to simple and routine human existence that God is born.  It was in a simple stable, to a simple man and women, in a simpler time, that the Messiah enters human history.  So maybe it does not feel like Christmas because we have lost our sense of simplicity, our lives have become too complicated.  We have so many technological things that are designed to make our lives simpler yet they seem to complicate them even more.  The other day, Volkswagen announced that it would be turning off its email server during non-business hours so their employees would be free from the expectation of answering email 24 hours a day.  Thank you, Volkswagen, for simplifying the lives of your employees.  Christmas feels like a simple piece of hay, stray from a stable and if we wish for it to feel like Christmas we need to make our lives less complicated.

This straw also holds warmth.  For the animals that rest in the hay, the heat of their bodies warms the straw and holds the warmth within it so the animals themselves may be kept warm.  Christmas feels warm.  Not the unseasonable warmth of the other day or the warmth created by a fireplace.  But the warmth of love that abides within humanity.  Christmas feels warm because of the loving presence of God who so loved the world he gave his only Son.  To feel Christmas, we must allow ourselves to be the dwelling place of love as Mary herself does.  It is our coldness to the stranger, the poor and marginalized that makes it feel less like Christmas.  When cool indifference, judgmental temperaments and a lack of charity in word and deed exist in our world it cannot feel like Christmas, which celebrates the warmth of God’s love.

The straw and hay of the manger also feel rough and may even irritate the skin.  One would not expect to get as good a night’s sleep on a pile of hay as you would on your adjustable sleep comfort mattress.  Christmas feels rough like this hay.  Not rough because of the family tensions that sometimes exist during the holidays.  Nor is it the irritation that comes from the pressures we feel to get everything done at Christmas.  Christmas feels rough and irritating because it calls us to be alert to the mystery unfolding.  Mary and Joseph do not yet understand what the presence of the Shepherds or the others means but they are alert to them paying attention to what is happening because of the presence of this child.  Our lives can become routine and lack feeling.  We can become complacent about our discipleship.  We accept temptation and a failure to sin as a part of life with no motivation to change.  We are dull to the mystery that surrounds us.  The roughness of the manger hay of Christmas calls us to an alertness that comes when we step outside of the false comfort zones we create.

What does Christmas feel like?  It feels like simple, warm and rough straw.  And it also feels like the new born child laying in that straw – and that child feels vulnerable.  We know the vulnerability of a child and how scary it is to be that vulnerable.  We are frightened by what our children are exposed to.  We feel vulnerable ourselves when we hold that child.  We may drop the baby or not be able to meet its needs.  Christmas feels vulnerable because God himself takes on that vulnerability.  And it cannot feel like Christmas if we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable; for it is only in vulnerability that we can truly receive the love, the wisdom and the hope that the birth of our Lord offers.

In our celebration of Christmas we pray that the vulnerable new born child may inspire us to live simply, abide in the warmth of love, and be awakened to the mystery of God’s presence.  

 Merry Christmas!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

My ways are not your ways says the Lord

As I sit here waiting for the President's announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden, it occurred to me that there is a mystical irony of this announcement coming on the day of the beatification of Pope John Paul II.  Here is what I had written for my bulletin column this week.
 In the Jubilee year 2000, Pope John Paul II declared this Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday at the Mass of canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska. In giving this designation to the Second Sunday of Easter, the Pope was asking the church to live Easter faith through the essence of mercy.  Just one year later the terrorist attacks of September 11th set in motion a world bent on a violence that we never would have anticipated.  How do we cultivate mercy when our natural anger seeks revenge or at the very least retribution for the pain that has been inflicted? 
Pope John Paul II answered that question through his faith in action when he forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him.  The now famous picture of the Pope sitting in a prison cell holding the hand of his attempted assassin was not simply an example of human mercy but divine mercy.  It is only through prayer and the deepening of one’s relationship with Christ that mercy begins to feel right and good.  The resurrected Christ enters the upper room in today’s gospel he bestows the gift of peace on his shaken disciples.  Through our prayer, we seek to be in that same upper room with Christ who is mercy himself.  We seek Christ’s gift of peace so that we can cultivate that kind of mercy in our hearts.  No one of us wants to perpetuate pain; yet it is so difficult to dispense mercy without a deepening of our awareness of the divine mercy of God who so loved the world he gave his only Son. 
Today the church celebrates the beatification of Pope John Paul II.  We honor him with this designation and we pray that through the intercession of Blessed John Paul we may heal our world through faithful acts of mercy.
Will there be healing? Or will peace begin to bloom?  Blessed John Paul II pray for us.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

