Monthly Archives: December 2022

So Much in this Christmas Season

Dear Folks,

Merry Christmas! As the rest of the society is finishing their Christmas season, we are just getting started, and there is going to be a lot going on.

December 26 will be the Feast of St. Stephen. December 27 is St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. December 28 will be the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Holy Family is December 30; Mary the Mother of God is January 1; Epiphany is January 8 and Baptism of the Lord is January 9, ending the Christmas season.

These feasts weave together the themes of the celebration of family, marriage, children, sacrifice, the hostility of the world, and the proclamation of the Gospel.

A key part of learning the faith is learning how all the parts weave together; everything is connected to everything else. Jeff Cavins, in his Great Adventure Bible series, mentioned how people finish faith formation with “a heap of Catholicism.” They know tidbits, but there is no connection between them. I suggest this has a lot to do with why the faith doesn’t make as much sense or seem as important as it should.

The Christmas story already has foreshadowing of the Cross in the story of Herod and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

The essence of the Gospel is the gift of self. The Lord gave Himself completely for our salvation in the perfect act of love and invites us and enables us to receive that gift and give ourselves in love to Him. All of learning about Christianity is learning how to receive Him and how to give ourselves. Marriage, family, parenthood, and martyrdom are all ways in which people give themselves in love.

In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist’s big job is introducing Jesus, and he uses two images for Him: The (Passover) Lamb (John 1:29) and the Bridegroom (John 3:29). John (the evangelist, we must keep our Johns straight) will tie these two images together at the end of the Book of Revelation (Revelation 19:6-9; 21:9). (If you haven’t read Brant Pitre’s books “Jesus the Bridegroom” and “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist” you are in for a treat.

From our family comes our first lessons in relationships, service, sacrifice, and vocation.

Baptism of the Lord celebrates Jesus beginning His public ministry, as we, children of God, are called to go forth into the world to transform it. So, December 25 to January 9 lays the foundation for what will follow in the rest of the liturgical year.

Christmas is a celebration of the greatest gift ever given, Jesus Himself. For nine months in mystery, He grew (they didn’t have ultrasound machines back then), and was revealed, first to Mary and Joseph, then shepherds, then magi, later the world. This is a time to consider God’s work of salvation throughout history, much of it hidden, then in the fullness of time revealed. It is also God is at work in our lives in mysterious ways, and we shall often see that only later looking back. I hope you have a blessed Christmas season, and I hope you ask the question, “How is God at work in me to make me a better disciple and missionary?”

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

The Power of a Baby

Dear Folks,

In the Gospel of Luke, we get the Angel Gabriel coming to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in the Gospel of Matthew, we get things from St. Joseph’s perspective. In both stories the

angel says, “Do not be afraid.” I’m told the Bible has the admonition “Do not be afraid” 365 times. If we read the stories, we find it is not because the path will be smooth, painless, and safe that we should not fear, but because God is in charge and will make wonderful

things happen. Mary and Joseph certainly did not have an easy time, but I’m quite certain that they would tell you that it was infinitely worth what they went through.

When God is starting to do something great, it often begins with something small, and several times, with the birth of a baby. We see in the stories of Isaac, Samuel, Sampson, John the Baptist, and most of all Jesus, it begins with a birth announcement.

Babies are incredibly helpless, but parents testify that they take over the whole household, and everything revolves around them. Their mighty power comes from how they evoke love from people. Parents have testified how they look at them and the love just rushes forth. Their very helplessness draws something from us. They are so full of mystery and potential, and they strengthen our hope. I have been in very tragic situations where the family was in great anguish, but when someone held the baby, there was a smile and a moment of joy. Carl Sandburg said, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”

This teaches us something about Jesus. When He was helplessly nailed hand and foot to the cross, He was winning the greatest of all victories, the victory over evil itself. When He was most helpless was precisely when He was most powerful. Such is the paradox of

Christianity. He saves us, drawing us out of our helplessness and sin, and enabling us to become creatures of love. St. Paul found that in his own life, as he relates a conversation with God: “but he said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I would rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell within me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships,

persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).”

During this season when we celebrate our Lord becoming a baby, we can get quite stubborn in our hope. We decorate with lights in the darkest of winter. We want to give gifts where there is want. Many can generate a bit of joy where they normally could not. During my annual reading of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, it struck me how the ghost of Christmas present showed people in poverty and squalor who still had a Christmas thought

and would share a Christmas greeting, and perhaps hummed a Christmas hymn. There is a power there that circumstances cannot destroy. Such is the power of that Baby born in Bethlehem. However disappointing our year may have been, whatever we are struggling with now, God is at work, and let our hope be sharpened by the Lord who once slept in an animal’s feeding trough. He is the Light that the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5).

