Saturday, December 31, 2016


Welcome to the home of John and Lisa, five year-old Mary, and  baby Joey.
After morning Mass, Lisa is busy with Joey. John begins to plan his day. Ahh, New Year's Day. No work. Nothing to do. A day all to myself.
He prepares to be a couch potato, with lots of munchies at his side. Nothing but sitting back and football all day! He puts his I-Phone on silence mode, goes to put on his Alma Mater sweatshirt and begins humming its fight song.
Mary watches with silent wonder. Finally she can't contain herself. Daddy, why are you so happy?  
Well, it's New Year's Day
What's so special about New Year's Day?
The father starts to answer, but feeling a bit guilty about his planned day of isolated self-indulgence, he pauses and ponders his response. He wants to create a positive image for his precious little girl.
He begins by saying, Well, today is the beginning of a new year. We celebrate the chance to start all over again, to do what will make us happy this year. Just like when you got up this morning and started thinking about what games you would like to play today to make you happy. 
So what games are you going to play today, Daddy?
Honey, I'm not going to play games, but I'm going to watch lots of games on TV.
Is that all? Mary asks.
Well, no. Hmmn, He tries to buy more time. Today is also a feast day, the Feast of Mary, the mother of baby Jesus. She's the one you were named after.
What does it mean to have a feast day?
Well, it's something very special, to honor Mary. You see she's not only the mother of Jesus, she's the Mother of God.
He notices the look of confusion on little Mary's face. How does he explain that Mary was declared the Mother of God by the Church 1,600 years ago, because Jesus was both human and divine, and has been paid homage ever since?
So he says. You know Jesus is the Prince of Peace. So Mary, as his mother, is called the Queen of Peace. Today, we celebrate both of them by making a commitment, er a promise, to be a person of peace...all year long.
Will watching football help you to be a person of peace?
As he reflects on the violent nature of the sport, the win at any price (even cheating, as long as you don't get caught), the screaming and yelling at referees for perhaps errant calls, or crucial calls that go against your team, etc., he decides that there may be a better way to spend this day.
He asks Mary, Shall we play a game to help us be people of peace?
Mary is excited that her dad wants to play a game with her, and about peace.
The father says, Let's see what we can find on the computer about peace. Look here's what other people, very important people, have said about peace. WOW there are so many quotes. Which one do you like?
Mary says, I like this one from Mother Theresa, Peace begins with a smile.
That's a good one. Here's one by the great chief Black Elk, The first step of peace, which is the most important, is to remember that the Great Spirit dwells within each of us.
What does that mean Daddy?  
Well it means that Jesus lives inside each of us, and that we're all sisters and brothers. So we should love each other, just like you love Joey.
Here's another I like by John Muir, says Dad. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
I like going camping with you and Mommy, says little Mary. Me, too.
Mary says, Here's one from President Obama. True peace is not just freedom from fear but freedom from want.
And here's one by another great leader, Mahatma Gandhi, says John. It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.
Mary finds another by Mother Theresa. All works of love are works of peace.
Mary, What do you think we can do to be people of peace?
Well we can love each other...and listen to each other...and do nice things for each other. Maybe we can take some of my toys to kids who don't have any.
And I can share some of the extra clothes I have.
As they begin to fill some large bags with their things, Dad is whistling the tune, Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me...
Little Mary is smiling and happy.  No doubt the other Mary is too.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Today we celebrate the miracle of miracles, the gift of gifts, the love of loves...the WOW of WOWs, God becoming one with us. God becoming what God loves. 

That captures the heart of the Christmas storyIt is because God loves the world…loves us…that God did this. If we think about that over and over, take it deeper and deeper, then we discover something about God, and a great deal about this world and about human beings. Imagine, Christmas expresses how much God loves the world…how much God wants to be one with us.

Let's hear that again. God so loved the world...that God became part of it. So, now it's not God loving us "from afar." It's God loving us by becoming one with us, and because of that, everything is different…for us and for God.

Rather than pondering the Prime Mover who continues to create constellations beyond constellations that boggles the mind, we have God in our hands, to hold, to hug, to love.  Instead of searching to comprehend the incomprehensible with our minds, we are given a babe to know and love with our hearts. WOW! 

