What is the Mass?

What are we doing at Mass?

What is it that we’re actually celebrating at Mass?

To an outsider, I suppose, this would all look very strange.

All those strange things that the outsider would think we’re doing, well, we are doing them. But that’s the thing: we are doing those things. It’s not all just crazy talk from those weird Catholics. But we know that beneath the surface of the Mass, beyond the ceremony and the seemingly strange gestures and actions, something much deeper lives. One of the best summaries of why we do what we do at Mass can be found in the Mass itself, right in the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer, at the Memorial Acclamation. During this acclamation, which takes place immediately after the bread and wine have been consecrated and have become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we say to Christ who is in the Blessed Sacrament, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.” We say this because we know that through his death, Christ destroyed our death. Through his Resurrection, Christ restored to us the promise of eternal life. When Christ comes again, our bodies will be raised up, the Heavens and Earth will be renewed, we will see God in all his glory, and we will live with him for all eternity. Jesus asked us to do this in memory of Him at the Last Supper. It seems appropriate that we re-iterate what we are remembering. And then we thank God for such a great gift.

In the first reading we heard that Melchizedek offered bread and wine in thanksgiving to God on behalf of Abraham. (Fun trivia tip: The term for Melchizedek’s thanksgiving offering in Greek is eucharistia.) God had merely blessed Abraham. He died and rose for us, saving us from death and opening the gates of Heaven! How much more incredible, then, should our offering to God be? It is. When we offer our thanksgiving to God, we do not use mere bread and wine. We offer something far more precious for the gifts he has given to us: The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. There is nothing greater we can offer to Him. At every Mass, we remember Christ’s perfect sacrifice, and we offer the true Eucharist, the perfect thanksgiving to God for his mercy.

Fr. Matt elevates the Body and Blood of Christ
Fr. Matt elevates the Body and Blood of Christ at his First Mass

And then, as everyone offering thanksgiving to God must do to, we partake of the gifts we have offered to God. Christ told us that he would give us his Body and Blood so that we might have eternal life. Those who partake of his Body and Blood, then, shall live forever. The mere act of receiving our Lord brings us in communion with Him and with all of our brothers and sisters in the Church. In this communion, our Lord offers us salvation. It is through this communion, with our Lord and with those who belong to his Church, that we are redeemed. By this communion, we may be washed clean of our sins, drawn closer to our Lord, and invited to participate in the kingdom of Heaven. When we partake of these most precious gifts, God abides in us in a true and unique way. This is why we must prepare ourselves—especially by the sacrament of Confession—to receive Communion, to make a proper and holy dwelling for our Lord.

Today, we celebrate. Our Lord has given us his Body and his Blood so that we might have eternal life.

Today’s Readings
June 23, 2019
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Lauda Sion Sequence; Luke 9:11b-17

The limits of human comprehension

Note: Sorry this didn’t come out earlier. I just started my new assignment and have been very busy!

If you ever meet someone who says that they understand the Trinity, that person is either lying or his name is Jesus and the second coming just happened. Alongside the Eucharist, how Jesus is both God and Man, what the Church actually is, and a few other things, the Trinity is one of the mysteries of our faith. We’ll never fully understand these things on earth, and even in Heaven we’ll be pondering them for eternity, but while we’re here, we can try and make at least a little sense of this whole Trinity thing.

How anything can be both one and three at the same time is baffling. Many analogies have been made over the last 2,000 to explain the Trinity, but none really work. All we are left with to describe the Trinity is words: words which can sometimes be very abstract, very confusing, and, frankly, very boring. I’ll keep this part as brief and simple as I can, but I think that is very important to try to understand a little bit about our God. He is, after all, who we come to visit when we come to Mass on Sundays. He is the one we receive in the Eucharist. We try to get to know our spouses and our friends, understanding that we never will know them fully, often through words. Why should we try to learn about God any differently? OK. Buckle up.

Shield of the Trinity, a visual representation derived from the Athanasian Creed.
Shield of the Trinity

The Trinity is God. Specifically, the Trinity refers to the fact that God is both one and three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean we have three gods. The three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—are not different things. They are one Trinity of Divine persons. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are, together, one God. But at the same time, they are each distinct. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father.

