Christ the Chameleon

Image result for chameleon xleThere was once a brilliant Saturday Night Live parody of a car commercial.  David Spade walks out of a nice restaurant to find his new BMW has been stolen and Phil Hartman’s voice begins to narrate as the camera cuts to him walking in front of the 1993 Chameleon XLE.  “Finally,” he says, “a luxury car that doesn’t look like a luxury car.”  “Inside, the Chameleon XLE has everything you would expect in a luxury sedan of its class. Soft leather seating, a contoured instrument panel, and fine wood. But there’s more – much more.  Outside, authentically distressed fenders give way to a partially padded roof of blistered vinyl.  While under the hood, a simulated transmission-fluid drip whispers, ‘Hey, not worth the trouble.’  This is craftsmanship no one will steal.  There’s attention to detail. Like three mismatched wheel covers, and one exposed rim in school-bus yellow. Standard.  A broken taillight repaired with duct tape.  Standard. The body of a Pontiac with a driver’s-side door from an Oldsmobile Delta ’88.  All standard.  A car thief takes one look at this, and keeps right on walking. Of course, it’s equipped with an automatic alarm system – but do you really think you’ll need it?”  As Phil Hartman is walking away he hits the alarm button on his key chain and one the front passenger side wheels seems to blow out while the whole car slouches forward at an angle.  “The Chameleon XLE. They might tow it away, but they’ll never steal it!”

It seems to me that the Word of God also has a tendency to sneak under the radar.  If I’m not careful my consciousness doesn’t pick it up at all.  Or I miss its relationship to me.  That God is speaking to me.  I remember in seminary, when the priests who were our formators, our teachers, would be at Mass concelebrating – well they would be up in the sanctuary seated opposite all of us students – maybe during the readings, but definitely during the homily they would all have their eyes closed as if they might be meditating.  I am still tempted to think it was so that we couldn’t catch them if they drifted off….but like I said, I can be caught off guard and I and we should be doing all that we can to claw and scratch open the shell of God’s message and find the seed.  And it’s all kind of ridiculous too – because the word to me…the word to you – the message to us is that we are inheritors of a treasure that makes any Powerball look like chump change.  Imagine if God promised us cash.  Can you imagine during Mass if the readings occasionally announced that so-and-so from our parish was to be awarded 50 million dollars?  Image result for cashWe would be ecstatic.  But, listen to what St. Paul tells Timothy today.  He says that God saved us and called us to holiness according to a design of His own and that He has a role for us to play as Christians (members in Christ Jesus) with the grace that He has laid aside for us personally in Jesus Christ since before time began….and this plan is revealed to us (is brought to light) in the Gospel.

Sounds like we should look deeper into our Gospel.  But before we get to today’s Gospel and the perfect example of our destiny in Christ being revealed in all its light, think back to the Christ’s baptism in the Jordan.  These two episodes are linked together.  For in both cases, we see Christ sort of on display in an unusual manner and the voice of the Father proclaiming: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Well, in His Image result for christ baptismbaptism – Christ went under the spiritually dirty and tainted waters of the Jordan where all of these chosen people had washed their sinfulness before Him.  He does not just identify with sinners – He takes upon Himself all our sins.  The chosen people represent everybody and through them we can understand Christ bearing all of humanity’s burden.  He is nowhere more aptly called, “the Son of Man” than here.  He wants us to know He is with us at our low point as He plunges into the Jordan – which I imagine was particularly icy that morning.  He’s like the outside of the Chameleon XLE, except He is all human outside and inside.

But how about today’s event?  Jesus climbs the mountain with Peter, James, and John and while still fully human reveals His original nature.  It is no accident that this event happens six days after Peter declares Him to be the Son of God.  This seventh day can call us to look upon it as a miracle of a New Creation.  Peter and all of us would be content we think just to stand there and gawk at Jesus.  In Mark’s Gospel, he makes the point to mention that this was not just a trick of Christ wearing really nice clothes – the clothes were as no fuller could bleach them.  He is always depicted in art as lifted up in this scene suspended.  He doesn’t need the Cross to be lifted up, but He will take it so that we can ourselves use our crosses to find a way to this glory.  But back to Peter: he wants to strike out and build a monument in a way.  One forImage result for christ transfiguration each of the figures.  Perhaps Jesus brought these three men – Peter, James, and John – so that they themselves could become the tents in way.  Will they not eventually house Christ within themselves?  The Father booms out again, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” and now the Father adds, “Listen to Him,” as in – follow Him to this future for what He holds within you are called to share completely.  And we receive from Him, by listening to His will and not our own impulses.

There is one more interesting parallel worth pointing out.  We see Christ’s Body glorified today – far above our own situation to “This is my beloved Son.”  The Father wants us to wake from sleep.  And at the Last Supper, Jesus says, “This is my Body.”  And holds up what looks like mere bread – so far beneath our situation.  But far enough below that we believe that we can eat of it.  In fact we are tempted to take it for granted.  The exchange is simple enough: if we give Christ all of our sins, than He will give us all of Himself.  That is baptism and confession.  In fact we should not receive without examining our hearts according to St. Paul lest we drink judgment upon ourselves.  Yet, if in the sacrament of confession we reveal to Christ what is within our hearts then He will be allowed into them, as His proper “tent of meeting” with us and He will share with us the glory that He has hidden beneath such a common appearance.
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Of Parrots and the Primacy of the Soul

Perhaps you’ve heard this one before: Late one night, a burglar broke into a house he thought was empty. He tiptoed through the living room but suddenly froze in his tracks when he heard a loud voice say: “Jesus is watching you!

