Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mary, Mother of God (New Year)
1st January 2015: Num. 6:22-7; Gal. 4:4-7; Lk. 2:16-21

Today's Feast of  " Mary, Mother of God" is very appropriate to start a new year. A Child's life begins with the mother. In a sense, when a child is born a mother is born. 
When a child is born, its mother begins to be a mother. Even if she was already mother to other children this new child makes her a new mother; a new chapter in her mothering begins.  In the birth of the Son of God, Mary begins to be the Mother of God.  It is appropriate to have a mother to accompany our first steps in the new year. 
We base our faith in this dogma of Mary the Mother of God, on the words of Elizabeth who was the cousin of Mary and the words of Angel Gabriel that Mary’s Son will be called the Son of God. When the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth said, "And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?" [Lk. 1:43]. Through Elizabeth who was full of the Holy Spirit, it was acclaimed that Mary had been chosen to be the Mother of God. Since Jesus chose Mary to come to us, we need to go through Mary to Jesus.
In 431,Nestorius, the 5th-century archbishop of Constantinople – said that Christ was two persons: the man Jesus and the divine Son of God.  This view was rejected at the Council of Ephesus (431 AD), which insisted that he was one person with two natures, divine and human.  The most emphatic way they could say this was to affirm that Mary was not just the mother of the man Jesus, but that she was the mother of God.  This is to say that Christ is one person, not two.
Mary's Motherhood began when the eternal God entered human history. And it continued to be one of her unconditional acceptance. She chose to be the mother of God, with her unconditional faith, submission and hope.
In today's Second Reading, St Paul reminds us that through God's grace we have all become brothers and sisters of Christ and, therefore, children of God. This is what happened at baptism. At that moment we were born again, supernaturally; God infused his divine DNA into our souls. The spiritual life consists of the gradual spread and development of that DNA, until each one of us becomes a mature, wise, and fruitful follower of Jesus Christ.
Today's Solemnity reminds us that if we have become Christ's spiritual brothers and sisters, we have also become spiritual children of Mary. She was his mother in the flesh, and she is our mother in grace.
And just as we learn from our natural mothers how to be good human beings, so we learn from Mary how to become mature Christians. She is the living school where we learn every virtue that leads to happiness and holiness. Mary’s habit of pondering on God’s action in her life was both a sign and a source of wisdom.
The Rosary is a power key letting us into Mary's heart, and letting Christ's light shine on the dark, cold corners of our mind and heart. Our culture has a tradition of making a New Year's Resolution. Why not make the resolution to spend this year learning from our spiritual mother how to let God put order, peace, and wisdom into our lives, by pondering on the gifts of God and saying the Rosary every day?
Most New Year’s resolutions are personal commitments to quit bad habits and set new good ones, new goals as spending more time with family or eating healthier or exercise more. They are also important and helpful to contribute to our Spiritual life as well. One spiritual master said: The devil wants you fat. Quoting John 10:10 he says: The thief does not come, except to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly". Satan has always used food to deceive people. It worked so well in the garden, why should he change?. So, it is important to stay out of the food trap of the enemy. Eating too much or too little because you are obsessive with your shape, is injurious to health. You are not glorifying God in your body, in both cases. Make a good resolution this day and remember not to be like a man named George. He said to a friend: "There's nothing like getting up at six in the morning, going for a run around the park, and taking a brisk shower before breakfast."

His friend Bob asked, "How long have you been doing this?"
George said: "I start tomorrow."
Whatever resolutions we take, be fervent enough to persevere to practice them. One Wife told her husband:  "I don't want to brag, but here it is February and I've kept every one of my New Year's resolutions. I've kept them in a manila folder in the back of my desk!"
As we begin our new year, let’s be thankful for all what we received from God in the past year, and be sorry for the graces we have abused. Being grateful, makes the heart of God open to you with more graces.
May Jesus bless all our efforts this year through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God.

