4th S. Advent 2020: God Has A Plan

Today’s reflection is for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

As we enter into the final week of Advent, we draw nearer to the birth of Christ, and Sacred Scripture teaches us how it all went down–it reveals the humble beginnings of our Savior and Lord. Could Mary even have imagined the joy and pain the Angel’s announcement might bring to her? It’s no wonder she was greatly troubled! The angel tells her, “Do not be afraid,” and gave her the news every mother wants to hear, “He will be great.” And more than that, Elizabeth also conceived and as we know, John was indeed great.

God seems to have a thing for humble beginnings. I think many of us look to those who are great to do great things. I don’t know why, because time and time again God chooses the ignorant to shame the wise. The weak to carry the strong. The ones that the world has cast aside to bring glory and honor to his name. 

You probably remember Joseph, the dreamer, whom God called to save the Egyptians and surrounding regions from starvation and death. God had a plan! And after him, the infant Moses, scheduled for death, who then lead God’s people out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt. God had a plan.

And King David, from tending the flocks, to the King of Israel. God didn’t choose any of the obvious, he chose the world’s nobody. He had a plan. God chose Mary, in the line of King David. A virgin betrothed to a Carpenter, to give birth to God and bring salvation to the whole world. And Elizabeth’s John the Baptist to announce it. God had a plan. 

At a time when kids are eager to look under the tree to find gifts, and parents look for some Tylenol and a glass of wine to ease the pain we remain peaceful, knowing God has a plan. At a time when we are unable to worship in-doors, and it’s almost too cold to be outdoors, when COVID infections and deaths are rising, when at the same time families long to be together at the Holidays, they must bury their loved ones and coworkers, we remain ever hopeful knowing that God has a plan.

I don’t know the details of the plan. But I know only this, God has a plan and we are somehow called to participate in it. God has always called us, the ordinary ones of the world: the humble, the meek. We don’t count for much, but God will use us to glorify His name if we allow him. Believe that. God will use our children and grandchildren to be great. 

Just before Mass, I was honored to baptize the newest member of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Clementine. Her parents Adam and Candice, are filled with joy–but also with fear, with uncertainty, with hope, and with love. Do not be afraid. She will be great. 

I want to encourage you with the truth that God wants us to be great. God wants to use us to change the world, bring peace and love, and goodness and truth. He wants to use us to glorify his name and bring salvation to others through his son. As we enter the final week of Advent, take a deep breath, pray intensely, visit the adoration chapel, go to reconciliation, receive Eucharist, find a quiet place and read your Bible, and know that God has transformed the world with people like you and me. Do not be afraid. We have the Spirit. We’re going to be great. God has a plan…we’re part of it.

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.