Silence returned to the house, so the burglar crept forward again. “Jesus is watching you,” the voice boomed again. The burglar stopped motionless with bated breath. He was parrot.jpgfrightened. Frantically, he looked all around. In a dark corner, he spotted a bird cage and in the cage was a parrot. He asked the parrot:

“Was that you who said Jesus is watching me?” “Yes,” said the parrot. The burglar breathed a sigh of relief and asked the parrot: “What’s your name?” “Clarence,” said the bird.

“That’s a dumb name for a parrot,” sneered the burglar. “What idiot named you Clarence?” The parrot said, “The same idiot who named the Doberman Jesus.”

Alright, so Jesus does care about your stuff — at least the “Jesus” Doberman in this joke.  And truly the point of our Gospel today contrary to what it might sound like is not that we should keep from calling the police if we are assaulted or trying to allow others to take advantage of us.  People who are committing crimes benefit from their criminal activity being stopped, and we are encouraged to pray for them.  But there are higher goods at stake than our stuff or even our earthly bodies.

Truly, I always find the martyrs inspiring in that they show us this concern for Christ and remaining faithful to Him above all else.  For example, imagine yourself in the middle of this 1800 year old record of St. Justin the Martyr’s trial.  His Roman prefect is Rusticus.

Rusticus said, “You are a Christian, then?” Justin said, “Yes, I am a Christian.” The prefect said to Justin, “You are called a learned man and think you know what is true teaching. Listen: if you were scourged and beheaded, are you convinced that you would go up to heaven?” Justin said, “I hope that I shall enter God’s house if I suffer in that way. For I know that God’s favor is stored up until the end of the whole world for all who have lived good lives.” The prefect Rusticus said, “Do you have an idea that you will go up to heaven to receive some suitable rewards?” Justin said, “It is not an idea that I have; it is something I know well and hold to be most certain.” The prefect Rusticus said, “Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and urgent. Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods.” Justin said, “No one who is right-thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.” The prefect Rusticus said, “If you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy.” Justin said, “We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved.” In the same way the other martyrs also said, “Do what you will. We are Christians; we do not offer sacrifice to idols.”

Justin ignored the wisdom of the age.  We should do the same.  It is contradictory.  The world tells us to do whatever we want to our souls, as long as we don’t inflict pain on someone else’s body.  Drink in as much spiritual poison as you like.   How many slasher flicks, how many shoot-em-up games, you name it does the world have no problem at all selling everyone and their brother?  And then everyone is supposed to play nice with others.  It is even more confusing what we tell people with matters of love: celebrate promiscuity as much as you want and really never have any expectation that you should mature, but then we will still try to lift the perfect air-brushed family up that everyone should try and achieve so that we can sell you toothpaste and breakfast cereal.  The message is simple: treat your body how you want as long as it does no harm to anyone else, and (believe what you want/think and imagine whatever dark and selfish ideas no matter how twisted…i.e., do whatever you want to your soul) – good luck.

Our readings contradict this in Paul exhorting us that the human body is God’s temple.  But it is possible to be confused then when Christ tells us not to resist evil even to this temple.  We should turn the other cheek.  What is happening here in Christ’s amplification of the Law is that He wants us to receive the peace that only He can give and to keep from being victimized in the highest aspect of the temple that we are – the sanctuary of our soul.  Peace often comes from compromise.  Christ by His Passion and Resurrection reveals to us that we can compromise to others in sacrificing not only our goods and our time, as He tells us to give up our cloak and to go the extra mile…but even our very flesh.  For as much as He values the all of these temporal goods of ours – He values every soul (even the souls of our enemies) more than these.   And He wants to win them over by our love and the peace He gives that we can give if we keep from vengeance.

Jesus tells us that even the pagans love those who love them and give to those that will return the favor, but should we love even our enemies than we share love that truly is offered back to God in a way that can benefit us in eternity.  We begin to reflect His love that looks deeper, hopes for every soul, and therefore receives everything that has been created and joins us to Christ and Christ to God.

 

The Peace of Poverty

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I got back from the Prolife March last night and our kids return tomorrow.   Well, our group got out there on Wednesday and the march happens on Friday.  In the meantime we got to visit Arlington National Cemetery and view the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  If you’ve ever seen this ceremony you remember it.  To describe the changing of the guard rings a little hollow.  What you see is simply a solitary infantry soldier in dress blues slowly pacing down a strip of stone pavement in front of a large stone vault, clacking his heels when he stops and changes direction and then after an hour, he is relieved by another guard who looks nearly identical to him in every proportion.  I was trying to put my finger on why everyone I ever talk to who has seen this is humbled by this operation that is repeated every hour of every day of every year.  The reason, I think, that it takes one’s breath away and a silence spreads over the crowd, is because it shows the resolve not of an individual soldier’s dedication to our fallen comrades whose names and identities in many cases are known only to God (as the words chiseled into the tomb remind us), and not only the resolve of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment – for they never mention even from which service the guard comes from.  No, these soldiers painstakingly perfect every single motion of this ceremony, never losing their bearing whether it be 95 degrees or negative 20 degrees, in the endeavor to project the resolve of our entire nation (and not simply today but so long as we have our nation) to remember those fallen from the beginning of our country. 