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Abundant Life

Dear Folks,

God made the world so that life could flourish, and he called us to steward the earth (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). Imagine, if human beings had done what we were supposed to do from the beginning, how much better the world would be. How many diseases would have

been cured, how we could have stopped the harmful effects of many natural forces. Perhaps we could have tamed mosquitoes, so they weren’t a problem. We might even have lettuce that tastes like bacon. Imagine the cumulative effects of all the good that people could have done but didn’t do, add the cumulative effects of all the active evil that people have done since the beginning of the human race, and that gives us the difference between the world God has wanted and the one we have. Instead of a lush world that we should have had, there is so much barrenness and death.

But God does not leave us there. A theme throughout the Bible is “where there was only death, there is now life.”

The stories about manna in the desert (Exodus 16), and water from the rock (Exodus 17) show us a desert that cannot sustain life, but God sustains them. This has an echo in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (See Matthew 14).

Ezekiel preaching to the dry bones (Ezekiel 37) is a metaphor for a people in exile, whose country is, for all intents and purposes, dead, and God promises to bring them back to life, as He brings the dry bones to life.

The river from the temple that turns salt water fresh (Ezekiel 47). In a desert country where drinking water is always in short supply, salt water would be especially frustrating. When a river of fresh water flows into the ocean, it becomes undrinkable salt water. A river that

turns salt water fresh is a wonderfully life-giving river. This has its fulfillment in Revelation 22:1-2.

Sin makes our lives and our world barren and less life-giving, but the power of the Paschal Mystery brings new life. As a sign of this, Jesus cures the blind, the deaf and the lame, bringing dead eyes, dead ears, and dead limbs to life, He is showing the power that will

bring us, dead in our sins, to new life, a life of flourishing that the world cannot give.

As we proclaim the Gospel, a key part of our proclamation is helping people to flourish. This includes education (the mighty Catholic schools, as well as other educational programs for all ages), Feeding the hungry, visiting the shut-in, caring for the sick, and many other things that Christians do that can help the desert in people’s lives to bloom. These are valuable in and of themselves, of course, but they are signs that can help people when they ask if Jesus is the one they seek, or should they look for another (see

Matthew 11:1-6).

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

God Keeping His Promises

Dear Folks,

Our first reading from Isaiah 11 says, “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jessie.” A bit of background is in order.

God had promised there would always be a son of David on the throne of Israel (see 2 Samuel 7:10-17). He made this promise after David got the idea to build the temple. One

of the reasons that the temple was important to people was as a sign that God would continue to be with them. One of the ongoing issues in the Old Testament was people thinking that because the temple was there, God would support them no matter how much

they disobeyed (see Jeremiah 4:4-7 for example). What God was saying to David was their security would be based on God’s faithfulness, not on a temple of stone. It would also mean

that God could not be owned, and would be quite free to hold them to account for their behavior (see Psalm 50) Since Jessie was David’s father, this was the family tree of Jessie.

In 586 BC, the Babylonian exile began, and the kingship was ended. The family tree of Jessie was cut off. People felt the promise of God had been broken. “Will the Lord reject us forever, never again show favor? Has God’s mercy ceased forever? The promise to go

unfulfilled for future ages? Has God forgotten how to show mercy, in anger withheld his compassion? I conclude ‘My sorrow is this, the right hand of the Most High has abandoned us (Psalm 77:8-11).”

Of course, God had not forgotten them, and was at work. The Gospels emphasize that Jesus is descended from David (Matt 21:30-31; Luke 1:32 and other places), making clear that is

Jesus, the promise to David was being kept. This came at a time after many had lost hope, and it came in a way they did not expect.

Our Gospel from Matthew 3 shows the ministry of John the Baptist calling people to repentance and baptism. Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to get baptized, and not necessarily because they were ready to repent. There is a danger of thinking that piling up religious devotions keeps us on God’s good side. John got cranky at them and said, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance (Matt 4:8).” Religious ritual and ceremony shows its value in our changed lives. God will keep His promises, but He also

calls us to keep ours.

Last Sunday I talked about the nationwide Catholic effort called Walking With Moms in Need (Walkingwithmoms.com). This is how the website describes it: “Walking with Moms in Need is a process through which Catholic parishes and communities “walk in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women in need. Everyone should know how to help moms in difficult circumstances. While not trying to turn Catholic parishes into pregnancy centers,

we can support local pregnancy centers where they exist, and we can also find and share other resources with pregnant and parenting women. And where there are few local resources, we can create our own, based on the gifts of the parish community!”

This is in keeping with the Church’s emphasis on helping those most in need, helping the most vulnerable, and supporting healthy families. It is about us fulfilling the promise of keeping Catholic teaching.

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, patron Saint of doctors, mothers, and unborn children, pray for us and for our nation. Help us be attentive to God’s presence in everyone, especially the

weakest and most vulnerable.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim