So, we start a new liturgical year. We take a deep breath and learn again to rely on the love Jesus has for his people. We sing, still with masks covering our mouths, but with a new desire in our bodies to welcome the Incarnate Savior. I pray we can pay attention to Jesus this year and keep our focus on love. Much healing needs to happen. Our children have experienced the clumsiness of our world, the inappropriate manner in which we have treated people, and the offensive language of our political lives. This Advent can be different. This Advent, we can focus on the mystery that love is born in our world even when we feel we have misplaced such a gift.
I pray for the world this Advent, that we may bear the unbelievable mystery of God. We are caretakes of love. Our skin colors may be different, our accents not easily understood, but we are all children of God. We don’t have all the answers to the pandemic. We struggle to care for the earth upon which we live. We are caretakers of the fact that Jesus became flesh for all people. In this mystery, I hold fast.
We carry much baggage with us into this new liturgical year. We still can’t easily gather in groups. Our children don’t know from week to week how they will be educated. Our parents have delt with job loss and financial uncertainty. The one thing we have learned however in this pandemic is that we need God. Jesus can no longer be a stranger in our households. The baby Jesus does not remain in a manger scene. He has to grow up. We begin with the adult Jesus in the Advent gospels. He is a sign to us to get our acts together, to grow up, and to explore our adult faith. He advises us to get moving.
Today’s gospel, Mark 13:33-37 is short but packs a real punch. Jesus tells a simple story of a man traveling abroad. He leaves home. His servants are in charge. Jesus commands, “Stay awake…Be alert…Watch!” Those commands compel us. What are we watching for? What shall we be alert to? If we don’t, what will happen?
The servant is asked to protect the property from disaster, from theft, and from those who would destroy the owner’s goods. We are asked to care for all that God has left us on earth. In other words, God has left everything for us to hold as treasure. I think this is really important for us to acknowledge. Sometimes we think that world peace is not our worry or that the ground we stand on is not our responsibility. We often live the sin of entitlement, that we have earned our place standing on the earth. The earth, and even our lives, are not throw-a-way. The earth is ours for which to care. Every day is sheer gift. Every aspect of raising children or burying our parents and everything in-between becomes an opportunity to hold the mystery of God’s presence within us.
This gospel helps us expand our view of life and faith. It penetrates our hearts toward the care of people who need us to stay awake. This new liturgical year gives us an opportunity to open a new door to our own selfishness, our obstinance toward others, and our apathy toward people who are different from our selves. We are called to stay awake and to live with expectation of the Lord’s coming.
We must learn to live differently in Advent. We are asked to stay awake through all the turmoil of racial violence, to stand among the marginalized, to ask deeper questions to those who abuse their power. Waking up is not passive. We are challenged to hold the light of faith boldly in the world. Our actions in the world declare our faith.
Advent does not begin by waiting for the cozy scene of childbirth with red and green accessories. This is not what we are waiting for in the first weeks of this season. We are waiting for a fresh breeze in our hearts that wakes us from slumber so we may get to work. Our faith in God is serious, life changing, and full of compassion toward all people.
Advent holds a three-dimensional understanding of God’s presence. We wait in the past, along with our ancestors who longed for the Messiah. We wait in the future for Jesus’ Second Coming. However, the third may be more important for us. We wait for God to crack open our stubborn and callused hearts. Today is the day to wake up.
If life in these past months of pandemic and all of the events in our world have not showed us that we need God, I am not sure what will. So, together, let’s remain awake.
Today marks the conclusion of our liturgical year with the Solemnity of Christ the King. This feast draws us into the reality that all things will be one in Christ Jesus in the end. All things will be in Christ Jesus. All things, including violence and racism, including doubt and hopelessness, including greed and substance abuse, including pandemic and job loss, including every fear, will all be healed and loved in Christ the King.
The Solemnity of Christ the King means a great deal to me. I cling to the notion that all things will be healed, loved and forgiven in the end. As a priest and pastoral minister, I hold on to this for dear life. The gospel today helps us understand the real meaning of the Solemnity.
Matthew 25:31-46 is one of the most important salvation texts in the gospels. Our salvation rests in giving a thirsty person a drink and a naked man some clothing. Our hope for heaven means that we visited the prison while on earth and cared for people who are ill. Being at the right hand of the Father begins with us on earth claiming our responsibility for feeding people food and sitting with strangers with an attentive ear and a heart full of hope.
If you read only one gospel text this year, read this one at its conclusion. Our salvation begins with us doing simple things for others. Salvation is not passing an exam on the Catechism or based on attendance records from Mass. Even confession is not on this list to get into heaven.
