Saturday, January 28, 2017

                                      Stay Awake! The Lord Is Coming

The Lord is always coming into our lives. But I rarely notice it except in hindsight.  Only then do I wake up and see where God was. Take, for example, Thanksgiving Day.

Before mass at Siena Center, a Dominican Leader announced that Sr. Agnes had just died. There was an audible sigh at that news. Sharing the sign of peace, I shook the hand of a Sister who simply sobbed. Another Sister came to hold her hand until mass ended. Then the bereft Sister thank the one who consoled her.  And they hugged.  God was there.

At 1:00pm we ate at my brother’s house. Susan, my sister-in-law, also invites her sister and their family to the meal.  I asked one of their sons what he does now. He said: “I teach first grade in special education and, after school, I tutor a 17 year old autistic boy”. I was stunned, realizing that all 4 children and their mom are involved in the same things. God is in that family. 

Ready to go home, I said my ‘good-byes’ and Susan gave me a ‘care package’. Ham, turkey, 2 pieces of pumpkin pie and freshly made dinner rolls. She not only makes the meal and deals with the aftermath, she also sends food home with us.  She’s a gem.  God is in her too.

Where was God in your Thanksgiving?  In what people and/or situations have you seen God in the last day or two?

                                                               My Best Christmas

My best Christmas comes down to a few words from my dad.  It was 1990 and the first time we were together for Christmas in 5 years.  (I’d been working the the Dominican Republic during those previous years.)

After opening the gifts we were talking about our family.  In that context, dad shared one of his regrets.  His regret was spending very little time with my older brother and me when we were kids.  He had a full time day job and he worked part time three nights a week and every other weekend.  Not much time or energy to play ball with us.   

I’d felt that void with my dad for a long time.  We weren’t very close.  But his regret moved me.  It meant that he understood what had happened. His regret was an act of love. It was an unexpected gift that really touched my heart.  So, out my 68 Christmases, that was the best one.        

Isn’t it amazing that a few unexpected words would make such a difference?  What unexpected thing could you say to someone this Christmas time?  Touching someone’s heart with honest loving words is more valuable than a new laptop or a piece of jewelry or a fancy dinner.  And if words fail you, just give the gift of your time.

                                         Take Fewer Things for Granted…

I recently heard an interview with Brother David Steindl-Rast on NPR.  The program was On Being.  Brother David’s focus was ‘Joy”.  In that context he said, “If you take fewer things for granted, you will increase your joy.”  That caught my attention.  So I immediately grabbed a pad of paper and wrote it down. 

Joy is one of the good wishes that many Christmas cards offer.  But joyful words can fall on unreceptive ears. Many of us feel dispirited because of the stress and expectations that accompany our Christmas celebrations.  So joy eludes us.

Brother David’s insight helped me.  I started a list of taken-for-granted things.  Eyesight, hearing and every breath I take.  The smell of coffee or of bacon frying in the pan and the feel of warm blankets and warm water for a daily shower. My car, my phone and even my ‘blasted’ computer!  Great friends, family, hugs, laughter, ice cream! And my faith.

If you take fewer things for granted, you will increase your joy. 

When I reread my list, I smile.  They are such gifts.  Make your own list of things you take for granted and have a more joyful Christmas.

                                                         The Anxiety of Joseph

In 1890, James Tissot painted a picture he called, ‘The Anxiety of Joseph’.  It shows St. Joseph leaning on his workbench, with a chisel in his hand, staring out the window, motionless. It captures the state of St. Joseph’s mind between his discovery that Mary was pregnant and some days later when he took her into his home.

Long days of worry, stress, anxiety and a haunting dream.  What happened to Mary?  How could she be pregnant?  Who did she have relations with?  What did the nosy neighbors think and his friends?  What to do?  What did God want? Divorce her quietly and go on with his life? Be the father of a child that wasn’t his? 

Anxiety quelled. with an open heart, he trusted God. Not a perfect Christmas. No room in the inn.  Herod’s murderous threats.  Birth in a barn. But Emmanuel - God was with them.     

Anxiety and Christmas…No surprise to us.  What are your Christmas worries and fears?  Family squabbles? Health issues? The gifts? The meal? Who goes to church, who doesn’t?

Not a perfect Christmas, but a pretty good one. Emmanuel - God is with us too. 

                                               Emmanuel and the Shepherds

Yesterday I baptized five-week-old beautiful twin girls. What a great blessing! Afterwards I relooked at the baptismal text in Matthew 28:20. It contains Jesus final words to His disciples: “I am with you always….”