            Perhaps this is a good example of the first beatitude, that of poverty of spirit.  The ceremony of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the changing of the guard which ushers in another man just as stripped of anything that might draw attention to his own personality – this focus on service before self is at least similar to our own need to be humble and low in our own desire to exalt ourselves so that we can be brought up into the much greater Spirit of God. 

            Now, we are meant to live all of the Beatitudes, but I want to focus on the first beatitude (blessed are they who are poor in spirit) because truly we cannot live the following beatitudes without the first.  They all build on the ones that come before.  Well, the question arises: how can I find poverty of spirit?  What is the best way?  I recently began a great little book called, “Time for God.”  It is about taking time for silent prayer and it’s worth reading.  Prayer really is a great place to start.  Here’s a challenge: strive to carve out fifteen minutes of your day…go to your room, close the door, sit down/kneel down/make yourself into a holy rolley polley…and simply spend time being with God.  Start off by acknowledging His Presence, “God, I know You are here.  Here I am.”  Then keep thinking of Him – either fasting for you in the desert for forty days, or perhaps on the Cross, or risen from the dead and showing You the streams of His Mercy like in the painting we have all over St. John’s. 

            Prayer enables us to become poor in our own spirit, quite honestly because it is humbles us.  Sometimes we are humbled because we get distracted like the spiritual kindergartners that we are.  We are like those five year olds who are so easily off subject and rather than ask a question we bring up a side story about ourselves.  But that’s okay – we know we are distracted and it humbles us as we continually start over.   Other times we run into our own spiritual poverty, because we realize that our life has been filled with passing things.  Without even our friends to help us in this kind of prayer, we realize that we have nothing without God, and none of us have invested enough in Him.   If we are quiet and think of Our Lord, our need for Him can’t be avoided.  We are wretched, and if we continue praying every day, then the humility that we learn will teach us to depend on God and consider our wretchedness a stroke of luck.  We consider ourselves lucky to be reminded of how small and weak we are, because we see we have an opening in our lives for God, and He will not fail to show us how merciful He is. 

            One of the common outs we give ourselves when it comes to prayer is time.  We don’t have enough time.  This is not really totally untrue.  For as many time-saving devices we have, we can become a slave to our devices rather than the other way around and we run around to show people that we love them.  But, prayer can actually help us here.  Use of time is of course about priorities.  It is said that no one starves simply because they do not have the time to eat.  They make time, even if eating cuts into something else which is important – it’s not more important than eating.  And through our patient sitting/kneeling with God and repeatedly coming back to Him, whatever time we sacrifice to God is multiplied in the ability we find to enter more deeply into the relationships we have with others.   Jesus says, “Whoever gives up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.”  In the same mold, whoever gives up just 15 minutes of TV will receive a hundred times more in this life in the value of their time and relationships. 

Prayer brings us into true freedom and trains us for authentic love.  Jacques Philippe (author of Time for God) asks point blank, “Which is the most genuine, authentic love—the kind that changes from day to day according to mood, or the stable, faithful kind that never goes back on itself?” Silent mental prayer enables us to love in a way that is unchanging.  “Being free means not being a slave to one’s moods; it means being guided in a course of action by the fundamental choices one has made, choices one does not repudiate in the face of new circumstances.”  Philippe goes on, “Faithfulness to mental prayer is a school of freedom.  It is a school of truth in love, because it teaches us, little by little, no longer to place our relationship with God on the shaky, unstable basis of our own impressions, moods, or feelings, but on the solid foundation of faith—God’s faithfulness, which is as firm as a rock.”  The Devil hates silent prayer, for he know that “whoever perseveres in mental prayer is lost to him, that all the falls he may cause them only help them, through God’s goodness, to spring back even higher in God’s service; so it matters to him a lot.” 

When people see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier they see more than an individual sentinel – they see the resolve of the United States.  If we empty ourselves out in mental prayer, people will not only see us – they will see Christ living in us.  And the more and more Christians that are filled with the Holy Spirit rather than their own passing feelings and ideas the better.  When others see us they will not only see us – they will begin to see the Kingdom of Heaven.

