1st S. Advent 2020: Watch!

Today’s reflection is for the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

As we begin this new liturgical year, we are admonished to “Be watchful! Be alert!” As a Marine, I was often tasked with guard duty. The Marine Corps general orders describe the standards for which guard duty is to be conducted. I would like you to imagine in your mind a Marine at his post, standing tall, always alert, protecting those who rest because he is alert. There are actually 11 general orders, but here are just a few.

  1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  4. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  5. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  6. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  7. To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

With great pride I stood my post, as generations had done before me, and as many Marines stand guard even now all around the world. We remained alert and at the ready, because the enemy is looking for an opportunity. 

And so it is with Christ’s church. We are called to stay alert. “Be watchful! Be alert!..Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming…May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.” 

My brothers and sisters, the enemy is real, and to sleep on your watch is to invite distraction and destruction. For 2,000 years, the church has stood ever vigilant, ever watchful for the return of Christ. Good Christian soldiers have been baptised and confirmed and have stood their post with their eyes ever on the horizon. And now it is our turn to stand tall, be on guard, to stand our post. 

That’s what advent is, it is not only a celebration of when Christ came to earth as an infant 2,000 years ago, it is also mindfulness of his return at any hour. So stay awake! How do we do that? Well, first of all, stay awake! Too many Christians have fallen into a slumber. The enemy is able to attack when we rest–so don’t. Heads of households, fathers and mothers are called to put up a shield to protect their children and grandchildren. With daily prayer as a family, and prayer on behalf of their children, and those whom their children hang around or will someday marry. With examples of love and generosity, mercy and forgiveness. With steadfast commitment to serving the church as ministers and contributing to the financial needs of the church and missionaries. With frequent and regular reception of the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist. By studying sacred scripture and the teachings of the Church. In all these ways we stay awake; we stand guard. We walk our post ever alert. 

Stand guard, Christian soldiers. Stay awake. The enemy lurks. He never rests. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’

Thanksgiving 2020: Thanks for toes…

Today’s reflection is for the Thanksgiving 2020, November 26, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here soon.

St. John of Avila said, “One act of thanksgiving when things go wrong with us is worth a thousand thanks when things are agreeable to our inclination.” It’s true that when life is most difficult, it is often most difficult to find reasons to give thanks, but it is in those difficult times that our attitude of gratitude has the most power to transform us.

Happy thanksgiving to all of those who read this homily, or who watch it via livestream. Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. No lights or candy, lists of wants, reindeer, easter bunnies and the like. Just the gift of one person to the next. Just a family that gathers together to share a meal, share stories, introduce new babies, new marriages, and to give thanks for the blessing of the past year.

There was a time not long ago when Christmas didn’t start until Thanksgiving was over. Black Friday was the Friday after Thanksgiving. Christmas sales were put on hold while families gave thanks. Those days are now over. Black Friday no longer even means Friday. It just means a type of sale that starts whenever anyone chooses. Christmas decorations are already up! We went from wanting candy to wanting presents and never stopped to give thanks. We are a culture that no longer gives thanks.

I remember walking up to a very busy Starbucks where the line often goes right up to the door. I got there before another woman, but politely opened the door for her. She walked right through like I was the bellhop. She never even looked at me. She just got right in line and never even bothered to turn around and say thank you, never mind letting me in front of her! 

That was the very problem that Jesus was trying to address in his own day. Then, as now, our thankless world needs Jesus. Ten lepers were healed, but nine did not return to give thanks. Those are really bad odds. Do you think it would be different today? There are no doubt lots of reasons for the lepers not to return to give thanks. Many had lost so much of their lives. They lost family and friends, jobs, and property. When a person contracted leprosy, they were removed from the city and made to sit outside the city gates so as not to infect others. Reduced to a life of poverty and begging, they announced “unclean” and were ostracized.

Once clean they wanted to get back to regular life! With no possessions or property, they might have been afraid of how they would put their life back together and didn’t have a moment to spare. No doubt some were angry or bitter with the one who infected them, or with the way they were treated. Some wanted to blame others, regain their stature, or were so focused on the “wants” of life they lost and didn’t have time to go back. But one did give thanks, and he was blessed by Jesus. How can we during this pandemic, during this economic uncertainty, during rises in infections, rises in unemployment, and a rise in political, racial, and social division be people who give thanks. How can we be that leper?

I think the answer is to give thanks. I think we need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. St. Paul says, “In ALL circumstances give thanks. For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” No bitterness, no complaining, no blaming, no kicking rocks. Give thanks. In good times (that’s easy), and in bad, find reasons to give thanks. It must be intentional.

Praying together as a family is something that I grew up with, and is something that is very important to my own family now. I remember when we lived in Salinas, the boys were just two and four and as we got ready for bed it was time to pray. Very early on I noticed that prayer quickly devolved into a list of wants. Prayers of petition are certainly very popular, but I didn’t want my sons to think of God as their perpetual sugar daddy in the sky. I wanted them to look around and give thanks for all that they already had, instead of requesting all that they didn’t have. 

My deal was that six days a week they were to thank Jesus for things they already had, and Sunday would be reserved for petitions. One time we were sitting on the bed, and Luke’s legs were out in front of him as we prayed. He was in his PJs without socks. He was only two and as he looked around his room for something to thank Jesus for, he ended up looking at his bare toes, and thanked Jesus for them. 

