Saturday, December 10, 2016

12/11/2016 - Third Sunday in Advent - Gradate Sunday - Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10, Matthew 11:2-11

     A couple of days ago, on our celebration of the Immaculate Conception, we heard the announcement of the Angel of Gabriel to Mary: “Hail Mary!  Rejoice Mary - you are full of grace! The Lord is with you!”  Perhaps the announcement to rejoice that the Angel brought to Mary is a sign to us in the midst of our Advent preparations, a sign that God is calling us to rejoice as we prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world.  Today, we leave behind our usual Advent color of purple or lavender to today’s joyful color of rose.  This Third Sunday of Advent is commonly known as Gaudete Sunday. The word “gaudete” is derived from the Latin words “gaudium” - meaning  joy  and “gaudeo” - meaning to rejoice or to be glad. The term “Gaudete" is taken from the Entrance Antiphon of today’s mass:  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near”.  This year, the way the liturgical calendar works out, Gradate Sunday is right in the middle of our holy season of Advent, so we rejoice that the Advent season is coming to an end as we approach our joyful Christmas celebration. Our readings today reflect the spirit of Gaudete Sunday, giving us encouragement, hope, and joy.  Our readings start out with Isaiah telling the people of Israel to rejoice and have hope: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.”
     But then we hear from this strange Advent character again - the prophet John the Baptist.  In the Gospel we heard last Sunday, John the Baptist was wandering around the desert wilderness, eating strange food and calling the people of Ancient Israel to repent.  But today our Gospel finds John the Baptist in prison - not a place that is particularly connected to joy.  John is in prison for speaking the truth to King Herod.  John sends his disciples to ask Jesus an important question:  Are you the one to come?  Are you the Messiah?  The spiritual joy that we are called to have this Advent season is not a joy that is connected to the material pleasures in our world - it is a joy that is intrinsically connected to our faith. Think of how when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, it was John the Baptist who leaped for joy in his mother’s womb, recognizing that he was in the presence of Jesus and Mary.  Later in John’s Gospel, John the Baptist asserts to his disciples that although he himself is not the Messiah, he has been sent by God to announce his coming, and so he rejoices greatly at the voice of the Messiah that he hears at Jesus’ coming into the world, for it has made John the Baptist’s joy complete.  
       Not many months after he was elected Pope, Pope Francis issued his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium - The Joy of the Gospel - in November 2013.  Joy is such a commonly used word - and perhaps misused word in our world today - that Pope Francis issued this document on the importance of Gospel joy and joy of evangelization that we are to feel in our hearts as disciples of Christ.  Pope Francis opened this document by saying - “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and ives of all who encounter Jesus.  Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness.”  This joy is open to everyone and is to exclude no one.  What a great message for us to hear in a world that is so divided and so exclusionary in so many ways. Advent and Christmas can be such a busy time of the year.  We have so much work to be done, so many social and family obligations, extra bills and expenses, extra chores and errands to run.  We feel so busy and so stretched this time of the year. How can quiet our hearts and feel the joy of Christ inside with such a busy time of the year?  How can we prepare for the coming of the Lord?  Pope Francis said in his apostolic letter that all of us are invited to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus, to be open to let Jesus encounter us in the busy schedules of our lives. You might think that this message is not meant for you, but it is meant for all of us, no matter where we are on journey of faith.  We may think we are engaged as much as we can in our busy lives with our faith, to feel the joy of Christ inside of us, but perhaps God is still calling out to us today in certain ways. Tuesday, we will be having mass and our Advent reconciliation service, starting at 6:00 pm.  We will have several priests here to listen to your confessions.  It is common for a lot of Catholics to brush off and ignore the sacrament of reconciliation in your life of faith, to make excuses for not going, to think that we don’t need that sacrament.  But, perhaps this is what we need right now on our Advent journey to experience a sense of joy or healing or peace in our lives. 
        I was reading our Little Blue Book reflection for this weekend, and I came across this quote from Mother Teresa from when she accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace back on December 10, 1979 - “Le us keep that joy of loving Jesus in our hearts, and share that joy with all we come in touch with.  That radiating joy is real, for we have no reason not to be happy, because we have Christ with us.  Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and Christ in the smile we receive.”  Let us feel the joy of the Advent season with us this morning.   