Fruit of Obedience = Fruit of Life

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Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.  I am tremendously grateful to all of you, my family – the parishioners of Holy Infant.  Thank you for welcoming me, for sharing your lives and your faith and your food with me, thank you for embracing me as an associate pastor in a parish that has had one after another great associates before me – and yet you have not ever made me feel like I was failing to live up to these great brothers of mine.  Speaking of brothers, I am thankful to both our deacons – Deacon Dan Henke and Deacon Jim Powers for all of their support, assistance, and fellowship.  Thank you to Deacon Jacob for his inspiring fraternity – and I especially have to say thank you to you, Father Stanger and you, Father Vordtriede.  Father Stanger and Father Vordtriede, living with you and working and laughing with you is an experienced unparalleled in my life in terms of camaraderie and fraternity and I know in my gut that I will never see the likes of it again.  Fr. Vordtriede I will miss you laughing so riotously that you have to leave the room.  And Father Stanger I will miss your indefatigably high spirits and boundless desire to serve everyone in the parish starting with Tom and I.  Between all of you, my parish family – I have learned so much.  You have taught me more of how to be a priest and a father than I expected and shown me so many places to grow.  Thank you.  If there is anyone whom I have left out, or overlooked in any way for any gift or card or simple glance on the way out the door – thank you.  And if there is anyone during any of my time here that I have rubbed the wrong way, of anyone that I said the wrong thing to or repeated myself to, repeated myself to, repeated myself to — in any way offended in the biggest or the seemingly pettiest way – I am sorry.  If you are a part of this parish, you mean the world to me. 

Let us pause a moment and consider the big picture between our God who loves us unconditionally and us.  Fr. Eugene Boylan once wrote that that love either finds an equality between lover and beloved or makes equality.  “For the proper friendship between two beings, some equality of nature is necessary.”  Think about that.  God has made us out of nothing and longs to raise us to Himself so that we, His children, can be His friends – so that He can share everything He has with us in His love. 

            Now there are distinctions in God – He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and while they are united, the Persons are not blended together.  So when God formed Adam and Eve, He put them in the garden and began to teach them that they were loved, they were special among all creation – and yet the forbidden tree of Image result for adam and eveknowledge of good and evil was a way in which He was distinct from them.  They were not God – not able to simply blend into His identity.  As long as they were obedient and did not try to make up good and evil on their own by claiming to have this knowledge apart from God they would grow ever closer to Him. 

            You could almost think of the fruit that they stole as having given them great spiritual indigestion.  A little while ago there was this awesome indigestion commercial with this huge blob rolling through a park and over a picnic bench as all of this food and ketchup and mustard and whatnot gets stuck in it and it even tries to go down the slide with the kids.  It was glorious.  Well, in a way we’ve all been swallowed up but by our own wayward wills – led by our disordered desires. 

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              But in the effort to heal us of our condition, strangely the Lord does not simply free us of our pain and suffering.  He does not want to change who we are from the outside — or simply completely alter our human nature completely into something else.  Into a world gone amuck, God first gave the Ten Commandments which can reveal to the Israelites and to us where we are failing.  And then He sent His Son, Jesus who enters into our pain and suffering freely – not to eliminate it outright – but to join Himself to our suffering – to give our suffering and even death meaning – the meaning of the Cross that opens into life.  He joins our lowly condition and shows that faithfulness and obedience to God does lead us to peace and happiness. 

            All of today’s Scriptures reflect unity with God’s will through obedience.  Christ is the one whom Isaiah the prophet speaks of who is a servant from the womb.  Because of his obedience, Christ will not remain a servant but will made a light to the nations to spread His salvation.  In the Psalm we sing of the servant who refers to God as His delight for the law has been established in his heart.  Paul describes himself as doing the will of God, himself and in the Gospel we have John the Baptist recount how Christ is the Lamb of God.  In other words, all of the Old Testament – yearning for the promised Land and for a true king and for freedom from death – and there greatest sign – the Paschal Lamb – that is Jesus who will give Himself up for us, but His Body will be eaten.  Jesus has come to be fruit of the Tree of Life. 

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            Behold the Lamb of God.  He has taken away the Sin of the world – that is every sin if we simply stop eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge by which we try to do our own will, Christ has taught us the way of charity.  Christ has shown us that the elevation of our humanity into God comes from lowering ourselves to serving our brothers and sisters.  You have taught me a great deal about service and obedience and joy even here at Mass.  In the liturgy you recognize God’s Lordship over you and receive His Blessing through this unworthy man before you.  Please continue to learn from God’s Word and continue to conform your will to the will of God, for this is love and eventually love is all that matters.

The Epiphany of Unity

Image result for star warsSo, I got a card the other day and in one corner it had been stamped with a Star Wars stamp that had the symbol and the title, “Rebel Alliance” and in the opposite corner it had the stamp for the “Galactic Empire”.  Now, I don’t plan on speaking too much about Rogue One, the latest Star Wards movie, but whenever I think of these huge epic space movies there is usually a consistent factor: usually there is a main character that wakes up to realize that there is a whole universe out there and usually it is in danger….and that somehow something about the future of the universe depends upon them…it hinges upon their actions…. and they realize that they are willing to risk everything they have to try and help it/defend it/save it/etc.  In other words they have an Epiphany! 

          Now in a smaller sense of the word epiphany we have all probably had perhaps many little epiphanies.  We all love to have epiphanies.  In other words, we all love it when we are struck with understanding something – when we come to some realization.  Now this experience of being struck with the meaning behindImage result for christ in manger this or that bigger picture can happen in any field.  These little epiphanies give us more energy and drive perhaps to keep working at something or to strike out anew entirely.   But today we celebrate the Big One.  The Epiphany is that this child Jesus lying in a manger is God Himself.  But more than that, Jesus who is God while is born in Israel, He is born even for these travelling Magi who represent – all of us – everywhere!  Christ, this baby has come to help/defend/save the entire universe, all of creation. 

