Homily From the Solemnity of the Lord’s Nativity 2012

nativity-iconOne of my favorite Christmas decorations from my childhood was our crib scene.  It was really nothing terribly special, and looked like every other Fontanini nativity scene out there.  But I remember it had a certain smell and feel, and was wrapped in a certain kind of packing paper that I can still remember.  There was straw everywhere.  It had all the usual arrangements – camels, the three kings, shepherds and their sheep.  It had angels and the oxen and the mule.  And of course, it had Mary and Joseph in their usual dramatic poses.  It also had a manger and a figurine for the baby Jesus.  Jesus was a separate figure, so we used to hide Jesus during Advent in the hay or in the crevice behind the oxen, which might have seemed weird to other people who saw it.  Looking back on it, that’s one of the greatest memories I have.  After waiting about a month, and after getting all excited about the presents and food, I always loved being the one who got to put the child Jesus in the manger.  Even if just for a few short moments before the chaos of presents resumed, it brought me back to what Christmas was all about.

Lots of people try to find God in different ways, trying to get in contact with God through some method.  My friends and I were talking about going on vacation to Sedona, Arizona this year, and I discovered that people travel from all over the country and the world to find these “vortexes” in Sedona – places where one can come in close proximity to cosmic energy or something.  I’d love to see the bumper stickers that they sell there!  I was also reading about these things called SynchroDestiny seminars.  They’ve become extremely popular 4-day workshops, and they use Yoga techniques and Primordial Sound Meditation (whatever that is) to teach others “how to harness the power of coincidence, align themselves with the universe, and take their lives to the next level.”  Oh yeah, and it costs $4,175!

Sometimes we get the idea that God is something distant and mysterious, that we have to pray the right prayer or find the perfect combination of cosmic energy waves to come into contact with him.  Yes, it’s true that God is mysterious, but if you look at the nativity scene like the one in my house growing up, you don’t have Mary and Joseph in these awkward Yoga poses with some kind of weird vortex that says “Jesus”.  You find a baby in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, in some cave or stable, and you find Mary and Joseph kneeling or standing in adoration.  Christ is mysterious, but he comes to meet us in the muck of our everyday lives.  The shepherd that we hear about in the Gospel were just doing their normal, not-so-glamorous job when they heard the message.  Joseph and Mary had their child in a cave while they were waiting to register for the census.  Even St. Theresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church, said she found the Lord best among pots and pans.  Christ comes to us in a special way during Christmas – hence the reason you’re all here! – but he comes to us in our everyday lives as well.

It’s interesting the parallels that the Christmas story has with another event in Jesus’ life.  The wood of the manger that Jesus lay in is a foreshadowing.  It is the Cross of Christmas.  Think about the connections.  The wooden manger sat between two animals, while the wooden cross stood between two thieves.  Angels are present at Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.  He is wrapped in swaddling clothes – to keep him warm at his birth, and to wrap his body for burial.  He was marked as the king of the Jews as each – first by those seeking to worship him, then by those seeking to mock him.  Even now, we find ourselves flanked by two images of Mary – on the one hand she held him as he smiled happily, and on the other, she held him as his face was contorted in death.  Even at his birth, Jesus is intimately connected to the Cross.  That’s his destiny!  That’s why he came!

Jesus comes to us in the ordinary events of our lives, but many times, those ordinary events involve a lot of pain, suffering, or discontentment.  I ran into one of our office workers recently, who mentioned that she wondered whether her mom would remember her name this Christmas.  Fr. Don was telling me also that he went to visit a couple married for over 60 years, with the 93-year-old husband in the hospital over Christmas for a recent heart attack.  The day after Christmas, I will be joining parishioners as they lay their loved one to rest in our cemetery.  And of course, the events of the Newtown shooting are still too close to the forefront of our minds.  It is for people who suffer and struggle that Jesus came.  Christmas isn’t just about presents, food, or even family, it’s about redemption.  It’s about the fact that it is into the pain or the ordinary or the imperfect circumstances of our lives that he comes.  He comes as a child – innocent and pure – so as not to overwhelm or threaten us, and he comes to us on the cross – beaten, bruised, and weak – to be with us when we feel the same way.

