The Word of God

The Last And First Hour

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 31, 2020

“Children, it is the last hour.”  Wherever we are right now as we read this last Reflection of 2020, we realize that the time has come, in these last hours, to gather all that we did and said in the last 12 months and offer this as our gift to God for all the hours He gave us. No doubt, there will be memories of some wonderful highlights and some painful setbacks, and the temptation will be only to remember the low moments and let them overshadow the necessary gratitude to keep going, to be creative, to be innovative, and to think differently and positively: “Sing to the LORD a new song.” On this New Year’s Eve, we must remember the newness of life and the strength we receive that comes from the Lord Jesus and the Gospel that cries out for life-long and complete acceptance: “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name.”

In just a few hours, we will begin again. We must begin again. The New Year of 2020 will undoubtedly be similar in at least two ways to the year we will soon put to rest. There will be the absolute best and marvelous moment and the most terrifying and sad one. The good news is, Jesus is already there, waiting for us to find Him and love Him, holding on and never letting go. May the Lord God strengthen all of us in the New Year, and may His love and tenderness shower mercy and grace over each month, each week, each day, each hour, each minute, and yes, each second of 2021! Light is awaiting us in every opportunity and challenge of the next 12 months. There will be darkness and dark days, no doubt, but patience will reveal a victory of light and hope. This is promised, and should we find ourselves wondering what the future will bring, we already have a definite clue and cue: “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

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I Knew You’d Be Here

I knew you'd be here

Something tells me that I am not the only one who is unhardened and maybe a tad more than elated to see 2020 go by the wayside and usher in a new year with promise, resolution, and perhaps even a little amnesia. I write this with a healthy amount of caution because, as some of you may already be thinking, 2021 could be worse, while others, siding with the more-or-less optimistic stoics among us, would be counter-offering a glib, “how could it be?!” Whatever the case may be, we can all agree that new opportunities await all of us just as they have every year, and now is the time to learn from the more immediate past and project going forward whether or not the new year is going to be better than the last one.

Let me suggest one possible positive starting point to begin 2021: is there anything already significant about the upcoming year that we could find so as to set the stage for good things to celebrate rather than ruminate? We would seek these out to somehow counteract the events over which we have no control with items that, whether it is a great or terrible year, will come and go whether we like it or not, with of course the normal caveat about dying or some other unforeseen cataclysmic occurrence. I found one.

Sometime within the first few days of our new adventure, I will have outlived my grandfather. The rationale of this observation has nothing to do with competition and everything to do with admiration which should be made noticeably clear in a few lines. To declare without embarrassment that I will have been blessed by this landmark in 2021 only serves to remind and challenge me to live up to the standards and nobility that he left my family over forty-five years ago when he died. If there was anyone in my world who could make you feel as if you were the only one in the room, it was Grandpa. I am very happy to discover in sharing this intent to write about him with my other relatives, mostly cousins, that I was not the only one who felt this way or to this day still remember the intense joy and expression of pure delight when we walked into his home, expressing as he would with some little nickname he had for each one of us. Mine was “Little Googy,” which I have come to discover is an Australian term of endearment spoken to children when they are about to be fed their morning egg.

Of all the memories amassed during high school, of all the choices and decisions that a young man makes during that tumultuous season of human development, I am most happy of the one I made, almost intuitively, to begin to ask my Grandpa about as many memories he had to share whenever we went to visit. Had these days been accompanied with clever and smart phones that could have recorded and photographed any given moments of time, my rendition of those short but meaningful conversations may have been very different today. Still, I am grateful for what we had and for what I remember, even more than forty years ago.

One memory that always comes back to my heart, especially around these times of Thanksgiving and Christmas, is the very tender account my Grandpa telling me about a little lamb he was once given. I can’t remember why or how he came across a baby lamb, but I do remember what happened after a few months. My Grandpa has created a little pen to the side of their home into a makeshift corral and every day went out to feed the animal and to make sure that it was protected and safe from any wild animals that may have been passing through. Over the next couple of months, the lamb grew pretty large and by this time had already had a name. Then came Thanksgiving. As a father of a family of six mouths to feed, he had one obligation and it will not take an exceedingly long stretch of the imagination to figure out what happened next. The last element of this memory that I remember is what my father told me years later after my Grandpa died. He said that he could remember approaching the table quite hungry and as he was enjoying one of his favorite meals with his brothers and sister, he looked up and saw his father walking up and down the dining room with just a piece of bread and some coffee. He just couldn’t eat the main course that day, understandably.  

I think it was early in my Senior Year of high school that I had what was probably the last conversation I would have with Grandpa just weeks before he died. Our nation was still swelling from the divisive nature of the Vietnam War/Conflict and as a young man nearing the age of the draft, I had some important questions for him concerning the nature of battle and war itself knowing the time of life that he had lived and observed. “Why do we have war, Grandpa?” was something along those lines that I recall placing before him outside his home, probably near the same area of his make-shift lamb pen. I wish I could say that I could restate the exact words he used, but what I do remember was that he said that war really did not create valor or heroism, rather, it revealed it in the most unobvious of places.

Then he went on to share a most profound detail that he was told by those, older than him, returning from World War II. It involved a situation involving two buddies from Texas who fought side by side in the trenches of France. Apparently, the two had become separated in the fierce battles in the trenches in southern France. When the gunfire had ceased for a few merciful minutes, the one could hear the other crying out clearly wounded and even perhaps dying and began to implore his commanding officer for permission to crawl over to reach his friend, to offer comfort and encouragement and to help him in any way possible. The officer in charge, however, refused to let him leave the trench but before he knew it, the young soldier was already over the top, ignoring the smell of gunpowder in the air, the concussion of incoming rounds, and the frenetic pounding of his heart deep within his chest. Miraculously, he made it to his friend hoisting him on his back and then repeated the amazing rescue effort only to discover that when they both returned to the safe area of their platoon, it was too late. His friend was gone. And even in the face of remarkable love translated into pristine bravery, the officer in charge chided the young soldier and cynically asked if it had been “worth the risk.” Without hesitation, he quickly and with tears in his eyes, gently responded, “It truly was worth it, sir. My buddy’s last words made it more than worth it. He looked up at me before he died and said, ‘I knew you would come.’” Not too much longer after that priceless conversation, my Grandpa leaped into eternity waiting for all of us, but not without leaving us all at least a few morsels of wisdom to propel us forward into the trenches of life. I remember recalling that story as they carried his body to the cemetery with all my family watching with a heaviness caused by the realization that things would probably not be the same anymore, and they were right.

Amazingly, some thirty years later, I found myself presented with a situation which made me think of these elements of life and love and loyalty from yet another unique perspective. I guess you could say that I have been blessed with both a sense of loyalty and reciprocally loyal friends, so when one of them called me to tell me that his older brother was found dead in his living room, a man I knew and considered a friend, and then quickly ended the conversation to start planning the funeral, I knew what I was going to do. It was the week of Thanksgiving and I had not spoken with my friend who lived in the Midwest and I remember answering my mom who asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving. I answered, “I’ll be in Iowa.” Calling on favors from everyone from Omaha to Sioux City, I arranged the flight, a car, and a place to stay, including a ride to the funeral home where I knew the family would be gathering. I can still see the scene in my mind’s eye. I was sitting alone in the back of the chapel watching as my friend and his grieving family filed in to pay the last respects, many of them who only saw the body of my friend’s brother laying in state, tears and sad shouts emanating throughout those brief shocking, terrible moments. And that’s when it happened. My friend casually or maybe instinctively looked back toward the last pew of the chapel and spotted me. He slowly sauntered toward me, approached, and said those immortal words, “I knew you’d come.”

Grateful to my ever-smiling and constant welcoming Grandpa, I am ever-so-thankful to my Sweet Jesus who has never left my side no matter how dark it has been, or rather how dark it appeared to be. Therefore, I’d like to share with you what I have learned going forward:

  1. The fear of death is more dreaded than death itself. Fear is the enemy, and we cannot negotiate with it. I choose to live in freedom. The only failure is losing God and that is not going to happen.
  2. Because I choose to envision the sheer magnitude of my dreams and blessings, I can appreciate and accept the intensity of my life’s battles. As long as there is breath in my body, I will never give up.
  3. Problems are messages. I realize now that until I fully receive and grasp the messages, they are poised to repeat themselves.