Friday, December 26, 2014

December 28, 2014
Holy Family- Luke 2: 22-40 or Lk 2: 22& 39-40

On the last Sunday of the year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. The Feast of the Holy Family is connected to Christmas. At Christmas we commemorate the incarnation of Jesus, God becoming a human being to save us. But Jesus was fully divine as he was fully human. In his humanity he lived like us in all things but sin. He lived a perfect human life, a life dedicated to His Father, and obedient to his parents and helping them like any human child.
The first reading is a commentary on the fourth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother." Sirach reminds children of their duty to honor their parents – even when it becomes difficult. He also mentions the five-fold reward which God promises to those who honor their father and mother. The first reward is “riches,” and the second long life: “Whoever reveres his father will live a long life.” Forgiveness of sins and God’s prompt answer to prayers are the fourth and fifth rewards. He reminds children that God blesses them if they obey, revere and show compassion to their father.
Pope Francis said that as a child, he heard a story of a family with a mother, father, many children and a grandfather. The grandfather, suffering from Parkinson’s illness, would drop food on the dining table, and smear it all over his face when he ate. His son considered it disgusting. Hence, one day he bought a small table and set it off to the side of the dining hall so the grandfather would eat, make a mess and not disturb the rest of the family. One day, the Pope said, the grandfather’s son came home and found one of his sons playing with a piece of wood. “What are you making?” he asked his son. “A table,” the son replies. “Why?” the father asks. “It’s for you, Dad, when you get old like grandpa, I am going to give you this table.” Ever since that day, the grandpa was given a prominent seat at the dining table and all the help he needed in eating by his son and daughter-in-law. “This story has done me such good throughout my life,” said the Pope, who celebrated his 78th birthday on December 17. “Grandparents are a treasure,” he said. “Often old age isn’t pretty, right? There is sickness and all that, but the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance.” A society or community that does not value, respect and care for its elderly members “doesn’t have a future because it has no memory, it’s lost its memory,” Pope Francis added.
In an audience Pope Paul VI told how one day, when he was Archbishop of Milan, he went out on parish visitation. During the course of the visitation he found an old woman living alone. ‘How are you?’ he asked her. ‘Not bad,’ she answered. ‘I have enough food, and I’m not suffering from the cold.’ ‘You must be reasonably happy then?’ he said. ‘No, I’m not’, she said as she started to cry. ‘You see, my son and daughter-in-law never come to see me. I’m dying of loneliness.’ Afterwards he was haunted by the phrase ‘I’m dying of loneliness’. And the Pope concluded: ‘Food and warmth are not enough in themselves. People need something more. They need our presence, our time, our love. They need to be touched, to be reassured that they are not forgotten’
Today, the Church encourages us to look to the Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph for inspiration, example and encouragement.   They were a model family in which both parents worked hard, helped each other, understood and accepted each other, and took good care of their Child so that He might grow up not only in human knowledge but also as a Child of God.
Holy- means healthy. A family can grow healthy only on the key virtues of forgiveness and patience. "Put on... patience," St Paul writes, "bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do."
There is no way to create an atmosphere of forgiveness without being ready to ask for forgiveness. The best gift we can give our families is to make a commitment to always be the first one to say "I'm sorry" whenever there is the slightest need. That little phrase is like super-glue for family relationships. We need to make the family a confessional rather than a courtroom.  A senior Judge of the Supreme Court congratulated the bride and groom in a marriage with a pertinent piece of advice: “See that you never convert your family into a courtroom; instead let it be a confessional. If the husband and wife start arguing like attorneys in an attempt to justify their behavior, their family becomes a court of law and nobody wins.  On the other hand, if the husband and the wife -- as in a confessional -- are ready to admit their faults and try to correct them, the family becomes a heavenly one.” 
A husband and a wife had a quarrel and they started silent treatment towards each other. When one wanted to communicate something to the other, they wrote the matter on a piece of paper and handed out to the other. One day the husband wanted to on a trip and he wanted to get up early morning at 4.30 to catch a train. He wrote a note to his wife to wake him up at 4.30. At 6.00 am he woke up and found out that it is late and he missed the train. He got angry with his wife when she showed him the piece of paper on which she wrote and kept on his bed. Hi, wake up it is 4.30. (He wrote on a piece of paper asking her to wake him up and she gave back to him on the same coin.) Silent treatments may be good for just a little bit of time, but don’t take it long. As Paul says: let not the sun set in your anger. Lack of communication is the primary cause of marriage break ups. There was a little lack of communication between Joseph and Mary when Jesus was lost in the temple. One thought the other had him and vice versa. But they did not accuse each other for that.