A broken heart, a weakened heart, or an apathetic heart is merely an empty manger.  As we approach the Lord together in the Eucharist this Christmas, return to that nativity scene as I did as a child.  Invite the virgin and the carpenter to pray beside you.  Invite the Savior to dwell within you.  And in that humility and love, you will find what Christmas is all about.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Hey, guess what?  It’s Christmas!  Well, technically, it’s not Christmas (still 2 days of Advent left), but I decided to write a little about Christmas this week, so you can save this until December 25th if it makes you feel guilty.

Anyway, there are some radio stations that started playing Christmas songs even before Thanksgiving, which is crazy.  Some Christmas music is sing-songy and devoid of meaning (I mean “woop-de-doop and dickery-dock”?  Really???), but many of our Christmas carols have a very profound meaning.  I couldn’t help but think of one called the Coventry Carol last Friday, a beautiful and mournful song about the lullabies sung by the mothers of the Holy Innocents to their slain children.

The carol I want to focus on is the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”  It seems a pretty fun, nonsensical song with a bunch of strange gifts that most normal children would find strange.  But actually, this song has a very important purpose.  Between 1558 and 1929 in England, it was illegal to be Catholic – not just publically, but privately as well!  Open teaching of the Catholic faith at some times might have brought torture and execution.  This carol was written as a catechism song to teach young Catholics about the most important gifts of their faith.  Now in all fairness, this theory has come under fire, and the sources haven’t been totally verified.  But really, this is a bulletin article not a scholarly journal, so I’m just going to go with it for fun.

Each of the twelve gifts represents a tenant of the Catholic faith.  The partridge in a pear tree given on Christmas Day is, of course, Jesus Christ.  The legend goes that a partridge would act wounded in a tree, struggling and crying out to draw predators away from their young.  In the same way, Christ was born ultimately to take upon himself the sins of us all to protect us and give us life.  Pretty cool, right?  But that’s not all!  Here are the rest of the gifts:

Two Turtle Doves – the Old and New Testaments

Three French Hens – Faith, Hope, and Charity, the theological virtues

Four Calling Birds – the four Evangelists who wrote the Gospels

Fiiive Goooold Riiiings – the first five books of the Bible, called the Penteteuch

Six Geese A-Laying – six days of Creation

Seven Swans A-Swimming – the seven Sacraments

Eight Maids A-Milking – the eight Beatitudes

Nine Ladies Dancing – the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Ten Lords A-Leaping – the Ten Commandments

Eleven Pipers Piping – the eleven faithful Apostles

Twelve Drummers Drumming – the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed

So there you go.  I bet you won’t think of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” as just a silly song in the future!  These are just a few of the things that make us love our faith even more!  Merry Christmas!

Homily From the 4th Sunday in Advent, Year C

"Good God!"  "Yes, that's what the Hebrews thought."
“Good God!” “Yes, that’s what the Hebrews thought.”

There are so many Christmas movies out there that everyone has a favorite.  Somebody asked me recently what my favorite Christmas movie is, and I had to think about it.  Miracle on 34th Street?  No.  Stop-motion Rudolph?  No.  Small One?  Despite what my parents would probably tell you, no.  Die Hard?  Fun movie, but no.  My favorite Christmas movie (today at least) is Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Why you ask?  It’s clearly a perfect parallel to the season of Advent!  They are searching all over for the Ark of the Covenant, following ancient manuscripts and the Headstaff of Ra, just like we follow the prophecies of Isaiah and await the Messiah.  They find the Ark, and there is this spooky scene where they are lifting it out of the Well of Souls.  They know the presence of God lies within, but they can’t quite open it yet, because it’s not the proper time or circumstance.  Finally, the end comes, where the Nazis open the Ark – you might consider this like the “Christmas event” of the movie, welcoming God into their midst.  But they aren’t properly prepared, and it melts their faces off!  So what’s the point?  No, Christmas is not going to melt your face off if you’re not prepared.  The point is that the Ark of the Covenant in some ways might be considered part of the preparations for Christmas – we know what lies within, and we anticipate it and receive it with joy!

