Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Reason

It was so long ago. It took Him so long to come.
But, come he did.
Angels sang praises to God for this Child’s birth.
People from distant lands gave gifts foretelling His future worth.
He lived,
He died,
He lived again.
All so that you and I may share in this Life.
Born of a virgin,
            An apparent impossibility
Born in a barn,
            Among cows and sheep
Born with the responsibility of saving mankind.
He was divine– a great Prince with the royalist of blood.
But, fortunately He was more than just that:
                HE WAS ONE OF US.
He laughed,
            He cried,
                        He yelled, failed, loved...died.
He died.
He died.
He died.
The most powerful of Kings, more powerful than life or death
Subjected Himself to both before conquering each one.
He lowered Himself to pain, suffering, humility-
            To death on a tree
                        For nothing less than all humanity.
He entered the world like a slave
            And left it like a criminal.
Because of Him Death lost its sting on human souls.
He triumphed by living after it.
So that we,
            If we choose
                        Could do the same.
Jesus’ birth was a miracle.
His life was a ministry.
His death, a tragedy.
His Resurrection was the reason for the miracle.
And He,
            In all of His magnificence,
                        Is the Reason for the season. 

Monday, December 12, 2011


In John, Chapter 3, verse 16, we hear, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Like John the Baptist growing inside of Elizabeth, we, too, should leap for joy upon hearing this message. God loved us so much that he gave us His only Son, so that we could have eternal life. Just the fact that eternal life in Heaven is possible to us should set our hearts on fire for God.

The mystery of the Incarnation changed the world. If Jesus doesn’t come, we don’t have Christmas, we don’t have the New Testament, we don’t have the death or (more importantly) the Resurrection. We don’t have a Catholic Schools. We don’t celebrate the Eucharist. We don’t have salvation.

And even though we understand the Incarnation to have this kind of impact, we don’t always appreciate it. Our wonder and awe of how Mary gave birth to the Son of God gets overshadowed by candy canes and gingerbread.

So, in the spirit of Jesus’ parables, let us consider the Incarnation from another perspective:

For God so loved the world…
Max had always loved ducks. For years he had enjoyed them returning in the warm summer months to the lake outside of his cottage. He would spend his days watching them, at night he would lay out more seed for them to eat. The ducks became the subject of his paintings, a recent hobby he had acquired. Max even went so far as to name two of his favorites: Herb and Norma. He would pray for their young offspring. He would delight in their swimming and flying, playing and quacking. It was joyous for Max to have these ducks visit his pond year after year. In fact, it was the best part of his life.

…that He gave His only Son…
Max had lived in the cottage for his entire life. As it sat on a coastal town, Hurricanes had become second nature for Max. Too old to evacuate, and really nowhere else to go, he would hunker down, boarding up his windows, stockpiling water, batteries, candles, and other necessities, but would otherwise be unfazed by the powerful storms. Miraculously, he and his cottage had survived every Hurricane that had crossed his path. 37 to be exact.

So, when 38 arrived, Max had no idea that it would be the one to take his life.

…so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.
It was late in the day and the clouds had been rolling in since mid-afternoon. Feeling the coming tropical storm in his bones, Max began the process of nailing two-by-fours across his windows. “If I start now,” he thought, “I can be done and enjoying supper by 6:00.” Hammering the last nail into his wooden home at about 5:30, he chuckled to himself as he loved to be early. What else did he have to do?

Preparing his meal took no time at all: opening the can of soup, putting it on the stove and cutting and buttering his bread took less time combined than waiting for the soup to boil. As he waited for the steam and bubbles, he located his water supply, gathered up his flashlights, candles and matches, took mental stock of his Hurricane prep-list, and set his table.

Max sat for dinner precisely at 6:00 and as he bowed his head in prayer, he caught a glimpse of the time, smiled once more, and took his first bite.

It was at this time that he heard the first clap of thunder. The pitter-patter of rain on his roof soon followed. Paying it little attention, Max dunked his bread in his soup, softening and flavoring it, before bringing it to his mouth. The broth tasted salty, which was a nice complement to the tartness of the sourdough-rye he was using tonight. Max was so entranced in his meal that he didn’t even flinch as the powerful winds pelted the cottage with rain.