If your brain is hurting, that’s a good thing. So is mine. That means that your beginning to grasp how mysterious God is to us. It is strange and confusing. It doesn’t make sense to us. Only God will ever truly understand what it means to be the Trinity. For us, it is important to know that God is the Trinity. Even more importantly, we must know that this Triune God loves us. God loves us more than we could imagine. God created us. After we fell the Father sent his only-begotten Son to us; so, God became one of us and to suffer and die for us. The Spirit was breathed into the world and into our hearts at Pentecost; so, that God could remain with us every moment of our lives. With all of himself, our Triune God loves us from before we are created by our parents and through all eternity. Even when we turn away from God, and deny Him, and cause him anguish because we sin against Him, he continues to love us.

Paul tells us that we must boast of this glorious God we have. No other religion makes such audacious claims as ours! Who else believes in a God willing to suffer and die for our love? Who else has a God who calls them to such perfection, yet offers such great mercy when we fall? Who else has a God who promises—and yes, as Catholics we believe what I’m about to say—that when we die we will become like him? St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “the true bliss of man and end of human life” is to fully participate in the very life of God. 1 St. Athanasius said it very clearly: “the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” 2

This is a glorious promise that God has given us! We can start living this way now, by emulating God in our daily lives. We do this by following the commandments, the teachings of Jesus in scripture, and the teaching of the Spirit through God’s Church. This is hard work. It will bring us suffering and affliction in this life. But God suffered through many afflictions for us, and he did it as one of us. Paul teaches us that these afflictions teach us endurance. Endurance proves our character. This character teaches us to hope in God, and this hope does not disappoint, because through this hope God pours love into our hearts and transforms us to be like him right now, in this very place, today.

Today’s Readings
June 16, 2019
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

see, I am doing something new!

We are nearing the end of Lent. Next week, we celebrate Palm Sunday, where we read through Jesus’s Passion and Death. In just two weeks, we celebrate Easter Sunday, and we remember the most important event in the history of the universe. But we aren’t there yet. We still have time to prepare ourselves to celebrate these most sacred mysteries. We still have to root out the last traces of sin in our lives, ask God to forgive us, and to turn fully towards God’s loving mercy. There is time to turn away from the past and look toward the future.

God, through his prophet Isaiah tells us today to remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago. He calls us instead to look at his work, saying to us, see, I am doing something new! God tells us that he is bringing streams of living water to the desert, so that his people can live. But the water God gives his people is so much more than refreshment for our bodies. God’s water is refreshment for our souls. When we first encountered this water in Baptism, God built a river through the desert of the world leading directly to our hearts, so that his water of love and grace could flow directly into our souls. God is constantly sending his water into our souls, so that we can drink and live.

Sometimes, though, it is hard for us to perceive this stream of grace and love. The woman in today’s Gospel probably struggled to see these waters. She had been caught in adultery, still punishable by death at that time. The crowd wanted to stone her, or at least the crowd claims to want to stone her. Jesus does not even engage the question. He instead draws in the sand. We don’t know what he wrote. Too much ink has been spilled over 2,000 years trying to guess what Jesus wrote. If it was important, the Gospel writer would have told us. What the writer tells us is that Jesus did not engage the crowd. Instead he said let him who is without sin cast the first stone. This is so much more than calling the angry mob on their bluff. What he is really telling them is that they have no authority to judge this woman, because they too are sinners under the eyes of the law. The crowd eventually disperses, leaving only Jesus and the woman. I imagine that the woman was still quite terrified. Jesus, being totally sinless under the law, would have been justified in casting the first stone. Instead, he does something new. He tells the woman that she is not condemned. He tells her to go forth and sin no more. Jesus has forgiven her. He gives her a drink of his healing water. He builds a stream of living water into her soul so that she may stop sinning. But he also tells her to Go. Jesus tells her to go, and to bring his living water into the rest of the world.

The Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee, taken February 20, 2018.

We hear this same word, go, at the end of every Mass: Go in peace. Go in forth, the Mass is ended. Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your Life. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Like the woman in her encounter with Jesus, our sins are forgiven when we encounter Jesus at Mass. The woman received living water, but we receive something even greater: the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which is truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist.1 The Eucharist feeds and nourishes, and it strengthens our souls to receive God’s grace. Finally, we are sent forth to the world, just like the woman in today’s Gospel. At every Mass, Jesus is doing something new. He is transforming us and sending us out, so that we might transform the world around us.

