Sunday, November 27, 2016


At each Mass we begin by welcoming one another. Let me welcome you again…to the world’s largest Lamaze class.

Today we begin to prepare for Christmas. Today we begin not only to prepare to celebrate God’s birth 2000 years ago through Mary, but God’s birth today through us.

Imagine the Angel Gabriel appearing to us, saying, Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you. The thought itself is unimaginable. Bear with me. 

No doubt we would be greatly troubled, as Mary was. Still she responded, May it be done to me according to your word.

What would be our response? Perhaps, we would be numb, in shock, incredulous; perhaps in such awe and amazement that it would steal our voices, our thoughts, our breath.

Advent - the holy encounter…the holy pregnancy - [any relationship with God] begins with awe and amazement.

Let’s see what else Mary does, so that we might learn from her. She proclaims The Magnificat. With a posture of deep humility, in the face of the mystery of being God...for the unthinkable, she sings -    

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness…

And then Mary proclaims a vision of what this world - God's world - should look like.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.

This is Mary’s vision of how to manifest God’s presence…how to give birth to God, a vision that is fulfilled in her son.

Pope Francis did the same.  We remember his great humility on the balcony immediately after he was elected.  And more and more he has also given us his vision, in saying The Name of God is Mercy, and in making mercy the centerpiece of his papacy.

The Season of Advent is more than celebrating the miracle and mystery of God entering our human family. Advent is our time of joyful expectation, attentiveness, and preparation …so God may be re-born in our human family todayBe prepared, the gospel says. 

It is my favorite season. There is nothing, absolutely nothing more joyful than to be pregnant…to feel life within…God’s life.

Now, it might also scare us, for it may require a change in us...a change in spiritual diet, discipline, exercise. But to make it easier, our gestation period is shortened from nine months to four weeks.

Have no doubt, on this First Sunday of Advent we are put on notice that we are pregnant…with God and with ourselves.

That’s correct. We are pregnant with God and with ourselves. As we give life to God, we give life to ourselves.

It has been said, The principal work of the faithful is to make God a reality…to make God visible; in other words, to give birth to God.

How do we give life to God…and to ourselves? The same as Mary did. We do it through our words and actions. 

Most especially, we do it by our vision of what we and this world should be if we and it are to be God’s…and then go about creating both.  

In creating your vision, I invite you to reflect on the following virtues consecutively during the four weeks of Advent and then Christmas: humility, mercy, joy, generosity, and gratitude.

We're on a journey of faith. Faith is life-giving! It transforms us; it creates in us a new awarenessa new being.  

That is the essence of what Jesus said time and again, such as when he said to Nicodemus (and to us), You must be reborn of water and spirit. 

We were reborn of water and spirit at our Baptism. 

At each Mass, we renew our  Baptismal rebirth. As we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we say, Amen ~ Let it be; let me be what I receive. It is like Mary’s fiat: Let it be done unto me.

Let me give him birth in me…and through me! Let me be his eyes and ears, his hands and heart.

Advent is a special time to remind us of our rebirth, and to give birth to the mystery we call God.

Happy Pregnancy!  Happy Advent!

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Thankgiving Day – once again, we gather to give thanks with and for friends and family. A question worth asking is, Is our definition of family the same as God's? 

We gather to remember life-giving memories and to make new ones. We will tell our stories, and once again come to know who we are, and we will be strengthened for the journey forward. 

But today reminds us that it is more than about fellowship with family and friends…it is about having an ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE! Once more today’s gospel tells us of the ten lepers who are healed, one of whom came back to give thanks. 

What was wrong with those ungrateful nine in today’s gospel? What could have stopped them from expressing appreciation for the miracle of good health?

1. Procrastination: I’ll do it tomorrow.
2. Assumption: He knows I’m thankful. I don’t have to tell him.
3. Insensitivity: No big deal for him! He just said a few words.
4. Entitlement: It’s about time! I deserved to be healthy in the first place.
5.  Selfishness: I’m getting a new life. I don’t have time.
6. Thoughtlessness: What for? What difference will a ‘thank you’ make?
7. Arrogance: He’s only doing what he’s supposed to be doing. Besides, he should thank me for being there so he could do his job!
8. Irresponsibility: It’s in the past. I’m healthy now. I want to forget all about my illness.
9. Hopelessness: It’s too late. I should have done it before. What can I do now?

Survey says: Nine out of ten thoughts can restrain gratitude. 

Thank God for that one thankful thought. May God help us to cultivate more…for our own good. Being thankful is indispensable to our happiness and well-being.

In the early centuries of our faith, it was the tradition of pilgrims to visit the holy Desert Fathers and to ask for a word by which to live. A pilgrim came to Abba Joseph requesting such a word. Abba Joseph gave him the word Ah. 

The seeker pronounced that simple syllable, and in a flash his heart was opened to the wonder at the heart of life. The pilgrim walked away repeating the word sensing awe in even the most commonplace wonders he passed along the way. 