This whole season of Advent, we’ve been talking about King David.  The Messiah foretold is supposed to be born of David’s line and to take up David’s Kingdom forever.  And we hear today about Bethlehem, a small city, but the city of kings.  It’s where King David grew up, and as we know from all our Christmas carols (oh yeah, and the Bible), it’s where Jesus was born.  Bethlehem even means “House of Bread”, so how fitting that it’s from Bethlehem that Jesus, the Bread of Life comes.  One of the most important things that King David accomplished in his reign was returning the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  At the time, it was at the house of some guy named Obed-edom out in the hill country outside of Jerusalem.  And in 2nd Samuel, we hear that as David brought the Ark into the city, David danced and leaped with joy before the Ark of the Covenant.  Eventually, it was David’s son Solomon who built the Temple around the Ark.  The Ark was so important to the Israelites because it was the physical presence of God before them, to remind them that God is always near to them.

We hear a little more about the Ark today in our Gospel – not directly, but the little details in the Gospel point to the new Ark of the Covenant – the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary is the perfect symbol of the season of Advent.  I mean, yes, the season is about Jesus, but in a way, we’re kind of invited to join Mary in her preparation and rejoicing at her Son’s birth.  Now, any mother her can tell you that waiting for the baby isn’t always fun, and it definitely lasts longer than 4 weeks.  But still, what greater symbol of anticipation than an expectant mother?

4474384646_282021aa7cOne of the titles that we have for Mary in that famous Litany of Loreto is the “Ark of the Covenant”, and we can really see why today in the details.  We hear that Mary went in haste to the hill country (oh, St. Luke, you’re so clever!).  Then when she goes to meet Elizabeth, John the Baptist starts jumping around with joy – much like David did in adoration before the Ark of the Covenant.  There are some other cool details too: David wore an ephod, the clothing of a high priest, and John was of the priestly line of Aaron.  Also, the Ark remained in the house of Obed-edom for 3 months before it was revealed to all, and Mary remained in the house of Elizabeth for 3 months.  Mary is truly the Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place for the presence of God.  St. Ambrose, a Doctor of the Church, can say this far better than I can:

The prophet David danced before the Ark.  Now what else should we say the Ark was but holy Mary?  The Ark bore within it the tables of the Testament, but Mary bore the Heir of the same Testament itself.  The former contained in it the Law, the latter the Gospel.  The one had the voice of God, the other His Word.  The Ark, indeed, was radiant within and without with the glitter of gold, but holy Mary shone within and without with the splendor of virginity.  The one was adorned with earthly gold, the other with heavenly.

So what are we supposed to get out of this other than to realize how clever God is?  Well, I would propose that we learn from this at two angles.  First, we are to imitate David and John the Baptist in recognizing the presence of the Lord when he comes before us.  That’s really tough to do!  It means recognizing the presence of God in the poor, in the weak, in the needy.  It means recognizing Christ in our family members that we have to get together with at Christmas, especially the ones you simply can’t stand to be around.  It especially means recognizing Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.  Despite the Church telling us over and over again for 2000 years that it is the Body and Blood of Christ and not just a symbol, how tough is it for us to recognize!  But that’s what Advent is about – being able to recognize the presence of Christ in our midst, and if we can’t, then sacrificing and challenging ourselves to grow in doing so.

The second angle that we approach with today is imitating Mary as the Ark of the Covenant.  Especially during these seasons of Advent and Christmas, we are challenged to ask ourselves how we are bearers of Christ to others.  When we are filled with God’s grace, and especially when we receive the Eucharist into our bodies, we become living tabernacles of the Lord, little Arks of the Covenant.  We are therefore called to act in a way that helps others to recognize Christ’s presence, just as Mary did for John and Elizabeth.  We do this especially through acts of kindness.  I’ve heard so many stories of random acts of kindness this month – from police giving 100-dollar bills to help people get by to strangers paying for the next person in line at the grocery store.  If only that didn’t just happen before Christmas!  Imagine if it were all year long!

Brothers and sisters, today, we stand before the Lord, present to us in Mary, in each other, and especially in this Eucharist.  May we have the faith to recognize him, the courage to reveal him to others, and the gratitude to rejoice and give praise for all he has done for us.