We need to live our daily lives with the awareness that we are dedicated people consecrated to God and that we are obliged to lead holy lives. May the Holy Family intercede for all families that they may remain one and united in the model of Holy Family of Nazareth. Let’s pray for the families that struggle and on the verge of break up that they give up stubbornness and be willing to follow the example of the Holy Family.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas: Mass during the day

Many years ago there was a serious coal mining accident in the Allegheny mountains. Many miners escaped, but three men were trapped somewhere deep in the earth. No one knew if they were alive or dead. As the hours passed, intense heat and noxious gases built up within the mine itself. Two days passed before a search expedition was allowed to enter the mine. The camera teams from the local news station interviewed the three-man rescue team as they prepared to enter what could be their grave. A reporter asked one of the men if he was aware of the noxious gases and the extreme danger of the mine. When the man said yes, the reporter asked, "Are you still going down?"

The man replied, "Those men may still be alive." Without another word of explanation, he put on his gas mask, climbed into the elevator, and descended into the mine.

"Are you still going down?" I wonder if a similar discussion didn't take place in heaven when Christ was still in his exalted position with the Father before he descended to earth to take human form and to die. Are you still going down into that world where darkness reigns: where might makes right and people value temporal things and ignore the eternal? Are you still going down when you know that only a few will listen and even fewer will heed your message of peace and good will? Are you still going down when you know that you will be despised, rejected and finally die a most cruel of death with nails in your hands and feet and a sword thrust into your side? Are you still going down?

We will never know what was said then, but we know the answer. It was yes. The result is that you and I are in this place today. He has come down. And the effect on this planet has been enormous.
The word became flesh and dwelt among us; so that He could help us get back to God. And there's only one religion in which mankind's effort to climb back up to heaven is met by the unimaginable event of God himself deciding to climb down into human nature. Christmas is one thing that makes Christianity entirely unique among all the world religions. Only we Christians have the privilege of saying, "The Word became flesh, and lived among us."
But as the evangelist says: He came to his own, but his own did not accept him. There are only 2 billion people who believe in Jesus out of the 7 billion people in the world. So the majority of the people have not accepted Jesus as their Savior. They turned down the lights and choose to sit in darkness.
There was a priest in a Midwestern city who wanted to help inner-city children. He wanted them to see something more than their own situations. He put them on a bus and took them to see some things of great beauty. They went to the art museum and saw paintings by the masters. They went to a symphony matinee and heard beautiful music. They went for a walk through a row of homes that were done over by a creative team of architects. That young priest showed those children the best and brightest things he knew. Then they climbed back on the bus and went home. That night one of those young boys set his apartment house on fire. They rescued the neighbors and family, but the place burned down. The priest was in tears when he visited the boy in a detention cell. "Why did you do it?" he asked.

"I saw all those beautiful things," said the boy, "and then I came home and saw how ugly my world was, and I hated the ugliness, so I wanted to burn it down." Shine some light in a dark place and there's no telling what will happen. When all you have ever seen is darkness, that is all you know. And when light comes, it makes for a contrast. In fact, it is possible for light to come into the world, and for somebody to say, "Turn out the lights!" Most of the opposition that we see in this world towards faith and morality are targeted by dark forces intended to turn out the light.
Christmas tells us that God came to live in us as light and salt to give light and flavor to our life. We are not alone to fight the sinfulness and hopelessness of our life. There is a mighty God within us to strengthen us in our weaknesses and temptations.  As Emmanuel, Jesus lives in the Sacraments (especially in the Holy Eucharist), in the Holy Bible, in the praying community and in each believer, with the Holy Spirit Who is transforming us daily into the "Temples of the Holy Spirit.” Hence, each Christmas reminds us that we are bearers of God with the missionary duty of conveying Jesus to others around us by loving others as Jesus did, through sacrificial, humble and committed service.
Sharing with others Jesus, the Emmanuel living within us, is the best Christmas gift we can give to, or receive from, others. May the Word made flesh, through whom God created everything and redeems everything, illumine our hearts and minds at this Christmas and the everyday of the New year.