As we approach the culmination of Lent, as we approach the deepest mysteries of our faith, as we approach the holiest and most important days of not just the year, but of all time, let us remember that Jesus desires to do something new in us. He desires to forgive our sins, and he desires for us to go and be streams of living water that bring life back into the world.

Today’s Readings:
April 7th, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

The revealing cloud

The Sunflower Galaxy

Count the stars, if you can. So shall be the descendants God promised to Abram. So, Abram put his faith in the LORD. He asked God for a sign, and he made a sacrifice to Him. Then, when it was dark, a smoking fire pot and flaming torch appeared and passed between the sacrifice. God illuminated the darkness not just of the world, but of Abram’s faith. This isn’t the only time that we find God illuminating through the darkness.

In the Gospel, we hear Luke’s account of the Transfiguration. There are many similarities between these two events than are immediately obvious. We all know the Transfiguration story, but sometimes we forget the context in which it occurs. Peter, just one week earlier, proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah of God. Afterwards, Jesus promised discipleship, but also the Cross. The disciples were surely looking for signs from God to strengthen their faith. This is where our Gospel reading begins today. In this account, one detail is easy to miss: as Peter spoke, God surrounded the mountain in a cloud. In the darkness and obscurity of that cloud, God’s voice rang forth as a flaming torch in the night: This is my chosen Son; listen to him. St. Ambrose writes that this “overshadowing of the divine Spirit […] does not darken, but reveals secret things to the hearts of men.”1 As with Abram before, God made a promise and proved that he could do it by bringing light into the darkness of the minds of Peter, James, and John. God revealed secret things to the hearts of Peter, James, and John. Another important detail that is easy to miss is that Moses and Elijah, the representatives of the law and prophets of the Old Covenant, are no longer present when God reveals this to Peter, James, and John. Only Jesus, the Son of God and Messiah, remained. No questions remained over who this Jesus was.

God continues to work in similar ways in us today. God sent his Son to us, and has sent his Spirit to dwell with us, because he made each one of us a promise too. God promised us citizenship in Heaven. Paul reminds us to be imitators of him, to live the moral life that Jesus taught us, so that we may take on this citizenship. With this citizenship, God promised to transform us into new creations. We must have faith that God can transform us. This is the Good News: God can transform any one of us into bright, shining examples of his love. Our God, who can turn evil into good, loves us more than anything and wants to do this for us, but we must have faith in him. We must have faith, because faith is what allows God to work in us.

At times, it is hard to have this faith. When we look around us in the world today, we are constantly confronted with a society that is convinced that evil things are good. Society tells us that contraception and sexual license is true liberation, that gobs and gobs of money will fix any problem, that abortion and euthanasia are good things, that we must permit every bad behavior because to do otherwise isn’t nice, that there are people who have less value because of where they were born or because of some medical condition, and so many other lies. It is hard to have faith in such a society. The psalmist knows our struggle, “Hear, O LORD, the sound of my call; have pity on me, and answer me. […] Your presence, O LORD, I seek. Hide not your face from me.”

The Lord has not hidden his face from us. He gave us an amazing gift that allows us to encounter him even today. When we come to Mass, we all participate by laying our prayers, joys, sufferings, and desires on the altar with our Lord. Each of us here offer ourselves to God on the altar, alongside Jesus. Finally, we share in the Eucharist. At Mass, ordinary bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. When we receive the Eucharist, we are united with God in a way otherwise impossible. Not only that, but we are united with one another and the entire Communion of Saints, living and dead.

Fr. H Setter and Deacon Matt Siegman elevate the Eucharist.
Fr. H Setter and Deacon Matt Siegman elevate the Eucharist.

We have the Eucharist. We have an entire church and community of saints praying for us constantly. Maybe God is not physically lighting the room, but he is always shining his light of grace and love into our hearts. As the psalmist writes, Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.

Today’s Readings:
March 17th, 2019
2nd Sunday of Lent
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36

Reflecting like Mary

Merry Christmas! Today is the final day of Christmas, and we use it to celebrate Mary as the Holy Mother of God. The Church wants us to remember that Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is God, and so we can confidently call her the Mother of God. Mary gave God his human flesh. Her “yes” to God was the most important “yes” in human history, because Mary’s “yes” allowed God to become one of us and to save us from sin. Because of all these things, we greatly honor Mary. As if all of these things were not enough, there are even more wonderful things we can say about Mary. She is not simply the Mother of God; she is our mother too! As Jesus suffered on the Cross, he gave her to John and to all of us as the Mother of the Church. As we turn to our earthly mothers for help, protection, and unfailing love, we can also turn to Mary, the Untier of Knots, Refuge of Sinners, and Comfort of the Afflicted, for these same things.

In the Gospel today, it says that Mary kept all these things—that angels announced the conception and birth of her Son, that shepherds and magi worshipped her Son, that the angel told her that Jesus was the Son of the Most High who would take David’s throne and reign forever, that Simeon in the Temple said Jesus was a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, and I’m sure there were other things—Mary kept all of these things and reflected on them in her heart. She did not start bragging on Jesus; she did not begin worrying about how she was going to raise the Son of God. No, Mary reflected on these things in her heart.

What a wonderful example Mary sets for us by doing this! In today’s society, how often do we immediately react to, well, everything? How often do we expect an immediate response or reaction from those around us? I catch myself doing this too. Perhaps in this new calendar year, we would all do well to imitate Mary’s example, and to reflect on things in our hearts. I understand that we can’t reflect on everything. It’s probably not healthy to meditate on which socks to wear on a given day for more than about 10 seconds, but we all most likely be well served to reflect on the things that happen throughout our day. Maybe we could spend 5 or 10 minutes at the end of our day, right before we go to bed, and thank God for his gifts to us that day. We could look at how our actions brought us closer to God or led us away from him. Then, we could ask God to forgive our sins, ask him to help us tomorrow, and go to bed with a clear mind. There are many ways to live a more reflective life, and the practice I just described, called the Examen prayer, is just one.

As we begin this new year, let us strive to grow closer to God. Let us allow him to enter into all our decisions. This year, as Moses and Aaron prayed for the Israelites, I pray for you that The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! (Numbers 6:24-26)

Today’s Readings:
January 1, 2019
Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

The Temple Example

Merry Christmas! Catholics celebrate 8 days of Christmas, ending on New Year’s Day with the celebration of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Christmas isn’t over yet! During this week the Church asks us to meditate on the mysteries of Jesus’s early life. Today, on the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we hear the story of the Finding in the Temple.

This Gospel account must be terrifying for parents. Joseph and Mary lose track of Jesus. They assume he’s with relatives, when in fact he’s been teaching in the Temple. It would be something like traveling to Kansas City for a Chiefs game with some family, getting to Emporia, and realizing that Little Billy isn’t in Uncle Bob’s car, like you thought. Then you return to Kansas City, and after several hours discover that Little Billy is in the locker room, showing the Patrick Mahomes how to throw a football.

What astonishes me about this event in the Gospel is what happens at the end. Jesus returns home with his parents and was obedient to them. Jesus is teaching the teachers in the Temple—this would be something like a 12 year old teaching theology to the Pope—and then he returns home with his family and is obedient to them. God the Son, the Creator of the Universe was obedient to his human parents.

I guess God takes the 4th Commandment pretty seriously.

In case you’re a little fuzzy on the commandments, the fourth is, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12 NRSVCE) When the Israelites were first given this commandment, they understood this as physical land of Israel, and the long days meant a long life on earth. We now know more. God has promised us a home in Heaven, and those long days refer to eternal life. So this commandment could be rephrased: honor your parents, so that you may enter into eternal life with God in Heaven.

I think that this can be one of the harder commandments to keep, but we must do our best. Our parents, in cooperation with God, gave us the gift of life. They raised us and taught us. For these gifts, we owe our parents a debt that we can never repay. Now, I realize that some parents are truly unfit for the job, perhaps due to mental illness or addiction, and we must protect children, and sometimes ourselves, in these cases. It’s a tragedy, really, and that’s not how it should be. In these cases, honoring our parents looks very different and can be incredibly difficult, but we can still do it. God calls us to do the hard things, and trust that he will help us. Getting back to my point, God has called us to honor our parents. They assisted God with giving us the gift of life; so, He reminds us that we owe our existence to them, and he calls us to honor them. God isn’t asking us to do something he was not willing to do, since he did it himself.

We also learn about the role of parents today. Parents have authority over their children, but we mustn’t forget Uncle Ben’s final lesson to Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.” Parents have responsibility to love their children, and St. Paul goes so far as to tell fathers not to provoke their children. Parental responsibility is more involved than this, though. Parents must teach their children about God. They must by their words and examples teach their children who God is and how to love him. They must teach their children God’s commandments and his Gospel. They must show their children how to pray to God and to worship him. This might mean that you have to study your faith a little bit, but it is worth it! Knowing our faith makes us better Christians, and it helps us to love God more.

When we die, we will meet God. When we meet God, he is going to ask us how we lived our lives, and how we live our lives will determine how we spend our eternity. God doesn’t make this judgment based on what other people do. He makes this judgment based on our actions. May all the parents here be able to say confidently to God, “I taught my children wisdom and love for you as well as I was able.” May all of us children here be able to say confidently to God, “I followed your example from the Temple and honored my parents.”

Today’s Readings:
December 30, 2018
Holy Family Sunday
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52 (other options are available)

Rejoice! Jesus Christ is born today!

Adoration of the Child

Note: This homily was given at the Vigil Mass of Christmas. I encourage you to read the readings of the Mass prior to reading for the homily, so that it makes more sense.

Merry Christmas! Thank you for being here to celebrate Christmas with us!

You may be wondering why I read you a huge list of names just now. If I were you, I’d be thinking: “it’s Christmas! What in the world do all these strange names have to do with that? When there is the short option that gets right to the good part, why did he read all these names?”

This is Jesus’s family tree. Jesus, the Son of God, didn’t just appear out of thin air. Jesus had a mother and a father. Jesus had grandparents, great-grandparents, and ancestors who would otherwise be forgotten in the dustbin of history if someone in the family hadn’t bothered to remember them. Jesus Christ had flesh and blood, just like you and me.

These names tell us more than that, though. The people in this list are far from perfect. If you can think of a sin, someone in this list has committed it. Every single one of God’s commandments was broken, often in combinations and with a frequency that would make you think they were getting combination multipliers. What’s worse is that the people in this list are often the kings and leaders of the Israelite people! Even David, the great king of Israel, was guilty of both adultery and murder! I won’t go through all the details, it is Christmas after all, but Jesus’s family tree is full of sinners. Yet, this is the family he chose. God, unlike the rest of us, got to choose which family he entered. He picked a family with a history: some of it good, much of it bad. God picked that broken family, and He entered it. He entered that family not just to save them, but to save the whole world. This long list of names reminds us of our history. God promised Abraham that he would save the world through the Jewish people, and so their history is the history of our salvation. When we learn our history, we see exactly what humanity is capable of doing. But we can hope, too, because we also see that God knows all of this, and he still came to save us.

This long list of names is not pointless at all. We read it because it gives us hope.

We have hope because God became one of us and showed us how to live life.

We have hope because Jesus Christ opened the gates of Heaven and saved us from sin.

We have hope because Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Church, which provides us with the sacraments to save our souls and enter Heaven.

We have hope because no matter how difficult or challenging our lives are, we know that Jesus Christ, who was fully human, experienced it too: God knows how we feel.

We have hope because no matter how awful our leaders are: in the church, in politics, in whatever, we know that God is stronger than them, and he can still save us.

God saw us struggling to find him. He saw us struggling to follow him. God saw our need for a savior. For our sake, as Isaiah said, God could not stay silent. God would not rest until we were vindicated. God will not rest until our victory over sin shines like a burning torch. He loves us too much. Even though we turn away from God, he still loves us more than we can imagine. God did not create us and this universe and all that is in it so that we would fall into sin. God did not create us to die: God created us to live! God created us to live with him. God created us to live forever, in Heaven, with Him. God does not want to be with us for just one hour a week, or for a couple of special holidays in a year: He wants us to be with him now and forever! So, God formulated a plan to save us. This plan was so incredible, so unthinkable, that nobody could have expected it. Even with a thousand years of prophecies, the Jewish people didn’t expect it to happen like it did.

God’s plan to save us was this: he became a human being, one of us. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. Today, we celebrate his birth. Rejoice! Jesus Christ was born today!

Today’s Readings:
December 24, 2018
Christmas – Vigil Mass
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25

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

Hear, O Israel!

The Wailing Wall

Shema Israel Adonai elohenu Adonai echad!