Eucharistic Prayer I: Commemoration of the Living

“Will you pray for me?”  “Will you pray for my aunt, who is having surgery today?”  “Will you pray for my dog, who lost his favorite bone the other day?”  Probably a lot of us hear these sort of things quite a bit, particularly when we’re hanging around church.  People ask us to pray for different things all the time – people who are sick, people who are suffering or struggling, a family member or friend who needs help, or some cause that we support by our prayers.  There are so many things to remember in prayer that All Saints actually created a prayer chain to pass along intentions!  It can be a lot of work!

But perhaps a follow-up question is whether we actually remember to do it.  Do we pray for those people that we promise to pray for?  It can be difficult to think of all these people when we sit down to pray, or to remember everyone we’ve been asked to pray for.  Well don’t worry, the Church understands!  And so she includes a particular time to remember these people in the Eucharistic Prayer called the “Commemoration of the Living.”

We hear that phrase in EPI, “They offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them.”  All right, time out.  Now’s probably a good time to go back and revisit what we said so many months ago (January 5, to be exact), about that “my sacrifice and yours” business.  When the priest invites us to pray about “my sacrifice and yours,” he is making that distinction in our roles at Mass.  The priest is offering that sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, which is sitting there on the altar.  But all of us offer our own sacrifices as well.

That’s what EPI is talking about!  When the priest says, “they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them,” he’s talking about our purpose in directing our prayers – for ourselves and for those people we promised to pray for.  What better place to remember all those folks than the greatest prayer we can offer, period – our prayer at the altar!

Then EPI talks about what we’re praying for with regard to those people – 1) “The redemption of their souls”, 2) “in hope of health and well-being”, and 3) “paying their homage” to God.  In other words, we pray for their immortal, spiritual welfare, along with the graces they need to follow Christ, our bodily welfare against things like sickness or injury, and (the primary purpose for our prayer,) out of praise, thanksgiving, and adoration of God, who gives us everything.  I think we pretty much covered our bases there.

Just as we said back in January, all of us are called to participate fully in the Mass, especially through offering our personal sacrifices and prayers, placing them next to the sacrifice on the altar, and part of that is through our prayers for others.  There are a lot of people out there who need our prayers, and a lot of people who have no one to pray for them.  Let’s take the time at Mass to pour out of ourselves, and lift our those around us to God in prayer.

Homily From 3rd Sunday in Advent, Year C

St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown, CTncregister.com
St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown, CT

There was a vigil Mass for the 3rd Sunday in Advent held at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, Connecticut last evening.  It was overflowing with people gathered together for the Sacrifice of the Mass and for the anticipation of the coming of Christ at Christmas.  Three candles were burning in the Advent wreath, including the rose-colored candle for Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is Latin and means “rejoice!”, but the parishioners of St. Rose of Lima weren’t thinking of rejoicing.  They were thinking of the events of the day before.  They were thinking of their friends, relatives, and even their own children who they had lost in the horrific act of violence that occurred Friday.  Now, I would love to skip over that and go with the homily I had planned before Friday – maybe pray a little for it in the petitions and get back to rejoicing.  But we can’t.  Monsignor Doyle, the Diocesan Administrator of the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT wrote to St. Rose Parish, “On this Gaudete Sunday, we realize how quickly our joy can be turned to sorrow, and how our faith can be challenged.”  Isn’t that the truth.

How do we talk about rejoicing as we recall these events?  We have to remember that joy isn’t in the feelings of this season.  It isn’t in the warm feeling you have before Christmas sipping hot chocolate before a roaring fire.  That isn’t joy.  The joy that we celebrate is rooted in the Coming of Christ.  Let me show you what I mean.

As the events are unfolding through countless news media outlets, we are getting chilling reports of what happened.  There are horrible reports of the medical examiners on the scene.  I was even reading the content of the dispatch tapes of the officers who responded, and they slowly unfold the horror of the situation.  First confusion at broken glass, then reports of gunfire and the school on lockdown.  One of the last reports I read came from a medic who said, “Require backup and ambulances.  They said to call for everything.”  These are the stories of terror of the people who saw this happen.  But it’s to those people that Emmanuel comes.