I know very well how valuable time is and how wonderful it is when it is spent doing good things and spending it with great people. Thank you, Grandpa. I know you did all you could for all of us and genuinely believe that you are at peace now. To all who are reading this, I wish you peace in this brave new year.

There is no doubt there are many among our readership who call themselves “dog lovers.” I mention this as a sort of disclaimer because as we begin to launch another brave new, and a conceivably better world in 2021, I want to close with the last line from an awesome book and movie simply entitled, “A Dog’s Purpose.” After taking some of us on an emotional roller-coaster, the ending reveals what the title suggests. The purpose of those wonderful canine companions is simple. “Be Here Now.” What a great way to preface the new year! Just be here, wherever you are, whatever the circumstance, whatever the scenario. Then, just maybe, you’ll hear the words that everyone should hear at least once in their lives: “I knew you would come.”

“Love is Love no matter how old you are, and I knew if I gave you enough time, you’d come back to me.”  ~Nicholas Sparks

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Love Begins At Home

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 30, 2020

“I am writing to you, children, because your sins have been forgiven for his name’s sake.” On December 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, now a Saint, received the Nobel Peace Prize. During her acceptance speech, she said the following: “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there.” How very awesome and simple! Today in our First Reading, St. John makes the case even stronger as he writes to children, fathers, young men, and every member of the family. Do not love the world or the things of the world.” Can you begin to imagine what kind of world this would be if every person we met were raised in a home like that? Amazing, simply amazing! 

The Gospel crowns this notion with Anna’s figure, a prophetess from the tribe of Asher.* (*Asher is Hebrew for “Happy One.” Makes perfect sense.) She, very much like St. Teresa of Calcutta, anticipated her final and momentous encounter with the Lord and also gave thanks to God for such a gift for all families. Let us continue to love, continue to forgive, and continue to live in the Spirit of Love who is born at Christmas. If we decide to do so, this New Year almost upon us can be the very best of our lives. That will be because Jesus will grow in our hearts just as He did in His own family: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” He will do the same for and with us if we let Him. 

“You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn’t depend on blood. Nor is it exclusive of friendship. Family members can be your best friends, you know. And best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.” Trenton Lee Stewart

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Now I Can Die

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 29, 2020

Have you ever the expression, “Now I’ve seen everything!”? It is a phrase that seems to suggest that something has just occurred that took the beholder by surprise and by storm, something that could not have been imagined or predicted. This could very well be what Simeon experienced when he beheld the Baby Jesus for the first time. He realized in that instance that his life will never be the same again; “Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” You see, according to the same Gospel account, he had been promised by a special revelation from the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he clapped eyes on the Messiah. When he saw Jesus, he knew it was time. 

Our First Reading today gives us more than just a subtle hint of how we can live like this, and therefore, by extension, die a pleased death: “But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.” It is quite simple: if we have spent our days trying to love each other, forgive at every juncture, pray for those who hate us, and treat everyone, especially the poor, as if they were Jesus Himself, then don’t you think we would recognize the Messiah, too? St. John agrees with the assessment: “Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.” 

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” Victor Hugo

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The Ultimate Christmas Sacrifice

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 28, 2020

“A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled since they were no more.” The haunting refrain from the near-funeral dirge sounding quote of Jeremiah from the Gospel Reading is quite sadly and horribly fulfilled with the memories of today’s Feast of the Holy Innocents. “When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” Herod, the blood-thirsty, criminally insane monarch, was so consumed with his own power and self-importance that he truly lived in darkness, an evil-worn abyss that truly consumed him and fueled his destructive tendencies. 

“If we say, ‘We have fellowship with him,’ while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth.” One of the greatest gifts of Christmas is the interior light that shines within us all year long if we allow truth and humility to reign in our hearts. This begins with the miraculous moment when we forgive the person whom we think is responsible for our unhappiness. Jesus teaches us clearly that the place to happy is here; the time to be happy now. This is living in the light of the truth that dispels the darkness first within us because of grudges and rancor, and even in those around us. “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” 

Jesus, live in me, shine in me, rescue me from darkness. Amen.

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A Family For Christmas

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 27, 2020

More than a couple of decades ago, a young boy lay in his hospital room trying to recover from a respiratory disease that almost cost him his life. He was asleep late one night at the hospital with his father sleeping in a cot next to his bed when he suddenly lost his air and began to choke to death. The nurses were as professional and helpful as they could be and saved his young life. Minutes later, the little boy sat up in the bed and asked his father a most surprising question: “Daddy, am I going to die?” His father, who was about 30 years young, thought hard and prayed over his answer. “Why do you ask me that, Son? Are you afraid to die and go to Heaven and see God?” His response was as touching as it was profound: “Oh no, Daddy! I’m not afraid to go see God. Not if He is like you, Daddy.” “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” 

Each family member’s role in a home is so crucial and critical, but none are so central as that of a father. Fatherhood propels the family’s dynamic as it was with the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We can easily see the blueprints for a happy and blessed family in the very core of those three wonderful holy and saintly figures that maintained Jesus in his infancy and adolescence. “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.” 

Not everyone, however, is given the same abilities or situations. Many of us come from hurting and broken families. The path ahead for those may be daunting and difficult but not impossible. Because of the Holy Family, we have the hope and instruction to become whole and integral members of our family systems and, more importantly, society. “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”

“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” Desmond Tutu

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Red & Green For Christmas

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 26, 2020

In some circles, the traditional colors of Christmas are red and green, which may explain why the unofficial flower of this great time of year is the poinsettia: bright red and green colors all wrapped in a single potted plant. Red and green are powerfully symbolically rich colors for life as well. Perhaps we have a clue in our First Reading as to the explanation of the red hue today, the Second Day of Christmas: “Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people.” The blood of the martyrdom/witness of St. Stephen brings a considerable amount of sobriety to the joy of the time, but it is so necessary. The gift of Christmas has everything to do with where we hope to end our earthly pilgrimage because of the great gift of Christmas. We want to go to Heaven after a good and solid life of witness to this great time’s real joy and meaning. We want to have enough happiness and peace in our hearts to say at the end of it all, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

So what about the green color? Likewise, in many cultures and thoughts, green is the color of hope, a rich, fertile expectation that all will be well even after the harshness that life often brings us. “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” And certainly, we can believe every word of this. Red and green, not one without the other, comprise the Christmas mystery. There will be moments where we must die to ourselves supported by the hopeful way we live our lives in and around those painful moments. “Rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your kindness.” And so He does. 

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Putting Love Into Words

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 25, 2020

Our First Reading on this beautiful Christmas Day hails from the great Prophet Isaiah, who speaks with the most profound enthusiasm about what can and should be in our hearts today: “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch;” a kind of announcement that should fill us with overwhelming joy, a joy that bubbles over the top because of the message itself. Today is one of those announcements; Christ is Born! “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

The Genealogy of Jesus the Christ: Today, in the Gospel, we have presented the famous lineage of the Messiah from Abraham to Jesus Christ right before our ears and eyes. Why? “From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus.” It should be no accident why so many Christmas songs and carols fill us with joy. The One who was promised to us so long ago has finally arrived! We are now safe and should feel empowered to walk in the light of Christ for the rest of our lives.

And you and I are no accident, either. We are here to significantly impact those around us with the same hope and anticipation of the first Christmas Day. Attempt to spend this night, the First day of Christmas, as the famous carol implores, “counting your blessings instead of sheep.” There is too much joy to go around for every one of us. Merry Christmas! God bless us all, everyone!