Similar prophetic words were relayed to St. Joseph by an angel in a dream: “You shall name Him Emmanuel…a name which means God-is-with-us.” Mt. 1:23   

It’s easy to see that God-is-with-us in newborn children and when we can count many blessings.  It’s not so easy to see God-is-with-us if we are ignored or put down or seen as marginal people who count for nothing.   

That’s why the shepherds were the first ones invited to the manger.

The shepherds weren’t warm, gentle folk as we’ve been led to believe.  In fact, I recently read that they were more like the ‘Hell’s Angels’of the 1st century! Rough characters, never accepted by polite society. They didn’t even go to synagogues because they were ‘unclean’.  But God especially chose them.  Why? What did God see in them? 

In light of this, if Jesus were born today in Racine (or wherever you live), who do you think God would pick to be the first people to visit Him?  Would God choose you?  Why or why not?    

                                                        Pondering Mary

Every Jan 1st our church celebrates the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God.  The gospel for this feast is always the same.  It describes Mary’s pondering.  She reflects on what the shepherds said about Jesus as they left the stable to tell others about the Saviour in the manger.  Lk. 2:19 says: “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

So the first days of January become a time to ponder things.  As 2016 ends and 2017 begins, I look in the rear view mirror at the past year.  I try to see and hear the things God wants me to notice as I enter a New Year.

Here are some questions to help you ponder.

  1. What is the most significant thing that happened to you in the past year?  What was God saying to you in the light of that happening?
  2. Name some people that God put into your life in particular ways in 2016? Why did God put them there? What blessings have come from them?  
  3. Regardless of who you voted for, it is clear that the political winds are shifting in our country.  In the light of that, what do you think God wants of us and our church?  
                                                        Happy New Year!


Do you remember when Joseph, Mary and Jesus were immigrants?  It happened when the Magi left. They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod but to find another way home.  King Herod was threatened by a ‘new-born king of the Jews’.  So he ordered the massacre of all male children born in/around Bethlehem during that time.

Joseph got an angelic message telling him to leave Israel and to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt to protect Jesus’ life…until further notice.  (Read the story in Mt. 2:13-23.)

That memory is at the heart of National Migration Week, an annual event that always starts on the feast of the Epiphany.  It is sponsored by the Catholic Bishops of the United States.  You can read about it and their positions online at NCCB – Migration Week. 

Our Bishops are pressing for immigration policies that do not divide families or force massive deportations.  Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles says: “Our system has been broken for so long…that the people we are now punishing are our neighbors.”

Name the immigrants in your family background.  Name immigrants you know from work, church or your neighborhood. In light of the Holy Family’s experience, what do you think we should do?   

                                                    Moving Air, Wind or Breath

In John’s account of Jesus’ Baptism we hear that the ‘Spirit’ came down on Jesus in the form of a dove and remained with Him (Jn 1:29-34).  The original meaning of that word ‘Spirit’ is ‘moving air’, like a breeze or wind or a breath. 

‘Spirit’ is also the word used to describe the creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:7).  God shapes humans from the dust of the earth and then breathes into them the breath of life.  God’s breath  is ‘Spirit’.

Just as ‘Spirit’, came down on Jesus in His baptism, so does ‘Spirit’ comes to us in our baptisms.  Consequently, we are also filled with the breath of God.

It is God’s breath/spirit in us, which leads us to live holy lives.  Love, hope, forgiveness, mercy, justice and peace, and all heartfelt things in the core of our beings, are generated by God’s spirit/breath in us.  

For a moment just breathe in and out a couple times and think about God’s breath in you.

Name some effects of God’s spirit/breath in your personal life over the past week?  Name a family member, a friend, a politician, an adversary, a co-worker and a new immigrant in whom God’s spirit/breath is clearly evident to you.  

                                                      Texas Hold ‘em

I don’t play cards.  But recently I read a description of  ‘Texas hold ‘em’.  Players get 2 cards face down. When the 3rd and 4th cards are dealt face up, the players place bets. After the 5th card is dealt, anyone can declare “all in”. Then all players must choose. They can say ‘all in’ and push their chips to the center or they say ‘fold’ and loose the chips they’ve already bet. 

It makes me nervous just thinking about it.

When Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to follow Him, they immediately leave their boats and follow Him.  The same thing happens with James and John.  It’s amazing. It didn’t take much for them to say “all in” with Jesus. (John 4:18-22)

My problem is that sometimes I hedge my bets.  I will follow the Lord but…I don’t want to give Him everything.  Sometimes I want more security.  Or I want more control over my time, my money and my life. So I hold a little back from Him.   

What do you hold back from the Lord?  What would it take for you to be ‘all in’with Him?  The paradox is: In realizing we are not ‘all in’ with Jesus, we actually get closer to being ‘all in’.

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