I was also reading some of the stories of heroism from Friday.  One example was Vicki Soto, a first grade teacher only a few months younger than I am.  She heard the gunshots and hurriedly hid her first graders in cabinets and closets.  She then placed herself between the gunman and the students, sacrificing her life to protect them.  Another example was Dawn Hochsprung, the principle of Sandy Hook Elementary, who made sure teachers and their students were huddled in safety before going out to the hallway to confront the gunman.  The details are still developing, and we may never know what happened, but the simple truth is that these women and teachers like them were heroes.  And it’s to those people that Emmanuel comes.

In the midst of all of this, I was reading about the shooter, Adam Lanza.  He was described as being very intelligent and on the honor roll, and generally a happy person.  But at the same time, he was remote and reportedly suffered from an acute personality disorder.  All that and his horrific actions aside, imagine the suffering and hatred in his heart that would have driven him to do something like this.  He is described by some people as a monster, and many people around our country are glad that he is gone, but nevertheless, he was a person, a son.  His parents’ feeling of loss is as real as any of the victims.  But it’s to people like Adam and his parents, and to those who feel isolated and detached – it’s to those people that Emmanuel comes.

Now I can’t imagine what I would do if this had happened at our school, PSR, or parish.  Obviously I don’t have children of my own, but as a spiritual father, that hurt is still real.  Still, I can’t imagine what the parents must be going through.  These were parents who’s child was going to be the angel in the Christmas play coming up, who’s child just scored their first goal in soccer, who’s child needed to be picked up from Cub Scouts later Friday afternoon.  It’s to those who mourn, who feel that emptiness inside, that Emmanuel comes.

nativityThe joy of Gaudete Sunday isn’t artificial.  It’s not about being a happy and plucky person like someone out of a Christmas movie.  God doesn’t choose to come to us just when things are perfect.  The joy of Gaudete Sunday is a joy in this fact: despite the fear, the violence, the hatred, and the sinfulness of our world, God came to save us anyway.  And not only that, but his life was such that he chose to enter into that fear, hatred, and violence.  He was born into it, having to avoid the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by Herod and flee to Egypt.  He lived in it, a period of political upheaval and oppression by the Roman Empire.  He died in it, dying the most violent death possible at his time.  And ultimately, he conquered it – by rising from the dead and ascending to the Father.  That’s why he came.  He is Emmanuel, God with us – with us in the good times like Christmas plays and meals with the family, and with us in the bad times such as the violent loss of a child.  He is God with us, and brothers and sisters, that is something we can rejoice in.

Homily From the 2nd Sunday in Advent, Year C

A few years ago, I made a trip up to Rockford, Illinois for the ordination of a friend from the seminary.  It was the first real road trip I had taken by myself, and at around 6 hours, it was pretty hefty!  I made it fine and had a great visit, but as I was preparing to leave, my cell phone turned suicidal and leaped from my hand to its death down a flight of stairs.  That cell phone had all my maps, all my phone contacts, all my music for the way home, and the only thing I had in my car to help was a map of Missouri – and I wasn’t in Missouri!  The cathedral was in the middle of a suburb, and I had no idea where I was or how to get home.  I wandered around the city of Rockford, trying to figure out where to go, and vaguely remembering the roads I had used to get there.  It was pretty nerve wrecking.  I had some kind of kung fu death grip on the steering wheel, and all I could do was just pay attention to my surroundings and pray the heck out of that Rosary.  I think St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers was pretty fed up by the time I was done.  I was terrified, and all I wanted to do was get home.

I would say that that’s probably the closest experience I have to being an exile.  Exile is probably not an easy thing for us to connect with.  The closest thing might be a husband having to sleep on the couch.  But imagine if you took a trip, such as to Europe or something, and when you were getting ready to come home, you were informed that something terrible had happened at home, and you were unable to return home.  Imagine how you’d feel!  Maybe the place you’d travelled to was fun – like Cancun or maybe Rome (think of all the liturgical vestment shopping you could do!) – but soon it would sink in that you can’t go home.  That part of your life would be missing.