Finishing his meal, Max got up to peak outside at the storm’s wrath. As he squinted through a small slit in the wooden coverings, he saw the tall palm trees bending to the left. Rain fell sideways in sheets. The wind howled. His tiny cottage trembled with each thunder strike. Taking this as commonplace he was about to go and clean his dishes from dinner when he noticed Herb and Norma. Cowering behind a tree, Herb tried his best to shield Norma from the storm, spreading his wings and hugging her, exposing his back to water, twigs and other flying debris.

Max’s eyes immediately fixated on the ducks. From inside of his cottage he began yelling and screaming at them, “Herb! Norma! Go to the shed! Get out of the storm!” As he shouted he pointed at the shed to which he was referring. Located just a stone’s throw from his front steps it was only a few feet from the Herb and Norma’s sheltering tree. The place where he kept his gardening tools and other odds and ends, it was built of concrete, a remnant of the army barracks that at one point was housed on this very plot of land. It was sturdier than his cottage.

Max went on encouraging his duckling friends for a few minutes, experimenting with different tones, volume levels and even words. Realizing his attempts to communicate were in vain, Max brainstormed some other possibilities.

He ran and retrieved a flashlight. As he had many from which to choose, Max selected the most powerful beam in his reserve. Given to him by Sheriff Briggs, Max new it was strong enough to cut through the rain and reach his web-footed friends. Opening a window, Max hammered out one of the wooden planks. “It will weaken my defenses a bit,” Max considered, “but it’s the only way I can get this light to them.”

Turning on the flashlight, Max shot its beams onto Herb. Jiggling it a bit, he then traced the path from the ducks into the shed. Herb must have thought ill of this light as instead of it leading he and his bride to safety, it caused him to leap into the air, only to get thrown back to the earth by the fierce winds. Herb lay motionless to the right of Norma, who began to burrow deeper into the ground.

Max’s heart dropped into his stomach. It was a pain that he had not felt in quite some time. Thinking out loud, he sighed, “I have to save them. I have to save them, but I will have to get closer to do so.”

Max stood in front of his front door long enough to check his body for the necessary rain gear. Boots, pants, coat, hood, glasses. “Well, I can’t cover myself in any more plastic and rubber,” he judged. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, reached for the doorknob and opened the door.

He was immediately struck by wind and rain. Stumbling back a bit, he leaned forward, stepped out onto his porch and closed the door behind him. Moving as quickly as his old body would allow, he darted in the direction of Herb and Norma. As he got closer, he called their names, “Herb! Norma! It’s Max! I’m hear to save you!” The roar of the rain bouncing off of his waterproof hat and hood muffled the sound of his own voice. He scrambled through the mud and water, inching closer to his friends. Drawing closer he bent down to scoop up Herb. “Norma is at least behind the tree,” Max’s mind raced. “I need to get Herb out of this rain.”

As he stooped down, Max slipped on an exposed tree root. He tumbled to the ground, the left side of his body taking most of the impact. Water seeped under his rain gear. He felt his clothes underneath begin to dampen. He rolled over and reached for Herb. His hand brushed Herb’s wing, causing Herb to once again spring to life, furiously flapping his wings and honking. Max tried to chase after Herb. “Herb, I’m trying to save you!” Max yelled. “Please, go into the shed!”

Bringing himself up onto his knees, Max tried every conceivable hand motion and gesture. He tried calling out like a duck, cupping his cold and wet hands over his mouth and buzzing into his balled up fists. This only caused Herb to stir even more, squawking and getting tossed around by the winds.

Max got up and moved toward Norma, bracing himself on the trunk of the tree to steady his attempt at retrieving her. She flew out of his grasp, staying close to the ground as she fled. Max ran after her. He was growing tired. His heart was beating rapidly and it felt like it was about to erupt. He staggered. He gripped his chest.

A moment before Max’s heart gave out, he thought to himself, “If only I could become a duck, I could communicate to them and lead them to safety. If only I could become one of them…”

Thursday, December 8, 2011


What can Mary teach us about how to prepare for Christmas?

Okay, that question sounds entirely too simple, entirely too superficial. What can Jesus’ mother teach us about Him? I’m sure that she could teach us everything we ever wanted to know. There is probably not a person in the history of the World that has known Jesus better. So, to ask, “What can Mary teach us about how to prepare for Christmas?” is like asking what Aaron Rodgers could teach us about throwing a spiral, or what Mozart could teach us about playing the piano. The question just doesn’t seem to do justice to the vast knowledge owned by the expert we are asking.