God undertook the Incarnation of Jesus as God-Man to save us from the bondage of sin. The Hindu Scriptures describe ten incarnations of God “to restore righteousness in the world whenever there is a large-scale erosion of moral values.” But the Christian Scriptures teach only one Incarnation, and its purpose is given in John 3: 16: “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him may not die, but have eternal life.”  We celebrate the Incarnation of God as a baby today as good news because we have a Divine Savior. As our Savior, Jesus liberated us from slavery to sin by his suffering, death and Resurrection, and he atoned for our sins. So every Christmas reminds us that we need a Savior every day, to free us from our evil addictions and unjust, impure and uncharitable tendencies. This Christmas also challenges us to accept Jesus in the manger as our saving God and personal Savior and to surrender our lives to him, allowing him to rule our hearts and lives every day in the New Year.
God sent Jesus as a little Child so that He could be accessible to everyone. Pretend something like this happened for a moment: The angel Gabriel got back to heaven and rushed up to God and said, "I've got good news, and I've got bad news."
And God said, "Well, give me the good news first."

"The good news is," said the angel, "mission accomplished. I've visited those people you told me to visit. I told them what you told me to tell them. And it's all accomplished."

God said, "So what's the bad news?"
"The bad news," the angel said, "is that those people down there on earth are terrified of you. Every time I visited someone I had to start it off with 'fear not,' because they got so frightened that you were coming close."

God said to the angel, "That's the reason I have to carry out the plan I've made."

"You see," God said to the angel, "I need to go to earth because my people are so frightened. They are so full of fear that I've got to bring the message that they no longer need to be afraid."

The angel said, "And how are you going to do that, since they're so fearful?"
God said, "There's one place on earth that people are not afraid: that one remaining place is a little baby. My people on earth are not afraid of a baby. When a baby is born they rejoice and give thanks without fear because that's the only place left in their lives where they're not afraid. So I will go to earth. I will become a little baby, and they will receive me with no fear at all, because that's the one place my people have no fear."

God acted in the only way God could act without overwhelming us and taking away our freedom. God became a tiny babe. In Christmas God acted in the only way God could have acted.
 “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into our neighborhood.” This is the remarkable truth we celebrate this night and during the Christmas season.
God could have come to us in any way at all, and he chose to do so quietly. As John the Baptist would later tell: among you stands one who was to come whom you do not recognize.  God chose to give us a "sign" by becoming an "infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger." Small, weak, and helpless - that is how our Lord comes to us. And who can resist the charm of a helpless little baby gurgling and smiling and waving its tiny little hands?
Wade Burton tells about a man who was riding a bus from Chicago to Miami. He had a stop-over in Atlanta. While he was sitting at a lunch counter, a woman came out of the ladies' rest room carrying a tiny baby. She asked the man, "Will you hold my baby for me, I left my purse in the rest room." He did. But as the woman neared the front door of the bus station, she darted out into the crowded street and was immediately lost in the crowd.

The man couldn't believe his eyes. He rushed to the door to call the woman, but could not see her. What should he do? Put the baby down and run?

When calmness settled in he went to the Traveler's Aid booth and they soon found the real mother. The woman who had left him holding the baby was not the baby's mother. She had taken the child, perhaps to satisfy a motherly urge to hold a child. The man breathed a sigh of relief when the real mother was found. After all, what was he to do with a baby?

In a way each of us is in the same situation as this gentleman. We are left with the question, "What will we do with the baby?" Have we really come to terms with the fact that this baby is not simply extraordinarily gifted, but that he is himself a gift from the heart of God? What are we going to do with the Child? God the Father has placed Him today into our hands. What are we choosing to do? Leave him down on the floor and run? Or take him home, nurture him and live with him everyday?

