Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent Adventure


                                    1st Sunday of Advent
                                    



A few years ago three films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's epic story, "The Lord of the Rings," enjoyed enormous critical and popular success. Issued in three successive years around Christmas time, they were a box office smash. The third in the series, entitled, "The Return of the King," won the Academy arard for "Best Picture." Most of us know by now that both the three volume book and the films tell the story of a great journey or adventure undertaken by a group of men, elves, dwarves, and the now famous hobbits.

The adventure begins however in a smaller book of Tolkien's called "The Hobbit." In that book this particular hobbit is woken out of a quiet peaceful afternoon nap by a violent knocking on his door. To his amazement he is told that he must rouse himself out of his comfort and complacency and embark on a dangerous adventure whose end is far from certain. In the course of the adventure he will find that there is more to life than he ever dreamed, and that there is more to himself than he ever dreamed.

Isn't it odd that the word "advent" is contained in the word, "adventure"? Advent is not just a time of preparation for Christmas, it is a time for all of us to consider how far we have progressed on the great adventure of life. Let's consider the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. He sees whole nations and peoples climbing the Lord's mountain. In famous words he portrays a vision of a far off world completely different than the one we know.

            They shall beat their swords into plowshares
            and their spears into pruning hooks;
            one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
            nor shall they train for war again.

Before we reach this new world the old world must pass away.

This is the reason why Advent, the season which marks the beginning of the Church year, has traditionally begun with readings reminding us of the end of the world. In today's gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus refers to the people before the great flood. He says that like us they were going about their daily business without a clue of what was in store for them. Our Lord's advice whether it be the end of the whole world or just the end of our own little world is the same. "Stay awake." By "awake" He means be ready, be prepared to set out on your journey.

            So too, you also must be prepared,
            for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

Advent has always been regarded as a season of preparation. Why is it that we prepare for everything in life but often fail to prepare for the most important thing in life? What football team would go into the weekend's big game without practicing all week? What will they practice? Why, the very same formations and plays that they expect to use when they are put to the test. During the week they will also be in the weight room preparing their bodies for the blows to come. On game day they will put on their protective gear or armor. Only a fool would go into such combat improperly equipped.

In business it's much the same thing. Salesmen practice their presentations before facing their customers. They learn how to anticipate and overcome every objection. In politics look how even the presidential candidates go through rigorous prepping and role play before debating their opponents.

How should we prepare for life's great adventure? Let's see if we can come up with a list of things to do this Advent season they will help us on our way. First, let's take St. Paul's advice and avoid destructive behavior.

            let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day,
            not in orgies and drunkenness,
            not in promiscuity and lust,
            not in rivalry and jealously.

It was sad a few years ago to read in the paper that two of our local Catholic universities led the state of Connecticut in arrests for drunkenness. It was even sadder to read an article about a young woman at a midwestern university who drank herself to death while at a frat party. The paper reported that she was just one of many who would die a similar death every year. I know that television glamorizes this type of drinking but what is so glamorous about falling into an alcohol induced coma in a frat house or an office party?

We can all think of ways to "throw off the works of darkness," but St. Paul also urges us to "put on the armor of light." There is no better way to do so this season than by increasing our attendance at Mass. Certainly, in this season when we should all be looking forward to the coming of Christ, he comes to us in each and every Mass. Besides  Sunday Mass we will celebrate the great feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, a true Holy Day of Opportunity.


Finally, I can think of no better way to counter the stress and anxiety of this mad shopping season than to attend daily Mass during Advent. We will find a half hour of peace and tranquillity every day and encounter some of the most beautiful readings in the Missal. We will get an opportunity to reconcile ourselves with God and our neighbor when we recite the Kyrie, the Confiteor, the Our Father and the Agnus Dei. We can offer the kiss of peace to our friends and family. We can offer thanks to God for all the good things that have been given us, and then we can approach the altar to receive the true gift of Christmas, the gift of God's only Son.

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Reading 1. Isaiah 2: 1-5
Reading II. Romans 13: 11-14
Gospel. Matthew 24: 37-44 (stay awake!).

Monday, November 21, 2016

Feast of Christ the King

                                            
Titian: Crucifixion


The feast of Christ the King marks the end of the church year. Although Christians have always believed in the Kingship of Christ, the feast is a relatively recent one dating only from 1925. At a time when the very idea of Kingship was on the way out, the Pope chose to emphasize the Kingship of Christ.

The Second Vatican Council reemphasized the importance of the feast when it moved it from the last Sunday in October to the very last Sunday of the church year. Naturally, the theme of today's readings is Kingship. The first reading presents us with David, the greatest of the kings of Israel. The reading makes clear that a true king exists to serve his people, and not to be served by them. It says, "You shall shepherd my people Israel."
           
In America we have never been partial to kings or the idea of Kingship. We pride ourselves on being a government "of the people, for the people, and by the people." It wasn't only that our founding fathers revolted against King George III of England but their aversion to kingship went even deeper.

Kings were supposed to be God's divinely appointed representatives on earth. Their coronations were religious ceremonies where the new king would be anointed with holy oils by a religious leader. Political philosophers spoke of the "divine right of kings" to justify their power. Old traditions held that the King even possessed miraculous healing powers. It was believed that merely touching his cloak could cure many physical maladies.