Nonetheless, what can Mary teach us about how to prepare for Christmas?

First, she can teach us about how we are respond to God’s question about whether or not we have a place for him in our lives: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” We are foolish to think that God’s plan for us will bring us anything but our heart’s greatest desire. Whether it is to become a missionary, doctor, social worker, behavioral therapist, or mother, we must be open to God’s call for us when it comes. And, for as scary as what He asks of us might be, we need to accept it with grace and confidence, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” or in the words of St. Ignatius, “In all of this may I place my life in your hands. Lord, I am yours. Make of me what you will.”

When God calls us, let us have the grace and confidence to accept the fulfillment of our heart’s greatest desire.

Second, Mary can teach us that preparing for Christmas takes much longer than 25 days or from the day after Thanksgiving or even the day after Halloween (as Big Business would have us believe). The funny part is that Big Business, despite its misguided reasons for doing so, actually has a better concept of how we are to prepare for Christmas than most devoted Christians do. But, if we were to get it right, we would start preparing for Christmas on March 25- the Feast of the Annunciation. Mary’s preparation began the day that she was “conceived by the Holy Spirit”. When we think of the many changes that a pregnant woman undergoes from the beginning of her pregnancy until giving birth, we come to realize the many ways that we should prepare for Christ’s coming. We should prepare Him room. We should take care of ourselves and get our affairs in order prior to His birth. In light of today's Feast of the Immaculate Conception, our preparation extends beyond 9 months; our entire lives must be spent in preparation for the God's call. Like Mary, we were conceived for a special purpose. 

Preparing for Christ to come into our lives should completely change our lives – our habits, our bodies, our thoughts, our desires – everything. And, this preparation takes much more than four weeks. It takes a lifetime.

Third, Mary can teach us that when we say yes to God’s call and we make room for Him in our lives, that He will be with us for much longer than just Christmas morning. Jesus doesn’t pass into and out of our lives throughout the course of Christmas Eve night. He doesn’t visit us once a year. Despite all that He does bring us, His focus isn’t on what He brings us, but on what we will bring to Him and to others. Much like the difference between a wedding and marriage, raising a baby has a much deeper level of responsibility than does giving birth to one. Accepting baby Jesus into our lives requires of us a commitment, a dedication, a loyalty that we will put Him above all else. Carrying out God's mission for our lives involves much more than merely signing the contract. 

If the preparation takes a lifetime, living with Jesus after accepting Him into our lives takes...well, it takes us into eternity. 

In all of the hustle and bustle of this season be courageous enough to conceive of some new ways to prepare for Christ's coming. Be courageous enough to follow your heart's greatest desire. Be courageous enough to allow God to tell you what that is. Be courageous enough to accept the purpose for which you were conceived. 

Be like Mary. 

Monday, December 5, 2011


When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage"...Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother and paid him homage.

-Matthew 2: 1-2, 7-11
No matter how dark the darkness, light always overcomes it. The moment a candle is lighted, or a light switch is turned on, light immediately overtakes the darkness. Even from great distances, the tiniest light can be seen.

In fact, it is light that allows us to see at all. Without it, we would live in a world of darkness. 

Light gives things color. Without anything to be absorbed and/or reflected back to our eyes, all would be black.  

Light is what gives life to plants. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Light, along with water and other nutrients, is one of the foods necessary in order for a plant to survive. Because of this production of oxygen, light is also life giving to us as well.

Light increases our levels of Vitamin D, which makes us happier. In places that get less sunshine than the Sunshine State, people are actually prescribed light therapy to help combat depression.

From what our Gospel reading tells us, Jesus is connected to a light- specifically a star. In John’s Gospel (8:12), Jesus Himself says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

Jesus allows us to see right from wrong. 

He gives our lives color- giving it a meaning and/or purpose that it would otherwise lack without Him. 

He gives us life. 

He makes us happier. 

He is truly our Light.

As our days continue to get filled with more darkness, as we wait during this Advent Season for Christ to come on Christmas morning, let us focus on His Light. The Light from the Advent Wreath, that will get brighter with each passing week as Christ’s coming inches closer. The Light from our houses and Christmas trees, decorated to help us prepare for Christmas Day. 

Let these lights that are signs of Christmas remind us of Christ’s Light that can come into our lives when we, like the wise men, seek Him out and pay Him homage.