Today is born a savior…Christ the Lord.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advent. IV.2 Sam. 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Rom. 16:25-27; Lk. 1:26-38 
The FBI agents conducted a raid in a psychiatric hospital in Santiago that was under investigation for medical insurance fraud.  After hours of reviewing thousands of medical records, the dozens of agents were terribly hungry.  The chief in charge of the investigation called a nearby pizza parlor with delivery service to order a quick dinner for his colleagues. Here is the recorded text of the conversation.
Agent: Hello. I would like to order 19 large pizzas and 67 cans of soda. Pizza Man: And where would you like them delivered? Agent: We're over at the psychiatric hospital, and we are all FBI agents, and since we have locked the front door to help our operations, you will have to go around to the back to the service entrance to deliver the pizzas. Pizza Man: A group of FBI agents calling from the psychiatric hospital that I should come with 19 large pizzas and 67 cans of sodas through the back door? Agent: That’s right, and it is very urgent. We've been here all day and we're starving. I have my F.B.I. checkbook right here. Will you show up soon? Pizza Man:  I don't think so. Agent: Why? Pizza Man:  Because last week it was President Obama who ordered pizzas from that psychiatric hospital for his White House staff! I shall ask your doctors to give you stronger medicines to ward off your F.B.I. hallucinations and to help you sleep well.  Bye.”
That's kind of what Mary was feeling as she listened to the angel spell out what God wanted of her: "Virgin birth?! Are you crazy? Who's going to believe that? I'll be stoned to death as soon as the neighbors see I'm pregnant! Dear God, what are you asking of me?"
The Angel told Mary two humanly impossible things: that she would conceive and bear a son; and that Elizabeth had conceived in her old age. When Mary expressed her doubts, the Angel reminded her that "nothing is impossible for God."
Then Mary remembered all the Old Testament  accounts of humanly impossible things that God had done for his people. In order to liberate the Israelites from the bondage in Egypt, God had performed many miracles.  Moses turned the water of the river into blood (Exodus 7:17). Moses smites all the borders of Egypt with frogs (Exodus 8:2). Moses sent darkness in all the land of Egypt for 3 days (Ex 10:22). The first born of the Egyptians were struck by God. Moses made the red sea divide into two and make a way for the Israelites to pass through. Even after they had settled in the Promised Land God continued his mighty deeds to protect his people. Every Israelite child grew up listening to the mighty works of God; and every Israelite child was taught that nothing is impossible for God.
Mary cannot understand how virginity and maternity can go together. So she asks: How can this be? (Lk 1:34. The Angel explains that virginity and maternity do not contradict each other; on the contrary, thanks to the Holy Spirit, they integrate perfectly together. Not that she understands it better now, but that is enough for her, for the prodigy will be God's will: “With God nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37). Hence, she answered: Let it be done to me as you have said (Lk1:38). Total acceptance of God's Will, half groping, but unconditionally.
Like Mary there are people in every generation who believed in the impossible and did the impossible with God’s help. Jesus said: Without me you can do nothing.
Tony Melendez was born without arms. He was brought to the Los Angeles area from Nicaragua to be fitted with artificial arms. He wore them until he was ten, when he disposed of them. "I didn't feel comfortable," he explains, "I could use my feet so much more." 
His proficiency with his feet extended to more areas than just day-to-day care. He remembers, "At first, I started playing push-button organ. Then in high school I began playing around with the guitar and harmonica." He also began writing his own songs. Whether it was "playing around" with music or merely adjusting to a normal high school routine, Tony never let his handicap get in his way.
Tony has travelled across the United States and sixteen foreign countries, making countless television appearances. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors. Tony Melendez has one main message: with God, all things are possible. And he proves exactly that with unbelievable guitar playing ability, using nothing but his feet.  
British missionary William Carey’s famous quote is, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God”. It is very meaningful to those who have received a special challenge or calling from God. Like Mary and Joseph, we may be called on at any time to walk a path for Him that has rarely, if ever, been walked before. It may come in the form of bearing great suffering for oneself and for others. We must teach our family not to fear “surprises from heaven,” but to face them faithfully and obediently. God desires not the skill of our hands but the love of our hearts.  
In this Mass, Jesus will prove once again that nothing is impossible for him. He will shatter the limits of time and space to become truly present in the Eucharist, nourishing us in Holy Communion with his holy body, blood, soul, and divinity. If we believe he can do that, then he can do anything. As we do the immediate preparations for Christmas, lets place ourselves before God like Mary and believe that with God nothing is impossible and accept God’s challenge to do the impossible.