By the time of our revolution it was clear that most kings were not what they were supposed to be. Many had come to their thrones not by divine right or election but through violence and usurpation. Many did not behave like representatives of God especially when it came to being good shepherds. A King was supposed to be the best and noblest man in the nation but often he seemed to be the worst. Even if they started out with good intentions, power corrupted them.

But what if there was a person whose teaching was both simpler and wiser than any of the world's great philosophers? What if this same teacher was able to calm storms at sea and even walk on the angry waters? What if there was a person who did indeed possess miraculous healing powers? -- if merely touching his cloak could cure both physical and spiritual ailments? What if there was a person who could feed the multitudes not only with bread for a day but with the bread of everlasting life? What if there was a person whose power was so great that he could even bring the dead back to life? Finally, what if there was a person who rather than being corrupted by power, surrendered his own life for his people? Shouldn't we call that person our King?

Today's readings present us with Christ our King.  In St. Paul's letter to the Colossians we hear that God has "delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son." He enabled us to enter the Kingdom "by the blood of His cross." We do have a shepherd king who was willing to lay down his life for us.

In today's gospel from St. Luke we see our King on this last Sunday of the Church year dying on the cross. The crowd is jeering at Him and the soldiers taunt, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Even one of the criminals dying next to Him reviles Him. How fitting it is that our whole cycle of readings ends this year with the "good thief," who only asks, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

All year we have been reading St. Luke's account of our Lord's journey to Jerusalem.   We've followed Him on the journey, heard the famous parables, witnessed the miracles and healings. He asked us to take up our cross and follow Him and promised that if we would do so we would enter into His Kingdom. Actually, He said that His Kingdom would enter into us--that the Kingdom of God would be within us.

Let's end this Church year by visualizing the scene on the Cross. Let's imagine that we are one of the thieves being crucified along with Jesus and that our own journey through life is coming to an end. Wouldn't we want to hear the last words in our gospel when the King turns to us and says,

            Amen, I say to you,

            today you will be with Me in Paradise.

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Days Will Come...

                                    33nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
                                   



This Sunday marks the next to last Sunday in the Church’s liturgical year. As we get closer and closer to the end of the year the readings remind us not only of the of the end of the world but also ask us to consider our own personal end.

The reading from the Prophet Malachi sets the tone.

            Lo, the day is coming blazing like an oven,
            When all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble…
            But for you who fear my name, there will arise
            The sun of justice with its healing rays.

Today’s gospel reading takes up most of the 21st chapter of St. Luke’s gospel. Immediately after this chapter we get into the story of the Passion and Death of Christ. However, to begin this chapter Luke tells the story of the poor widow who gave a small, but to her a huge, donation to the treasury of the Temple. Onlookers look down on her and point out how the temple “was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings.”


Jesus turns the tables on them and warns that all these costly adornments will not be worth anything on the day of salvation. He says, “the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” He had been teaching in the Temple and the onlookers ask, “when will this happen?” They also ask for warning signs and he foretells a time of a great persecution.

In the passage following our reading Jesus even seems to predict the fall and utter destruction of Jerusalem, which would take, place only 37 years after his death. He warns his followers that when they see an army surrounding the city, they should escape to the hills surrounding the city. We know for a fact that immediately before the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD the Christian community did leave the city while the rest of the Jewish nation stayed behind.

What are we to do today in our lives when we try to confront the dangers and evils that surround us both individually and as a nation? Although we are in no imminent danger of foreign invasion, our Nation has been at war for more than a decade and no end is in sight. At home the culture war goes on every day and has even invaded our homes through TV, the Internet, and sophisticated cell phones. What are we to do? How are we to act or respond?

In the distant past Christians left cities endangered by war or moral decay to enter monasteries secluded in mountains, deserts, and swamps. There they tried to build a new life based on spiritual renewal and hard work. Centuries later other religious orders appeared, like the Franciscans and the Dominicans, that sought spiritual renewal not by leaving the corrupt cities but by staying and reforming them. These new orders even created what were called “third orders,” laymen and women who would share in the work of renewal. Later, it would become more and more apparent that the work of reform was the work of all Christians, clerical or lay.

Whatever response we make, it is clear that one option is not open to us. It is ok to leave the corruption behind. We can throw out the TV and the computer and home school our children. On the other hand, we can work to make these important elements in our culture better. But we cannot give in and surrender to the enemy. We cannot accept and accommodate. To say that this corruption is ok, or that everyone does it, is not only wrong but also madness. Just look at the advice columns in our daily newspapers to see how messed up people’s lives have become in our society.

I remember a 70-year-old Catholic woman who once told me that after all her years she was still trying to figure out who she was. Maybe this is something we should all consider as we approach our own end of the world. A good place to find the answer is always in the letters of St. Paul.

In today’s letter to the Thessalonians he told them to honor their life of hard work.

            You know how one must imitate us.
            For we did not act in a disorderly way among you,…
            On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day
            We worked, so as not to burden any of you.

He also warned them to mind their own business. Someone once said that when our own business is not worth minding, then we mind the business of others. In other words, a life spent in diligence or hard work, whether in a monastery or a convent, whether in the home, school, factory or office, will need no justification.


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Reading 1. Malachi 3: 19-20a
Reading II. 2 Thessalonians 3: 7-12
Gospel. Luke 21: 5-19 (Nation...against nation).