All posts for the month December, 2017

December 31, 2017 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples. FL

Sirach 3,2 & 12-14 + Psalm 128 + Colossians 3. 12=21 + Luke 2, 22, 39-40

The commercial tendency to sentimentalize the Birth of Christ with all kinds of romantic images and dramatizations of the nativity with children’s pageants full of wooly lambs, regal visitors, and the perfectly lovely couple with a sweet little baby gets a correction with this feast today. Do not be misled by the words: “Holy Family”. This is not to suggest that somehow this little couple from Nazareth who found their way to Bethlehem were special and given a pass from the realities and hardships of family life. That family was real. Those two parents stumbled around and made mistakes just like everyone of you did with your first child. They did not have Doctor Spock, Dr. Seuss Books, Pampers, Formulas, or any of the other conveniences many enjoy today. Both parents worked. Their child was a real human child with bumps, scrapes, fevers, sore throats, ear infections, and everything else. He played in the streets, probably kept company his parents did not always approve of, and there is no reason to believe that he liked broccoli! On top of that, get over any idea that Mary and Joseph agreed on everything and never had an argument. They did not enjoy a sheltered and trouble-free life. That kind of thinking takes away from this feast the whole wonder of holiness in the midst of humanness. What we celebrate today is how the holy is found in a real family. It is about how God can and has chosen to be revealed and found in the very ordinary ups and downs, of a home.

This feast does not leave out those whose experience of family is somehow unique or different from what some would insist is the perfect and only way to be family. Family, in the end, is about relationships, not about roles of parenting, providing, or home making. Not all of us live in nuclear families. Some of us live alone. Some of us come from broken families, or we belong to some wider groups linked by blood or by other ties like religious communities. Monasteries and convents for example, are really families with brothers and sisters who love and care for one another. What all of us have in common, I hope, is a home, and that is where the feast leads us. It leaves us to look at and reflect upon our homes as places where we find God and are sanctified by what happens there.

Today’s feast proposes that somehow, we have to make certain that our homes are open toward heaven not only by the way we live and treat one another in those homes, but also by the prayers that are offered there, the sacrifices made in love, and the loving service that is given. The forgiveness that is shared in a home makes it a temple where God’s forgiveness is found.

Our Catholic Church has always believed that the home is the first and fundamental church, the first community of love. The bigger church is never stronger or more enduring than the family homes that make up a parish.

There is a big difference between a house and home. A house is place full of furniture and stuff. A home is the place to which we can always return and be sure of a welcome. It is the place where we taste on earth the joy and peace of the place God has for us in heaven. Remember that as you go home today, and make it so for you carry within you the Body and Blood of Christ who lives in your home.

Christmas Day December 25, 2017 at Saint William Churche in Naples. FL

Isaiah 9, 1-6 + Psalm 96 + Titus 2, 11-14 + Luke 2, 1-14

In an age when facts are dismissed as “fake news”, and history itself is ignored or rewritten by political regimes and ideologues to justify their ideas, we are left wonder what to make of this Gospel as we acknowledge a growing phenomenon of our age: skepticism. So, we look at this Gospel and wonder: Is this fact or fake news? Is this real history or just a romantic old story we tell every December in order to feel connected to something we can’t quite name?

For the first time in history the sum of human knowledge is literally in the palm of our hands. Yet we seem painfully out of touch or ignorant of our own history. Like trees without deep roots, we are easily blown down by the slightest gale, disappointment, or challenge. Dementia is often considered one of the greatest tragedies when a person loses their memory. Yet we are at risk of losing our collective memory which is far more dangerous, because without it we are doomed to repeat over and over again the same tragic and violent mistakes.

“Fake News” comes in an age of the skeptic for those who only believe what they want to see and deny what they cannot understand. Yet the most real things in this world are those no one can see. We can’t see air, but it’s there. You can’t see snow on a Colorado mountain right now, but it’s there. You can’t see beauty, but you can see something that is beautiful. You can’t see Joy, but you can see joyful people. You can’t see love; but you can see a lover or someone who loves you.

A skeptical and dangerous world watches Christian people gather everywhere in the world today. They are watching us remember and share news that no one dare call “fake” when it is lived day after day. There can be nothing fake about our faith any more than there is something fake about God’s love for us. There is nothing fake about us being led to see beauty in a baby and have our hopes for peace stirred by a birth no matter where it happens or when.