“Probably the reason we all go so haywire at Christmas time with the endless unrestrained and often silly buying of gifts is that we don’t quite know how to put our love into words.” Harlan Miller

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Build Me A Manger

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 24, 2020

“Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Should you build me a house to dwell in?” Well, here it is! It is Christmas Eve, and whether or not we think we are ready for Christmas 2020, it is just a few hours away. Everyone will be getting ready for the many wonderful local and familial traditions, including the special foods, visits, Masses, and of course, gathering around the nativity scenes to place that last missing piece of the Baby Jesus finally. As we move forward with joyous expectation and the hope of glancing at Christmas through the eyes of children and the child-like, let us consider the entire mystery behind placing the Christ Child in the manger of our homes and churches. It is a powerful reminder that the Lord wishes to be born and alive and living within our own hearts, a personal manger if you will. 

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” So tonight, let us place the last few details to make this manger the safest, warm, and inviting place for Jesus. Forgive those whom you need to forgive, let go of the mistakes that have haunted you this year, and just count all the magnificent blessings that have been our in abundance. Clear a special spot in your manger-heart right here, right now. “O Radiant Dawn, Splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Behold, Christmas has arrived, and the Lord is here!

“It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.” W.T. Ellis

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Silence As A Pre-Christmas Gift

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 23, 2020

“Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.” It may be hard to believe that one of the most obvious aspects of the First Christmas was silence. Just think about that for a minute. In all of the more significant moments of this great time, there was silence before, during, and after for various reasons. This is important for us to realize just days away from that “Most Holy Night.” This has been more than substantiated by the mention of Zechariah’s plight in the New Testament Gospel of today and is also revealed in the process by which silver is purified as was described in our First Reading of today: For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye.” Both references open the door to us about the mystery of becoming silent and still, especially today. 

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. The next ten days will probably seem like a blur, and then we get back to the same grind and routine that we left—if we did at all. 

This is why in some ways, the time is really running out on the quality of our Christmas this year and perhaps for the rest of the year. When we walk into the inner room of silence, we can discover gifts that renew and strengthen our very souls. We find God. We chance upon compassion and humility. And we find peace if we can slow down that inner voice and frenetic pace and breathe. God’s presence now more than ever at Christmas is beyond words. As we venture more and more into this inner quiet, we find our own lightness of being, our true selves, the end to worry, and a front-row seat at the manger. God is very close in these moments. Make yourself an appointment with the quiet. 

Out of the silence, there was music. Out of the darkness, there was light. Out of uncertainty, there was promise. You see, Hope was born that night. 

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Almost There

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 22, 2020

A group of high school seniors was somewhat perplexed at something they read in history class and were simultaneously frustrated by the apparent inability of their teacher to explain it to them with only his feeble (as they put it) attempt to shift their attention from the fact (as they saw it) that he did not understand it either. He said, “You’ll just have to get older and grow up first before you know what it means.” Here is the quote from Alexander the Great: “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion. “My heart exults in the LORD, my horn is exalted in my God. I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in my victory.” In just two days, we arrived on Christmas Eve. All that we have done or not done now comes into play as the sun sets and lights come on in our churches and homes. “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” As we near the great and glorious Season of Christmas within forty-eight hours, we are about to be empowered for the rest of our days if we believe: 

What we must continue to fight so that we may prevail with Jesus in this holy time are the issues of fear and anxiety, which have literally inundated all of Earth’s major literary works from all known cultures. Some have reported that Shakespeare wrote about fear in every one of his major works. “Of all base passions, fear is most accursed.” (Henry VI, Act V, Scene 1) Likewise, it has been said with numbing regularity that the phrase “do not be afraid” is found 365 times in the whole of Scriptures. There is no time today to either dispute or confirm that but only to say that it is mentioned enough to believe it no matter how many times it appears on the pages of our Bible. The Mother of Jesus, the primary witness of the Birth of Christ not only was comforted by the presence of Her Son and Savior in her body and holding Him for the first few moments of His life, knew exactly of which we speak: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. for he has looked upon his lowly servant.” 

It is time to sing because we are sheep led by the Lion of Judah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is time to shout with relief because He did what He promised. There can be no more allowances for fear, doubt, or self-pity if we are really serious about this life and what great things come out of it. Open your hearts and make yourselves ready! We are His sheep, His servants, His handmaids, His hands and feet. Let Christmas come with all its wonder!

“Stop trying and start trusting.” Rick Warren

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How Does This Happen?

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 21, 2020

“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” 

Although many of us truly appreciate the practice of gift-giving and family time laced with great food and hopefully even greater laughter, there has always been one aspect of the Santa Claus mystique that has bothered me. We were told from the get-go that if we were good, Santa would bring us gifts, all that our little hearts could imagine. What about poor children and families who would readily rejoice with just a loaf of fresh bread and a violence-free afternoon? Were they bad all year? Is that why there was nothing under the tree, or even worse, no tree at all? 

“O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see you, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.” This is where we really need to be challenged at every age to make sure we remember and emphasize the real meaning of Christmas. We are celebrating the birth of the One who will save us and open the door to Heaven, which for eons had been shut tight. We are rejoicing the the fact that life is wonderful with Jesus in it and meaningful if we live as if we believe that every day of the year, every year. Christmas is sweet not just because of the food, but more because of the Bread of Life that ensures us eternal happiness in the next life. 

“So God throws open the door of this world—and enters as a baby. As the most vulnerable imaginable. Because He wants unimaginable intimacy with you. What religion ever had a god that wanted such intimacy with us that He came with such vulnerability to us? What God ever came so tender we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death.” Ann Voskamp

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A Most Wonderful “Yes”

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 20, 2020

Many of the better known and greatly loved Christmas carols speak of this time of preparing for Christmas with deep references to generosity and kindness, especially when there are so many who are not in that mind frame. Generosity is a willingness to give even at a cost to oneself. It expresses concern for meeting others’ needs, even if it means sacrificing something of one’s own. We are to extend ourselves to all of humanity, especially the most in need. To do so, we are emulating Jesus, who went after the one lost sheep. To love is to give. God loves us, and He gives us everything He wants us to have. When we give, as our Lord encourages, we truly deny ourselves. Generosity must be done in silence to merit grace from God and not merely the thanksgiving of mortal men. It is effortless to be generous to our relatives or friends, but that is not generosity since we will be repaid for that with friendship, thanksgiving, and praise. Generosity must extend to the poor and the needy. It is a quest for justice as we have the work of God to provide for those who don’t have it.

The most excellent example of Generosity (after Jesus Himself): The Blessed Virgin Mary. In the fullness of grace, our Blessed Mother exhibits the fullness of love and truth. She is generous in charity, patient, kind and gentle; she is good and faithful, chaste, modest, and temperate. Her spirit rejoices in God, her savior, and she is at peace even in trying times because she trusts in the Lord: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Three times in this life, Mary was blessed especially by the Holy Spirit – at her Immaculate Conception, at the Annunciation, and at Pentecost – and we are the beneficiaries of the immeasurable fruits of the Spirit produced in her. Through her maternal protection and intercession, we obtain pardon for our sins, health in times of sickness, the strength of heart when we are weak, consolation in the face of affliction, and help when we are in danger. Above all, she is the Mother of Christ, our Redeemer, and our Mother.

Today as we move even closer to Christmas, we recall her famous visit to her cousin Elizabeth. John the Baptist leaped in her womb, foreshadowing our joy at the Birth of Mary’s Son, Jesus. She also shows us quintessentially how to evangelize, bringing Jesus to others at every opportunity. Mary also powerfully reminds us that every encounter we have has the potential of bringing the Good News to someone who truly needs it. Thank you, Mary, for your wonderful YES!

“The nativity mystery “conceived from the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary”, means, that God became human, truly human out of his own grace. The miracle of the existence of Jesus, his “climbing down of God” is Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary! Here is a human being, the Virgin Mary, and as he comes from God, Jesus comes also from this human being. Born of the Virgin Mary means a human origin for God. Jesus Christ is not only truly God, he is human like every one of us. He is human without limitation. He is not only similar to us, he is like us.” Karl Barth

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Samson And John

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 19, 2020

One of the fascinating aspects of our Advent Season is that we are introduced to so many intriguing and wonderful characters and personalities that, taken together, make for a remarkable preamble and preface for the Gret Mystery of Christmas. At the very top of that list, we could easily find Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and Magi, and a slew of others. Among them, we would include Samson from the Old Testament and John from the New as highlighted in our Readings today. Let’s start with what both Readings have in common: “You will be with child and will bear a son. So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean.” (Samson). “He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.” (John) Both Samson and John were Nazirites from birth, which meant that they were permanently under this vow to keep them safe, sacred, and holy to accomplish something magnificent for God. And both certainly did!