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

While we may not be very familiar with this passage, the Jewish people of Jesus’s time knew this particular passage of scripture intimately. The Jewish people—to this very day—recite it multiple times a day. This is the scripture passage that they put in their phylacteries. (What is a phylactery? It’s a little boxes Jewish people strap—again, to this day—to their forehead and left arm when they pray.) The Jewish people would know that the passage continues, “Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.”

Jesus tells us that this is first and greatest commandment, it is the most important instruction Jesus gave us. And what is this instruction? Love God alone. Don’t just love God partially, though, love God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength. Don’t just love him totally but let these words—the words of God’s love—be written on your heart, and let these words write the love of God on the hearts of your children. Don’t be content to teach just your family to love God but teach people in your home town and abroad to love God. Don’t just limit this teaching to special teaching moments but teach people about God’s love, and how they can love him back, every moment of your lives. God loves us more than we could possibly imagine, and today Jesus teaches us that we must love God in return. God has given us so many gifts! The only way we can respond to God’s love is to give him everything we have.

After I completed my engineering degree and had been working for a few years, a nagging question formed in my mind. It was this question of how I could thank God for all he had given me. I had a great job that paid well. I had great friends. I was not in need of anything. I gave my time and money to the church, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing, and I couldn’t quite figure out what that was. The question of how I can give back to God kept coming back. It finally dawned on me that the only way I could respond adequately to all the gifts God gives me is to give him everything. God had a plan that he was asking me to follow. I was loving him in many ways, but not fully.

I was not following the command to love God with my whole heart, whole soul, whole mind, and all my strength. How do I love God with my whole heart? Every decision I make should be rooted in my love for God. For example, if by some miracle the Bears went to the Super Bowl, but I had somehow not been to Mass yet that Sunday, how would I decide? Would I watch the amazing new Doritos commercial, or worship my God who gave me everything… including Doritos? How do I love God with my whole soul? The soul is what makes us who we are. It is the core of our being. When Jesus asks us for this, he is asking for us to be willing to give up everything for him. By asking for our soul, Jesus is asking us to live our lives for him, not for money, power, or any passing thing. How do I love God with my mind? Our thinking must be imbued with love for God. We love God with our minds by learning about him, by reading the Bible and good books. We love God with our minds when we marvel at and explore this amazing universe and remember that God built it for us. How do I love God with all my strength? I love God with my strength when I’m willing to do the hard things. When we endure persecution for living our faith, for proclaiming the Good News to the world when they don’t want to hear it, this is loving God with all our strength. Sometimes, it literally means with all your strength. The March for Life, for example, is exhausting. I’m entirely drained when it is over, but I go on it, because God and human lives are important, and this is a way I can show my love for God and neighbor.

How do we begin to love God more? Start small. Ask yourself, how am I giving back to God now? If I volunteer at a homeless shelter, maybe I can spend a little more time there. If God has blessed me with a well-paying job, perhaps I can give a little more to my parish or to a charity like Food for the Poor. If I attend Mass most Sundays but occasionally miss, maybe I can love God by simply making sure I’m at Mass every Sunday. I recognize that there are limits to our time and resources, and I recognize that we all have different talents, but I truly believe that if we really think about it there is something each one of us can do to love God a little more. For me, I think this might take the form of me only watching 13 episodes of Parks and Rec tonight, so that I can get to bed at a decent time. (Kidding!)

In Deuteronomy, this passage ends with, “Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” God calls us to allow these words to be written on our hearts: the words of God’s love for us and our love for him. These are the words of the New Covenant which was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper. This is the New Covenant we celebrate at every Mass, when ordinary bread and wine become the Real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through the Eucharist, we renew the New Covenant relationship with God that our Baptisms established. The Eucharist strengthens our love for God, because when we receive the Eucharist God Himself is entering into our bodies and transforming us. He transforms us into better people, people who are more fully alive and loving. In the Eucharist, we share in God’s life and love for us.

God loves us. He gives us everything we have. Every time we receive the Eucharist, he gives himself to us in a life-changing way. Let us commit ourselves to loving God every moment of our lives and never allowing anything to come between us and God. Let us live out the words Jesus said in Gethsemane, “Father […], not as I will, but as you will.”

Today’s Readings
November 4, 2018
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28b-34