Friday, December 12, 2014

ADVENT III [B] Is 61:1-2a, 10-11, I Thess 5:16-24, Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
There is a story told about a man from Louisville, Kentucky, who had to travel to St. Louis on business.  This was years ago when Christians kept Sunday as a very special day.  For this man, "keeping the Sabbath," also meant not riding the trains on Sunday.  Thus, after he finished up his business late Saturday night, he had to stay over in St. Louis until the following Monday morning.  On Sunday morning, he left the hotel looking for a place to worship.  The streets were quite deserted, but finally he saw a policeman and asked him for directions to the nearest church. The stranger thanked the policeman for the information and was about to walk off when he turned and asked the policeman: "Why have you recommended that particular church? It looks like a Catholic church.  There must be several churches nearby that you could have recommended."  The policeman smiled and replied: "I'm not a church man myself, but the people who come out of that church are the happiest looking church-people in St. Louis and they claim that they have received Jesus and they are happily taking him to their homes.  I thought that would be the kind of church you would like to attend."  The Scripture for today reminds us that every Sunday in every Christian church must be a Gaudete Sunday or “Rejoice Sunday.”

The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday” because the Mass for today begins with the opening antiphon: “Gaudete in Domino semper” --“Rejoice in the Lord always.” To remind ourselves that we are preparing for the very joyful occasion of the birth of Jesus, we light the rose candle, and the priest may wear rose vestments. The common theme of the day’s Scripture readings is one of joy and encouragement. The readings urge us to make the preparations required from us as we await the rebirth of Jesus in our hearts and lives.  
 The first reading tells us that we should rejoice because the promised Messiah is coming as our Savior to save us by liberating us from our bondages.  In today’s Responsorial Psalm, Mary exclaims:"My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my Savior."  St. Paul, in the second reading, advises us to “rejoice always” by leading a blameless, holy and thankful life guided by the Holy Spirit, because Christ is faithful in his promise that he will come again to reward us.  Today’s Gospel tells us that John the Baptist came as a witness who would testify to the Light, i.e., Jesus, and the coming of Jesus the Light into the world is the cause for our rejoicing because  he removes the darkness of sin from the world.  
John was able to rejoice because he was able to see himself clearly in the Light and was able to give a clear identity of himself to those who came to question him. When they question him John says that he is not the Christ, not Elijah, nor the prophet. Most pointedly, he declares, “I am not”. This is the gospel, which again and again has Jesus say, “I am”. John’s denials, his saying who he is not, is a kind of pointing to who Jesus is. Jesus would say I am the resurrection and the life, the Vine and the branches, good shepherd, the gate to the sheepfold, the Way the truth and the life and so on.
For us perhaps finding out who we are not, will help us to easily find out who we are. There's a story about a woman finding herself alone in an elevator with the famous and very handsome Robert Redford. As the elevator moved up the floors, the woman, like many of us might, found herself uncontrollably staring at the movie star. Finally, in her excitement and nervousness, she blurted out: "Are you the real Robert Redford?" To which Redford responded, "Only when I'm alone."
That story reveals that Robert Redford is not simply another pretty face, but he has grown into a wisdom that must serve him well. All the movie stars are not what they show themselves in the movie. Their real self is when they are alone. For like John the Baptist, he obviously knows who he is not.
The five year old nephew of the bride was chosen to be in charge of carrying the rings down the aisle. At the wedding rehearsal he was unusually unruly. He kept leaping out at people, baring his teeth at and then chasing the flower girls. He growled and snarled as he practiced going down the aisle. He brandished the pillow like a pistol. Finally his mother pulled him aside and demanded to know why he was behaving so badly.
“But Mom,” he explained, “I have to act fierce — I’m the ‘Ring Bear.’”
Like so many of us that little boy misunderstood just what role he was supposed to play. He thought he was called to be big, imposing, fearsome, large and in charge. He thought he was to BE the “star of the show.” He thought the spotlight was his.
But he wasn’t supposed to BE a bear, he was supposed to offer the supportive role of “ring bearer.” But the focus of the wedding ceremony was not on the ring bearer. The reason for the wedding celebration was not him. Like this “ring bear” we sometimes mistake our real role in life and end up playing the role of someone else. During this season of advent, like John the Baptism, we are called to play a subsidiary role for Christ and the Church. Let’s be the voice of Christ as John was, leading people to listen to Christ and his Church.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