But there is something else about these two men: Samson and John died in “seeming” defeat. When Samson died, he died a death that seemed to terminate an unsuccessful ministry and never lived to see the Philistines’ complete conquest. John was beheaded during imprisonment, struggling with doubts that Jesus really was the Messiah. Although they were both men, God used them in great ways, their special roles to prepare for the Messiah was their absolute and true calling. Despite their differences, they were dramatic preludes to what would follow.

And what about us? How does this affect you and me as we near Christmas? Here are a few thoughts:
1) Everyone has a special calling. Happiness will depend on its discovery.
2) The greatest moments of our lives need both preparation and the element of surprise-filled joy.
3) Disappointments will certainly be present, but they never define the meaning of one’s life. 

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.” Sigrid Undset

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Dreaming Of A Kind Christmas

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 18, 2020

It seems everyone is dreaming at Christmastime:” ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house/ Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse/ The stockings were hung by the chimney with care/ In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there/ The children were nestled all snug in their beds/ While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.” (Clement Clarke Moore) Even amid the Holy Family: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”

As we continue our Advent journey toward a splendid Christmas moment, let us dare to dream: of a life that is truly free and devoid of hatred, arrogance, or selfishness; let us dream of a world that is full of peace and understanding; and let us dream of a life that beings with each one of us serving our Lord and King of Kings: “As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land.” 

We can start right now. Where is that person that needs extra patience? When is the next opportunity to be gentle and understanding? Who will go to the manger with us? Behold! The time approaches quickly!

“When it comes to kindness, paying it forward, and good deeds, every day should be like Christmas.” Brenda Priddy

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Meet Carl, Christmas Class of 2020

senior man in graduation robe shouting for joy with arms up in air

She had always wanted to be a nurse and why she chose the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to graduate and start work will remain a mystery only to be unveiled hopefully in her lifetime. But maybe she won’t have to wait too long to unravel that personal enigma.

Carl was her very first patient on the floor and no one could have asked for a more cooperative, compliant, and friendly man who, with his lovely wife, were so good to her.

She came to work on this mid-December week just a little perturbed because of the wreck on the freeway, more rude drivers, and the fact that her stomach was growling louder than a den of bears about to wake from hibernation caused by the unavoidable lack of time for breakfast. She rushed into the breakroom where most of the other nurses gathered and tried to start that first cup of cinnamon spice coffee that always seemed to jumpstart the morning for her while she shot a glance over to the bulletin board where people posted cars for sale, apartments for rent, and other sundry items including newspaper clippings featuring obituaries of the famous and not-so-famous, among them, at times, some of the former patients on their floor. Her eyes panned the selections and with a little shock in a gentle gasp, she spotted the obituary for her friend and patient Carl:

“The Angels came on December 1, 2020 to escort Carl to the Gates of Heaven to be with his Lord and Savior. He will be remembered for always having a smile on his face and looking for ways to make people laugh.  He never met a stranger and is loved by everyone who met him.”

“‘Yup,’ she thought, that’s right on. I wonder how his wife is doing.” Her thoughts catapulted her back just ten days earlier when, on her day off, with a few other nurse friends who were involved with hospice, decided to drop by the RV Community Park to visit with Carl and his wife. She remembered the scene quite well and recalled how everything was decorated for Christmas especially the comfortable and well illuminated bedroom where Carl lay with Christmas lights and decorations everywhere. There was literally no corner without something flashing, glowing, or shouting, “Merry Christmas!” She recalled a comment she heard in reference to how one of her teachers loved this season and made it clear by the way he adorned every nook and cranny with festive adornment: “If Santa Clause had a house, this is what it would look like!” She also recalled that one white Christmas tree strewn with red lights and all-red ornaments that looked like a giant peppermint cane. Carl was profoundly and keenly proud of the ornament that lay atop the tree: a large, red bulb with his and his wife’s name on it with the name JESUS in large glittered- applique right in the middle of them.

She also recalled one of her last conversations with Carl. She remembered how he was afraid to die understandably as anyone would have some trepidation about what the next few seconds will present after we take our last breath. For some strange reason, at least in her thinking, Carl was actually doubting his welcome into Paradise. Was there something he needed to reveal, confess, or otherwise release from his heart before it was time to go? From what he told her and the others, which was clearly corroborated by his family and closest friends, Carl had lived a very full, generous, and happy life. Perhaps he was just scared of the unknown and so the kind nurse said what instinctively came into her heart: “The good news is, Carl, is that you passed everything. You passed! Did you hear me? All you have to do now is wait for graduation. Just think of it!” He seemed to find great solace in those words and never asked about it again.

A few days later, she went to see him on a windy, sunny, Sunday afternoon and it was clear that the end was near. “What day is it?’ he asked her. “It’s Sunday, Carl,” she responded. “Can you read some Scripture for me? What is the Gospel for today?” he implored.

The young nurse scrambled with her phone and remembered how her parish priest had published the readings for each day of the year and she quickly found the ones for Sunday. She read slowly and deliberately from the Gospel according to St. Matthew:

“Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one– to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’”

It would be the last sermon Carl would ever hear on this earth. He motioned to his wife that he wanted to sit up one last time and with the help of the other visiting nurses, he did, ever so delicately and gingerly to give his wife one last hug before lowering himself with their help back down into his bed where he took a nap and never woke up again. He had understood and had finally graduated into Eternal Life.

At his wake service, the kind nurses and the staff at his wife’s workplace put together a different kind of eulogy. They wanted everyone to hear/read the last sermon Carl had so passionately requested concerning the five talents distributed to all by God. Here is what they dispersed:

Talent One 

EYES – the gift of sight.
Think of the ability to see and comprehend the world around us and God’s presence in it.

Talent Two 

EARS – the gift of listening.
Think of the ability to remain quiet in front of a sunrise or sunset, a friend who is telling us about their day and life, and before God in prayer.

Talent Three 

NOSE – the gift of smell.
Think of the ability to appreciate the fragrance of this created world and be soothed by the texture of nature’s aroma.

Talent Four 

MOUTH – the gift of speech.
Think of the ability to communicate and heal with words that are formed in your mind and expressed with your heart.

Talent Five 

TOUCH – our effect on others.
Think of how wonderful it is to be held, to accept the congratulatory handshake or the firm and reassuring pat on the back. Good touches warm the heart.

Before everyone went their separate ways, Carl’s wife of forty-five years unexpectedly and uncharacteristically stood up to say a few closing words. She explained that none of us can bury these talents any more than we can hide from the expectations that are thrust upon us. The lessons are irrefutable. Success, especially when reflected upon at the end of one’s life, is a product of our work. God always gives us everything we need to do what He has called us to do. In the mystery of this awesome human life, we are not all created equally with the same gifts and talents. None of us can render judgment on another. We work for the Master, not our own selfish purposes, and because of that fundamental and critical reason, we will all be held accountable.

“Merry Christmas, everybody! “she called out with tears in her eyes. “It’s time to finish the masterpiece!”

Carl had in fact graduated and it was time to celebrate into silent nights of comfort and joy.

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It’s In The Genes

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 17, 2020

“Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob, listen to Israel, your father.” At very well-placed times of the year, especially around the dates that are most famous for families’ gatherings like right now, you will see a literal cascade of advertisements concerning the discovery of one’s family roots through DNA testing. Commercials abound with different companies competing for curious dollars to discover where families originated and identify certain traits. Many believe they can learn significantly about where they are going by discovering where they are from. “In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed; all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.”

With just a week away from Christmas Eve, we have been generously served the Genealogy Account from the Gospel of St. Matthew that traces the lineage of Jesus all the way back to Abraham: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The importance of this moment is quite similar to the DNA searches that have grown into popularity in the last ten years or so. We want to know who Jesus is to know why He came. When we realize why He came, we will embrace Him into our hearts and families like a newborn invigorating all of our lives with a freshness and transforming passage into a brand new year. We know where we are going because we know Who is leading us. And we know exactly His origins and final destiny in Heaven. 

