Thursday, December 24, 2015

I've Been Waiting for You


Christmas Eve Mass During the Night

My father was a holy man. When I was young, my dad became a charismatic Catholic, which meant he went to prayer meetings and Masses where they spoke in tongues, spoke prophesy, and were baptized in the Spirit. He was always saying “Praise the Lord” loudly and in public. I’m ashamed to say that I was often embarrassed by his public displays of religiosity.

Dad started a Charismatic prayer group at our parish. At first there were several enthusiastic participants. They met every Monday night at the church to sing, pray, and hold the needy and the sick up in prayer. People would drop off prayer requests in a little box and the group would pray for their intentions. Over time, however, the group dwindled down and down until eventually only my father was left. He went to that church every Monday night all by himself for years, praying alone in the dark.

My father died about 9 years ago after a long bout with cancer. A couple of months later, my wife and I were at a 50th wedding anniversary party for the parents of my best friend, a couple who were my second parents. At the party, a man in his late forties came up to me and sat down.

“Are you Bill Tosti’s son?” he asked.

“I am,” I said.

“I’m so-and-so and I’d like to tell you something about your father. About ten years ago I was going through a very dark time. So dark that I was seriously contemplating suicide. One night, for some reason, I stopped by the local church and stepped inside. The church was completely dark, except for the light of the presence lamp over by the tabernacle. I was drawn over to the light, and as I got closer, I saw a man kneeling in the pew next to the tabernacle. He had a bunch of slips of paper in his hand, and he was praying. As I approached, he looked up, smiled at me and said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“That night turned my life around. Your dad helped me do that. I wanted to tell you that. I’ve cleaned up my act, straightened out my life, and I’d like to introduce you to my wife.”

I’ve been waiting for you.

We have been waiting for this night for a long time. We have been buying presents and going to Christmas pageants and listening to carols and watching movies. The children most of all. All in anticipation for what tomorrow will bring.

I remember waking up one year about 5 o’clock in the morning Christmas day. We had a strict rule that my sister and I could not go out into the living room to check out the presents under the tree until my parents called us out of our bedrooms. And so I sat there, staring into the dark for three hours, until stars formed in front of my eyes.

That’s the kind of anticipation I’m talking about. I was looking forward to what was going to be under the tree. Mine was a selfish anticipation. What’s yours?

But it’s not our anticipation of Christmas that’s important. It’s God’s anticipation of Christmas for us.

You see, God has been waiting for you. Wherever you are in your faith journey, God has been waiting for you. No matter if you are a cradle-to-grave Catholic or an avowed atheist, God has been waiting for you.

God is simply waiting for you. Sometimes in the dark, oftentimes in the background rejoicing with you, and especially when times are bad.

The shepherds were waiting that night. They were just doing their job, watching over the flocks, when suddenly everything changed. Their lives were forever changed and so have been the lives of every human being since then. The appearance of the Savior was first met with fear due to a lack of understanding. That fear turned to curiosity. And so they went to the stable. And they were met with wonder and awe.

Is that your story? Are you afraid when confronted by your need for a savior? Do you seek understanding? Are you curious? Come to the stable and be amazed.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the truth of who Jesus is and what that means for us. The people of Bethlehem did not stop by the stable to see the newborn baby because of anything special about his appearance or because his mother and father were important people. They came to see this wonderful thing because the heavenly hosts were rejoicing. The shepherds were invited into the stable. They were called to see the wondrous gift God had just given them.

The angels weren’t rejoicing for Jesus, they were rejoicing for us. God’s plan for the salvation of mankind was being put into motion, and they were rejoicing in expectation of our joy.

Every one of us has been called here. God has been anticipating our coming since before we were conceived in our mothers’ wombs. He hasn’t forced us to come, he has been gently calling us. Here. Tonight. To this Mass. Does that sound silly to you? We never know when or where we will encounter Jesus. Everything in our past always leads us to this moment, and that’s all we really have, isn’t it?

Is this Mass the highpoint of your Christmas season? If not, why not? This Mass right now is why there is a Christmas. Not the presents or the food or the company we keep. The reason for Christmas is that we might be aware of the awesome closeness of our God. Maybe we don’t know or live the real meaning of Christmas. Maybe we don’t have our selfish priorities in line. It doesn’t matter. God has come to us anyway. He waits for us patiently, staring out into the darkness looking for us until there are stars in His eyes.

“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Are you waiting for something more? I can’t think of a greater gift. All you have to do is reach out and take it.

What are you waiting for?

 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Gaudate!


3rd Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudate Sunday, and gaudate means rejoice. It’s time we stop and step out of the whirlwind of parties and shopping and Santa and Christmas carols and simply rejoice in the wonders of our God and all the marvelous things He has done for us.

We have been looking forward to commemorating the first coming of Jesus in Bethlehem, and we have been hearing the message of Jesus to be watchful and prepare for His second coming. Today we meditate on Jesus’ third coming – His entering our lives and the world each and every day.