A Reason for Hope

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope 
1 Peter 3:15
As I have been reflecting on the the events of my previous week these words of St. Peter came to mind. I could not help but think of how quickly I moved from a moment of contentment in God’s presence to the chaotic moments of tragedy and sadness. On Wednesday, February 23rd I went to bed well pleased with the success of our Parish Mission with Fr. Frank Sutman, our visiting preacher for the previous four days. On Thursday morning, I was awakened to fire alarms and the shocking experience of a man whose clothes caught fire while lighting a votive candle in the church. On Wednesday night, I was aware of the peaceful presence of the Holy Spirit who guided us through our days of renewal, on Thursday I searched for God amidst the horror. 
Fr. Frank’s mission talks were based upon the questions we ask of God and our faith. Fr. Frank had not yet left our rectory on Thursday morning and we were confronted with new questions. Where was God on Thursday? How could God let this happen? One of the questions Fr. Frank asked during his talks was, “Does a fish know it’s in water?” The answer being, “no” a fish is not actively aware of its immersion in water. In the same way we are always “in” God, and are not aware of it. When times of tragedy occur, we ask, “Where is God?” without being aware of the truth that if we were not already in God we would not be able to endure the painful experiences of life.

It was clear to me that we were “in God” during the days of retreat. Upon further reflection, I can see a little more clearly that Mr. Badalamente and all of us were “in God” throughout the accidental tragedy. Vito was given excellent and comforting care from the moment Fr. Henry extinguished the flames, to the first responders, and to the doctors and nurses in the burn unit, who eased his pain. He was surrounded by his prayerful and loving family and in God’s great mercy he quietly and peacefully passed from this life. Our parish community was most certainly “in God” through the guiding and assuring presence of the police and fire departments. Our parish staff navigated through a difficult day, continuing to serve the needs of our community. And the people of the parish sought to bring all of us who were directly involved, consolation and support. In a very significant way, Vito’s family also helped us to be “in God,” through the gratitude they have expressed and their willingness to allow us to pray with them.

The media presence, certainly added to the anxiety and pain of the day. It was harder for me to see the presence of God in their parasitic behavior. A member of our staff helped me to reflect more deeply on this aspect, however. In their relentlessness, the media, placed before us the words of 1 Peter. They wanted a reason for hope. Amidst the tragedy, they wanted there to be a hope that the injuries were survivable because a priest had saved him. There was hope for Vito not because a priest had come to his rescue at the moment of a tragic accident, there was everlasting hope for him because throughout his life, the church had come to his aid with the presence of Jesus Christ, who came so we might have eternal life. Vito came to church that day because amidst the sadness of missing his wife throughout these years he had hoped that she was “in God” eternally and that he too was “in God” until they could be together again.

There are times when it is easier to know that we are “in God” and times when it is more challenging. Through the grace of hope, we are given the ability to know that we are “in God” in both joy and sorrow.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Who is to blame?

 I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.  And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God.

Throughout this past week much of our national attention was directed to the assassination attempt on Arizona Congresswomen, Gabrielle Giffords, and the subsequent injuries and loss of life of others in the crowd assembled with her.  Senseless acts of violence like this one are not as rare as we would hope.  These horrendous acts of evil strike at the most normal of times and places like the workplaces, schools and in this case a grocery store.  They remind us that evil is ever present and that no one of us is safe from the pain it inflicts.  It is also in moments like this that we find ourselves crying out to God as the psalmist does today, seeking  to find him in the midst of sorrow. 

Tragic acts of evil also leave us searching for a reason or a place to direct blame.  While I do not agree that  vitriolic political discourse is the cause of this evil act, I think this violent act awakens us to a greater awareness of the disregard that we can have for the lives of others.  Because we live in a culture of objectification, we often do not recognize, “the other” as one who is made in the image and likeness of God.   It is, therefore, easier for us to vilify, tear down, verbally attack and commit acts of violence.  It has become too common for us to not simply disagree with each other, but instead, we rain down on an opponent with unfathomable anger and outrage.  We do not recognize the person who presents us with a difficulty as someone else’s spouse or child and  therefore speak or act toward them in ways we would never accept if directed toward our loved ones.

In one week’s time the annual March for Life in Washington will take place.  I truly believe that our failure to value the sacred life of the unborn is at the root of all other violence, hate speech and attacks on human life.  We march next week to bring about an end to abortion, to witness to the sacredness of human life and to pray that the command to love one another as we have been loved by Christ will be fulfilled so his love may conquer all acts and words of violence, hate and evil.

Sunday, January 02, 2011


New Year's Epiphany  Resolutions

The Magi opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Resolve to offer the gift of yourself to the Lord.  Make a commitment to Sunday Mass, Daily Prayer and the Scriptures

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the Magi departed for their country by another way.
Resolve to change your path, change destructive behavior, seek reconciliation and forgiveness.

Brothers and sisters: You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit, namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation.
Resolve to reveal Christ to others.  Talk about your faith, pray with others, perform acts of service in his name.