20120503-captive_israelites1 blueletterbible.orgThe reason I bring this up is to help you understand what exile is like.  The Babylonian Exile, that period of history where Israel was forced into captivity by the Babylonian Empire, was a defining period for the Israelite people.  Imagine their sorrow at being in captivity away from home.  I think Psalm 137, one of my favorite psalms, sums it up wonderfully.   “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat weeping when we remembered Zion.  For there our captors asked us for the words of a song.  Our tormentors for joy: ‘Sing for us a song of Zion!’  But how could we sing the song of the Lord in a foreign land.”  The Israelites dreamt of going home, but realized that it was impossible.  Their captors the Babylonians were taunting them, trying to get them to sing a song of their homeland.  But imagine the disgust at this request.  “How could we sing the song of the Lord on alien soil!”  They were faced with one of two things: giving up and forgetting about home – and many of the Israelites did this – or continue to hope and have faith.

Well, that’s where our first reading from Baruch comes in.  He was Jeremiah’s secretary, although if you’ve ever read the Book of Jeremiah and seen how seemingly disorderly it is, maybe he wasn’t the best secretary.  But he also wrote his own book, which we read today.  Baruch writes to the Israelites about going home.  He tells them, “It’s time to take off your robe of mourning and misery.”  He talks about what it will feel like to return home – heads held high, borne aloft as on royal thrones.  They will be people of joy and triumph born by the hand of God.  And it’s more than just wandering home, trying to figure out where to go.  He says the Lord will fill in the valleys and level all the hills, removing any obstacles from going home, and in fact, even building a royal highway to get home as quickly and directly as possible.  In my own story that I was sharing earlier, as I emerged from the suburbs of Rockford and finally discovered the highway, it was like a new beginning!  All I had to do was stay on that path to go home.  What a relief!  For the Israelites, it was much the same feeling – in the middle of their confusion and sorrow, Baruch is telling them that God will rescue them, and ultimately, he does!

The Wilderness of St. John the Baptist
The Wilderness of St. John the Baptist

Then we fast-forward a little to the Gospel.  We hear all these proper names to situate the historical event of Jesus’ life in time.  Guys like Tiberius Caesar, the most powerful man in the world, and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the area.  Herod, Philip, and Lysanias were tetrarchs of the region, but they were just client kings to do what the other Roman guys wanted.  Annas and Caiaphas were Jewish high priests, but they were Roman sympathizers as well!  Do you see what’s going on here?  Even though the Israelite people had returned home, they were in exile again, under the boot of Rome in their own country.  But then the Word of the Lord came – not to these important emperors and kings and high priests – but to a strange prophet in the desert named John.  His message is the same as Baruch’s – prepare the way of the Lord!  Make straight his paths, because he’s coming to bring you home!

Now, like I said at the beginning, exile might be tough to connect to.  But in a sense, I think many of us suffer exile every day.  We might not feel exiled as such, but that feeling of being lost, of being conquered by something, of feeling unable to return to that place in our hearts where we know we’re called to?  Now that is something all of us can connect with.  I don’t know what kind of exiles you suffer from.  It could be feeling overwhelmed with your situation and how it just doesn’t seem possible to get out of it.  It could be struggling with some sin or addiction that just seems to be a constant struggle.  It could be feelings of unworthiness for the things you have received.  It could be a faith which even though you’ve been sticking with your life in the Church for a while, you just don’t know how much you have left in the spiritual tank.  Wherever you find yourself in exile, it seems you have the same two choices that the Israelites did: admit defeat and stay buried in sinfulness or unworthiness or doubt, or continue to hope and have faith.  How do we get back?  The answer is the same as my trip from Rockford, and it’s the same as the Israelite’s return from Babylon.  Pay attention – be attentive to God’s presence and what he’s asking of you.  Pray – maintain that connection with God, even when it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anything out of it.  And allow yourself to be led home – through acts of humility, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I know it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge our faults, but it’s a time to let go and allow ourselves to be healed of our sins, to be led home from exile.

Brothers and sisters, fellow exiles, we’re journeying through this Advent season, seeking to continue to prepare ourselves to be led home by the coming of Christ.  Today, let us pray for the gift of hope, and the humility to follow the Lord when he leads us home.