          But here’s sort of a little epiphany I had about the Big Epiphany: in this feast the magi (who represent us) get the news from the outside and head in towards Christ.  God had His prophets preparing the way for the Israelites to know Him through their words, and yet He also comes to us through the Star – to those that are looking for the truth and following reason.  The light shines even to those in darkness.  You could even say that the Star was the news of the day that the magi observe, but they looked past the immediate appearance and perceived a deeper significance that connected them to God’s bigger picture. 

          Let’s get back to Star Wars for a second.  They keep making these movies and they keep being successful for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons is deep down we all know that the universe is really big and full of excitement and danger and ancient truth and somehow all of it does involve us and call us to risk everything we have to help/defend/and save it.  Only that “somehow” is not some impersonal force, but God – calling us to love. 

          Here comes the rub: we are called to receive the Big Epiphany – of Christ’s coming into the world and His love for us and His calling us to follow Him and live with Him in seemingly reckless and yet rewarding ways in the middle of a world that doesn’t know God, doesn’t believe God, deadens even little epiphanies, or tries to distract us toward the periphery/the tangential/the mundane.   Losing track of God we also lose track of the goodness of others in our world.  When we tune into this or that stream of news it is catered so often to our own old conceptions of things whether that is liberal or conservative, sacred or secular and our own fears are enkindled and we become harder towards each other and even if the world is gigantic – we seem to care for less and less and less of it.  We get along with few outside of ourselves on anything of importance and that is when we even get along with ourselves.   

          We need an epiphany!  I need to realize the great reality that Christ is for me – I need to recognize that Christ lived His entire life for me, but that He did this same for you.  Which actually unites us together.  We share the same future in Him.  I just saw the craziest video.  There is this goofy Japanese variety show with what even sounds like a laugh track at times…but they get a letter from an 18 year old boy whose parents never talk to one another. Image result for man not listening Or rather, his father never talks to his mother and the 18 year old has written asking this very understanding but lively host (Japanese Drew Carrey) to try and open them up.  To come to the point, the dad admitted to having been jealous over the attention given to his children and had begun to give his wife the longest silent treatment I’ve ever heard of.  To the amazement of the viewing audience, the host does talk to each separately and get them to open up at a local park.  This closed off man has an epiphany that he really does matter to his wife.  I mention this, because it is not terribly different from our situation with God.  Our world is so frantic and is always shouting so loud in every direction, but the one devastating silence that we are always in danger of falling into is a silence towards God.  Whether we think that it is He that has forgotten us, or that He doesn’t love us anymore, or whatever – He does want to communicate to us and has shown up in our neighbor, in the Scriptures, and in the Eucharist.

          For us to recognize these manifestations of God – we need to pray.  God coming to my neighbor does not minimize His love for me anymore than that Japanese wife thought any less of her husband because she had to tend to and love her children.   It took a crazy Japanese TV show host to snap this husband out of his way of thinking.  What will it take for us?  How can we organize our lives in 2017 in ways so that we can live the Epiphany?  That we live in the knowledge that God has come to us and wants to join us to Himself and to everyone… Do we read Catholic books?  Do we read any good books that draw our attention to the story of our humanity and its redemption – be that fiction/non-fiction?  Do we get outside and walk?  Have you prayed a rosary with your Bible open and meditated on the mysteries?  Has it been a long time since you’ve laid your burden at Christ’s feet in the confessional?  If we keep opening our hearts from the inside, perhaps we can reach out to old relations with the salvific mercy of God? 

Perhaps what is most hopeful about the magi is that they follow this cosmically glorious star for perhaps Image result for magi adorationhundreds of miles and yet when it stops over this backwater hole in the ground stable with the infant looking so poor amid cattle, Mary and Joseph having used the feed-bin for a manger…that they still recognize this child as the King of Kings and they adore Him.  Do we seek to see Christ in the lowly appearance of the Eucharist – and seek Him in the faces of those we have so often taken for granted or written off?  The magi continue to listen to God and go back another way.  Let us leave each encounter from Mass and from each other knowing that we are no longer isolated.  God seeks to love you more than you seek to be loved and many others are living in the darkness waiting for the Epiphany that they matter.  Wake up to His joy and love Him for the sake of the world. 

Mary, Mother of God

Image result for st. john the baptist gildehausHappy Feast of Mary, Mother of God.  I have an announcement to make: The Archbishop called me recently and asked me to take the role of pastor at St. John the Baptist parish in Gildehaus and I said yes.  I am very humbled to follow Fr. Tim Bannes again.  I am currently in his former office here at Holy Infant and his former bedroom and his former garage space and now I follow him again to St. John’s on January 17th.  I not only find this to be a great honor, but I naturally am very excited about the role and responsibility I will have there, and it is at the same time – not easy at all to be leaving Holy Infant.  I have gotten to know and to love you, my family, and been blessed with your joyful spirit, and of course the camaraderie and friendship of Fr. Vordtriede and Fr. Stanger.  Not to leave you guessing, I am being replaced by another priest who will step in at Holy Infant so you will continue to have three priests, but his name will be made known a little later. 

            But let’s talk Mary.  For wherever any of us goes – whether it’s Gildehaus or Ballwin we all share the same Mother who is celebrated today not only as our Mother, but as the Mother of God!  She is so instrumental in our lives.  Now Mary had consecrated herself to God to remain as a virgin.  This is evident from her encounter with the angel Gabriel when he informs her that she will bear a son.  She replies, “How shall this be?  Seeing as Image result for mary mother of godI know not a man?”  She was already betrothed to St. Joseph and she was not ignorant of basic biology.  But she had given her life to God.  Her virginity and abstinence from marital pleasure are only outward signs that point to the condition of her heart.  Mary’s immaculate heart was totally receptive to God’s Word.  In today’s Gospel we read how, “Mary kept all these things and pondered on them/reflected on them in her heart.”  The Word of God was the Source of her joy.  In celebrating Mary as Mother of God today, we recognize with joy that Mary’s consecration was not undone by God…it was not rejected, rather God utilizes it to bring about the great Miracle of the Incarnation – that is Jesus being conceived within the womb of a virgin.  She loses nothing with God — there is no before God she was a virgin/after this experience with God she was not — He is always simply with her – He is with her as a virgin and she is now with Him as His Mother.

           This feast has always remembered Mary, but Mary always brings us closer to Jesus.  He comes to us and seems to experience another kind of consecration to God as a Jewish baby boy through circumcision.  It is Image result for circumcision of jesusnoteworthy that while Mary is preserved in her physical body for her consecration, Jesus undergoes this painful ritual and is changed in His physical Body for His.  If He is consecrated to God in this ritual, it is a consecration on behalf of all of us – as the shedding of His blood reveals that He will be obedient to God from the very beginning of His life.  The giving of His life from its infancy will join us back to God.  In other words, with Mary we learn that God desires to lift up our human nature – even our physical bodies to perfection and with Jesus we learn that God is willing to descend into our humanity to give everything through His Body back to us and through us back to God.    

            What does mean?  Are all women supposed to be consecrated virgins or do all men need circumcision?  No and no.   God is certainly calling particular women and men to be consecrated to Him with their whole lives in the model of Mary and Jesus, as religious sisters and priests.  But, He also calls many to build up the Church in other ways.  And in terms of circumcision, while this ritual was mandated to the Jews, it was deemed unnecessary for Christians.  The cutting away of part of the body and the entrance into God’s people was superseded by Baptism.  For in baptism we are united to Christ’s complete sacrifice and joined in this way to His supernatural life.  

            Alright, so in Baptism we are joined to Christ and consecrated to God with our whole lives.  It is then up to us to live out that consecration.  How are we to give back to God our whole lives?  What a compliment that He wants our lives…but how to do it.  Ultimately, God wants our hearts.  Meaning that He wants to be the deepest desire of our lives.  Since God is infinite we can all share this desire and all be satisfied.  Truly we are not able to seek Christ half-heartedly.  It is only with a willingness to give Him our very lives will we find His joy.  For His joy and His love are too great to be held onto with anything less.

              It’s interesting – I have been following this book, “33 Days to Morning Glory” which was given to me Image result for 33 days to morning gloryjust over a month ago.  The book is a daily devotional where you read a little each day and pray for 33 days to consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary – usually ending on a big feast day of Mary.  So, I picked the first available big Marian feast – which is today, Mary, Mother of God.  It has truly been a blessed experience and God has overwhelmingly responded to my desire to draw closer to Him.

            One of the popular methods of dedicating each day is a morning prayer of consecration to our Lady.  To say in effect, Dear Mary I offer you everything – my joys, works, sorrows, all that I have to you today.   Mary is so perfect at helping us to do works of love and in helping us to understand others for she has the perfect fullness of what is to be human within her.  Talk to Mary, ask her as your mother to help you find her Son in every situation. 

            Mary through her consecration brought forth Jesus into our world.  Priests through their consecration are likewise capable of receiving Christ into our world in the Eucharist.  I am supremely thankful for the privilege of celebrating Mass with all of you here at Holy Infant so many times and I pray that your faith may enable you to receive everything from Christ that His consecration has won for you.Image result for holy infant ballwin

Corybantic Christianity

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Professor Huxley, in one of his clever phrases, called the Salvation Army “corybantic Christianity.” Huxley was the last and noblest of those Stoics who have never understood the Cross. If he had understood Christianity he would have known that there never has been, and never can be, any Christianity that is not corybantic (Heretics, Ch VI).

The above quote is from G.K. Chesterton’s book, Heretics.  The word corybantic means “wild; frenzied” and Chesterton seems to intend it in a complimentary way.

 

Merry Christmas: Jesus All the Way!

Image result for jingle all the wayMerry Christmas from Fr. Stanger, Fr. Vordtriede, and myself!  And welcome home wherever we are from in the world as we gather around the same crib.  It is amazing that that this tradition continues to grow after so many hundreds of years, we all commemorate this one person’s birthday!  Think about it.  We’ve all been around children who don’t understand why somebody is getting presents and they are not.  We try to explain, “Well, dear, it’s just not your birthday.”  Sometimes we try to pacify them by another bribery: “If you can just relax and stop crying I’ll let you have the front seat in the car for the next ten years.”  And most of the time they don’t stop because envy is nearly as old as humanity itself.  But at Christmas we all get presents for one reason: they remind us Christ became a child for us to share His birthday with us.  His birthday is a new beginning for us.

Think back on the story of the Prodigal son.  Imagine the prodigal represents all of us, but when he was out of his senses and trying to eat the pig food he couldn’t remember how to return and he simply stayed and had generations and generations of children…all wanting something better and yet marooned until one day this baby boy is born who knows the way home to the Father, because His heart never left the Father.  Image result for prodigal sonThat’s the point of His time here.  Christ says He is the “Way”.  That is why the Word became flesh: to be a kind of living map to our final and most perfect destination.

There have always been people however, who might ask why they would need to look at Christ’s life.  Well, the answer is already in every set of Christmas readings.  Sin.   Jesus came to free us from sin – that is this striking out on our own in a path that does not lead us home to God and heaven and happiness eternal.  Mass on Christmas Day has the Letter to the Hebrews explain beautifully that “when [Jesus] had accomplished purification from sins He took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on High.”  In the readings from Christmas Eve, Joseph is told the great news of Jesus which is simply that “He will save His people from their sins.”    Our Lord didn’t just decide on this meaning for His life as a teenager or during His twenties.  The angel Gabriel announced it before His birth.

So, Christ came to free us from sin, but how?!  It’s noteworthy that at Midnight Mass, St. Paul relates that “Jesus Christ gave Himself up for us to deliver us from all lawlessness.”  We live in a world of laws.  The deepest oldest laws – those laws which govern the physical world and the spiritual world cannot be changed.  There is no freedom to be found away from those laws.  For example: if we try to defy or test the law of gravity by jumping from taller and taller tree branches eventually – we are not going to break gravity, it will break us.  Freedom is to be found within these laws that govern physical and spiritual reality.   We grow in our freedom by understanding the design of nature and identifying the relationships within not only the laws of physics, but the laws of morality and then navigating them according to their purpose. Image result for holy family travel Yes, Jesus came down to guide us through sin, but not in a way that is unrealistic.  For one thing, He came down and started off just the way we do: as a human baby in His mother’s womb and even while He made Himself subject to this convention – His little family had to up and leave to abide by the rules of Caesar and be numbered like so many cattle in the imperial census.  Christ subjects Himself to every kind of meaningful human law, so that we might know that we can follow Him.  The path He charts out in His life is within our own limits.  He never works a single miracle to benefit Himself.  Even when He walks on water, the purpose is to increase our faith.

So, today we celebrate the beginning of this map made flesh.  His spirit was born in our flesh, so that our flesh might be able to be born into His Spirit.  That’s baptism.  And He grows up in a family.  Another way of thinking of us being united to His Spirit and another reason it is so helpful that Christ is born to us is that babies have a “way” of yanking us outside of ourselves.  This is good, because if we remain locked in our own ideas, we will never set out on Christ’s path.  It can be a lot easier to ignore God than to ignore a baby for babies demand that we pay attention to them.   Image result for baby swaddling clothesThere was a point when God said to us, “Hey, change my swaddling clothes” and through Mary and Joseph: we did.  And Jesus grew older and yet continued and continues to call us out of our own worlds and our own fantasies to be connected to God and to one another.  But even when times are darkest, yes He is a map but He is a living Map that is with us always and He tells us that so long as we love truth and seek the highest good, than just like Joseph hears from Gabriel: we do not have to be afraid.  Jesus goes from being our baby brother to our big brother pretty fast, as He shows us that even death itself (which stares down each of us as it sits smugly blocking the course of our life from its happiest destination of God the Father) is no cause for fear.  For He has shown us that if our will, that is if the desire of our heart is the love of God and neighbor we will live again and reach heaven.

You’ve heard that God is eternal.  That means that there is no past or future to Him.  Everything is happening in a Now that never ends.  This means from our perspective, God is seeing us and choosing to be born for us who are alive right now – every bit as much as He sees any part of humanity, only that He is being born right into the middle of human family tree some 2016-ish years ago.  All the more reason that He is joyful that we celebrate His entrance still.  And to bring us back to our sweet infant Christ who is our map and our shepherd.  This is the same King of Kings who will join us in the Eucharist for His unity with our flesh continues on as His “Yes” to us invites us to say “Yes” to Him and to thank Him for His gifts to everyone.

Advent IV: The Superman Problem

Merry Almost Christmas!  I hope you are getting into that great Almost Christmas Spirit!  If you are someone Image result for egg nogwho is into putting out Christmas lights – it’s a good bet you’ve gotten ’em up.  Maybe you’re drinking some egg nog already, you’ve sent some Christmas cards, but you are looking for a little more about the spiritual meaning behind things to light up that inner fire in your soul – the one that can brighten up the manger scene within your heart. 

          Well, in that first reading, something really odd is happening.  If you notice, God is telling the King to ask for a sign from Him.  This pretty much never happens.  And God gives him a kind of blank check – I’ll make good on any request – as high as the sky/ as low as the netherworld.  We might think of God telling Ahaz to ask for a sign as, God saying, “Let me do something for you.”  And Ahaz basically says back, “I don’t really think I want you to do anything for me.  I don’t really want to be open to you…to be vulnerable to what You could then ask of me.”  It seems that God takes this as the sign that mankind is so lost at this point that it is time to announce the coming Messiah.  The sign won’t be too high for us or too low – rather God will meet us in the middle: right from the very heart of humanity itself will come the sign of a virgin giving birth to a son who shall be named Emmanuel – God is with us. 