Rejoice! The Lord is in our midst. Today. That’s the message of our readings today and that’s the message Jesus proclaimed throughout all Judea. Stop looking, you’ve found Him. He is not up in the sky somewhere or anyplace else. The Lord is in our midst. Here.Today. And that is cause for great rejoicing.

I think it is very easy for us today to lose sight of how wonderful we have it. We keep looking for the meaning of Christmas in the sights and sounds and traditions of the season, when all along they’re right here, in our hearts. It doesn’t matter if the secular world has hijacked Christmas. All Christmas is is living as a disciple of Christ, and so for us, Christmas isn’t a day and it isn’t a feeling. It is a way of life.

The Lord is in our midst in such a personal way. How much more intimate can you get than to receive Jesus Christ body, soul and divinity in the Eucharist? You can’t get much closer than that.

We rejoice in the resurrection. Have you ever stopped and considered the ramifications of the resurrection? He came back! When Jesus appeared to his disciples over those 40 days it wasn’t to say, “look at me”, it was to say, “look at you!” The resurrection was Jesus’ present, but it is our future. The glory of the risen Jesus will be our glory as well.

We rejoice in Jesus’ ascension into heaven. We rejoice that he has gone to prepare a place for us, so that where he is we also will be. And His father’s house has many rooms.

We rejoice that He has not left us alone. He has sent the Holy Spirit to us to enlighten us and sustain us. We rejoice that God has chosen to remain such an intimate part of creation, such an intimate part of our lives. We especially rejoice that Jesus Christ continues to live within us and guide us as members of his holy Church. He has chosen to work through us to transform the face of the earth.

We have a God who is so close to us that he rejoices right along with us.

He will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.

Jesus shared in our suffering and he also shares in our rejoicing.

It is awesome and it is humbling. The gift that causes me the most joy is God’s mercy. That’s really what it’s all about. Jesus came to show us the depth of that mercy. He took all of our sins upon himself on the cross, and reconciled us to the Father. So that we could be with Him in heaven. We don’t deserve such a gift. It is a gift of pure mercy.

I don’t hear people rejoicing much anymore, do you? We live these things every day but rarely acknowledge the gifts we receive. I saw a movie on TV the other night about Dolly Parton’s childhood. About halfway through the thought occurred to me that the actors were all talking openly about God and their relationship with Him. Right there on network television. There was no parsing of words, no political correctness. It was totally natural that those characters would talk so openly about their faith. It fit the story and it fit the characters. It was not preachy or over the top. Their faith was the thread that held the whole story together. It was the foundation of their lives and not only did they recognize it, they celebrated it.

I thought it sad that I don’t hear that kind of conversation much in public today. I hear it in private conversations with my family and some of my friends. I sometime hear it before and after Mass, but not out there. It seems that our faith has become such a personal thing, just between me and God, and we rarely burst out in genuine thanksgiving. Maybe we’re afraid of the reaction we’ll get. If someone gave you a wonderful gift for Christmas, say a car or something big like that, wouldn’t you tell all your friends? Wouldn’t you have them come over to see it and take a drive with you? And wouldn’t your true friends rejoice with you over it and truly be happy for you?

We will be celebrating Christmas soon, and I’m sure life will be crazy for most of us between now and then. What can you do to acknowledge the most important gifts you will be receiving? How can you see the hand of God in every carol, every delicious meal, every child? How can you rejoice in just being alive and acknowledge the gift? How can you accept the mercy that God has extended to you and then offer that mercy to others, especially to those who have hurt you?

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the truth of who Jesus is and what that means for us. The people of Bethlehem did not stop by the stable to see the newborn baby because of anything special about his appearance or because his mother and father were important people. They came to see this wonderful thing because the heavenly hosts were rejoicing. The shepherds were invited into the stable. They were called to see the wondrous gift God had just given them.

The angels weren’t rejoicing for Jesus, they were rejoicing for us. God’s plan for the salvation of mankind was being put into motion, and they were rejoicing in expectation of our joy.

People respond to rejoicing. It is contagious. People want to know what the fuss is all about and they naturally join in when they can. People may not want to hear you preach, but they will be drawn to your rejoicing. Who can you invite into the stable this week? Who will want to know what you are fussing about? Who will want to join in your rejoicing? And once they do, what will you tell them?

 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Jesus Wins


Solemnity of Christ the King
Cycle B

Today we celebrate the great Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe. This is the last Sunday in our liturgical year, and it is fitting that at the end we take time to focus on the end of time and God’s great plan for us and for all of creation. Today we come full circle to take stock of the past year, get our priorities straight, and move on to the joyous expectation of the coming season of Advent.

And God’s plan is pretty simple: Jesus says that he is in charge and he wins. Bottom line.