“God walked down the stairs of heaven with a Baby in His arms.” Paul Scherer

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Christmas Bookends

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 16, 2020

Everything that has been revealed in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament; conversely, everything in the New completes Revelation in the Old. We have that occurrence today in our Readings. The Prophet Isaiah makes this astounding proclamation: “Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up! I, the LORD, have created this.” This gives us a sort of blueprint to know what to expect in the promised Messiah. He will do all things wonderfully for us! Then, in the New Testament, we witness the sem-desperate approach of John the Baptist, viz-a-viz his disciples to Jesus with that nearly near-jerking question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Both of these powerful passages prepare us for the coming of Christ in their distinctive ways. We could put it this way: The Old Testament tells us what to look for, and The New Testament responds that we find everything in Jesus Christ born to us at Christmas. 

What is clear is this: God used ordinary people to achieve extraordinary wonders so that we could have Christmas and Easter, that is, the dawn of eternal life and the full splendor of the beautiful Day of the Lord for all of us in Heaven. The Lord uses you and me today to do much the same. With Christmas less than ten days away, challenge yourself to speak to as many people that you can with this greeting: “I am praying for you this Christmas.” See what happens. 

Loving God, help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Amen. 

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Well Done Vs. Well Said

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 15, 2020

“Which of the two did his father’s will?” What a strange situation in today’s Gospel as we move closer and closer to Christmas Eve. One son says “I won’t,” but does; the other says “I will,” but doesn’t. This situation reminds us, among other things, that actions speak louder than words. Think of the people in your life that you can truly count on whenever necessary. We say that their words are “golden” because they are true. It sounds like integrity to me, and Christmas is the best time to practice it. 

“For then I will change and purify the lips of the peoples, That they all may call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one accord.” This entire discussion brings us right back to the First Reading. We must be honest and forthright with each other because we are responsible for each other. May times, our own friends will interpret our silence as approval in a wild variety of situations. “I didn’t know you felt that way” is a phrase that comes to mind when we do not risk rejection in the service of truth. Perhaps the basic message today is simple: You are what you do, not what you’ll say you do, and this Christmas is another excellent opportunity to place the joy of Christmas in our hearts and not just say that we will. 

“Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.” Oren Arnold

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Unwrapping The Christmas Gift Of Forgiveness

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 14, 2020

“A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel.” Sometimes we think of Christmas gifts that come in brightly wrapped packages and delightful bows of many colors. But what about another kind of gift? In the Great Season of Advent, the Lord Jesus, through the Scriptures, asks us all to consider the powerfully wonderful and awesome gift of actually forgiving another human being for Christmas. The healing nature of letting go of past and ugly hurts is made clear by the entire life and body of teaching of Christ the Lord who perfect birthday gift could, in fact, be Forgiveness. It is safe to safe to say that he teaches us that you and I are the ones who are being forgiven every time we forgive another person. It is like the oil of relationships that does not change the past but only the future. We can hear the energy of this awesome message in the Responsorial Psalm: “Good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way.”  

This concept was also made crystal clear in the Gospel of today: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” The Baby Jesus was brought to earth to expose and propose love and forgiveness as a means to set a prisoner free, only for us to discover that the prisoner is us! We could also call this the “Authority of Love” and accept this as one of the supreme non-refundable, non-returnable Christmas gifts of all of our lives. How beautiful! 

“Christmas is not just a time for festivity and merry-making. It is more than that. It is a time for the contemplation of eternal things. The Christmas spirit is a spirit of giving and forgiving.” J. C. Penney

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The Wonderful Life Of Christmas

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 13, 2020

“Christmas is about giving from the heart more than giving from the store.” Toni Sorenson  

One day on Christmas Eve, a man found himself at the very depths and the bottom of the darkest point of his life, and in the famous movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” he discovers through a Christmas “Angel” what life would have been like if he had never been born. It gave him a new sense of purpose and a joy to be alive, giving him every reasonable reason to be happy and overjoyed: “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul.” This is our goal today as we near Christmas Eve ourselves, just one week away! How do we do this?

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” During these last few days that we have, let us consider accomplishing the following:


This we do to prepare for our Jesus who comes to save, comfort, and forgive us: “A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.” This is where the wisdom, experience, and values of this Advent Season truly come into play. Only those things that we do for others, including the souls we try to rescue, will pass from this earth to the next. Everything else will burn up someday, but those things are done for Christ, and His glory will endure forever. You can’t take it with you, but you can certainly send it ahead and have it waiting for you when you use your time, talents, and treasure for the kingdom of God and for the glory of Jesus Christ: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” If we can enter into the true spirit of Christmas, then it is truly a wonderful life! 

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” —on George Bailey’s office wall from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life”

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Christmas Life Of Joy

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 12, 2020

“God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.” Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, perhaps one of the most world-wide and recognized celebrations of the place of the Virgin Mary not only in the story of Christmas but in the whole of our Salvation. She said, “Yes!” to the invitation bestowed upon her to become the Mother of Jesus and, because the Church is the Body of Christ, she is our Mother, too.

“You are the highest honor of our race.” This particular apparition of Mary is drenched in meaning and significance, especially when one considers the horrible and destructive cult of human sacrifice that had been perpetuated in Aztec culture. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the tilma of St. Juan Diego presents a greatly different message. “I am bringing you life, life to the fullest through Jesus Christ!” is clearly the message of the Virgin for today. And always. It is yet another beautiful reminder as we near the Birth of Jesus this Christmas of the real reason and purpose of everything Christmas. “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

Christmas joy can only be found in the real meaning, and deep experience of the birth of a defenseless, innocent baby with a price tag on his head issued by a criminally insane power-hungry madman bent on death. Life wins when we celebrate and protect it.

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Humbug Or Holiness

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 11, 2020

“We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.” There seem to be two diametrically different prevailing attitudes around this time of year concerning Christmas Carols’ playing and singing. On the one hand, some people appear to lament and even disdain their playing partly because it is a constant reminder of the pressure of the season to shop and spend and who maintain the attitude that “they can’t wait till it’s all over.” On the other hand, some start playing those wonderfully memorable songs even before Thanksgiving. Imagine if people from both groups actually have to work together!

“If you would hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river, and your vindication like the waves of the sea.” The problem is probably a very old one, one of which may not have ever found a peaceful solution, but the underlying issue is really at stake here. It has everything to do with what is inside the human heart at any time of the year. We have called these “core beliefs,” which everyone has. When we believe in something negative or pessimistic so strongly, we tend to look for evidence to support those core beliefs. Unfortunately, when this happens, we see the world through heavily-filtered goggles. In the process, we collect evidence that supports our (usually negative) core beliefs and fail to recognize any evidence that could contradict these beliefs. We often collect this evidence from people. So ensues the vicious, self-serving, self-fulfilling prophecy cycle, and we now see the world through the eyes of our core beliefs. But think of the opportunities and possibilities if our core beliefs included the acceptance and adherence to the simple truth that I have been called to a full life full of joy and that every single day of my life, I can and will find evidence to support that? The joy and peace in life would be totally and wonderfully unpredictable. We could and should call this the quintessential “abundant life.”

It is what we hold in the deepest recesses of our hearts and minds, and they truly shape how we look at everything in life from a stalled car on the freeway to the meaning of life itself. So choose today: “Bah, humbug,” or “Come, Lord, Jesus.” 

“Off to one side sits a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him–and so on this cloudless night, he went to simple shepherds.” Max Lucado

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Christmas Help

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 10, 2020

“I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.'” One of the intui9tive nature of our treatment of the Christmas Season in these pages for the last three years has been to have our readers recall the elements of the first Christmas to spread light on the Christmas experience of today. With that in mind, and at the risk of sound redundant, let us remember that at the first dawn of Christmas light in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas, it was anything but “merry.” Mary and Joseph were literally running for their lives, there was a contract put out on the Baby Jesus, and more than a handful of children were slaughtered by a madman in power. 

“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” If this Christmas is more like the first Christmas for you and your family, please take heart! Jesus is still here with all of us while the value of these days lies not under the tree, but nestled securely within our hearts and minds to find our way not just TO Bethlelehm, but THROUGH Bethlehem all the way to the empty tomb outside of Jerusalem. We have hope because we know how the story ends! 

“So God throws open the door of this world—and enters as a baby. As the most vulnerable imaginable. Because He wants unimaginable intimacy with you. What religion ever had a god that wanted such intimacy with us that He came with such vulnerability to us? What God ever came so tender we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death.” Ann Voskamp

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Roses In December

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 9, 2020

Today is the Feast of Saint Juan Diego, who witnessed the Virgin Mary’s amazing apparition at Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City in the mid-16th century. For the longest time, the church resisted proclaiming through the proper and inspired channels to name Juan Diego an actual Saint. His body was never found because his grave was unmarked, and there were no other traditional markers that would underscore his existence. That was until St. John Paul II declared that the tilma, the outer garment of Juan Diego which received the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was deemed proof enough. So it is a most wonderful answer to the mystery of that hill so long ago: “They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.”

“O bless the Lord, my soul!” However, the most profound aspect of this humble saint can be found amid the anticipated joy of those who are longing for their own Christmas miracle and all year long. The dramatic scene where St. Juan Diego opens his cloak to reveal the image of Our Lady and a cascade of roses falling with aroma and flash of red color speaks much more: There is always hope, especially in dark, uncertain moments (roses in December) for those who trust in God and claim for this life the blessing of those who want to live in the Kingdom. In this Advent Season, keep praying for your miracle and wait with grateful expectation: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Prayer to Saint Juan Diego: You who were chosen by Our Lady of Guadalupe as an instrument to show your people and the world that the way of Christianity is one of love, compassion, understanding, values, sacrifices, repentance of our sins, appreciation, and respect for God’s creation, and most of all one of humility and obedience. You who we know are now in the Kingdom of the Lord and close to our Mother, be our angel and protect us, stay with us as we struggle in this modern life not knowing most of the time to set our priorities. Help us to pray to our God to obtain the gifts of the Holy Spirit and use them for the good of humanity and the good of our Church, through the Heart of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Heart of Jesus. Amen. 

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Immaculate Conception: Out Of The Blue*

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 8, 2020

Today is the glorious Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which has a long and complex history. It goes back to the understanding of Mary’s privileged relationship with God and the mystery of salvation. She is associated from the first moment of her existence as being “full of grace” and the love of God. In a particular way, the expression “full of grace” has been rediscovered in its most profound sense that she was prepared from the beginning of time for this remarkably pivotal role in all of Salvation: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” The very words that the Angel Gabriel addressed to Mary place front and center when Jesus Christ became incarnate in her body and, as true God and true Man, sacrifices everything for our salvation to Heaven. 

The Catholic Church’s Catechism explains it this way: (490) To become the mother of the Savior, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace.” In fact, for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, she needed to be wholly borne by God’s grace. (491) Through the centuries, the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”

For us today, this is truly overwhelming: God wants all of us to be saved, and only one like us (Jesus) and one like Him (God) could accomplish that. Our humanity, with all its weaknesses and damage, still has the potential of true greatness. “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.” (Responsorial Psalm) The disobedience of Eve has been forgiven, and the obedience of Mary has restored humanity. This is why the two are will always be inextricably intertwined for all humanity: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” 

O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, did prepare a worthy dwelling place for Your Son, we beseech You that, as by the foreseen death of this, Your Son, You did preserve her from all stain, so to You would permit us, purified through her intercession, to come to You. Amen.

*Blue traditionally is the symbolic color for the Virgin Mary.

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A Different Kind Of Christmas Gift

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 7, 2020

“As for you, your sins are forgiven.” Sometimes we think of Christmas gifts that come in brightly wrapped packages and delightful bows of many colors. But what about another kind of gift? In the Great Season of Advent, the Lord Jesus, through the Scriptures, asks us all to consider the powerfully wonderful and awesome gift of actually forgiving another human being for Christmas. The healing nature of letting go of past and ugly hurts is made clear by the entire life and body of teaching of Christ the Lord who perfect birthday gift could, in fact, be Forgiveness. It is safe to safe to say that he teaches us that you and I are the ones who are being forgiven every time we forgive another person. It is like the oil of relationships that does not change the past but only the future. We can hear the energy of this awesome message in the First Reading: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; With divine recompense he comes to save you.”  

This concept was also made crystal clear in the Gospel of today: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins–he said to the one who was paralyzed, ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.'” Jesus proposes forgiveness as a means to set a prisoner free, only for us to discover that the prisoner was us

“The first to apologize is the Bravest. The first to forgive is the Strongest. and the first to forget is the Happiest.” Unknown

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Nicholas In Us

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 6, 2020

Today we have a double serving of Advent feasting! Not only is it the Second Sunday of this great season of Advent, but it is also the time-honored, child-revered, legend-laden Feast of St. Nicholas. Let us celebrate as co-travelers through what is left of mystery and grace left in our world! Something is certainly different about today, and perhaps this is why. 

The one who everyone knows as Santa Claus has a remarkable history all his own, reaching all the way back to the 3rd century to a monk named Nicholas. Most historians place his birth around 280 A.D. in modern-day Turkey and describe him as someone much admired for his beautiful generosity and kindness. Many sources reveal that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick, including three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married. For the next 17 centuries, Santa Claus has evolved and become the virtual symbol of happy, childlike innocent fun together with an almost magical sense of giving and receiving and spreading goodness throughout the entire year. 

It is the kind of existence that is painted by our First Reading today: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” Without drifting needlessly into cynicism, let us state that St. Nicholas is still alive and well in the hearts of those who love Christmas and who never forget the true source and power of the season, Jesus Christ. If we accept the Lord Jesus into our everyday thinking and acting, then St. Nick is alive THROUGH us because Jesus is alive IN us. In this second week of Advent, waiting and watching for the Birth of Jesus, consider how Christmas both amazes and mystifies our families and friends, especially children. Let us be the miracle that people seek, the hope they look for, and the true spirit of love and peace that we all need to experience. It is clearly straight from the mind and heart of Christ: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths: All flesh shall see the salvation of God. “

O good St. Nicholas, you who are the joy of the children, put in my heart the spirit of childhood, which the Gospel speaks, and teach me to seed happiness around me. You, whose feast prepares us for Christmas, open my faith to the mystery of God made man. You good bishop and shepherd, help me to find my place in the Church and inspire the Church to be faithful to the Gospel. O good Saint Nicholas, patron of children, sailors and the helpless, watch over those who pray to Jesus, your Lord and theirs, as well as over those who humble themselves before you. Bring us all in reverence to the Holy Child of Bethlehem, when true joy and peace are found. Amen.

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A Shepherd’s Christmas

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 5, 2020

Perhaps, some of our readers have already placed that familiar collection of famous Christmas figures amidst a little hay, lights, and maybe even some photos of Christmas past. Among those figures are the Holy Family, Angels, Magi, and a couple of shepherds. While a shepherd’s image may not resound with many people in this day and age, the essential nature and quality of the person who takes care of sheep should never be forgotten or overlooked. In the modern sense, a shepherd could easily apply to anyone who actively takes care of another, looking out for their needs and communicating to those they serve the greatest amount of respect, devotion, and commitment. We could say that among the more recognizable modern shepherds among us are parents, godparents, teachers, coaches, and mentors. Furthermore, we could also assert that these shepherds are Christ-figures for the world today, acting in such a way that those receiving these acts of love and care will, with their own volition and freedom, pass the blessings forward to their own children and or those in need in their own future. 

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Here are the central issues and the main concern of the meaning of the Scriptures today. Be like Christ! Whenever possible, find someone to save and save them. Pass on to them what you have received and ask for nothing in return but the knowledge and satisfaction you are doing the work of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. What a profound idea to consider when we realize how much the Good Shepherd has blessed us. With all those in the world who truly need guidance and vision, now is the time to shepherd those whom God has given us to love. Imagine being one of those shepherds who witnessed the First Christmas. How about being a shepherd who witnesses THIS Christmas? 

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” St. Teresa d’Avila

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Christmas Sight For The Blind

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 4, 2020

One morning, I stopped on my way to work at a local gas station that also happened to be a convenience store, vegetable market, food counter, and what appeared to be a continuous stage of on-going human drama. Of course, I arrived when there was a long line already formed for everything from unleaded gas to lottery tickets, so I purchased a cup of coffee and some other items and placed them on a small table toward the back while I realized that I left my wallet in my car. As I returned, I witnessed a man of about 25 years of age stumble by the table, sit down, and literally spill over the coffee onto the fruit and the newspaper I was about to purchase. “Breathe, breathe…” I continued to think to myself. I began to walk over to the table and once again, “breathe again, it’s the beginning of your day….please God help me right now…” Slowing down, I was glad the hot coffee had not spilled over his clothes, and with no one else was around, I guess I could’ve just left everything as it was, but that’s really not my way of doing things. I saw a mop in the nearby closet and just accepted the fact that this nice, freshly ironed, and dry cleaned yellow shirt of mine would be less than crisp and ready for my desk work today. When I turned around, I was so thankful for God’s grace and mercy. That young man was blind.

As I neared the table with the mop, I began to say as gently and as slowly as I could, “I’m sorry about all this. It’s my coffee. Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up. No worries.” He tried to apologize as well, and before you know it, it was all better and all cleaned. I suggested that we thank God that no one was burned or hurt and that we were both able to walk and still make this day good no matter what. “Jesus defeated death,” I said, “and he can surely take care of little spilled coffee.” One of the attendants, who apparently had been up all night on the graveyard shift, suddenly appeared and barked at both of us, “who’s going to pay for the coffee and all this other stuff?” I looked up and surveyed the man who was easily half a foot taller than me and who obviously played football in high school: “I guess I will, sir.”

“NO YOU WON’T!” came a fierce response from the refrigerated coolers around the corner. It came from an older woman, dressed for work, and apparently for action, who continued, “I saw the whole thing. Get away from there! I’ll take care of it!” And with that, she not only paid for my items but yet another set for my blind friend and me and a coffee for herself, and all three of us sat for about 10 minutes just talking about nothing…”

Today we are celebrating the first Friday of this great season of Advent, a time of transformation and growth when there will be no doubt many opportunities to learn something new and find new fellow Christians struggling as much as we are. What could we learn from what God has exposed us to open our hearts and minds? Let’s take a look: 

“And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see.” Let us not rush to judgment and quick to rely on the appearances of things. Treasures are lurking. “Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding, and those who find fault shall receive instruction.” When we trust in Jesus, even through the toughest of moments, the light will shine. “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?” We can never be lost if we follow close by the Light of the World because that is precisely why he came to us: “Behold, our Lord shall come with power; he will enlighten the eyes of his servants.”

“The only thing worse than being blind is having no vision.” Helen Keller

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The Guest Bedroom blog the guest bedroom

Driving through the lush hill country outside of San Antonio was both refreshing and nostalgic. It had been to this very beautiful part of their beloved State of Texas where they used to take those long drives when they first met over forty years ago and where they had embarked on one of the most memorable and exciting honeymoons ever recorded. This was not because of anything sensual or particularly steamy, but because one simple act on the part of complete strangers, a typical Texan thunderstorm with hurricane force winds, and a surprise that had in fact shaped their married life together, and, by extension, their children and at least their approach to marriage itself with grandchildren to hear the story over and over again.

Large clusters of sprawling bluebonnets blanketed the country side over a particular rolling hill and the couple decided that they would pull over for just a bit, take a few pictures, pop open their YETI of fresh hot coffee they just purchased at a nearby truck stop and make a moment of this afternoon. It was more than hard to say or to even think that they had been married for generation and now celebrating their fortieth anniversary with many happy and insightful lessons of life and love.

It had not always been happy. Within the first ten years of the married life, they had lost a baby in childbirth, he was abruptly fired from a lucrative job, losing their dream home months later, and she her parents within weeks of each other to a heart attack and then subsequently a broken heart. However, time after time, as they held on to each other through the dark valleys of tears and disappointments, they always seemed to have found the sunshine of hopeful rays glowing all around them always remembering that “this too shall pass.” 

It was that certain time in the afternoon when the sun made its last blazing attempt to warm the air right before that coolness of evening began to soothe the land when he turned to ask an insightful question with a clearly warm and tender response from his spouse of forty years: “What is the greatest thing you’ve learned from our marriage?”

“That’s easy!’ she quickly retorted. “No one has ever become poor by giving.”

Her husband smiled and added, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

And there were many good reasons why he said that and they both knew why. Perhaps the sequence of events from their very first night as a married couple had something to do with it. You see, it was a typical, happy, and otherwise ordinary wedding and reception for them in the summer of 1980. The only concern the families had about the wedding had nothing to do with the bride and groom but the weather. There was a Category 2 Hurricane brewing in the Gulf of Mexico and although there was some talk as they neared the date of postponing the vows or even exchanging their vows privately and coming back for the reception after the storms season had passed. However, the decision was made to go full-speed ahead and proceed, which is exactly what they did. At first it seemed like the best decision made since the two would be travelling soon after the wedding reception sight up into the hill country for a nice, romantic getaway before getting back to work and starting their lives.

But you know the old, wise saying: “We make plans and God laughs,” and He must have been chuckling quite a bit that night because the storm surged unexpectedly three hours before the wedding was to begin. Although the wedding and the reception following might have to be rushed a little bit, it would still go on and no one none the sadder for it.

Dark clouds amassed in the distance even while the afternoon sun shone quite bright on the other side of the Texas landscape. There may have been a few who noticed the disparity of weather conditions, and if they did, they kept their observations to themselves. So much happiness filled those afternoon hours that no one seemed to notice the wind picking up, the temperatures dropping a little, or the distinct flashes of lightning that were about to add to the music of the nuptials. By the time the last toasts were made in the reception hall, there were raindrops dotting all the cars in the parking lot. The best man, a long-time childhood friend of the groom, and still to this day, by the way, came to whisper to his buddy in a serious but impending voice, “You need to get going, “ and he was definitely right.

Then with groom in tux and bride in a simply elegant long flowing wedding dress, they both waved everyone good bye and drove off, safely but with some urgency, into the night to start their long-awaited honeymoon and their dream life together.

Perhaps the quickness and the unseasonably severe, massively earthbound storm would be a metaphor for their lives together, not because of the fierceness of the rain but the resilience of the newlyweds. They were about to face their first crisis in marriage, and they were going to confront it head-on, together. Apparently, another outer band of the huge storm system wrapped its way ahead of them leaving the roads drenched, and the low-lying areas nearly flooded. The young groom had not been very schooled in driving in conditions like this so he may have been a bit too impetuous. There was too much stalling, too much water, too much gunning the engine and there was excessive fuel injected into the combustion chamber and that’s when it happened: the carburetor flooded and ignition was just not going to take place, at least for the rest of the night which was looking more and more ominous as they both sat in the car staring out the window wondering what was going to be their next step in this very unusual and unexpected turn of honeymoon events. Their car had stalled about a thirty-minute walk to a distant farmhouse that appeared to brandish a front porch light glowing and at least one other light shining from the house.

“Look,” the anxious groom firmly told his listless bride, “you stay here, and I’ll walk up to that house and see if I can get some help.”

His bride’s answer was quick and decisive. “Absolutely not!” she retorted. “I’m now your wife, so looks like we’re in this together!” (What do you say to that, and on your honeymoon?)

Still in their traditional marriage attire, hand in hand, shivering a bit, they walked toward the farmhouse stumbling a bit on the caliche ground under their feet. They reached the door of the farmhouse and knocked a couple of times hearing what they thought sounded like a radio or something in the background.