This is our day to remember that God is not off somewhere in distant heavens; but has and is acting in human history living, breathing, suffering, dying and rising with us and within us. This is our day to remember that the Birth of Christ is not confined to a date in December, but is celebrated on the date of every Baptism and every Birth into Everlasting life. We believe this to be true not because someone told us so or because we read it in this book, but because we are here today, and because nothing has nor will ever put us down for long.

A study reported in the Naples Daily News last week reveals something we all hope to be true. People who live the longest and fullest lives are people who make friends and keep them. Lives that are rich, full, and long all have one thing in common: friendship. Sceptics should beware. At the heart of our celebration today is the fact that our God has revealed a desire to be a friend to us. His only Son expressed that desire, and was born to restore that friendship as it was in the beginning. There is nothing fake about that news, and our history, when remembered, shows that peace, joy, love never lived are never real. Yet today we proclaim in this place by our presence that Divine peace, Godly love, and human Joy have come to life.

4 Advent December 24, 2017 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Samuel 7, 1-5, 8-12, 14-16 + Psalm 89 + Romans 16, 25-27 + Luke 1, 26-38

David wants to build a Temple, a dwelling place for God; and God says, “No, you don’t build a place for me.” David lives in a fine palace, and he wants to put God in a fine Temple. God isn’t interested, and through the prophet proceeds to tell David all the things God has done just in case David thinks he did those things. Then suddenly the same God who said, “no” to David is ready for a dwelling place, but it is not a finely decorated, richly appointed Temple in the glorious and powerful city of Jerusalem. It is in a dusty little place off the beaten path that God asks for a home. God’s choice for a home is not Powerful, Handsome, Successful King David who is lounging around in his glory. God’s choice for a home is, as we hear tomorrow, a stable. He came, not through a King or a Priest or a Prophet, but from someone who is barely more than a child. She is nobody’s wife and nobody’s mother, an absolute nobody in society. Right there an angel asks her to agree to God’s plan to change everything. This is the mystery we are invited to contemplate today on the Eve of Christmas.

What made it all possible was the fact that Mary listened. Listening is getting to be a rare experience these days. Most people would rather talk, make announcements, or shout. Getting people to listen is ultimately the only way to bring about change, but getting anyone to listen, especially someone who has made up their mind about something is a real challenge to patience and courage. It is no wonder than so little ever changes. Another word for Listening is Obedience. It implies listening so carefully, so attentively, so openly, that the listener is prepared to be changed by what they hear. A law may be imposed on people, but if they do not internalize that law, if they do not choose it as a good way to act, it is only as effective as the painful punishment for infractions.

Now, Mary listened to the angel, and the listening allowed her heart to be vulnerable to God’s grace which is another way of saying that she was obedient. She was not passive about it all and carefully explained why God’s plan seemed impossible to her. She was not even married, not even a real wife! But, she was open enough to listen to a plan that was different from the plan she had for her life and bigger than her expectations or imagination. Some of you may remember what I said last week about how important imagination is for a disciple of Jesus Christ. In the end, what she heard as she listened was that nothing is impossible with God.

The whole long story of God’s relationship with Israel is a story of how the impossible becomes possible with God; of how Abraham’s old wife could bear a son, of how a little boy could put down a giant, of how a handful of Israelites could take over well-fortified and brave Canaan. Over and over again there is a constant reminder and evidence that when people listen, things can happen that were never imagined and seemed impossible.

We are not telling this story to sit back and admire the Blessed Virgin and be impressed by her humble obedience. We are telling this story and proclaiming this Gospel because God is still challenging our fears and asking us to listen. God is still choosing people like us who do not live in palaces and who have not accomplished anything really remarkable that might go down in history. God still asks us to not be afraid, to listen, and by our listening, our courage, and our faith to very possibly change the whole world. Thinking that this is impossible contradicts the Gospel and refuses the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s time to listen suggests Advent’s fourth Sunday, and when we do there will really be peace on earth and good will for all.

3 Advent December 17, 2017 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 61, 1-2, 10-11 + Psalm (Luke 1, 46-54) + 1 Thessalonians 5, 16-24 + John 1, 6-8, 19-28

From the first chapter till the last, the question: “Who are you?” is raised again and again in John’s Gospel. It starts with John the Baptist as we heard today. It is very dramatically asked again of Jesus by Pilate, and finally in the last chapter John tells us that none of the disciples “dared to ask that question” about a man on the shore who told them where to fish and bring in a great catch. In that 21st and last Chapter it simply says: “Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.

