New Year’s Resolutions

By , December 31, 2012 5:19 am

You had better get to bed early tonight! If you do not, you will most likely be kept awake until two or three in the morning, because most of the world will be a noisy place.
People love new beginnings. We love Sunday, we love birthdays. We love re-establishing old friendships. There is just something invigorating about starting over, and that’s what the noise is about tonight. We’re starting over!
Forget the noise, and let’s ask ourselves from what position are we starting? It’s not for nothing that there is this strong tradition to make resolutions, challenging ourselves to improve. This time I’m really going to stop smoking. I’ve got to stop eating all that chocolate. I’m going to try to talk less at the dinner table. I’m even going to try to stop criticizing my brother-in-law, who incidentally, deserves the criticism.
Don’t waste your pyschic energy on superficial efforts such as these.
for this New Year’s Eve, our goals should be (and it is the goal of our life itself)- to LOVE GOD MORE. When we came into existence, it was to reflect the infinite power of God. When, as maturing children, we began to grasp that fact, we should be struck with awe that we are created by, loved by, and invited to eternal life with the infinite being who loves us. That is an awesome fact, but it should not stop there. Love begets love. Everything in our life is from God. And without being distracted by these gifts, we should zero in on the simple fact that I can develop my capacity to LOVE. Love is a virtue that can be developed. None of us love God enough. Let us admit to ourselves that we are going to deepen and enrich the love already in our hearts to a tremendous degree. To love God is to live!

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Feast of the Holy Family

By , December 29, 2012 5:04 am

Feast of the Holy Family
From time to time, I mention that I am really fascinated by the Church year. By that I mean the liturgical year, and how the church has chosen to order all 52 weeks in a 3 year cycle that beautifully summarizes the whole story of salvation, and most especially the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
I believe that’s always the case, but you couldn’t get better than today’s feast day, the formal title of which is the Feast of the Holy Family.
It’s a week after Christmas, and most of us have great family celebrations, but who is not exhausted? Today’s gospel excerpt simply could not be better, nor for me, more delightful. Remember the Church has to move fast with the liturgical year. One week ago we were celebrating His birth. Today He is twelve! And since Jesus is entering His teenage years, it’s only right that He should upset his parents! It’s the end of a big Jewish feast day, and Mary and Joseph had gone to celebrate the passover in Jerusalem. In the chaos of returning home with a large party of the faithful, Mary and Joseph took for granted that Jesus was alright and in the crowd. Suddenly they realized that He was not there. They raced back to Jerusalem, and actually spend three days looking for Him. Where was He? Jesus was in the temple astonishing the teachers and clerical beurocrats. the text says “they were amazed at his intelligence and his answers”.
Mary says something that other mothers have said in the course of history- “why have you done this to us? You see your father and mother have been searching for you in sorrow.” Then, from the mouth of this twelve year old comes an awesome response. “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” It would be a long time before they really understood that statement, but Mary never forgot it.
Families must struggle to stay close, even under pressure. Families must learn to be patient with each other, even in the face of stress. Families must trust each other in order to be happy.
The Holy family got it right!

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The Fire and the Seamstresses

By , December 28, 2012 4:18 am

All thoughtful Americans and citizens across the world were horrified a few weeks ago by that tragic fire in the clothing factory over in Bangladesh. There were no fire exits, no escape plans and hundreds of the employees died in agony and unnecessarily. Those clothes – blouses, shirts, socks, etc. – were being manufactured by near slave labor to be marketed in the United States of America. First the fire, then the sense of shock and now silence. We have heard nothing from the national and international associations of clothing manufacturers. Since their needs and their demand for low wages is at least an indirect cause of the tragedy, shouldn’t they be leading the efforts to make sure that this type of tragedy is avoided in the future? To date, they have been quiet – very, very quiet.
Tragedies like that used to occur in the 19th century in the United States, England and other European countries and mistakes can still occur and tragically kill innocent workers; for example, the explosion of the oil well in the Gulf operated by British Petroleum. However, happily, the developed world began to recognize the need for supervision and regulation, and the number of such tragedies has been greatly lessened. Nevertheless, there is a group in this country that is constantly howling and complaining about regulation. Regulation does increase the cost of production but nothing compared to the cost and damage that can be done by producers and manufacturers if they are not being supervised within proper limits. We would frequently find ourselves in serious trouble and pain if the various supervisory entities were suppressed or eliminated. You would be afraid to go into a drug store if it were not for the Center for Disease Control.