            When it comes to the Gospel, we hear of the nearness of this sign’s fulfillment – and yet there is all of this drama.  We are not sure how Joseph exactly felt when he discovered Mary was pregnant without any of his help, but we know that it was an intense moment.  Yes, from the very beginning of the Gospels, Jesus Image result for supermansuccessfully avoids what I would call the Superman problem.  What is the Superman problem?  I’m glad I pretended you asked.  When you look at cultural heroes and superheroes and legends you can get a sense of what we want from ourselves.  The problem with Superman is that he’s all super and no man…you couldn’t hurt him if you tried – unless you brought kryptonite….and so not only are the plots predictable, but you and I have a hard time relating to him.

Christ on the other hand allows Himself to be vulnerable from day one.  Just think of this situation with Joseph.  There are at least two schools of thought.  In one scenario, Joseph might have been afraid because if he takes Mary into his home, than he is hiding the sin of a likely adulterous situation.  But, if he breaks off his betrothal publicly than she will be stoned, and Joseph is not a cruel man.  Therefore he decides to break things off quietly until the angel of the Lord comes along.  Another way things might have happened is that Joseph, this supremely humble and truly pious man (kind of like the opposite of King Ahaz from the first reading), was actually looking for this ancient sign that Isaiah had promised in our first reading.  And because he was looking, Image result for joseph and maryhe saw the revelation of its meaning in his own bride.  In Mary he beholds this great sign!  Perhaps in recognizing her and seeing her as a living sacrament, he became afraid for he did not deem himself worthy to let her come under his roof – that is until the angel explained that he has been chosen.   Either way, God allows such human confusion, as He takes up the experience of human life. 

          At the risk of causing any of you to fall asleep from talking a wee bit more on Superman, he has another problem in that he’s also a pretender.  You see, in all those comics, movies, and cartoons he leads a double life.  He goes around pretending to be Clark Kent who is weak, insecure and cowardly.  And one could argue that this is because Superman sees humanity as weak, insecure, and cowardly.  So they need him – Superman – who is really strong, courageous, and bold to make it all better.   

          Christ lives among us without an alter ego.  He is both God and man and not pretending in either case.  So not only as God does He performs miracles of power, miracles of healing, miracles of mercy – but as a man.  As a man, He stands erect before Pontius Pilate and receives judgment, but we can also say that God Himself is judged by the Roman governor.   Jesus speaks words about the kingdom of heaven – words of great hope, but in very relatable human ways such as the man who finds a treasure or the woman who kneading dough into three loaves.    Image result for jesus sermon on the mount

Christ comes to save humanity because it is not strong enough, it is not courageous enough, it is not bold enough.  It is filled with weakness, but He comes not to save it from the outside, but to invigorate it and energize it and embolden it from within so that it might be more fully alive.  If you have any doubts about Christ’s humanity being involved in performing those miracles, just take a look at the Acts of the Apostles when it is St. Peter and St. John who decided to heal the crippled.  Or consider that even before He was born, Mary and Joseph are already throwing off the shackles of fear.  In the beginning, Adam and Eve both passed the blame and responsibility for their problems onto someone else.  By contrast, Mary doesn’t even try to explain herself.  She simply puts her faith in God.  Joseph, could have acted out of jealousy and suspicion.  He tells no one of his suspicions whatever they might have been.  And due to his great faith, he met the Angel Gabriel not even in person, but only in a dream and he believed and acted with bravery and joy. 

Christ has come to be with us and He remains with us.  The Eucharist itself is the perpetuation of Christ’s Presence not only with us here in Church, but that He desires to join Himself to us.  He wants to entrust Himself to us and to expose His heart to ours.  He knows of our family struggles.  He is aware of our financial situation.  He knows about fear, depression, the expectations others are putting on us – and He offers Himself.  Let us not pretend.   We are not too high that we don’t need Him, nor to low that He can’t find us.  I love how St. Paul speaks to us.  We are called to belong to Jesus Christ.  He has become man that we might know Him and in knowing Him to be with Him together in peace.    Image result for jesus eucharist

To Be Alive IS To Sense

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Doubtless there is an older and better hero-worship than this. But the old hero was a being who, like Achilles, was more human than humanity itself. Nietzsche’s Superman is cold and friendless. Achilles is so foolishly fond of his friend that he slaughters armies in the agony of his bereavement. Mr. Shaw’s sad Caesar says in his desolate pride, “He who has never hoped can never despair.” The Man-God of old answers from his awful hill, “Was ever sorrow like unto my sorrow?” A great man is not a man so strong that he feels less than other men; he is a man so strong that he feels more. And when Nietszche says, “A new commandment I give to you, `be hard,'” he is really saying, “A new commandment I give to you, `be dead.'” Sensibility is the definition of life.

The above quote is from G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics.  Chesterton compares those who would cut themselves off from hope and love in order to be powerful to Christ Himself.  While the modern man is told to think and be concerned only for himself, Christ felt everything going on with His brothers and sisters.  He is what it is to be alive.