ADVENT II-B: Is 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8

John the Baptist always plays a big role in Advent. He was the last and greatest of a long line of Old Testament prophets. God sent those prophets to prepare Israel for the arrival of the Messiah, the anointed Savior and Redeemer of the world - Jesus.
Isaiah's prophecy in today's First Reading was made more than five hundred years before John the Baptist's prophecy, but their substance is very much the same: God has not forgotten his people, and in spite of their sufferings, sins, and failings, he will come and save them, shepherding them to a happiness beyond what they can imagine.
The consistency of the message throughout so long a period of time puts into context that fascinating line from the Second Reading, which is actually a quotation from the Book of Psalms (Psalm 90:4): "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day."  This reminded me of a boy who was praying and asked God, God, if you are there speak to me. To his surprise, God talked to him and said, yes, what do you want my son? He was happy that God appeared and so he just asked God, God how is a million years to you? God knew a young boy wouldn’t understand the concept of time very well, and so he said: A million years is like a second to me. Then the boy asked how is a million dollars to you then? God said: A million dollars is like a penny to me. Then the boy asked: God can you give me a penny please? God replied oh sure, wait a second. Most of us are like this boy, who do not understand the concept of time in our life and don’t make much use of it for investing for eternal time with God.
According to the prophet Isaiah, there are two things we can do to get ready to receive the blessings God brings in to our lives: to fill in every valley and to make low every mountain. The valleys stand for our sins of omission, the things we should be doing but aren't. For example, if we aren't spending quality time with our family, we need to fill in that valley. If we aren't spending at least a few minutes each day in prayer with God, we need to fill in that valley. If we aren't going regularly to confession to rejuvenate our souls with God's mercy, grace, and forgiveness, we need to fill in that valley.
The mountains are the selfish and sinful habits that we have built up; the sins of commission. If we like to gossip and spread criticism, we need to tear down that mountain. If we are leading a double life, indulging in hidden sins or lies that are poisoning our souls, we need to lay low that mountain. The mountains and valleys inhibit God's grace from traveling into our hearts; they are roadblocks that keep out God's mercy, peace, and wisdom. In our act of contrition at the beginning we said: I am sorry for what I have done and what I have failed to do..the mountains and valleys of life.
Advent is the season to smooth out and clear up the roads to our hearts. The best and easy way to clear up the road blocks is to repent of our evil ways. True repentance hates the sin, and not merely the penalty; and it hates the sin most of all because it has discovered and felt God's love.
Not too many years ago, newspapers carried the story of Al Johnson, a Kansas man who repented of his sins and chose Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. What made his story so remarkable was the fact that, as a result of his newfound faith in Christ, he confessed to a bank robbery he had participated in when he was nineteen years old. Because of the statute of limitations, Johnson could not be prosecuted for the offense. But because of his complete and total change of heart, he not only confessed his crime but voluntarily repaid his share of the stolen money! That’s repentance – metanoia -- the radical change of heart demanded by John the Baptist in today’s Gospel.
Billy Graham, who has often played the 20th century role of John the Baptizer, had these comments about the disease running rampant in our world: "We're suffering from only one disease in the world. Our basic problem is not a race problem. Our basic problem is not a poverty problem. Our basic problem is not a war problem. Our basic problem is a heart problem. We need to get the heart changed, the heart transformed."

We are invited by the Church to prepare for Christmas. Christmas is the time for reflection and personal renewal in preparation for the coming of Jesus into our lives.   We want God's help and comfort, but we are not always prepared to change our ways to enhance genuine conversion. For God to come to us, we also need to go to Him. We need to let every day become Christmas and the “Day of the Lord” for each one of us.

Being aware that God often breaks into our lives in unexpected ways and at unexpected times, let’s straighten the paths for our Lord this Advent.