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What a Debt

By , December 27, 2012 4:11 am

Every year about this time a national collection is taken up in all of the Catholic Churches in the United States of America. This collection is conducted by the National Religious Retirement Office. That the collection is needed at all is a shameful thing. In the 19th and throughout the 20th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church enjoyed extraordinarily explosive growth – schools, orphanages, hospitals, clinics, and other ministries – you name it. Men and women came forward by the tens of thousands in order to build up the life of the Church and build it they did. Now with the passage of time many of them are quite elderly. In fact, many of them have gone to God. I remember when there were 150,000 religious women in the United States. That number is down now to less than 40,000.
In addition to the sisters, of course, there are brothers and religious order priests who worked long days and endless hours for what is essentially a stipend (read room and board). The beneficiaries of their work and generosity are now for the most part very affluent American Catholics. Happily, the annual collection is a sizable one. In fact, it is usually the largest collection of the year. Nevertheless, it is pathetic in terms of the debt that prosperous Catholics owe to the men and women whose generous productive lives were spent to build up the Church for the parents and grandparents of affluent American Catholics today.
If you missed the collection, why not sit down and send a check to the national office? The check would be received at National Religious Retirement Office/CW, 3211 Fourth Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194. Please make your check payable to the Retirement Fund for Religious. 

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The Liturgical Year…Sometimes Scrambled!

By , December 26, 2012 4:12 am

It may very well be that the greatest teaching tool that the Church utilizes to convey the story of salvation to its members is the liturgical year. The Church year has very little to do with our day to day calendar. It begins in the fall with the first Sunday of Advent and begins to prepare for Christmas. It continues until the last Sunday after Pentecost when you celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation and we honor him with the title of “Christ the King.”
The space in-between is filled with fairly reasonable divisions – Advent, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, the time after Pentecost, etc. – but it is not always that neat. Take a look at the next week and I will show you what I mean. You don’t have to be reminded that yesterday was Christmas Day and I hope that for you and your family it was truly memorable and faith-filled and a celebration of joy and thanksgiving. Turn the page to December 26th and you see the Feast of Saint Stephen.
He was my confirmation patron. Yesterday was Christmas and today you are dealing with hate, rejection of faith, murder and execution. Is that a change or what? Stephen was the first person to die for his faith in Jesus Christ and he would start a long procession of heroic men and women that continues on to this day.
The 27th? Another fast switch. John, the beloved disciple. Tradition has it that the apostle John protected Mary in her old age and he himself was not only one of the 12 apostles, but wrote the fourth Gospel. The ancient tradition also has it that was the only one of the apostles who did not die as a martyr.
December 28th – more death, more blood, more sacrifice by humans related to the birth of Jesus. King Herod was very worried about the rumors that the Messiah had been born, that someone had come who would be the long awaited King of the Jews and who would reign forever. As a brutal precautionary measure, he had a large number of infant boys living in the area killed and they have come down in history to us as the Holy Innocents. They did not have the opportunity to get to know Jesus while on earth but my guess is that when they arrived at the Pearly Gates they were marvelously well received. They symbolized the conflict between faith in God and his Word and an erroneous commitment to a materialistic and sinful world.
In closing out this interesting week of Christmas, the Church reminds us of a more modern heroic martyr, Thomas Beckett. He did know Jesus. He did have faith in his Savior and when he was placed with a choice between the king and his commitment to the community of faith, he stayed there on the side of righteousness and was killed for that.
And so we have a magical week that is marvelously reflective of life itself. Jesus dominates and martyrs abound and God’s plan is carried out. As we close the calendar year with fireworks and loud music, let’s try to keep our mind focused on THAT BABY, the reality of God’s presence there.

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Jesus – the Historic Reality

By , December 25, 2012 4:10 am

On December 25th a large portion of the Western world celebrates. That day has been chosen to mark the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem nearly 2,000 years ago. For believers, it is all so beautiful – families trudging into church on a cold night, the church itself ablaze with light and gloriously happy music, a delightful mood marks the congregation as they enthusiastically greet each other hoping that all involved will have a Merry Christmas, a happy Christmas, a blessed Christmas.
Gifts are exchanged and those gifts are intended to be outward signs of a person’s liking or love for another. It is altogether beautiful, isn’t it? However, it is also somewhat unreal!
Unreal? I am not challenging the birth of Jesus or denying his historicity, but I am saying that because the birthday itself is so covered with ceremonies, trappings, paraphernalia and expenses that for some of us it is difficult to concentrate on the reality.
We should ignore the Christian Christmas cards that reflect baby Jesus in Renaissance splendor with perfect hands extended towards the light emanating from his halo. Look at the baby. Right now he is wet and crying. Is your faith strong enough to let you see that in that five to seven pound baby God is present and that baby, several decades from now, will grow to full manhood, teach us truth about life and how it is to be lived and then calmly, carefully and intentionally walk into an agonizing sacrifice of his life for the failures and lack of love of God on the part of the human family. Can you see that in the baby? If you can, forget the carols, the books and the candles and give thanks to God that your faith enables you to clearly focus on what is actually going on here.
Have a holy, happy and blessed Christmas.

