Saturday, December 26, 2020

On the Second Day of Christmas

When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at (Stephen). But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep.

-Acts 7:54-60

First, welcome to the octave of Christmas! Keep celebrating, keep singing, and keep saying, "Merry Christmas!" 

Second, as we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen today, the first martyr, the Church reminds us, in somewhat shocking fashion, of the cost of discipleship. Amidst the silent, holy nights, silver bells, chestnuts, sleigh rides and jingle bells, we hear that following this babe wrapped in swaddling clothes demands our lives. 

Discipleship requires discipline and discipline requires sacrifice. Most of us will not be asked to lay down our lives for our faith in Jesus Christ; but discipleship entails humility. To truly give glory to this new born King, we must be willing to follow Him. 

We can't just meet Him away in the manager, see Him at the wedding at Cana, hear about His deeds of multiplying food, walking on water, curing people, and bringing people back from the dead, and finally go visit the empty tomb and call ourselves disciples. 

We must walk in His footsteps: into the desert, along the Via Dolorosa, and to the Cross. 

We must continually follow His way, learn about His truth, and participate in His life. 

This isn't meant to break up the Christmas party, though I have been told more than once in my life that I'm too serious. Remember, Christmas is an octave after all. And, hearing this story of St. Stephen shouldn't be something that we block out because it doesn't quite fit with the holiday cheer. 

In fact, as believers in Jesus Christ, this second day of Christmas should be encouragement for our journey. 

It should fill us with hope that this Christ whom shepherds guard and angels sing is who He was foretold to be, who He says He is, and who He proved Himself to be. 

He came to conquer sin and death. He came to show us the way, teach us the truth, and give us new life.  He came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). The more that we can submit ourselves to His burden and yoke, the more that we might come to see that nothing - not even death - can take away the victory that Christ won for us. We should take heart that like St. Stephen, as disciples we might also see the glory of God during the darkest trials of our lives. 

On this, the second day of Christmas, may our true love, Jesus Christ, give to us the faith, hope, and love of St. Stephen to give our lives, completely, to Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 25, 2020

The Point

"And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth."

-John 1:14

At a certain point in time God became incarnate. The second person of the Trinity was born in a particular place, Bethlehem of Judea. 

This specific point in both history and on the earth changed the world. 

From the moment that God sanctified our humanity by becoming one of us in all ways except sin in the person of Jesus Christ, He created a ripple that has emanated out in an attempt to have a relationship with each and every one of us. 

From this point in time - the first Christmas - and space - the manager - and matter - baby Jesus, there has been a wave rolling outward in all directions and at all times hoping to encounter you and me and everyone. 

This is the essence of the name of the Catholic Church. The word "catholic" is often defined as universal. Universal, though, might not be the best way to consider why our Church bears the name Catholic and how to claim that Jesus established this one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. 

Universal comes from two Latin words unum meaning “one” and vertere meaning “turn”. In this way, consider a compass that you used in geometry class to make a circle. From a certain point, the other arm of the compass encircles it: one turn. 

The problem with this, though, is that no matter where the line ends up, when you make the one turn there will undoubtedly be people outside of it. Christ came for all, not those fortunate enough to be on the inside of the line. 

Instead, if we look at the Greek word, katholikos, we see that the words kata meaning “throughout” and holos meaning “whole” give us a different idea of the point of Christmas. 

Instead of the compass that draws a line, katholikos offers the image of a drop at a certain point in a body of water. Ripples will emanate outward in all directions. 

If we consider the point in time, space, and matter that is Jesus Christ, we might be able to visualize a drop big enough, powerful enough, magnificent enough to continue to extend outward, infinitely and everywhere. 

To you. To me. To everyone. 

May this Christmas be another point in time that will emanate outward throughout the whole of time, space, and matter. 

Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills, up on the rooftops, around the Christmas tree, on the city sidewalks, and in winter wonderlands, and everywhere that Jesus Christ is born. 

That is the point of Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020


"...I believe it's necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and - perhaps - we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”

-Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

This evening I talked to my kids about unmerited grace. Admittedly, I am no expert on the topic, just a recipient and beneficiary of it. Grace is one of those words that I have heard and used probably thousands of times, yet a word that escapes my ability to succinctly and successfully define. 

What was probably just a cover for a weakness in my parenting, my kids still got a previously promised ice cream treat despite less than ideal behavior prior to bed. We had had a great day as a family, yet the final hour was fraught with arguments and fights. My wife's and my initial instinct was just to send them off to bed ice-cream-less. Instead, we tried to make a connection to Christmas. 

We give gifts, generously, to imitate the abundant, radical, and reckless generosity of our God giving the world His only Son. 

"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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn* the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16-17). 

As a way to imitate this divine grace, we let them have ice cream. 

We did nothing to deserve the gift of Jesus. In a sense, there is nothing that could merit such a gift. No action, no word, no deed, nothing could justify God's grace in sending us Jesus to show us the way, teach us the truth, and bring us to life in abundance. 

Christmas is unmerited grace. 

And so, perhaps one of the best explanations of grace I can think of is simply: favor. 

This favor might come in the form of unconditional love. This idea of grace might be forgiveness. It could come through healing. We might experience it as hope. It could be a spark of life, a flicker of light, in the midst of darkness. 

Maybe sometimes it comes in the form of ice cream or in the form of being forgiven for a bad move as a parent. 

As Bryan Stevenson said in a speech to at the United States Senate Hearing on the Death Penalty in 1993, "(W)e all need mercy, we all need justice, and - perhaps - we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”

This Christmas, during a year where we could all use an extra measure of it, may we all recognize that we have received an overwhelming amount of unmerited grace, and in recognizing it, may we have the grace to give it away. 

Because, grace wins. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Stars in the Night

Yesterday evening my family and I went outside in hopes of seeing the Christmas star. 

The last time it happened was 800 years ago. It may have also been the star that the Magi followed in search of the Christ child. 

It was cloudy. 

While we will go back out today, tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that, too, if need be, in hopes of seeing it, winter in the Midwest is famous for its perma-cloud. Chances are good that this celestial event will pass without the Zelenkas witnessing it. 

But, knowing that there is a potential explanation for the star that the Magi tracked, even if I can't experience it for myself, is yet another hint of how incredibly awesome our God is. 

In August the past few years, we have either camped out or woken up in the middle of the night to watch the Perseid meteor shower. Most of what we observed was nothing more than a slow moving, faint dot. But, seeing even just one bright, streaky flash is yet another reminder of just how great our God is. 

These types of events evoke wonder, awe, and mystery. They are visible signs of our invisible God. 

Yet, these rare night sky events shouldn't be the only thing that inspires this type of curiosity. The sun rises every morning. Our earth is perhaps the perfect distance away from the sun: a bit closer or farther away and we'd be either too hot or too cold. God orchestrated things like oranges, apples, bananas and other hand-held, portion-sized, protected, nutritious, delicious food that would help nourish us. A hug can flood us with oxytocin, bringing calm, security, and a deeper connection to a loved one. A mother carries, grows, and brings into the world another human being. 

Stars and the moon provide light in the darkness, even on a cloudy evening. 

There are countless reasons, even just in ordinary times, for us to be amazed at the creativity of our God. 

And, He loved us so much that He became one of us. 

A Christmas star highlighted the first Christmas. It was a sign of the presence of God in our world. 

Don't let the clouds or the darkness keep you from seeing the countless stars in the night lighting the way to God this Christmas. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

A Voice in the Desert

During my senior year of high school, after losing in the first round of the double elimination sectional tournament for wrestling, the head coach, Ron Alexander, took me out into the hallway outside the gym and laid into me.  

I don't remember what he said outside of that he was disappointed in me and my effort. For the first time in my short two season wrestling career, I was seeded in the tournament and therefore expected to advance to districts. Instead, I lost in the first round to someone who should not have beaten me. Coach Al, as he was affectionately known, had up until this point only ever encouraged me, supported me, and affirmed me. This was the first time he expressed disappointment in me. It was the first time that he ever yelled, let alone yelled at me.  

As I said, I don't remember all that he said. But, I remember that I felt awful. 

I also remember that he believed that I should have won that match, even if I didn't. 

Entering the "loser's bracket", I won the rest of my matches that day, claiming third place - higher than I had been seeded - and advancing to the district tournament. 

I have been blessed to have had a handful of other such conversations throughout my life. I have been blessed to have had a handful of other voices crying out in the various deserts I have traversed.

Advent is a time to listen to the voices, like Coach Alexander's, of those crying out to us to repent, reform,  start again, and prepare the way of the Lord.  

We were made for more. 

Listen up. 


Friday, December 18, 2020


This evening my family and I went for a drive through a local neighborhood here in South Bend where just about the entire community decorates their houses for Christmas. 

A few things jumped out at me. First, the number of angels that were on display this year in comparison to years past. The word "JOY" also seemed to be more prominent than what I remember. 

But, the thing that stood out to me more than anything was a homemade sign that read:


Thank you, Jesus!

There was something about this language that struck me. Whereas I have heard this verb associated with Jesus before, and it is the name and part of the chorus of a song by perhaps my favorite musical group, Rend Collective (see below), seeing it in the context of lights and Santas and reindeer and Frosty and Nativity scenes framed the act of God sending His only Son in the person of Jesus Christ in a way that resonated with me deeply. 

Titles like Lord and Savior are particular to Jesus in my life. Even King carries no other meaning to me outside of how Jesus occupies that throne. And, in this way, my only real association with it is in an abstract way through my faith. 

I don't experience or connect with real sovereignty. 

But, when I consider the act of rescuing, I can put myself in the context of an emergency situation. I can imagine myself or a loved one or even a complete stranger in danger, or hurt, or in need of immediate assistance, and those who would carry out the act of rescuing. From first responders to the military to nurses and doctors to lifeguards and good Samaritans, there are, thankfully, countless rescuers who come to the aid of others selflessly, quickly, and heroically. 

So, I can put myself in the role of the one in need of rescuing. And, Jesus can easily assume the part of my rescuer. 

Rescued. Thank you, Jesus. 

Rescued from sin. From death. From hopelessness. From despair. From fear. From doubt. From myself. 

There are two main takeaways: 

  1. I am in need of being rescued. 
  2. Jesus is at the ready to rescue me. 

This Christmas, we will hear these words of the prophet Isaiah: "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace" (9:5).

In my mind and heart, I will also be adding "Rescuer" to this list, because I, too, have been:


Thank you, Jesus!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Light a Candle in the Dark

At the conclusion of the celebration of the Eucharist for the Alliance for Catholic Education's faculty and staff today, Fr. Lou Delfra, C.S.C. offered the following words of encouragement: 

It is an act of faith and hope to join Mass via Zoom. You are lighting candles in the dark.

I get that we are not meant to celebrate Mass on a screen. This is not how it is supposed to be. Masses via Zoom, or social media, or television, from the comforts of my own home, isolated and separated from the other icons on the screen representing real people, muted so that only my family and my basement walls can hear me, it would be easy to just ditch the whole enterprise. 

Like a store-bought cupcake or microwave popcorn - they are never as good as the homemade versions and they leave a film in your mouth in their wake - it might be easier to think that it would be better to fast from Mass until we can return to normal.    

But, it is an act of faith and hope to join Mass via Zoom. 

It is like lighting a candle in the dark. 

I have been fortunate enough to return to in-person Mass a few times since the pandemic began. I will say that even that might cause some people to throw in the towel. There's music but you can't sing... 

Okay, that one isn't much different in many Catholic churches. Now people just have an excuse. But, for me, that is huge. I remember the first time we returned to in-person church this fall, I caught myself a few times singing along out of habit. During those songs that I was able to abstain, my heart ached to sing. 

No exchange of peace. Communion only under one species. Wearing masks. 

But, it is an act of faith and hope to join Mass during a pandemic and to put up with the various restrictions for the health and safety of the entire community. 

It is like lighting a candle in the dark. 

May we have the courage, hope, and faith to keep lighting them. May our efforts to participate in Mass virtually, to show up in person and endure the restrictions, fill this dark world with the light of Christ. 

Every time you read the Bible, every time you perform an act of mercy, every time you sacrifice for the sake of another, every time you offer kindness when a different response may be both merited and desired, every time you stand up for those who cannot do so, speak for those with no voice, and advocate for those with no one to champion them, you are lighting a candle in the darkness. 

During the prayer after Communion from Mass today, Fr. Lou prayed the following words: 

May these mysteries, O Lord, in which we have participated, profit us, we pray, for even now, as we walk amid passing things, you teach us by them to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what endures.

As long as we have to and by whatever means available to us, may we hold fast to what endures. May we continue to attend Zoom Mass, or watch via social media, or television, or show up to a modified version in person. 

Jesus is teaching us, even amid the passing things of this world, to love the things of heaven. 

Let us keep lighting the candles of faith and hope amid the darkness so that we can see Him who is the way, the truth, and the life. 

Let 'em shine. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Rend the Heavens

"Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old."

-Isaiah 63:19; 64:2-3

As a principal, teacher, or parent, making a change is often most successful when you get involved. When I consider Catholic school leadership and/or education, there were times when I would need to get involved in disciplinary and/or academic situations with students. There were instances when I would need to spend more time forming, supporting, and managing teachers and staff. There were opportunities when I would have to encourage and work toward a stronger partnership with parents and families. 

While I can't say that I was always able to help students, personnel, and/or family members during those situations, getting involved would often help to change behavior. 

When I served as an administrator of PreK - 8 grade schools, I would often squat down to interact with the  littles face to face. This posture would help me to connect with students in ways that towering over them never would. 

This lowering, in both physical and metaphorical ways, signaled an intimacy that could demonstrate safety, concern, and/or seriousness. 

