God works in little ways

Micah tells us that Bethlehem is too small for anything. It’s a tiny town. The only reason anybody cares about it is because King David was born there. Micah prophesied that a savior would come from this tiny town of Bethlehem. This savior would stand firm and shepherd his people. He would remain with his people forever. He would be peace to the people. By Jesus’s time, the only reason anyone cared about Bethlehem was this prophecy. But we know who came from Bethlehem. The smallest of towns, in God’s hands, turned into the site of the most important event in human history.

God uses small things to change our lives. If we give him a little room to work in our lives, he can make so much of it! This is how all the saints start. They give God a little room to work. Slowly, they grow closer and closer to God, and eventually they become saints! Saint Mother Theresa, for example, started out by helping the poor in Calcutta. She gave God the first couple of hours of her day. In those hours, God transformed her. Her good works transformed her. The entire world—even the non-Catholics—recognized her as a saint. The recognized that God had transformed her. She led a simple, difficult life, but she was full of love and joy.

In addition to the ordinary events of our lives, God comes to us in another “little” way. At Mass, we receive the Eucharist. The Eucharist, which looks like simple bread and wine, is so much more. All of God is present in something that looks like a little tiny piece of bread. From this “little” thing, the Eucharist, comes Communion with God Himself. God enters into us in a physical way, and He transforms us each time we receive the Eucharist.

If you think about the Eucharist, the whole idea is mind-boggling! First off, why would God come into our world as a human being in the first place? Then, why would he give us the Eucharist, which is his own Body and Blood? Why would he die for us? Why would he open the gates of Heaven and send the Spirit out to help us to change our lives? Why would God do this for us, when we are so good at turning our backs on Him?

God loves us. In the greatest love story ever, God conceived of each and every one of us here. He created the universe and everything in it so that we might have a place to live. He has adopted each one of us as his son or daughter, and he longs for us—God longs for us—to live with him as one family in Heaven. When we turned away from him, he didn’t stop loving us. What father or mother stop loving their children when they misbehave? God, the perfect Father, loves us and wants us back. He works in our lives so that we can be happy, so that we can one day live with him forever. God knew we can’t save ourselves: We need help. So, God stepped into history. He became one of us. Jesus was born. In just a few days, we make present again this great mystery. We remember that God loves us so much that he became one of us.

Let us be ready for God to come. Let us prepare our souls for Christmas. Let’s take a step back from the busy holiday schedules we’ve made for ourselves and consider what we are celebrating on Christmas. This might mean that we visit the sacrament of Confession. This might mean that we give up some time and do some charitable work. This might mean that we spend a little bit of time with Jesus in Adoration. Let’s find a small way to let God work in our lives.

Today’s Readings:
December 23, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:1-4a; Psalm 80; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

Rejoice! The Lord is Near!

Rejoice in the Lord always! For hundreds of years we Catholics have read this same passage from Paul on this Third Sunday of Advent.1 If we’ve been reading the same thing for so long on the same day, it must be important. What is Paul saying that the Church wants us to hear in this reading? The Gospel today gives us a clue. John the Baptist reminds us that the mighty one is coming, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, who will separate the wheat from the chaff. The people in the Gospel repeat the question over and over: What should we do?

The people knew that they had to do something to prepare for the Messiah, but they weren’t sure what to do. The people knew that they must be ready for him. Last week we heard the prophecy of Isaiah which told us to prepare the way for the Lord. It told us to straighten the road, to make it smooth and easier for him to travel. While the Jewish people would have originally understood that this is what you actually do when a king visits them, we now can take a new meaning from it. We must cleanse our hearts and our souls and prepare them to receive the Lord at Christmas. We must make a path within our hearts for the Lord, a straight and smooth path upon which he may travel. John tells us that this path is paved with good deeds. We must give to the poor, conduct our business honestly, and not extort others.

This sounds like a lot of work, and it definitely doesn’t seem to be something over which we would normally rejoice. But this work of preparation is just the beginning! John the Baptist was the last of the prophets. He never saw the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord. He was not blinded by Jesus like Paul was. John the Baptist never heard the Good News of the New Covenant: he only had half the story!