Eucharistic Prayer I: Length

One of the fond memories I have from my time in the college seminary was our friendly rivalry between those of Irish descent, and the better ones of German descent (I’ll let you guess which one “Grosch” is…).  But we Germans would pride ourselves in our knack for German efficiency, the maximum output for the minimum input.  We would try to get things done as quickly and as sharply as possible.  I’ll just say, however, beware the combination of German efficiency with college procrastination!  It’s a deadly combination!

Sometimes we can adapt an attitude of efficiency to our celebration of the liturgy as well.  We can try to get things done as quickly and as cleanly as possible.  Eucharistic Prayer I is the longest of all our Eucharistic Prayers, so there are a lot of priests and people who don’t like to use it because they fear it takes too long.

Well, I didn’t want to settle for hearsay, so I took the missal to my secret lab to test the time elapsed from the Lamb of God to the Great Amen.  EPIII, the most commonly used prayer, finished with a lightning fast 3:42.9.  Turning to the Big Kahuna, EPI came in at a lackadaisical 4:58.2.  The difference is a whopping 1 minute, 15.3 seconds, even with all the optional parts thrown in.  So I guess sometimes people overreact – in the context of a Mass, 1 minute 15 seconds isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference.

I think the greater question is whether we should have this mindset in the first place.  In all fairness, on the one hand, we have to be sensitive to the obligations of our fellow parishioners.  That’s especially true for 6:30 Mass on weekdays, when people need to get to work.  But it’s also true that convoluted homilies or liturgy can sometimes cause us to focus too much on our frustrations than on the mysteries before us, and can even lead us to sin in our thoughts against others who are going at a “different pace.”

But at the same time, whether we realize it or not, that hour (give or take) for Mass is the most important hour of our day.  It’s a direct encounter with Christ – not in some metaphysical or philosophical way, but with his physical Body and Blood.  It’s a time to listen to what he has to say to us in the Gospel.  It’s a time to offer our prayers, cares, joys, and sufferings.  You see, what can sometimes happen is that we sacrifice sanctity in the name of efficiency.  This is true for all of us, priests probably more than most people.

Think about it honestly: when you sit down with a friend, and they start pouring themselves out to you, really sharing with you how much they care about you as a friend, what does it say to them if you pull out your phone to check texts or to see what time it is?  That’s what the Mass is, and specifically the Eucharistic Prayer is.  In some way, it is a conversation between Christ and us, where we pour out ourselves out of love for the other, ultimately culminating in Communion.

So remember that the next time you get a chance to go to Mass.  I promise that I’ll do my best to be appropriately efficient as my German descent cries out for me to do.  But I would also challenge you, that in as much as you can, strive to be a person who treasures that encounter with Christ, even just in that one hour, and make that hour the holiest that you can.

Homily From the 1st Sunday in Advent, Year C

I was at the drive-thru of a local restaurant recently – obviously getting something healthy like celery – and I noticed something incredible.  There was a sign that reminded other drivers, “Please have payment ready at the window.”  What an incredibly brilliant idea!  Some people in the drive-thru just wait until they get to the window – they fiddle with the radio, talk on the phone, or update their Facebook to let everyone know that they’re in a drive-thru.  But then when they come to the window, they’re unprepared, so they fumble with coins or cash, sometimes dropping money in the bottomless fissure between the car and the window.  When they don’t prepare their payment, the chances of spilling hot coffee on themselves goes up exponentially.  This sign was reminding people to prepare – to get their money ready, to clear a cup holder, to tell one of the kids to stop playing with their Nintendo DS and get ready.  But that little time of preparation between the ordering speaker and the window can make all the difference.

There’s a big difference between waiting and preparing, and I think it’s a good distinction to make in this season of Advent.  We have the option to choose to wait until Christmas, or we can choose to prepare.  When we wait for Christmas, it is because it’s only about one day, one event.  We go to Mass, get together and eat food, share presents, and go to bed – that’s it.  The end.  If that’s what Christmas is going to be about for us, I guess we don’t really need to prepare.