While John’s Gospel is focused on the identity of Jesus as the Word Made Flesh, it also initiates a quest for the identity of his disciples. “Who are you?” is a question this living Word addresses to each of us in this assembly. The disciples came to know the Lord by spending time with him, by listening to his words, by watching what he did, and finally in that 21st chapter, by doing what he asked. This is the formula unfolded for us in John’s Gospel, and following that formula will eventually reveal who we are.

I find it interesting to notice that when introducing one’s self to a stranger in a crowd of people, just after asking one’s name, the next question is almost always, “What do you do?” It’s as though our name is not enough to establish our identity, and of course, it isn’t enough. So, we ask more because what someone does (their behavior) usually tells us more about them than what they are called. If I were to ask you to name the Apostles, most of you would stumble through eight or fifteen names which is not very important since the Gospels themselves do not agree on all the names. But, if I asked you what an Apostles does, we could get somewhere.

As we move through the last half of Advent, the church suggests that it is time to raise the question: “Who are you?” More than that however, it might well be time for us to provide an answer. John did so by calling attention to what he did not for the sake of any praise or admiration; but for the sake of expressing his relationship to Christ. The challenge then for us in answering that question is to determine whether or not what we do expresses in any way our relationship to Christ Jesus. What we do says just about everything about who we are, and it reveals who we serve and what really matters to us.

In place of a Psalm text today, familiar verses of Luke’s Gospel were sung. They are the words that Luke places on the lips of a young maiden in Nazareth who has just discovered who she is, a favored one for whom the Almighty has done great things. The consequences of acknowledging and recognizing who she is results in great joy, a joy that is almost contagious for those who read and pray those words. In the world of our times, joy easily slips away replaced by sadness and fear. So many innocent people suffer so greatly at the hands of others. Neglect, denial, racism, break apart the family that has been taught to call God, “Father”. At the root of it all is the fact that we have failed to ask the question: “Who are you?” We fail to acknowledge that every one of us is a child of God and a member of our one family as brother and sister. I always imagine that our human experience of Joy is really a reflection of Divine Joy, or Divine Delight. If there is too little Joy these days, it may well mean that God’s joy is less because of what we do and what we fail to do.

As the Church calls us to Joy this day, it is not a call to act or to be happy. It is a call to examine carefully how we live together and what we do shaping who we are. In the end, we are God’s children and therefore one with each other. When one of us is hurting, we all hurt, and so does God. When one of us is a victim of violence or injustice, we are all victims as well just as Jesus Christ was a victim of violence. When one of us becomes aware of the fact that we are chosen, beloved, and gifted by God to give flesh to God’s only Son, we can all rejoice again living with hope and with confidence that God has come to the help of his servant and remembered his promise of mercy.

2 Advent December 10, 2017 Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 40, 1-5, 9-11 + Psalm 85 + 2 Peter 3, 8-14 + Mark 1, 1-8

Last week the real focus of Advent was shifted from pretending that Christ was going to come and be born in Bethlehem to what I like call, “Get real” or “Live in the present”. This week we begin to reflect upon what the “present” is for believers. When we get honest with ourselves, we can admit that we often live out of our past. Memories, experiences, people, our ethnic history, our national history all can easily fence us in, influence our choices, and control our expectations. “We’ve always done it that way” is one of the first signals that the past is in control. The consequence is resistance to and fear of change. That makes conversion and repentance almost impossible. Many drag all that past stuff through their lives like baggage, and as is the case with most travelers, we take too much, far more than we will ever need.

That prophet who opened our liturgy today announces the future as if it is already happening. This sense of the future already present prompts and encourages a whole new way of living. It transforms the present into a new creation, and with it, the Day of the Lord appears. It sets us free, breaks the bondage we too often have to the past, to old ways that do not give life, to old thinking that resists the Good News, and habits that might very well be sinful and destructive. Suddenly, when our present is being lived with a view to the future instead of looking back to the past all the time, we can be anxious and excited about change, about repentance, and the conversion of our lives will be affective and remarkable.

This season of Advent suggests that the key to a renewed way of life, is a vibrant, active, and free imagination. Without it, we are trapped with no future, nothing to hope for, and no reason to live. We all know people who have no imagination, and they are no fun to be around. Conversation is difficult. They live in the past and have no way of adapting or living in the present with its ups and downs and uncertainties. I am not sure what it is about our educational system, but having been part of it for many years, I am of the opinion that one of the consequences of many educational theories and practices is the loss of or the smothering of the imagination. You can watch what happens to little children from the time they start school until they are few years into it. Their lives seem to dull down as they dumb down. I have an idea that this is why so many young people escape into the world of the internet with those games they play by the hours. It excites and revives their imagination unlike the memorization of facts and figures needed to pass tests and raise scores. Be that as it may, I am reminded of something I would say to every seminarian with whom I worked while being their director years ago. “If you can’t imagine the Kingdom of God, you can’t lead anyone there.” If I met a man who evidenced no imagination telling me he wanted to be a priest, I would always suggest that he consider being a plumber or a life in retail. A disciple of Jesus Christ has imagination and lives for and in the future.