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Mass celebrating St Juan Diego - Friday - 12/9/2016 - St James - Tupelo Mississippi

On December 9, 1531, the first apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego as he was on his way to mass and passing by Tepeyac hill in Mexico.  Many centuries later, Juan Diego was beatified and canonized by Pope Juan Paul II.  We celebrate St Juan Diego with a mass at St James in Tupelo on Friday, 12/9/2016 at 12:10.  We will offer the anointing of the sick at this mass.  And our Happy Hearts Advent/Christmas luncheon will be celebrated afterwards.  All are invited to join us!!!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

12/8/2016 - Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Luke 1:26-38

      In the midst of our Advent journey, two and a half weeks before we celebrate the birth of our Savior, we celebrate and honor our Mother, Mary, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  This feast day calls out to us to reflect upon what Mary has to say to us as men and women of faith.  Think about the images we have of Mary beyond the beautiful statues and holy cards and glimpses who have of her in Sacred Scripture.  But Mary is not up there on a pedestal, she is not our Blessed Mother who is at a distance from up in the heavens. Mary has always been there on the ground level with us, the faithful, encouraging us on our journey, through the ups and downs of life. We can see Mary in our world today in many walks of life: in the teachers who gives it their all to teach their students, in the mothers and grandmothers who dream of a better life for their children and grandchildren, in those who work for justice and peace in their community, in the Sunday school teachers and catechists and Eucharistic ministers who teach our children and youth about God, and in those who serve the poor and the elderly and the sick.  We as Catholics are called to recognize Mary and to honor her in the many ways we see her presence in the modern world today and to invite Mary into our lives. 
      Mary calls out to us today out of her reality as a poor Jewish women of faith from Ancient Israel.  She calls out to us as one who cooperated with God’s will in her life, who reveal the constant and compassionate love of God to those around her.  She calls out to us as a bearer of God’s mercy and justice, as the first disciple.  She calls out to us in the midst of the sufferings and struggles that she endured on her journey, on the things that she did not understand right away, that she pondered and reflected upon in her heart.   As we hear the Gospel story of the Annunciation, we know that this was no ordinary pronouncement, no routine summons.  The annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary was earth-shattering, life-changing and revolutionary.  We honor Mary today as our Blessed Mother; as the Theotokos, the God-bearer; as the handmaid of the Lord conceived without original sin.  As always, Mary receives the honor accorded her with a humble heart, leading us always ever-closer to her son.  Mary, Blessed Mother, we unite our prayers to yours in the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux in Ave Stella Maris  -  Hail, Star of the Sea - 

Hail, bright star of ocean,
God's own Mother blest,
Ever sinless Virgin,
Gate of heavenly rest.

Taking that sweet Ave
Which from Gabriel came,
Peace confirm within us,
Changing Eva's name.

Break the captives' fetters,
Light on blindness pour,
All our ills expelling,
Every bliss implore.

Show thyself a Mother;
May the Word Divine,
Born for us thy Infant,
Hear our prayers through thine.

Virgin all excelling,
Mildest of the mild,
Freed from guilt, preserve us,
Pure and undefiled.

Keep our life all spotless,
Make our way secure,
Till we find in Jesus,
Joy forevermore.

Through the highest heaven
To the Almighty Three,
Father, Son and Spirit,
One same glory be. Amen.

Monday, December 5, 2016

December 6, 2016 - St Nicholas - Saint of the Day

    Santa Claus is so intimately connected to Advent and Christmas in modern America.  Our modern image Santa Claus comes out of a real person - St Nicholas - whose feast day is today.  Nicholas was born in the 3rd century in a Greek speaking community in southern Turkey.  Nicholas was arrived in a wealthy Christian family.  His parents died when he was young.  He gave away all of his riches to the poor, becoming the Bishop of Myra in Turkey as a young man.  He was known for his love of the poor and his love of children - we can see how he became the model for Santa Claus.  During the era he was Bishop, the Christian faithful were under persecutions from the Roman Emperor Diocletian.  Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325.  Tradition hands down that he got into a violent fight with the presbyter Arius at the Council of Nicaea over some heresies.  Nicholas is definitely more complex than the warm and fuzzy image we have of Santa Claus, but he is definitely a great Advent prophet that speaks to us in the midst of our journey.  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