But in her wisdom, the Church has given us this season of Advent – not for waiting, but for preparation.  It’s a season when the Church surrounds us with reminders of what we’re doing to prepare – things like an Advent Wreath, evergreen branches, and the colors of purple and rose (not pink).  All that is to build our anticipation, not just for one day, but for the greatest event in the history of the universe: the Incarnation of the Son of God to be our savior.  It’s because it’s such a big deal and it should actually mean something to us, that we should want to prepare.

What happens when we don’t prepare?  Well, if you think about it like a drive-thru, we might get so preoccupied with what we’re doing in the meantime, that we just can’t handle the thing we’re anticipating.  If we don’t prepare well enough in Advent, we can miss Christmas entirely!  A few years ago, I had some pretty intense classes in the seminary, and as a result, some pretty intense final exams around this time of year.  So I was busy studying and writing papers, trying to control everything to make sure I got it done.  And then I realized, “Oh crud!  I have to buy people stuff!”, so I did some hasty shopping on Amazon.  Then came the Christmas novena to sing at for a week, and serving Mass at the Cathedral, and before I knew it, I was on winter retreat after the new year!  I remember thinking to myself, “What just happened?  I missed Christmas!”  I mean, yes, I did all the things I needed to do for Christmas, but I forgot to prepare myself, and forgot to celebrate it in my heart.  Some of the fondest memories I have are from Advent and Christmas – family, friends, awesome Masses and banquets at the seminary, some of my most profound experiences in prayer.  But I had forgotten to prepare.  I spent my Advent waiting for Christmas, and waiting for the other stuff to be over, but I hadn’t prepared my heart.

What is it that we’re preparing for?  The coming of Christ, right?  But what does that even mean?  It’s very abstract and depersonalized.  I mean, I want to know how he’s going to come!  Is it going to be on a cloud?  In a pillar of fire?  Knocking on the door wearing an ugly Christmas sweater?  St. Bernard of Clairvaux says that Christ comes in three ways: history, mystery, and majesty, and maybe rather than focusing on waiting for these advents, these comings of Christ, we can focus on preparing for them.

Christ came in history, and it is the historical event that changed everything.  It’s an event that happened a long time ago, but that really should matter to us.  That’s why we’re here in the first place!  If you hate listening to homilies, blame Christmas!  So how do we remember this coming? Have a nativity scene in the family room, and maybe save the baby Jesus until Christmas – we used to hide him behind the oxen!  Have a family advent wreath to light before meals and pray with.  Maybe have some kind of advent calendar to remember this fantastic event.  All these things can be a reminder of the historical event that this season is about, even in the midst of the shopping and chaos.

Christ comes to us in mystery as well, especially through the Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Eucharist.  The historical event was a long time ago, but his coming in mystery is happening here and now.  How do we prepare for that?  Well, maybe try to sacrifice those few extra minutes of sleep and come to Mass during the week sometime at 6:30 or 8:00.  It can be a great opportunity to journey through the season with the Church’s daily readings and prayers.  Advent is also a great time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Preparing our hearts to receive Jesus is much easier when we’re able to let go of the junk in our lives.  If you don’t remember how to go to confession, ask a 2nd grader!  As always, you can ask any of us priests, and we’d be more than happy to lead you through. Whether it’s been 2 weeks or 30 years, all I’m asking is that you think about it.  We have Confessions here Tuesday evenings, Saturday evenings, at our parish Penance Service on December 13, or at any time by appointment.

Lastly, we’re preparing in Advent for the Lord’s coming in majesty, his glorious return at the end of time.  This might seem a long way off and not worth remembering with all that’s going on, but remember, you only get out of this life what you put into it, and the way we spend our eternity depends on how we spend these days here and now with the grace of God.  So try to do something good for someone each of the four weeks of advent, starting today.  It could be something like picking a family on the giving tree to help out, or making Christmas cookies for a family in our parish that you know is struggling to hang on.  Make an effort to pray for friends and relatives every day of Advent.  In any case, try act with love, not just so that others have a good Christmas, but to prepare ourselves for heaven.

Advent isn’t just about waiting around, but about preparing.  We don’t want to get caught unprepared or fumbling with the business of our lives, especially when we celebrate this mystery that changed the world and which continues to change our lives.  So let’s begin to prepare now, and make the next four weeks a time in which we prepare by opening our hearts to receive the newborn king.