What is on the list to enter salvation is that we care for people. What a surprise. Salvation is not only a personal experience but also a communal reality. We find our way to Jesus’ face because we showed up to the real human faces of people in need. We showed up to help others without judgment, condemnation or ridicule. We showed up to relieve people of their burdens because we are already one in Christ Jesus.
So, as we end our liturgical year and begin a new year next week on the First Sunday of Advent, let’s remind ourselves that salvation rests on our conscience to befriend the least among us, not the powerful and the glitzy, but the worn out, the tired and the smelly. Salvation comes in ways in which we least expect. Tell everyone you know that all will be well in Christ Jesus, King of the Universe.
Some thoughts for the week:
Take some time and reflect on what it means for Christ to come in glory…
Reflect on what it means to see Jesus Christ in the fragile and ill…
Talk with your family about the fact that salvation comes from befriending the marginalized…
Pray for the broken, lost and uncertain as we celebrate Christ the King…
Find your way to the face of Jesus, the King of the Universe in your prayer this week…
“The lost I will see out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.” Ezekiel 34
I recently ran across an African proverb. “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground,”
Even our experiences become ash.
The Bible is the one book we have in common. How it was lived varies from man to man. I can’t imagine the wisdom that floats among these stones.
The older I get, the more I want to go back and listen to them. I wonder what our spiritual directors would say about our divided world. I am grateful they are protected from such clamoring.
I would love to hear from our scientists from the past opinions about today’s pandemic.
Much has burned.
All things lie under the cross.
As another liturgical year comes to an end in the Solemnity of Christ the King, I know all experiences rest in the King.
This King is not about politics. Imagine that. Every sadness and every joy, every hardship and every tender relationship, belongs to Jesus Christ. I love this.
Every library of the heart is ultimately a book about the King.
Most of our men were content to take their volumes of experiences with them in death.
I remember Fr. Cornelius in the 1970’s who rewrote his dissertation when he was 90 years old. He held on for dear life as he handed me a copy of his book on the Holy Spirit. I think I finally gave it away just a few years ago.
I wish I had kept the book.
All things are one in Christ the King.
Our men are buried next to each other in the order of their death. There are several men buried next to their perceived enemy on earth. These relationships get a chuckle when those who know them see the names chiseled on the crosses. These are family ironies.
No matter who got fired from a job or who declared the firing, the experiences are sorted through on the other side of the stone.
Even fear is gathered into the King’s arms.
Fr. John was a friend of the Kennedy family. He offered Mass at the White House the day after JFK’s assassination. I cared for Fr. John at Holy Cross House. He feared the nighttime. I sat with him in the dark the few times I worked the nightshift. He told me Jackie was the boss of that house. Fr. John’s brother was Fr. Joe, an English professor. I wish I could read the story they are writing.
I can’t get another Fr. Joe out of my heart. His dementia rose up quickly. However, it did not affect his loving personality. When I knew him, he could not remember five minutes after lunchtime whether he had eaten meatloaf with mashed potatoes or a bologna sandwich. Whatever he had, we laughed up a storm in the hallway when I pursued the questions. His smile rises in me still.
I can’t imagine bologna is served there anymore.
Fr. Bill was an opera singer. Fr. George led both high school and college jazz bands. Fr. Claude played the clarinet as did Fr. Jim. Fr. Gene sang like an ancient prophet. I wish I could listen in to the celebrations of the King this weekend. The King shall come when morning dawns. Indeed.
Please note: Advent begins November 29, 2020. I will post a daily audio homily for the four weeks of Advent, as I did during the Lenten season. I hope you will listen as we yearn for hope in our world. The theme of my Advent reflections: Advent: On the ground of hope.
Today’s gospel, Matthew 25: 14-30 opens a door for our reflection on the gift of life, how we are responsible for it, and how we return the treasure God has given us. We are all given talents, not in money like the parable states, but in the gift of our humanity. As we soon close out another liturgical year, we reflect upon the value of what God gives us in our hearts, in our lives, and in all relationships.
I realize this is a year most of us would like to forget. Even though we cannot control every outcome of our lives, life is still sheer gift. We have a responsibility for the many talents, loves, and beauties God gives us, not only as individuals, but as Church. In November, we take stock of life as we prepare for end times. How we live today, reveals our happy death and God’s eternal love for us.
So, what if your life ended today? What have you done with your incredible, beautiful, loving life? What are the regrets that harm you? What are the moments that give you joy and exuberance? What are the things that cling to your sense of guilt or shame? How can you turn your sorrow into joy in your reflection?
God is not in our lives to condemn us; God is brought into our hearts so to heal us and offer us forgiveness. I meet people every day who think God hates them, because of petty sin or things they just cannot let go of or heal. This reveals the importance of living a spiritual life that is vital and authentic. If we have been reflecting all along on God’s mercy, then we shall know Jesus in our pain, our regret and our sin. If we have not lived in Him, then in the end, we will think our lives are useless and sinful. I pray we may all find God, in good days and in bad.