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Joy to the World!

By , December 24, 2012 4:19 am

It’s here! It’s finally here! Literalists think that the Jews waited about 6000 years. Scientists don’t know how long this planet has been zipping through space, but it has certainly been around a very long while. WE have only been waiting just four weeks since we first turned our minds towards the approaching redemption which will follow the birth of Jesus. Ideally, tonight we will slip into church before mass, with things quiet other than the shuffling of a few feet. Nothing is going on… and then suddenly, there is an explosion of joyous, happy music and song! “Joy to the world” is not just a title of an old Christmas hymn, it’s the announcement that evil which is always with us will ultimately be overthrown, and people of faith will put sin and pain behind them, living eternally with the God who created them because He so loved them.
Joy to the World!

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Are We Ready?

By , December 22, 2012 4:17 am

December 23rd, Fourth Sunday of Advent
It is so close. It is so very close and are we ready? This is not a question of rechecking the gift list. Readiness is looking inside ourselves and facing honestly the degree of faith that we have in Jesus Christ on his birth in Bethlehem, roughly 2,000 years ago, and the awesome beautiful scene of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem where she would deliver the Messiah, the Savior of the human family.

On Saturdays in this space I always run a comment or two on Sunday’s Scripture readings, usually, but not always, the Gospel itself. In commenting on God’s word, one should maintain a certain timidity with no illusions about improving upon them. Today I won’t improve it. I will just quote a magnificent text by preparing us to celebrate Christmas Day. It is from the book of the Prophet Zephaniah.

“Shout for joy oh daughter of Zion. Sing joyfully oh Israel. Be glad and exalt with all your hearts oh daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord has removed the judgment against you. He has turned away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. You have no further misfortune to fear. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear not oh Zion. Be not discouraged. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a Mighty Savior. He will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you as one who sings at festivals.” (Zephaniah 3:14-18)

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Christmas – A Great Teaching Moment

By , December 21, 2012 4:57 am

Children love Christmas and they should. It is a time of excitement, beauty, families coming together and, of course, with kids opening those presents, getting the tricycle, getting the doll that she has been wishing for months, all come together to make a wonderful thing.
There is nothing wrong with any of this but it would be a shame to let Christmas come and go without talking to our children or grandchildren about the joy of giving and the need to practice generosity to those around us. Little children are naturally selfish. They see themselves as the center of the world and sometimes they see a world in which they are almost alone with the exception of the fact that they have two full-time servants to respond to their wants and desires. Often a small child learns too early that when it says, “I want” the world changes and suddenly what it “wants” is there. Such attitudes can be created that will produce tremendous frustration and unhappiness later on. Sooner or later, the child as an adolescent or young adult will learn the hard way that “I want” does not produce the expected but it can produce frustration and pain.
We should all talk to our little children and give them opportunities to practice to share what they have with each other. Even very young children can begin to learn about their feelings. Feelings can pull us this way or that. Children can learn the importance of getting along with their brothers, sisters and schoolmates.
Have a Merry Christmas…no, have a generous Christmas!

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Rough Terrain Again

By , December 20, 2012 4:15 am

photo jgrimes

I don’t know if you noticed it or not but last Sunday’s readings had us back in the mountains again. The Prophet Baruch was challenging God’s people to put aside mourning, worry and misery and exalt in the power of God which surrounds all of us.
“Put on the splendor of glory from God forever…Up Jerusalem, stand upon the heights. God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low and that the age old depths and gorges be filled to level ground that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.”
Remember that the prophet was making these encouraging announcements while God’s chosen people were suffering in terrible straits. His point then, and it is true today, is that God is in charge. Ultimately, God’s will will prevail and those who have placed their faith in him and lived according to his message will enjoy an infinitely perfect life beyond the mountains – beyond the mountains!
Many of us currently find ourselves in the valley but we can see the top and when we arrive there we will be able to see forever.

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