On Christmas...well, technically on the Annunciation...God rend the heavens and came down to earth.

God came to us in the human person of Jesus Christ. God entered our human existence in its entirety in all things except sin. He came to us so that we might have eternal and abundant life. God lowered Himself so that we might be lifted up. 

God entered into the mess of human life: frailty, poverty, refugeeism. 

God went to the margins: the poor, the widowed, the lame, the blind, the sick, the oppressed, the captive, the brokenhearted.  

God came, in the person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, to show us the way, teach us the truth, and bring us to fullness of life. 

God rent the heavens to lower Himself so that He could be face to face with us and say: "I love you and you matter."

I love you. 

And you matter. 

Rend the heavens, Lord, and come down. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Wait For It, Actively

The closer that it gets to Christmas, the harder it seems for my kids to wait. As they gather and make presents for each other, me and my wife, and family and friends, their excitement literally bubbles. They want to share what they made for their siblings. They want to show me the wrapped version of gifts. They yearn to have their recipients open what they have in store. 

They also have visions of what they hope they will get for Christmas dancing through their heads, too. After putting up our tree this evening, they imagined what it will look like with presents underneath. They talked with friends this afternoon online and they exchanged intel on the gifts they hope will come on Christmas morning. 

They cannot wait until Christmas. 

Waiting, as my kids will tell you, is hard.

This type of waiting has a definitive endpoint. Yet, it is still difficult, especially as we inch closer to Christmas. Anticipation mounts. 

Come on, Christmas!

We have all experienced a different, albeit still frustrating, type of waiting this year: COVID-19 and when it will end. 

At first we thought it would be over by summer. Then we hoped it might go away before the holidays. Now, even with accelerated vaccines in distribution, the end might is still unknown although it may, hopefully, be on the horizon.

Whereas waiting for Christmas morning brings excitement and hopeful anticipation, waiting for an unknown endpoint can bring frustration, anger, and dejection. There is no excitement when you do not know when, or even if, things will change. 

Waiting, as we can all attest to, is hard.   

Yet, waiting is a key ingredient to the season of Advent. Advent is a time of preparation. We are called to repent and "make straight the way of the Lord" so that on Christmas our celebration has room for Christ in addition to all of the presents and parties. 

In a sense, waiting is a key ingredient to life. As I have to remind my kids all the time, they are not yet adults. Whether it is getting a smart phone or staying up later or driving a car or voting or fill-in-the-blank with another adult activity, there are many aspects of life that we have to wait for. Learning to read, receiving first Holy Communion, multiplying, whistling and many other skills and events are also opportunities to practice the art of waiting. 

But, perhaps the true lesson in how to wait comes from these later examples. Whereas my four-year-old son is soaking up a lot about his letters and sounds and vocabulary, he will not just hit a magical age or season of life and know how to read. Similarly, receiving Holy Communion or driving or multiplying all require preparation. Yes, there are certain development stages that need to pass - a certain degree of logical reasoning, physical maturation, a law with age restrictions - but none of these things just happen if all you do is wait for them. 

Instead, we must actively wait. We have to practice our addition facts before we can multiply. We need to go through sacramental preparation in order to be ready to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We need to pass tests, thankfully, before we can have a license to drive. 

And, we can't just wait until Christmas to make room in the inn of our hearts for Christ. Whereas He can do anything, including breaking through a Grinch-cold heart on Christmas morning, chances are good our hearts will be as empty as boxes by mid-morning on Christmas unless we actively wait. 

Start by spending even just 60 seconds over the course of these final 9 days before Christmas just thinking about how much He loves you. 

Or, pray a good, honest, authentic prayer. Prayer is nothing more than a conversation with Jesus. Talk to Him. 

Maybe, if you're up for it, accept the Advent Rosary Challenge and pray one Rosary between now and Christmas. Or, pray one each day. As I've said before, Mary brought Jesus into the world after 9 months of actively waiting for Him throughout her pregnancy. She can bring Him to you in 9 days if you ask her. 

Need some encouragement like my kids because you're tired of waiting? Consider praying this prayer from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Trust in the work of God. He is who He says. Believe.     

Finally, consider receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Just like you used to clean the house before someone actually came over to your house, clean out your heart for the most important Guest to arrive there on Christmas.  

Be willing to wait for it, actively. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Light the Way

"Longing for light, we wait in darkness
Longing for truth, we turn to You.
Make us Your own, Your holy people
Light for the world to see.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your church gathered today."