Have you ever thanked Jesus for your toes? You can’t walk without them. If you’re listening to this, give thanks for your hearing. If you’re watching this, give thanks for your vision. If you’re with family give thanks for them. If you have a tv to watch, electricity, running water, clean air, a roof over your head, food in your fridge…a refrigerator at all! If we gave it any thought at all we would see countless opportunities everyday for which to give thanks. That’s what this day is all about–not that we have everything we want, but that we have so much for which to give thanks. 

My brothers and sisters, our country stops to give thanks one day a year, but in our church we gather to give thanks every Sunday, and every day of the week. The word Eucharist means, “to give thanks.” The Eucharist is the daily antidote to bitterness, anger, and self focus. Giving thanks points away from ourselves, and points instead toward the gift-giver. When we give thanks we acknowledge the goodness and generosity of others. We “see” others. We “see” God. 

My brothers and sisters, we are all lepers who have been cleansed by the Lord Jesus. Be the one who gives thanks. For your healing, for your life, for your family and friends, and for your toes. Happy Thanksgiving.

33rd S. 2020: Principles of Stewardship

Today’s reflection is for the Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 15, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

St. Ambrose of Milan wisely said, “We are born into this world naked, we leave it without a cent, we are buried without our inheritance.” 

I heard about a man who was rich and he wanted to take it all with him when he died. He wanted all his wealth made into gold bricks, put into a suitcase, and then into his casket upon his death. As he approached the gates of heaven, St. Peter met him there and asked about the suitcase’s contents. With pride the man opened up the suitcase and the gold bars shined beautifully! St. Peter looked at the man and asked, “Why in the world would you bring a suitcase full of asphalt.” Of course, the streets of heaven are paved with Gold. 

What is wealth in God’s eyes? Who is truly rich? And what is the proper use of earthly wealth?

The Book of Proverbs says that the man who finds a worthy wife has an unfailing prize whose value is far greater than pearls. I am a very wealthy man, even if I have nothing more in this life than my wife, Jill. Those things that I treasure most in this life is our God, our Church, my wife, and my children. Proverbs lets us know that doing good, showing kindness, being generous, and having a fear of the Lord are worthy of praise–more valuable than any treasure. True treasure are the relationships that we have with others, and more valuable than any earthly treasure is to do good, show kindness, be generous, and have respect for God. And that is the appropriate use of wealth. All throughout Scripture, we find that earthly treasure is a never ending pursuit…it’s fool’s gold. It promises peace, happiness, and freedom but often brings only headaches and poisons the soul. 

In the parable today Jesus speaks of people with nothing–slaves–who were given great wealth. The wealth did not belong to them at all, but rather to their wealthy master, who gave them his wealth while he went on a journey. As we heard, the two who used that wealth to earn more wealth were praised, but the one who buried it was reprimanded. 

Of course, we are those stewards, only God is not on the journey, we are. We come into this life with nothing, and as we journey through it, we are given a certain amount of talent–a certain amount of earthly treasure. Treasure that we have been given to be used for God’s purposes; to be used at the service of ourselves and others. To be holy is to be separate, set aside, for God’s purposes–like holy water or holy oil. It has been set aside to be used entirely for God’s purpose. We are called to be holy, and we are also called to be good stewards by making portion of our income holy too. 

When the church speaks of Stewardship we are referring to 4 basic principles that guide our use of earthly treasure in support of the Church and its ministers, as well as the world and its needs. When we follow these principles we make a portion of our earthly wealth holy.

The 1st Principle is that we give the Lord a portion of our income. That is what we call a tithe. A title literally means a tenth. This is what scripture calls our “first fruits.” When we look at our monthly income, the first thing we do, before anything else, is set aside 10% for God and God’s purposes. And that 10% rolls right into our 2nd Principle, that our gift should be a sacrifice. 

We want to be like the woman who Jesus praised for giving her 2 coins–she gave sacrificially, as it was all that she had. If we are doing stewardship right, we should pray over our budget, give God first dibs, and only then see what is left for our purposes. That’s what it means to believe that all we have is from God, and that we are but stewards. 

The 3rd principle is that we make our contribution known to our parish by using our envelopes or online giving. The parish has a budget to balance. It hires, pays salaries, keeps the building cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We call OLA our home and are called to announce our intentions for the coming year and then do the hard work each month of giving sacrificially and joyfully. 

Finally, the 4th principle is that we give 5% to our parish, and then 5% to charities that we find meaningful and important. Our family supports the parish and it is our joy to support the Wheelchair foundation, Food for the Poor, CFCA/Outbound, N.E.T. ministries, the local men’s shelter, and a variety of others that come up throughout the year.

I think when we spend our wealth only on things of the earth, then we are basically like that unfaithful steward who buried his master’s wealth. God does not want our earthly wealth to remain in the earth. Our parish and the world needs Christian generosity and love. Christians make the world a better place. We create beautiful churches and we take care of the poor. We always have. We always will. But it requires courageous faith to commit to what God is doing in our community and in the world. Our parish is asking you to put your money where your faith is. Join us.