To another pilgrim, Abba Joseph said, You’re lucky! Today, you get a bonus, for I’m giving you two words: thank you. The pilgrim was disappointed and said, Abba, did I come all this way to be given so common an expression? How can this everyday phrase be a word of life? He answered him, I assure you if you make ‘thank you’ your constant prayer word, you will find life in great abundance

As our readings this week have been about the end times, here’s another story. A holy monk asks his students, At the final judgment, what do you want to hear God say to you?

The first disciple answered, I would like God to say, “I forgive you. All your sins have been wiped completely away. A second student said, I would like God to say to me, “Don’t worry about all you failed to accomplish in life. I understand. Now, enter into your heavenly reward.  Lastly, a third disciple reflects for a while and then says, I would like to hear God say, “Thank you.”

What would you like God to say to you…today?

Sunday, November 20, 2016


Today you will be with me in paradise. Spoken like a true, benevolent king.
If Christ is king, what is he king of?  Why the King of hearts, of course. 
This title implies a game of sorts, a wager perhaps. A game it is not, unless we speak of the game of life. But a wager, yes, without doubt. 
What's at stake? Nothing less than his kingdom.  And what is his kingdom for which we pray (and perhaps play) daily, like?
Pope Benedict XVI and the renowned theologian, Karl Rahner, have said, Heaven is not some place in the universe, such as a distant star. The Kingdom of Heaven is God himself, not something distinct from him.  
The pope adds, With the term "heaven" we mean a oneness with God...where all people operate with selfless love of each other...where table fellowship conquers loneliness and separation. 
This is the kingdom of God Jesus came to establish. He was a “king”, but not in the way the people popularly understood this – not by military might.
The only crown Jesus would have on his head would be the crown of thorns.
Instead of being seated on a throne, Jesus would be nailed to a cross.
Instead of a royal robe, Jesus would be cloaked in mockeries.
Instead of a crowd shouting, Long live the king! Jesus would hear the crowd shout, Crucify him!
It’s not quite the image we have of a king: all-powerful and domineering. Even his closest friends who wanted to sit in power didn’t understand. Do we?
 He came to win the war to end all wars with love. He came to convert our hearts. He didn't want followers. He wanted imitators.
His commandment to his “soldiers”, Respond to evil with merciful, forgiving, loving. Love your neighbor…love the poor…love your enemies. Love defined him and his kingdom. Love was his only weapon in seeking to conquer our hearts.
And to do so, he put it all on the line. He did not hold back. Kierkegaard’s Fable says it well:
There once was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.
And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist. No one dared resist him. But would she love him?
She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.
The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – he had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.
At the end of the day, we don’t know the decision of his beloved. Did she embrace him or reject him?
We know what we did to Jesus. And still he said, Father forgive them…and to a sinner, Today, you will be with me in paradise.
Why? Was it because of the good thief’s apparent faith? Because he asked? Did he show love? Or was it because of Jesus’ love?
What if Jesus said to both thieves, Today, if you want, you will be with me in paradise?
What if Jesus’ love, God’s love, is such that God wants us all in paradise? Then why be good? Why love all selflessly, unconditionally?
Perhaps to not only pray for but to discover and enter the kingdom…here and now. How much are we willing to put on the line to make it happen? 
Even now, our Lord and King says to us, Today, if you want, you will be with me in paradise. He's still all in, betting on us. What a wager!

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Last week, we said, Life is a journey. In the journey of life, we are always looking for signs. At first blush, today's gospel also seems to be about signs (and perseverance). But I think there is more...something much more important - awe and wonder

Some years back on a business trip to Auckland, New Zealand, I extended my visit, flew to Christchurch, and rented a car to explore the southern island.  I wanted to get to Milford Sound on the southern-most tip of the island to see the Norwegian-like fjord

I asked, How do I get there? What signs should I look for? I was told, Don’t worry about it, mate, just drive south and open your eyes to the splendor of God’s creation in our land. How right they were!

The vistas were spectacular: the land of one-lane bridges, as the locals call it, with three million people and 70 million sheep, breath-taking, winding roads through rolling green hills, snow-capped peaks, pristine lakes, petrified forest, rugged shore line, and so much more.  And, yes, I got to Milford Sound. What a blessed adventure!

More importantly, it awakened in me the wonder and amazement of the Eternal Beauty. Awareness of the Divine begins with wonder. 

As Plato wrote, 2,400 years ago in Banquet, The true order of one's journey is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which one mounts upwards for the sake of that other Beauty. 

Conversely, indifference to the sublime wonder blinds us to the Holy Presence...and is the root of sin. In other words, if we could remain aware of God's presence with us at all times, we could not sin. Think about that. If we could remain aware of God's presence with us, we could not sin!

Though we believe God is with us, the problem is we forget. And when we forget, temptation can get the best of us.

In today’s gospel, folks were looking to the future...instead of focusing on God's very presence with the person of Jesus. They were looking for a sign from Jesus as to when the days will come [to an end].  When will this happen?, they asked. What sign will there be? Why worry about the future when God is already with us? 