-Lyrics from Christ Be Our Light, written by Bernadette Farrell in1993

One of the most beautiful celebrations of the Eucharist I have ever participated in was on December 13, 2012, the day of the funeral mass for my father, Robert Zelenka. While it was a typical cold mid-December day in Northeast Ohio, I distinctly remember that it was an unusually sunny day. 

I also have a vivid memory of serving as a pall bearer and feeling and seeing the light cascade through the church windows as this song played. Holding onto my father's casket, waiting in the center aisle for the procession, reveling in the light of the sun, I remember singing this song at the top of my lungs as its lyrics spoke directly to my heart. 

"Christ be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ be our light. Shine in Your church gathered today."

For as much pain as I was in and for how much I missed my dad, this song intermingled with the literal light and shone brightly through my darkness and flooded my heart with peace. 

My dad was one of many people in my life, and one of the most important, who served as a light of faith for me. Through his efforts to ensure that we went to mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation, that we prayed before meals, that we received faith formation and/or Catholic education, my dad helped light my pathway to Christ. 

Somehow, I felt at this moment what I had been taught my whole life: death has no power over us. 

As we reach the third week of Advent, and rejoice in expectant hope over the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, may the light of Christ break through the literal and figurative darkness surrounding us at this time and show us the way forward.  

He is who He says He is. He conquered sin and death. And, He came to earth to show us the way to eternal life: Himself. 

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. 

He lights the way. 

Yesterday, December 13, is also the Feast of St. Lucy, whose name comes from the Latin word for light. Legend has it that somehow St. Lucy's eyes were gouged, only to miraculously return. As such, she is the patron saint of those who are blind or suffer from diseases of the eye. Her feast, much like the processional song at my dad's funeral mass, was placed in the midst of a season of darkness to symbolize  the light of Christ breaking through the darkness. 

He lights the way. 

Come, let us follow Him. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

It's Not Over Yet

Perhaps one of my favorites lines from a movie is from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, when Lord Elrond says to Aragorn, "Put aside the Ranger, become who you were born to be." 

Up until this point in the story, while Aragorn has helped lead Frodo, Sam and the Fellowship of the Ring in their quest to destroy the ring, he has hesitated to claim his rightful role as the King of Gondor. As a result of this conversation with Elrond, Aragorn claims the throne of Gondor, unites the various groups battling the forces of evil and assists in the ultimate destruction of the ring.

I find this moment in J.R.R. Tolkien's tale so moving because I think that most of us - myself at least - hide  our true selves and settle for a lesser version of who we were created to be. There is something, most likely our fallen nature, that holds us back from being the person that God created us, and the world needs us, to be. 

We all need to put aside our version of the Ranger in our lives - the shadowy, mysterious, lesser version of ourselves - and claim our rightful role as children of the one true King, Jesus Christ. 

This means that we have royal blood coursing through our veins. 

We are made for greatness, built for holiness and destined for sainthood. It is time to become who we were created to be. 

Today's Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a wonderful reminder that God's not done with us yet in His quest for us to become who He intended us to be. 

First, in the today's Gospel, Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Both she and her husband Zechariah had all but given up hope of having children. When the angel Gabriel comes to visit Zechariah and tell him the good news of his wife's pregnancy, Zechariah responds in disbelief, claiming that both he and Elizabeth were too old to have children (Luke 1:18). In addition to this great blessing, Elizabeth responds with joy over the visitation of her cousin, "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy" (Luke 1:43-44). 

Elizabeth and Zechariah, despite their disbelief, are swept up into God's plan for salvation. To me, this is a wonderful reminder that God isn't done with us yet. 

Second, the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in December 1531 also speak to this theme. Juan Diego, the person to whom Our Lady appeared, was a poor, 57-year-old widower. God wasn't done with him yet. 

Our Lady also brought about the conversion of over 9 million people in a relatively short period of time as a result of these apparitions. Not only did this bring out cultural changes in the Aztec practice of human sacrifice, it also stood as a rebuke to the methods of the Spanish missionaries. When we look at otherwise hopeless situations like the rise of the nones (those with no religious affiliation), abortion, the death penalty, systemic racism, and abuse of all kinds, we have to remember: God's not done with us yet. 

He is moving. May we have faith enough to trust that and to allow ourselves to be moved. 

May we keep becoming the people that He created us to be. Decision by decision. Moment by moment. No matter our state in life, no matter how old/young we are, no matter how far off from God's plan we might find ourselves, we can still become who He created us to be. To once again quote C.S. Lewis, "(E)very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before" (Mere Christianity, 1952). 

Remember: you're not finished yet. And neither is God. 

It's not over yet. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

There Will Be Time

I honestly think there is about a 10 degree window of temperatures in which I am actually comfortable. Maybe about 20 degrees. Otherwise, it is too hot or too cold. Factor in the oddity that is South Bend humidity, and that window can get smaller. Considering our great God placed our home planet at just the right distance away from the sun to actually sustain life - imagine if we were just a bit closer or further away! - it's too bad that my comfort window is even smaller. 

The same goes for things like the amount of time that mass takes. COVID-impacts aside, if mass is too short, it seems like we missed out on something. Go beyond the 60-minute mark and the pew somehow becomes the most uncomfortable seat ever created. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus vents about people like me. He remarks how the people of His time found John the Baptist too ascetic, and Himself too indulgent: 

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (Matthew 11:19)

Both are right because there will be time for each. 

The juxtaposition of preparing the way of the Lord and joining Him at the banquet is not meant to pit the two at odds with one another. Jesus isn't trying to say that John's approach was inappropriate. Instead, He is highlighting the stubbornness of humanity. He is calling attention to the fact that most of our hearts are just too hard to change, that many of us - myself included - are too opposed to discomfort or too unwilling to actually enjoy something.  

There is a time for both repentance and rejoicing. We must be willing to pivot and embrace both as Jesus needs and wants us to. In this way, our hearts must be soft, meek, malleable, flexible and open. 

There will times in our lives where repentance will be the order of the day, or week, or month, season, year, or decade. COVID might be such a time. Or, maybe it was/is a period of loneliness, pain, frustration, sadness and/or loss. When we have reason to sing a dirge, go ahead and mourn (Matthew 11:17). 

There will also be times in our lives when rejoicing is called for. Good, authentic, honest rejoicing. Weddings, graduations, births, birthdays, family reunions, holidays. Rejoice. I say again, rejoice! The flute is playing for us: let us dance (Matthew 11:17)!

And, there will be times, thankfully, where we won't be singing songs of lamentation or joy, where we won't be sulking or dancing. We will just be. This is okay, too! Life at either extreme isn't sustainable. There is a season and there will be time for everything. 

In the words of C.S. Lewis (The Screwtape Letters, 1942), “Humans are amphibians...half spirit and half spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time." May we accept this dual role and may we respond to life in the ways appropriate to the season in which we find ourselves. 

So, for now, let us jump fully into the season of Advent, where we wait in joyful, expectant, and repentant hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

A Fight

"St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen." 

Pope Leo XIII composed this prayer to St. Michael in the late 1800s after having a vision of the destruction caused by the devil in the 20th Century. In 1886, he ordered that this prayer be prayed at the conclusion of Mass. This continued for almost 100 years, falling out of practice in 1968. More recently, in the Spring of 1994, St. John Paul II, encouraged the faithful to reinstitute this practice ( Some churches continue to invite congregants to pray this prayer after Mass. 

Both of these popes realized and did not shy away from this fact: we are in a fight. 

St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us. 

In today's Gospel, in juxtaposition to yesterday's reassurance of rest, Jesus declares, "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force" (Matthew 11:12). Put more simply: we are in a fight. 

We are about two weeks out from Christmas, and lest we get too wrapped up in silent nights and jolly old elves, today's Gospel reminds us that discipleship is hard. Forces of evil are taking the Kingdom of heaven by violence. Our enemy, the devil "is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). 

C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, 1952) posed that Christmas is really about an infiltration: God entered into enemy-occupied territory in the form, not of a warrior or ruler, but as a baby. Meek. Weak. Helpless. Dependent. Disguised: 

Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.

Jesus came to show us the way, teach us the truth, and bring us to new life. He conquered sin and death. In this way, He also taught us how to fight. 

So as to ensure that it's clear that I am not glorifying, promoting or condoning violence in any way, Jesus did not fight darkness with darker darkness. 

Only light can win that battle. And, just to be sure that I'm not giving too much credit to our opponent, darkness - no matter how dark - never overcomes the light. 


So, put on the armor of righteousness (Ephesians 6:10-17). Read your Bible as a shield. Wield your Rosary as a sword. Strengthen your spirit with the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation. 

Fall down on your knees in prayer, and fight.  

St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us

Wednesday, December 9, 2020


Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30). 


When I first became a parent, which coincided with when I began this blog, I think I wrote about sleep at least once a year. While I haven't written about it in a while, and with children that are beyond newborn and toddler stages, sleep is something that continues to elude me. 

If I expect that I might get to bed early, one of them can't sleep. On rare mornings when I can actually sleep in, one or more of them is up prematurely.

My lack of sleep isn't all their fault. In fact, it's probably unfair to continue to blame my tiredness on them - if it was ever fair at all. I frequently find myself staying up late and/or waking up early to work or workout or to do things less productive (like blogging!). 