To Christians, this feast is one of great hope. To us, the fact that Christ is king means that He is in control. Eventually, He triumphs over all the other kings of the world. The image of Christ as king helps us focus on the truly important. It gives us hope in the face of all the minor and major setbacks we face in our daily lives and in the world.

Pastor Rick Warren in his best-selling book, “The Purpose Driven Life” begins with chapter one – “It’s not about you”. And that’s how we should all view our lives. It’s not about us. It’s first and foremost about God. We didn’t create ourselves and we are really not in control of our lives. God did and God is. It is especially important that we remember this when we are faced with an ever-increasing secularity and outright atheism in our society. Just because someone chooses to ignore or deny God does not change the fact of God’s existence and power.

Jesus Christ is our king and we are his subjects. Our king does not lord it over us. Instead, He treats us with mercy, an unreasonable and overly-generous mercy. Like the story of the prince and the pauper, God not only does not impose His will on us, he actually got down in the dirt and became one of us. He calls us; He does not force us. He asks for our allegiance; He does not demand it.

And yet Jesus says that as our king he is also our judge. We are called to discern God’s will in our lives and then are called to live it out. We do that by how we treat other people. We will be judged on how we treat the least among us. Therefore, it’s not about us either. It’s about others. We will be judged on how well we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger. How we show our love for one another shows how much we love God, and vice versa.

Jesus Christ is king over all, not just Christians. As we heard Jesus say to Pilate in today’s gospel, His kingdom is not of this world. It transcends borders, religions, space and time. As we begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy next Sunday we should remember that our mercy and love must extend throughout the entire world, to every nation and people, no matter what religion – or no religion – they profess. That is sometimes difficult for us to reconcile in our hearts, especially if that mercy contradicts the king of our politics who is fighting for dominance in our minds.

Sometimes our lives seem more like the Game of Thrones. There are many kings in our lives, and they often war with one another for dominance over our lives. Who will we offer our allegiance to?

The king of money? How generous are you with your hard earned cash? What are you planning to do for those less fortunate than you this Christmas season? And will you do it because you want to bring the generosity of Jesus to their lives or just for a year-end tax deduction?

The king of power? What is the power structure in your marriage and family? Do you see your role as spouse or parent as being that of a servant or a tyrant? Or worse, as a hands-off manager not really engaged in each other’s lives?

The king of sensuality? Are physical pleasures and living the good life your main goal? Are you more focused on all the stuff you’ve accumulated than on the physical needs of others?

The king of politics? Have you become so rigid in your views that you cannot and will not tolerate those who think differently? Do you question their beliefs or their motives?

The king of self? Is it all about you? Can you even see it? Others can.

In the middle ages, the great age of kings, there was a power struggle being waged continuously. When I read history, it is usually with that macro view. The kings and kingdoms represented power. The great events of history are usually related through the perspective of the powerful. The common people were just buffeted by the events. They changed their allegiance to this king or that, depending on who was the winner or on who would cause them the least harm.

There were major kings and emperors and minor rulers as well. Usually it was the petty monarch that caused the most trouble for the people, because they were closer to them. Those other kings I just talked about are those petty kings. We switch our allegiance among them all the time because they are so close to us. The image of the King of the Universe can seem so far away at times. That king is in some other place and while He does exercise final dominion I have to deal with this king living in my heart right now. And it often seems like they are at war within me.

But the King of the Universe is not far away. He is not only within us He has become us. And we have become Him. When we were baptized we were anointed with the sacred chrism, the holiest of oils. Chrism represents the anointing of Jesus as king. The word Christ means literally “anointed”. When we were anointed the priest or deacon said “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so may you live always as a member of His body, sharing everlasting life”. Unlike the peasants of old, we are not simply buffeted by the whims of the king. We all share in His life. We are His body. We share in the kingdom.

The Jews anointed their kings with oil to symbolize that they were set aside by God with a special task. They were called to be wise and holy and strong and faithful to God. When the king acted so the nation flourished. When he acted contrary to God’s will the nation suffered and was even destroyed. Jesus is wise and holy and strong and faithful to the Father’s will. Therefore, when we also are wise and holy and strong and faithful we are Jesus to the world. Our anointing has set us aside for a special mission. We are the envoys of the great King. We are the ones he has sent out into the world to renew the face of the earth. We are called to bring the good news to the poor and lamentation to the powerful.

The kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom throughout Judea, and he commissioned his disciples to continue to proclaim the kingdom throughout the entire world.

I know this sounds like an impossible task. How can we change the world when we are so small and weak and insignificant? And we can’t. God can. And it has to start in each one of our hearts, first realizing that it isn’t about us, but ultimately it is all about us. The mystery is that it is when we are weak that we are most powerful, because it is then that we are forced to rely totally on our all-powerful King. I take solace in the thought that if it’s not all about me then it’s not all on me, either.

Because remember: Bottom line - Jesus wins.