Dear Folks,Now we begin Advent, the great season of hope, and the world could very much use hope right now. Starting with hope is key. If you don’t have hope that your struggle is worth it, why would you struggle? Would you not just give up? If you don’t have hope that things will make sense, why would you learn? Why would you ponder? Would you not just give up and let the video screen tell you what to think? Without hope, what will move us forward?There are some important things about Christian hope. First, it is based on truth. Many poor people buy lottery tickets because that is the only hope they can find of a better life. That is not a very realistic hope for almost everybody who plays. Many people put their hope on circumstances in the world that we cannot predict or control. “If only my stock would take off;” “If only the next boss does what needs to be done;” “If only I could draw an inside straight this once.” When things don’t happen as they hope, they sometimes give up hope.Christian hope is based on God’s love at work, and that is for everyone. Second, it does not make cheap promises. It does not promise that all our troubles will vanish any time soon. In fact, the New Testament is brimming with warnings that disciples face great difficulties. We are also taught that the cross is the way to glory, so our hope does not depend on world events. Because of that, by God’s grace, nothing that the world can do to us can destroy our hope.During Advent we seek to hone and sharpen our sense of hope through prayer, some reflection, some silence and stillness when we can find it, and remembering the long wait for the coming ofthe Messiah. We are also called to project hope to the world. We can do that with our attitudes:We all know people who can always find something to complain about but are not willing to help change things. Other people are always looking for what is good that is happening, and when bad things happen, they are quick to look for opportunities to make things better, however incrementally. The latter are better at projecting hope. We all fall short, but how can we use this time to get a bit better?It also marks the end of the liturgical year 2021 and begins the year of grace 2022. Last year most of our Sunday Gospels were from the Gospel of Mark, but now we switch to Luke. The Gospel of Luke has several things special about it, and I’ll be talking more about them later. The Gospel of Luke is the only one with the Annunciation, the visitation, the birth in the manger because of no room at the inn, and the visiting shepherds at Christmas. Luke also emphasizesmercy for the repentant sinner, care for the lowly and the needy, and the work of the Holy Spirit. To get the full Lucan experience, one needs to read the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. More later.I hope you have a fruitful Advent.Blessings,Fr. Jim
This is the Feast of Christ the King. Jesus reigns over all, and His authority is greater than any nation or any government. What does that mean for us?
We are not in the business of imposing our religion on others, even though some may accuse us of it. We are, however, in the business of helping other people, especially those that are most vulnerable and most hurting. This must sometimes include advocacy when human rights and human dignity are under attack. Some say that when we refuse to participate in things that we think are wrong or refuse to support wrong behavior, we are forcing their beliefs on others.
Some say that when we are speaking up for human rights, we are imposing Catholic beliefs. No, we are being good citizens. The conscience formed by Christianity has as much right to be in the public discussion as any other kind of conscience.
The letter to Titus is advice to a bishop, and says, “Remind them to be under control of
magistrates and authorities, to be obedient, to be open to every good enterprise (Titus 3:1).” Historically, the early Christians were good citizens of the countries in which they lived and were careful to obey the laws until the laws required them to be disobedient to God in the slightest way, and then they would refuse even under threat of death. St. Thomas More, when about to be beheaded, said, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” He followed the law of England to the letter, until it meant disobeying God, and then he would not budge.
Many point to the bad things done by Church leaders in the present and the past. Most of those are done contrary to the teaching of the faith, and that just calls for holding more closely to the faith now.
There have been times when official Catholic practice has involved bad things. This is often because our understanding of what is good and right has been getting refined over time. There was a time it would have been unheard of to suggest that someone has a right to express wrong ideas on matters of importance. The maxim was, “error has no rights” and it seemed intuitively obvious. Only after centuries of reflection did people start to say that even if error has no rights, people who err have rights, and we should counter bad ideas with more good ideas, not legal sanction or punishment. Ironically, the Catholic Church has gone from being accused of stifling
free thought to people clamoring for censorship of many Catholic beliefs for being “hateful” and “(fill-in-the-blank) phobia.”
Some say that, on balance, the Catholic Church has done more harm than good. I would suggest that narrative has been a prejudice that has led to some slanted history. Now we are starting to see that narrative challenged. I would recommend “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” to get started.
We are very glad to learn about when the Church stood up for human rights and human dignity in the past, and sad for those who did not speak up when there was need. Let us live so that people can say of us that we were good American citizens, and servants of God first.
Dear Folks,In the movie, “Avengers: Endgame” Tony Stark states a very simple but profound truth that “part of a journey is the end.” Our reading this Sunday is from the apocalyptic chapter of Mark. Quick review: apocalypse is from the Greek for “removal of the veil,” and revelation is from the Latin. That is why in older Catholic Bibles the Book of Revelation is called Apocalypse. Removal of the veil is what happened in ancient weddings, so the image refers to the wedding of the Bride and the Lamb at the end of Revelation. It also points to removing the veil from the meaning of word events: it may look like evil is winning, but God is at work, and this is leading us to a glorious end. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have apocalyptic chapters (Chapters 24, 13, and 21, respectively). John doesn’t, but he has the Book or Revelation. Mark 13 starts with the prediction of the destruction of the temple (the temple would be destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70), moves into descriptions of tribulations of various kinds, and leads to “’the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory (Mark 13:26).” This refers to the Second Coming at the end of time.When Jesus refers to “the Son of Man” we must remember it is a reference to Daniel 7. Daniel is having a dream, and there is a succession of beasts that rule great kingdoms, and then “As the visions during the night continued, I saw coming with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man. When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, on that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).” Whenever Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man (Math 9:6; 26:64; Mark 2:10; 8:31; 14:62; Luke 5:24; 9:22; 22;69), He is referencing this text from Daniel, a text that His audience would have known very well. Referring to Himself as the Son of Man was a bold statement from the beginning, and the closer He comes to the cross, the more open He is about His glory. We see at His trial before the Sanhedrin, “the high priest asked him and said to him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?’ Then Jesus answered, ‘I am, and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:61-62).”’”When Stephen was being martyred, he said that he saw, “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55).” The second coming happens to us personally when we reach the end of our earthly life. The early martyrs would often go to the arena singing hymns of praise to God. When the cross gets more up close and personal in our lives, we can witness in a special way to the glory of Christ the King.Many people over the years have attempted to take the apocalyptic literature of the Bible and crack it like a code to figure out when the end of the world will come. This is especially puzzling given how the Scriptures repeatedly tell us we won’t know when (for example,Matthew 24:36-44; Mark 13:32-36, Luke 12:40). The challenge is to be ready, to hold the things of this earth (including our earthly lives) in a loose grip and be ready to face whatever happens.We do not know what the future will bring, but Jesus calls us to be ready, with our eyes on the goal.Blessings,Fr. Jim