About forty years ago, one of our Holy Cross priests was going to build a chapel at our retreat center at Notre Dame. He sent every person on his list of donors a $5.00 bill. He gave them instructions to use the money to benefit the new building. Over the course of a few months, the people made five dollars into many thousands. He built a new chapel that is still standing and used today. We have many gifts and many ways to increase what God has already given us. We are instruments of divine love in our world and it is up to us to spread the Good News.
No matter where you are on the spiritual journey, I hope you can use your life and your life work for the common good. Who knows what God has in mind for you? Now is the time for you to explore the grace given you and how you have lived such grace. You can still multiply the benefits and gifts God has given you with love and generosity.
In today’s second reading from 1Thes 5:1-6, we here that the Lord will come like a thief in the night. We are to remain sober and alert. We are to stand in the dark and yearn for the coming light of Christ. I pray that we may all have that hope in the end. I pray for courage as we learn to rebuild from a pandemic and live with hope that things can be reborn, and our priorities expanded. God is in our world and in each and every heart. What a treasured gift.
“For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich…”
Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection, Part 7
Yesterday, I celebrated my 65th birthday. A lovely moment of reflection during pandemic. Texts pinged and calls rang throughout the day. Being seated with a friend for lunch and others for dinner helped me digest the reality of getting older and coming closer to being myself in the world. I am less a stranger to myself in my mid-sixties.
I strolled through our cemetery again, this time, not in person. In that soil lies a paradise of reflection, where my imagination sees the smiles, the intentions, the books written, the sermons preached, of my ancestors. That cemetery is a cave of mystery, that I know I need to enter, so that I may still walk on this earth knowing the relationships that have formed me. On this soil, hope springs up through the autumn oak leaves and the smell of winter approaching.
I first journeyed to Fr. John’s cement cross. He died at 64. High noon on Easter. He listened to me rant and rave for nearly nine years. He was so patient with me. Now, I wish, we could sit together. I would tell him that I have relaxed a bit in my own skin. I would shake his hand, even during a pandemic, and thank him for revealing to me the face of Jesus. I am calmer now. There is deeper prayer, a fearlessness, that resides in me now at 65, just past his earthly life.
I needed to rest at Fr. Jim’s grave. He was an artist. He was a man of few words. So, when he spoke, I listened as best as I could. When I was in the novitiate, the first class at Cascade, CO, a classmate and I created a banner for our makeshift chapel. Everything we needed there, we had to create. The first class paved the way. When we finished the banner, sewing together silks and linens and assorted colors from remnants for Lent and Easter, another priest stared at our creation.
The other priest said to us, “Who would waste their time doing something like that?” Well, my classmate and I were taken aback as we hung our creativity on the wall for prayer. The priest who bent our pride was a mountain climber.
Later, I told this story to Fr. Jim. He eased the tension in me with these words, “A man may climb a mountain because it is there. Another man creates art because it is not.” I have hung on to these words for over forty years. Those words have become a banner of love. I climb the mystery of my creativity because others before me dared to scale such a mountain. The creative paths inside are just as treacherous and are so often hidden. I rest my art in the lives of those who believed their art was from the creating efforts of God.
The mountains are outside my window in Colorado. However, a large charcoal drawing from Fr. Jim of a woman holding her son dying of AIDS, hangs in my living room. I am constantly walking into the unknown, the ways in which Jesus leads me. I so often think falsely that I am in control of my life. Life and art are lovely journeys.
Several years ago, Fr. Jim was in the first stages of dementia. One summer, he took me to his large, cluttered studio. We toured mountains of drawings, sculptures and unfinished works. As we unearthed tools, plans, and scraps of note paper in his messy cabinets, I purposely asked him questions to help him track the past. He pointed to the tools he used to create, to the works themselves, to proto-types and sketches, because his words were fleeting. He did not always have words to connect the art to his ideas or commissions or his hope that I would learn to scale such a mystery.
As I watch in my mind that story unfold again, I revere the sacredness of his art and his life. He invited me into unknown places of the soul. Those mountains need exploration. They need skill and attention. Most of all, life and art, are only revealed in prayer. Yesterday, on my birthday, I realized once again, that he passed on to me a desire to create with God, what is not.
CLICK HERE to pre-order “The Stations of the Cross in Atonement for Abuse the the Healing of All” from Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. Commentary is written by Fr. Paul Turner and illustrated by Fr. Ronald Raab, CSC. The book will be published in mid-December, 2020.
This video was published this weekend in our Flocknote for our Sacred Heart Parish community.