12/9/2106 - Friday of the 2nd week of Advent - Psalm 1:1-4, 6

       I was thinking about the saints whom we celebrate during this 2nd week of Advent.  We have St Ambrose, a great theologian and Doctor of the Church who was a teacher and mentor to St Augustine, another one of our Church’s great theologians.  We have St Nicholas, a Bishop from Myra in Turkey, who had a great love for the poor and who is the model for Santa Claus in our world today.  We have two celebrations centered upon Mary in these days, with the Immaculate Conception on December 8 and Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12.   The psalmist declares today: “Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.”  The saints we celebrate this week certainly have brought the light of Christ to so many of us throughout the world.  
       Juan Diego, who lived in Mexico way back in the 19th century, was canonized by Pope Juan II in 2002, becoming the first saint in the Catholic Church who was indigenous to the Americas.  Pope Juan Paul II called Juan Diego “a simple, humble Indian” who accepted Christianity without giving up his identity and culture as an indigenous person of the Americas. It was to Juan Diego that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to on Tepeyac Hill outside of Mexico City on December 9, 1531.  Juan lived near Tepeyac Hill when the Blessed Mother appeared to him.  He was known as a devout catechist who taught by both word and example.  His life and witness of faith are revered by the many of the faithful in the modern world, especially by the people of Mexico.  

       Many saints and prophets speak out to us on our Advent journey.  We give thanks today for St Juan Diego, for his faith and his receptiveness to be a message for our Blessed Mother.  

12/6/2016 - Tuesday of the 2nd week in Advent - Matthew 18:12-14

      We can get lost in a lot of different ways in life, can’t we? I remember that one day on the Camino back in January of 2015, I was hiking when there was a lot of snow on the ground.  It was difficult seeing the markers.  I was entering a village when all of a sudden everything looked very familiar. I saw a lady who was tending to chores in her garden. I asked her the name of the village, and it was the same village I had passed through 20 minutes earlier.  I guess I had missed a turn and had gone in a loop, returning to the same village.  I felt very frustrated and lost. We can feel lost if we are frustrated in a job that does not bring us fulfillment or when we unemployed trying to find work.  We can be lost in a broken friendship or in a troubling family relationship. We can become lost because of poor choices or addictions or exhaustion or lack of self-care.  Many in our society today are lost in the values of the secular world, lost in their search for pleasure, not knowing where to find meaning in their lives.  What did we do before we had a GPS to help us find our way?  I guess we used maps or asked someone for directions. Is it wise to leave 99 sheep unattended to find the lost one?  God cares so much about the lost and the poor and the forgotten that he will go out of his way to reach out to that one.  May our Advent prayer today be that we do not stray from the path of our faith, that we reach out to those who are lost.  May we have the courage to reach out to those who are struggling or who are frustrated.  May we feel God’s loving embrace in our lives.  May we bring that loving embrace to others. 

12/7/2016 - Wednesday of the 2nd week of Advent - Matthew 11:28-30

       It is hard to believe that I arrived in Ecuador more than 20 years ago, in May 1996, in order to serve for three years as a lay missionary.  I remember that at the first year mark, I was reflecting upon my missionary work, really wondering what I had accomplished.  I had arrived in the rain forest jungle, having to acclimate to a tropical climate and a very different culture and a language I did not know.  Yet, reflecting upon in through the lens of my faith, I knew that I was there working in the vineyard of the Lord, there to serve him with all my heart.  Knowing that I was trying to please God and serve God, knowing that I was indeed accomplishing something under difficult circumstances, helped me put everything into perspective. We can feel very burdened by things in life, we can feel overwhelmed by the reality around us.  In the midst of it all, there is Jesus.  We can find rest and encouragement and fulfillment in our relationship with him, in the way our faith can put it all into perspective.  
     In the context of today’s Gospel, I wanted to mention today’s saint - St Ambrose.  He lived in the 4th century, the same century in which the Christian faith became a recognized religion in the Roman Empire by the Emperor Constantine.  What is interesting is that Ambrose was the governor of the region of northern Italy when the Bishop died.  Ambrose was chosen as the new bishop by the people, as was the custom in that day.  However, not only was Ambrose not a priest, but he was not even a baptized Christian at the time.  Ambrose was baptized, ordained a priest, and ordained a bishop in a very short period of time.  As Bishop of Milan, Ambrose became an insightful commentator on Sacred Scripture and devoted himself to serving the poor.  Ambrose became the mentor and spiritual advisor of St Augustine, who would become one of the great theologians in the history of the Church. One wonderfully simple but profound quote from St Ambrose is this: “No one heals himself by wounding another.”  May we come to Jesus today with all that weighs us down on our Advent journey, asking for healing for ourselves and for others.