So, when Jesus talks about rest, there is a longing in my heart to meet Him wherever He is. Could I just wake up once and not feel like I need more sleep? 

But, whereas Jesus might be offering some of us a semblance of physical rest, especially as it might pertain to chronic issues, I believe that Jesus is actually referring to the type of rest that St. Augustine famously said can only be found in God. 

There is a restlessness in our hearts that the world cannot quiet. Fame, power, wealth, pleasure, honor, relationships, likes, material possessions, followers, esteem all lead to restlessness. None of them can pacify the true desire of our hearts. 

Even our ministries can be pursued for reasons other than His honor and glory. I really hope that God shows up in this ____________. I just hope that He shows up as a result of my efforts more than someone else's. 

Carrying out our vocations - in my case as a husband and father - can also be driven by pride instead of love. Can people see me as a devoted husband? Will people think I'm a good father because my kids are well behaved?   

From all of these desires, Lord, deliver me. 

When we come to truly accept Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, we can see that when we follow Him, we can more easily navigate this world. It doesn't mean that you'll get a full 8 hours of sleep each night, but it does mean that you won't feel so slighted when a coworker or boss overlooks that you were involved in a project. You won't chase after pats on the back or atta-boys/girls. Purpose will become more important than a paycheck and you will be more driven by love than likes. 

Discipleship is hard and laying down our lives in service of God entails great sacrifice. 

But, in Him we can find deliverance from the restlessness caused by so many aspects of this world. In Him, we can continue to find the strength to do the work He has entrusted to us to do. 

The key? Stay connected to His yoke. Without it we are either pulling air or trying in vain to move the plows and carts of our lives by ourselves. 

Pray. Read the scriptures. Participate in the sacraments. Surround yourself with like-minded disciples. 

He's there to offer help, healing, refreshment, strength, and rest. 

St. Paul encourages us, "I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me" (Philippians 4:13) and "Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:20-21). 

If our labors are for His kingdom, in service of His power, and in pursuit of His glory, may we take comfort in the fact that no matter how tired, labored, or burdened we are, He will make it seem easy and light. He wants us to be faithful. If it's His will, He will make our efforts successful. We will have strength for everything, and far more than all we ask or imagine, by His power that is at work within us.  

Of this, may we rest assured. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Cooperators With Grace

"Mary said, 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word'" (Luke 1:38).

Like Mary, we have a part to plan in God's divine plan for the world. 

Seriously. God wants to cooperate with us to bring about His kingdom here on earth and help to populate His kingdom in heaven. 

Part of His plan for our salvation was to enter the world as we all do: born as a baby. Fragile Utterly dependent. Weak. Small. Human. Birthed by a mother. 

Even before Jesus was conceived (which just a Catholic PSA, happens after the Annunciation; the Immaculate Conception is when Mary was conceived), God's salvific plan depended upon the cooperation of humans. Mary said yes. God wants us to say yes, too.  

St. Jospeh plays a role, albeit a supporting one, in this initial cooperation, too. Jesus was brought into this world by His mother, Mary, and Joseph agreed to serve as Jesus's earthly father. He decided to do what the angel had commanded him to do: 

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:20-23)

Joseph, like Mary and all of us, had a choice. And, he chose to cooperate. May we choose to cooperate as well. 

Throughout the first week of Advent, we heard many stories about Jesus inviting others into this cooperation with divine grace. From the call of the first apostles, to teaching the disciples in private, to the feeding of the 5,000, to sending the disciples out in pairs, Jesus invites others into His mission. In many ways, even though it doesn't have to be, His mission is dependent upon our cooperation. 

The second week continues this theme of enlisting cooperators with divine grace. On Sunday, we heard about the preparatory role played by St. John the Baptist, and yesterday we listened to the powerful story of a group of people finding a way to bring a friend to Jesus - ultimately lowering him through the roof with the hope that Jesus might heal him. The friend would not have been able to come to Jesus on his own.  He needed these conspirators with grace to move him, so that grace could move within him. 

Link for source details

No person is an island. We were not meant to be alone. We need each other and we are better together. 

The entire plan for salvation is founded upon this idea. 

God wants you to be a cooperator with His divine grace. 

Say yes. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020


As we reach the midpoint of the first week of Advent, we move from Jesus's firm reminder to "Watch!" on Sunday, to the call of the first apostles - and in turn us - on Monday, to being reminded yesterday to remain childlike, to hearing Matthew's account of feeding the 5,000 today (Matthew 15:29-37). 

While I'm not saying that this is a straight line, I do see a connection. 