If Moses had never imagined what the Promised Land would be like, he never could have taken God’s people there. If John the Baptist had never imagined what the Messiah would be like, he could never have said: “Behold the Lamb of God.” If Mark had been without imagination of what God’s original creation must have been like, he never would have started his Gospel with those words we just heard: “Here begins.” Just like Genesis begins. The whole Gospel is an imaginative description of the New Creation.

The season of Advent renews and excites our imagination too often dulled by the ordinary routine things of survival day by day. Advent invites us to live the future in the present imagining things yet to be. We can believe that Christ is coming because Christ is already here, and we know it. This is why Advent is a season of hope. We live as if we are saved, and the result is that we are saved. We live as if we are forgiven, and so we are and become forgiving. We live in the promise of a God who is always with us, and so we are never alone, never afraid, and never without courage and peace.

1 Advent December 3, 2017 Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 63, 16-17, 19; 64, 2-7 + Psalm 80 + 1 Corinthians 1, 3-9 + Mark 13, 33-37

It took me a long time, as long as it takes to grow up, to figure out what Advent was really all about and what the church asks of us in this season. As a child, I always thought it was a bit odd, this pretending that Christ had not yet come; this long preparation for something that had already happened. Besides, in our house, the tree did not go up at Thanksgiving. We had to wait till the last candle of the Advent wreath was lit. It meant a lot of waiting during which we pretended that a baby was going to be born in Bethlehem, a baby whose story I already knew, and whose death and resurrection had already been celebrated in the spring. It was just all a lot of pretending, and I just didn’t get it for a long time.

Then as I began to listen to the readings of Advent, they became more and more familiar, and then year after year the cycle of those readings began to be less of a repetition of the same old thing and more of an invitation to get a little deeper into this mystery. Because, every year, the presence of God in my life was a little deeper and a little more real. Every year I began to notice how the presence of God was more obvious and more personal. Every year there were more stories I could tell about God’s presence being recognized in some experience of the previous year; and how the hand of God seemed more real and more dependable. There was just more to my life and to my faith than there was the year before. So, when I hear the words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel today, I no longer hear a warning about the end times, but I hear an invitation to live in the present; to be attentive to the time at hand. I hope it is the same for you.

All of us live with a certain amount of denial. It might just be our chosen survival technique, and consequently, we get really good at postponing things. If that’s not our method, we get good at blaming, insisting that everything that is wrong or out of place in our lives is someone else’ fault. We are just innocent victims. We have made a science of escape, and because we deny and postpone, the future gets loaded down with the things we ought to do, should do, and will get around to one of these days. To this thinking, Mark’s Gospel says, “This is the day.” Now.

The best example of how we postpone or blame is our use of or our approach to confession. People living in denial do not have sins these days. In fact, they never use the word. Now, they have “issues”. Some may say that they have a “few rough edges”, but it’s all the same. It is denial.  Denial will not allow us to call this what it is, sin. In fact, the first thing people in denial will deny is that they are in denial. When the denial gets to be too much, then we shift to postponement which is a lot easier than repentance, because repentance requires change. In the midst of this mess, our best hope is that sooner or later, if we live long enough, another Advent will come around with its real message, and maybe this year we will “get it.”

The theme of Advent is not “let’s pretend”. It is “get real.” Now. Advent suggest that we live in the present, not in a future too crowded with the stuff we have postponed. For most of us that the future would never be long enough to get all the stuff done we have panned for it. Advent really insists that we get real and live today with the truth of God’s presence in our lives and in this world. It’s not about something yet to come. This Advent is an opportunity to once again experience the Word of God taking flesh in us today. Having allowed God such profound and real entry into our lives, we may find ourselves giving birth the Word of God in our world, in our families, and in the relationships, that still, because of God’s gifts bring us joy and offer us the promise of peace.

The sum of this Gospel today is really quite simple. Get real and live in the present, because today is all we can be assured of and the night is coming. That doesn’t have to a frightful warning. It is just a nice way of saying that we believe and have evidence in our own lives that God is faithful, merciful, patient, and just; or to put it even more simply, God is Good!