Paul knows the whole story. He knew that yes, we must repent of our former lives. He knew that we must die and rise again in Christ. Paul knew that we must always remember the presence of the Lord in our new lives as Christians. The first step to remember the Lord’s presence is to rejoice in the Lord always. We cannot rejoice when we are burdened by our sins and our anxieties. Instead, we must give these up. We must rid ourselves of sin and anxiety and give everything over to God. Paul knew that the world wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. He knew that there were hard times in store for each of us. In fact, in this part of Philippians he is trying to resolve a disagreement between two of his former co-workers and evangelists! This doesn’t stop Paul, though. He tells us to turn everything over to the Lord, and he promises us that the peace of God […] will guard [our] hearts and minds, which Paul knows will help us to press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14 NRSVCE)

During this time of year, the Lord is calling us to be near to him in a special and unique way. We are quickly approaching the celebration of our Lord’s birth. Jesus’s birth reminds us that God became a human being, just like you and me. He had a mom, just like you and me. He had an earthly father, just like you and me. He walked and talked and worked just like you and me! God knows how hard it is to be human. That is why he came to help us. God wants us to live forever with him in Heaven. We were struggling to live the lives necessary to join God in Heaven, and because God loves us, he came down to us and showed us how to do it. This is what the Church reminds us every year when we celebrate Christmas.

But it’s not quite Christmas yet. We still have a little over a week before it gets here. Why is the Church calling us to rejoice now, instead of waiting until Christmas? We must rejoice, because we know that our Lord is coming, and we know why our Lord is coming. We know that he is coming to save us. We know that he is coming to take away all those anxieties that we give him. He is coming to help us to live the good and moral lives that we struggle to live every day. Jesus is coming, and he’s coming very soon. We rejoice because we are nearing the end of our preparation time. If we have been using our time in Advent well, then we have begun to live our lives in a new and better way. We have begun to cast out all our fears and doubts and pains and struggles, and we have begun to give them all back to God. Not only is the Lord coming closer and closer to us in the celebration of Christmas, but he is coming closer and closer to us because we our lives are better reflecting him to others. We are becoming more able to receive God’s love and to enter his Kingdom at the end of our lives. This is cause for rejoicing!

Rejoice! The birth of our Lord and Savior is near!

Today’s Readings
December 16, 2018
3rd Sunday of Advent
Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

Building a Temple for God

This year, the fourth week of Advent is only even a day long—not even a day really! This might lead us to think it is an unimportant week—why would we cut it so short if it was important?

But it’s so important!

In the first reading, David wants to build a temple in which God may reside. He wants to provide for God, and Nathan the prophet gave him the go-ahead. God had other plans. He told Nathan to stop David. Why? Why would God stop David from honoring him in such a way? It is good to praise and worship God, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t David build him a house?

David hadn’t yet learned the most important thing God wants each of us to learn. He had not yet learned what Mary knew at the Annunciation. He had not yet learned that in all things, God will provide. At the Annunciation, an angel told Mary that she would be with child. Mary, confused, asked how this could happen, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” She was a virgin, and was planning to stay that way.1

Her question, if we were to ask it, would sound more like, “Yes, Lord, I will do it, but how can a virgin have a child?” She didn’t doubt God, but sought clarity from Gabriel. Gabriel’s response confirmed that God will provide what is needed for Mary to have a child—she need not to worry. Mary’s response was the most important yes in human history, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it done to me according to your word.” And God provided for Mary and all of us.

So too did God want to provide for David. He wanted David to end searching for God in places where he would not be found. He wanted David to find his rest in God, for our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. 2 God wanted to provide for David, so he told David that his Son would build the Temple, that his lineage would sit on the throne for all ages. David had to spend the rest of his life learning this lesson: God will provide.

Like with David and with Mary, God wants to provide for each of us. He calls each of us by name. To hear this call, we must open our hearts to him. We must silence the other influences in our life that shut out the voice of God. We must be still and allow God to enter our souls, to make the silence into a pregnant stillness. We must be like Mary, who “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”3

Today’s Readings:
December 24, 2017
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

My Soul in Stillness Waits…

Note: My apologies for the lateness of this post. Time simply got away from me. -Matt

Nearly everyone I know has at least a couple of Bible passages memorized. One of these is almost always 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”

How can I pray without ceasing? That seems impossible.

That depends on how we understand prayer. If prayer is muttering some Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and going to Mass when we must, then of course unceasing prayer is impossible! If, however, prayer is how we stay in relationship with our God, where we lift up our hearts and minds to him, it’s a totally different story. We pray without ceasing when we are open to receiving God in his fullness. This openness comes only through one of the hardest things to learn: silence.

Through silence, we purify ourselves. By cutting ourselves off from the noise of the world, we slowly and painfully begin the work of introspection. We start to recognize those things to which we are attached, and in the silence, we are able to see if these things lead us toward or away from God. In this recognition of the good and the bad in our lives, we begin remove our attachments to those things around us which lead us away from God, all of them being things that eventually die. We silently remember our value, that God loves us. We remember our dignity, the importance of what we do, and we stop getting lost in a formalism where we just go through the motions.