Watch! Do we have childlike eyes to see this miracle for what it is - a miracle? Do we have childlike ears to listen to it yet again and not dismiss it out of familiarity but rather embrace it with wonder? Do we have the trust of a child to give Jesus what we have, even if it is seemingly too little to make a difference? Have we accepted the call to participate in the miracles present in our lives today, even if it means that we aren't the ones performing the miracles themselves? 

And, are we full? Have we emptied ourselves enough in order for Jesus to bring us to fullness of life in Him, the fullness for which we were created? 

Last Thursday, I was blessed and privileged enough to finish Thanksgiving dinner full. In fact, I'm blessed and privileged enough to have been full after just about every meal of my life. As my parents used to say to me and my siblings, if you're hungry after a meal at the Zelenka house, it's your own fault. 

My heart is another organ that has been consistently full throughout my life. My parents created a loving home and provided models of commitment and sacrifice that I try to pass on to my own family. I married my best friend and we have three amazing kids. I've been fortunate to have more friends than enemies, if I can even say that I've ever had any of the latter. 

My spirit, too, has been consistently full. I've cherished the gift of my faith for as long as I can remember. From my parents and family, to my spouse and children, to teachers, priests, coaches, religious brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues, I have been surrounded by a cloud of witnesses that have supported, challenged, encouraged and exhorted me in my life of faith. The dark nights of my soul, while at times intense, have never resulted in an interruption in my prayer and worship.

In every part of my life, I am blessed and privileged to say that I am full.

And yet, I can say that somehow, I don't feel satisfied. I desire more of these good things, as if the abundance that I already possess is not enough.

Perhaps it means that I am still holding onto some loaves and fish instead of freely offering every part of myself to the Lord.  Perhaps I too often focus on the spaces within me that are still empty instead of relishing the parts of me that are abundantly filled. 

It wasn't until the crowd's hands were empty that they were able to accept the graces of the Lord's feast. It's hard to receive something if our hands are clenched. 

Furthermore, Jesus - the way, the truth and the life - offers thanks to His Father, our Father, before breaking the bread and giving it to His disciples for distribution. 

This Advent, may we prepare room in the inn of our hearts by offering thanks for our gifts before freely giving them away to others, so that this Christmas we might sing along with heaven and nature...

For it is in giving that we receive, and it is in emptying ourselves that we can become full: of joy, of thanks, of love, and of Him. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A Child Again

I love seeing the holidays through the eyes of my children. They possess wonder, excitement, hope, and joy. They have been making people and each other gifts since before Thanksgiving. They have also been circling items they hope to receive on Christmas in just about every ad and catalog we get in the mail. Christmas music can pop up at just about any time throughout the year in the Zelenka house, but it is a staple throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons. To my kids, it never seems to lose its appeal. Decorating is something they look forward to and no matter how much we put up, they still want to do more.

Their joy-filled and hope-full anticipation is both palpable and contagious. 

Oh, to be a child again. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us that even those of us who have grown old should hold fast to being child-like, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will" (Luke 10:21).

Outside of trying to embrace the spirit of the season, how else might we be childlike in the ways that Jesus intended? 

First, part of the wonder of the season for children is that they believe what those who they trust have told them. The magic of gift-giving on a single night is coupled with the wonder of the greatest gift that we've all been given: Jesus. Despite their attempts to ask clarifying questions about either, they have faith that the stories they've been told are true. 

For those of us who have grown in age if not also understanding, may we still be childlike enough to believe. Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, God's only Son, yet still God Himself, came to earth and took on human flesh. He was born at a specific time, in a specific place, for a specific purpose: to bring us to fullness of life. Jesus called Himself the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) and He entered our humanity so that we might become more like the humans we were created to be.  

Lord, help me to believe like a child again. 

Second, children allow themselves to dream. From what they hope will be waiting for them under the tree to what they want to be when they grow up, they can see the world as they hope it will be, not just as it is. For those of us whose hearts and dreams have been broken by reality, may we embrace a childlike ability to hope that the best is still yet to come. If we have breath in our lungs and a new day to live, may we realize God isn't done with us yet. We - all of us - were made for greatness, built for holiness, and destined for sainthood. 

Lord, let me dream like a child again. 

Third and finally, children love. We are all made in the image and likeness of a Triune God who Himself is love. Therefore, we are made to love. We are also made to be loved. For those of us who have been rejected enough to question our lovability, causing us to both withhold loving others and hold off being loved in return, may we be childlike enough to love again. Send a card to someone even though they didn't send one to you last year - just be sure to send it out of love and not spite! Offer forgiveness. Reach out to someone in need of a friend. Give, not out of abundance, but out of love. 

Lord, inspire me to love like a child again. 

Lord, this year, all I really want for Christmas is to be like a child again.