“Knock harder,” she insisted. He complied, hesitatingly. It worked. They both heard stirring from within then a tall, slender figure coming toward the window then to the door. Apparently unlocked, he just pulled his side of the door open and then clapped eyes on the couple. What a sight that must have been! There they were: two young people, a man in a crisp, tailored suit that had apparently begun to shrink on him making him look like a malnourished penguin, and his bride wearing a laced, satin gleaming wedding dress, equally drenched with mascara running down her tired, sporting a worried face with mud dotting up and down her skirt presenting more of a picture of a Halloween costume than a bridal gown.   

The farmer tried to fight back laughter as he called out to his own bride probably of more than forty years, “Martha, you gotta come see this!” Within seconds, the queen of the farm emerged dressed in blue gingham house dress with over-sized night slippers that looked quite comfortable with her pepper-gray hair pulled up into a cute bun atop her head.  “Yep, “ she said, “looks like we got us a pair of real winners right here!” and with that, all four of them burst into a relieving laughter dispelling whatever awkwardness might have accrued  as the newlyweds were ushered into the home to explain this tale-telling scene and how they arrived, late-night, inundated, and all dressed up with apparently somewhere to go.

With a couple of cups of savory brewed hot coffee warming their bodies and soon after their car was towed close to the farmhouse thanks to a trusted tractor parked and ready to go, the next event was set to be pivotal. “Well, Martha,” began the seasoned farmer, “looks like our friends here aren’t going anywhere soon, and it is their honeymoon. What do you say, we invite them to stay in the guest bedroom?” His wife, with a small gleam in her eye and great compassion in her heart, nodded definitive approval. Soon two newly purchased suitcases were ushered into a genuinely quaint, well-decorated, ranch-stylish bedroom with pictures of memories lived most likely at that same location.  Soon the house grew dark and hosts and guests retired for the evening after what easily could be described as a most remarkable day.

Even before the roosters began their morning wake-up, organic “arise and shine” alarm routines, the newlyweds arose and began ever-so-quietly collecting their belongings and began to carefully make their way to their vehicle so as not to disturb the famers after what was probably a very long night, pleasant as it was, but tiring nonetheless. The young groom placed a crisp fifty-dollar bill on top of the dresser as a way of giving thanks and penned a quick note of sincere musings. They remembered the location of the front door and the living room where they were first introduced to these fine and generous souls and that’s when they realized how truly generous they were. The farmer’s wife was sprawled out on the long, soft but somewhat uneven couch which most likely had seen the life of several generations of parents and children while her husband was neatly sandwiched between cushions atop the recliner which barely unfolded completely. That was when they realized the grand, heart-warming truth: there was no guest bedroom. The newlyweds had slept in the old couple’s own bedroom, a fruit of their lovely generous spirits clearly forged from a lifetime of giving and loving and sharing. The bride dropped her purse, woke up the self-giving couple which lit the fire of a good cry, a great laugh, and all the wonderful emotions found in between. After a wonderfully refreshing glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, homemade, no doubt, they said their good byes and then over the years, whenever the couple was in the area, passing by on their way to which ever event brought them through the hill country, they would stop for a friendly, inspiring visit. Their oldest son had the rich opportunity of meeting the farmers a couple of times, taking pictures, and listening to their shared marvelous story up until the time that they moved on to their eternal reward.

Now, nearly a generation later, the recipients of the kindest gestures of all were moving into that same time of life of their new-found friends they met years before. And, as if by perfect happenstance and on some divine cue, their oldest called them wondering how they were doing on the “anniversary tour.” When his parents told him where they were, he laughed. “Did you guys get stuck again?” he joked. “No, Son,” his dad remarked. “It’s all good.”

Some days I feel like I have lived a couple of lives since I was born but that may be part misperception and perhaps part arrogance. Regardless of the source, however, this is what I’ve learned. The pain of each chapter of our lives is soon forgotten by the joy and the hope of new beginnings. Deep pain and sorrow as harsh as they are, almost bring a kind of euphoria and ecstatic feeling when they are finally relieved if even for just a moment. Imagine that multiplied one billion times when we finally get to leave this planet and walk into heaven with thunderous applause from all the angels and saints screaming, “You made It! You made it!” Then there will be that one singular sound of one Man clapping –who happens to have holes in His hands, applauding your entrance into your eternal home precisely because you understood what it meant to be generous with your soul that could only grow when it is shared in love.  Caro Vanni

If this story has moved you in some way to consider the larger picture, and if the Christmas Spirit has taken a hold of a part of your soul, please be open to making a donation to CityofAgape Charitable Foundation so that we might be able to provide more Bibles to waiting people across the country.

“Do things for people not because who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.”  Harold S. Kushner

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Storm Warnings In Advent

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 3, 2020

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Everyone builds their very existence (house) on something. You could say that every person we meet already has a foundation underneath everything they do and say. The one true revelation about that base of life is what happens to a person when a storm or severe crisis hits. What do they do? Who do they turn to? What is their strategy? Rock (Jesus) or Sand (the world)?

Here is what St. John Chrysostom has to say about it: “By ‘rain’ here, and ‘floods,’ and ‘winds,’ He is expressing metaphorically the calamities and afflictions that befall everyone; such as false accusations, plots, bereavements, deaths, loss of friends, vexations from strangers, all the ills in our life that any one could mention. ‘But to none of these,’ says He, ‘does such a soul give way; and the cause is, it is founded on the rock.'”

“Trust in the LORD forever! For the LORD is an eternal Rock.” Both the Old and New Testaments have produced outstanding witnesses to this point for our consideration. Job is one of them who received all the assaults of the devil and stood unmovable. The Apostles, too for that when the waves of the whole world were beating against them, when both nations and princes, both their own people and strangers, both the evil spirits, and the devil, and every engine was set in motion, they stood firmer than a rock, and dispersed it all. The non-believer says, “Why me?” The Disciple says, “Why not me?”

The real mystery of Christmas is quite dramatic. Imagine the plight of Mary and Joseph, the Holy Innocents, the Magi, and the countless unsung people who helped make the birth of Christ the magnificent event it was. What it can truly teach you and me, right here, right now, is simple:

“Sometimes, you have to bow your head, say a prayer, and weather the storm.” Kathy Lynn 

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Declaration Of Peace

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 2, 2020

There is something quite marvelous that has happened every Christmas Eve in Finland since the early 14th century: it is known as the Declaration of Peace. It is accompanied by all kinds of musical instruments, including drums, choral singing, and even symphonic strings. What is it? It is basically a highly anticipated announcement made in the old capital of Turku that attests and demands everyone to act with peace and love during the Christmas Season. 

Here is the actual text: “Tomorrow, God willing, is the graceful celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior; and thus is declared a peaceful Christmas time to all, by advising devotion and to behave otherwise quietly and peacefully, because he who breaks this peace and violates the peace of Christmas by any illegal or improper behavior shall under aggravating circumstances be guilty and punished according to what the law and statutes prescribe for each and every offense separately. Finally, a joyous Christmas feast is wished to all inhabitants of the city.”  

This Declaration helps us understand and work for the meanings found in our Readings today: “This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us! For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.” The great Season of Advent attempt the same as the Finnish declaration: we are called to people of peace and comfort for each other. we are to be people of faith and hope that call upon the name of Christ in every situation. “The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel.”

“Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.” Gladys Taber

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Picture Window Of The Soul

Reflection on Mass Reading for December 1, 2020

One day in the Jubilee Year 2000, a young and inquisitive 5-year-old son of a very busy and dedicated Mom approached her just days before the Great Holiday of Christmas and asked, “What does Jesus get for His birthday?” That one sincere and simple question launched years of joy-giving traditions with this particular family that turned wish-lists into giving lists, love packages of baked goods for lonely neighbors, and looking through special catalogs to purchase food and much-needed items for poor children all across the globe. Can you stop for a minute and try to imagine the kind of adult that little boy has become today? Yes, you can: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of Heaven and earthy, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” 

This Advent time invites us all to accomplish many fine things. Among them, we can make a list of all the blessings we have received and not a list of all the things we want or even need. There is also the pull upon all our hearts to spend more time in silence and then listen intensely. We can share our faith in ways that we never thought possible. This would be the voice of hope and comfort for those around us whom we would never have imagined: “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.”

“The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness. It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.” Thomas S. Monson

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