Stillness is another word for silence. Where silence makes us think of quieting our minds and our words, stillness is a quieting of our bodies, of the motion around us. Praying very early or very late always gives me a sense of this stillness, and I think that Advent is the prime season for a stillness. Advent isn’t a time of empty silence, but of pregnant stillness.

It is in this silent and pregnant stillness that we become simple. Instead of demanding that things go “my way or the highway,” we stop quenching the Spirit and listen to what God tells us. Because it is God speaking to us, we can trust the message. We cast off the fear that prevents us from following God, from being simple, from being able to receive the Lord and his message for us. In the simplifying silence, we prepare ourselves by making straight the way of the Lord in our own lives.

When we are silent, when we are still, when we are simple, when we are prepared, only then may we join John the Baptist when he cries out from the desert. Only by entering the silent stillness ourselves, becoming simple ourselves, preparing the way of the Lord for ourselves, only when we have done all of this ourselves, only then may we cry out for others to do the same.

When we have done all of this, we will be ready to receive the gift God has prepared for us. God wishes to give us a gift far surpassing any diadem—that’s a crown with a lot of jewels, in case you were wondering what a diadem is—or jewels. He wishes to give us salvation and justice itself: Jesus Christ. To truly receive a gift, we must recognize the gift. We must be able to recognize the gift of Jesus Christ that has been given to us before we will be able to allow him to enter into our hearts and transform our lives.

What better relationship with God could we have then to allow him to enter into our hearts? This is how we pray without ceasing.

On these final days of Advent, let us enter the silence. Let us recognize the pregnant stillness around us, and join it. Let us become simple in the face of God. Let us prepare ourselves and make straight the way of the Lord. Jesus comes at Christmas! May we be able to recognize him and thus, to receive the ultimate Christmas gift: Our God become man—Jesus, the Christ.

Today’s Readings:
December 17, 2017
Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Come, Lord Jesus!

Welcome to the new liturgical year! We begin with Advent. Advent… What is Advent all about? Didn’t Christ already come? Why do we have to ready for something that already happened?

Christ did come to us 2,000 years ago. He comes to us every day through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and we experience him being truly, entirely, and substantially present to us in the Eucharist.1 Christ will come again, but not as a baby: he will come in glory!

We don’t know when this second coming will happen, so we must be ready for it. If Christ is already present, though, why do we need to spend the season of Advent preparing?

We forget. It’s that simple. We forget that Christ is going to come again. We forget how important the Incarnation is. Nobody expected the Incarnation! In the first reading, the Jews are pleading for God to save them. They beg Him to “rend the heavens and come down.” So he did. God became a human being. He became a little child, the son of a carpenter and a virgin. Nobody expected it to happen that way. Few accepted it. Who was able to recognize Jesus as God?

The only people capable of recognizing Jesus are the childlike—those who have the simplicity to trust in God’s plan, even when they don’t understand. Fr. Luigi Giussani2 writes that even after the Resurrection, the apostles still expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. He corrects them, and because of their childlike simplicity, because of their trust in him, the apostles “let it drop; they don’t hold to the demand that He answer their questions just as they may have imagined, but they remain attached to Him more deeply than they were attached to their opinions, with a greater simplicity. Because being attached to one’s own opinion requires the loss of simplicity, the introduction of a presumption and the predominance of one’s own imagination over [God’s plan].”3

How do we grow in this childlike simplicity? How do we learn to abandon our certainties about how the future will play out, to accept what God has planned? In a word, how do we learn detachment? Three practices, in particular, assist with learning detachment: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three practices help purify us of the evil things that slowly creep into our hearts without us realizing. Practicing prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is hard, but that shouldn’t stop us. Paul tells us that God has bestowed, and continues to bestow, Jesus Christ on us, enriching us in every way. He will keep [us] firm to the end. By spending Advent in preparation for Christmas, we prepare ourselves for Jesus’s glorious return.

Advent is the time of year where the famously ambiguous “already, but not yet” is most visible. Jesus is already present to us, but he has not yet come again. This is summed up in a fantastic word which almost never hear outside of Advent: Maranatha. It is one of the last words in the Bible, and was used in the ancient liturgies. We aren’t sure exactly how to translate it, because the Aramaic words can be broken up two ways. It could mean “Come, O Lord!”, or it could mean “Our Lord has come!”

Isn’t this ambiguity perfect? Our Lord has come, but he will come again. What glorious news!

Let us prepare for the Word to become flesh at Christmas, and in doing so prepare for Him to come again. Jesus tells us to Be watchful! Be alert! … so that when Jesus comes, he may not find [us] sleeping at the gates.

Maranâ thâ! Come, O Lord! Let us be ready to greet you, so that when you come we might exclaim Maran ‘athâ! Our Lord has come!

Today’s Readings:
December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37