Jesus said in essence, Forget about a sign that the time has come. And in another gospel passage, Jesus tells us, No one knows the day nor the hour.

A story is told of a man who rushes to his master’s hacienda, and begs to borrow his fastest horse.  The patrón asks why, and he responds that he had just met Death at the mercado, who gave him a look of fear, and so he must ride out as quickly as possible to take shelter in the distant sanctuary of Casa Santa Maria.

The patrón gives him his fastest horse, and off he rides. But the master is curious and decides to go to the mercado to check out the worker’s story. There, he meets Death and asks, Why did you give my servant the look of fear?

Death replies, That wasn’t the look of fear. That was the look of surprise. I did not expect to see him here, for I have a date with him Casa Santa Maria.

The end will come for each of us. When death does, its hand will not be stayed even an instant. We cannot run and hide, even in a holy sanctuary.

Today we come to the last Sunday of Ordinary Time in Year C of our Liturgical Year. Next week we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, and then Advent begins again for Year A. The end of year is symbolic of the end of our journey…the end of life.

Perhaps we would all like to know when that day will be. But since we don’t know the day nor the hour, what are we to do? Wiser sages have said, Live today as if it were your last, for it may be.  This may be both wise and perhaps not a little daunting. There may be another way.

I often find wisdom in Calvin and Hobbes, Winnie the Pooh, and other “children’s” books. For example, in the latter, Pooh is asked, What is your favorite day? His response, Today, because I get to spend it with you.

Jesus came not to prepare us for our death or some future encounter on “judgment day”, but so that we might spend our time with him…with God…TODAY!

There is no need to look for signs to our hoped-for destination. Journey in any direction and take in the splendor of God’s creation. Let us open our eyes to the awesome wonder of the true Beauty...the holy presence of God.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


We’ve just celebrated the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. What happens when we die? Where do we go? 
Pondering these questions may help us get to our desired destination. Yet more essential than what the future holds for us is how we live the present.
The Kaddish, a beautiful Jewish prayer to help mourners, says, Birth is a beginning and death a destination. But life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage from birth to death and to life everlasting. 
"Life is a journey" - best traveled by living it most fully and giving life to others as well. In the words of St. Irenaeus, The glory of God is the human person fully alive. 
Similarly, Dag Hammarskjold wrote, We die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond reason. 
We live most fully when we are "illumined" by the Holy Mystery!
Some, instead of living fully today, focus on tomorrow - the hereafter, hoping to enter heaven, often pictured as a glorified resort. There's nothing wrong with that image, as long as we realize it's just an image.
In today's gospel, Jesus makes it clear that life after death is not just an extension of this life. He speaks of this age and the age to come, and says the two will be very different. It's not simply an extension of this life with some desired improvements. What happens after death is a transformation that we can't even imagine.
Often at a Funeral Mass, I will make reference to the caterpillar, whose life does not end when it is entombed in a chrysalis, but is transformed into a beautiful butterfly. We are now beautiful caterpillars. The butterflies we will become we can only imagine.
And what of our image of God? Sometimes we imagine God in human terms...who loves, rewards or punishes as we do. But God is not simply a "super-person". God is not like us but a lot better. No. God is far, far beyond anything you and I can imagine. All we can do is use symbols.  God is beyond any category we know.
That's what we mean in religious language when we say that God is a "mystery." A "mystery of faith" is not like a puzzle we haven't figured out yet. A "mystery" is so great, so different, that we can't fit it into our brain. It's beyond us. Glorious. Wonderful. 
St. Thomas Aquinas was probably the greatest theologian Christianity has ever had. He wrote volumes and volumes of very deep theology and these have endured 800 years since his death. In his later years, Thomas had some sort of mystical experience and afterward he said, Everything I've just straw... just straw. 
We have to be careful not to trivialize God, sell God short. We can use images, but we have to know that they are images. We picture God as father, mother, shepherd, judge, rock...but these are only images. One of the mistakes fundamentalists make is to reduce God to the size of our own thoughts. They act as if they know all about God. They take everything literally, with no room for symbols or metaphor.
Now, the wonder of it all is that God, who is so far beyond our understanding, connects with us. That is the greatest mystery of all, something we simply cannot understand - how God, who is totally outside everything we know...connects with us. But God does. God connects with us. And through God's grace, we can connect with God. We, limited though we are, can experience God. 
God not only "illumines" us but somehow makes us sons and daughters. We have God's life in us. It is unimaginable. It would be like giving birth to a flower as a a bird as a son...and it's way beyond that. Yet, God is present to us, within us, around us. God relates to us, loves us, cares for us.
More than seeking to understand the mystery of God, we are meant to enjoy and celebrate the wonder and awe of God. Don't always try to picture God. Just be with God and open yourself to God being with you. Breathe God’s breath. Experience the wonder and awe of it. Enjoy it! Enjoy the journey!