The birth of Christ is a moment of great joy…for us, and for God.

But God didn't just come to pay us a short visit. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us...God pitched his tent among us! That truth, and its implications, is what we celebrate at Christmas.

Now, God was always present in creation, but God became part of it in a new way with the coming of Jesus. God is part of our history. 

If we get down on ourselves, down on others, down on this world, let us take heart from the words of the angel to the shepherds: Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 

If we get down on ourselves, down on others, down on this world, let us take heart from this good news. 
God so loved the world that God became part of it and stayed part of it.

This is good news for us. For God it may be even more. For God, Christmas expresses God’s great joy of getting the Christmas present God wanted and wants…to be one with us.  No wonder the angels sang with great joy and exultation, Glory to God in the highest…!

There was great joy in heaven and on earth.

In the fullness of love, the Lover and beloved are one - God becoming human so that we might be divine - each giving a unique part of themself to the other. And joy abounds! This is what we celebrate on this glorious day.

Now, no one wants a present just one day a year...not even God. God desires the gift of being re-born in us today...everyday. 

Let's see how. I have a very dear friend, who at the age of 11 dreamed of having an orphanage in Ethiopia. This September, at the age of 20, her dream became a reality. Here's what she writes:

Last week, I had been caring for the new sick baby for two days. I had not slept or eaten for two days. He was literally vomiting constantly and having seizure after seizure. All I could do was hold him and sing to him as he cried because he was in so much pain. I thought going back to the hospital was the last resort, but he began vomiting blood, so I decided it was our only choice.

Estegenet was in a meeting and could not go with me but said she would send Yohannes with me. To be honest, I was reluctant because I thought I would have no help, which usually I am fine with but that day I could barely see straight. My thought was that God could only use who I believed He could use. I thought Yohannes would not even go in with me because no one else but Estegenet would ever go inside the emergency area with me. There is urine, blood covered linens and bowls of mucus everywhere you walk. Feces covered towels are left out in the hallways and almost every patient is covered from head to toe in severe burns. But God quietly whispered to my soul "I will take care of you." 

As we walked into the hospital, I silently cried out to God that I didn't even have the strength to carry this baby. At that moment, Yohannes took the baby from me. He literally held him for the next three hours as we went from department to department getting tests and paperwork and seeing doctors. God used him to do everything. I literally did nothing. At one point, the baby sat up and vomited all over him. He wiped all the vomit off of the baby and still he wanted to hold him. He gave that baby so much love that I had no more energy to give. 

God showed me His love can flow through anyone. When I am not enough, the work of the Holy Spirit is still enough. God's love is relentless. His compassion is enduring. We are only broken vessels of His perfect love. 

That's how we give birth to Christ! This is the Christmas story all over again.  Today we celebrate God's great love, and our response with our love Mary did, and Suzanne, and Yohannes. 

We are only broken vessels...and yet, though we are mere human beings, our love gives birth to God! That's what we celebrate today - God's love and our love giving life to each other.

To each and everyone, and to God, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Christmas decorations wherever we look, the music and commercials, our giving tree in church and those at home with lots of presents - a sure sign it’s almost D-day. Or should I say C-day? Of course we want more than lots of presents to make this Christmas a real miracle in our life. We want a holy encounter.

Just as Joseph had. How? Through faith. 

Today, our gospel tells us of Joseph’s faith…and his response. In any culture, let alone that of Israel 2000 years ago, a prospective husband who learns that his betrothed is pregnant by another would be justified in walking away. But he chose to stay…because of his love; you just know how much he must have loved Mary. 

And because of a dream…because of his faith in an encounter. What faith! 

It was his faith that gave him certainty that God was with him ...guiding him. And because of his faith, both he and Mary experienced the fullness of God with them. 
We, too, want that faith...that certainty. We, too, want to experience Emmanuel - God with us.

But if we are expecting God to come and be present to us, we've got it wrong...we have it backward. It is we who have to be present to God.

God is already with us. It is faith that makes visible the Holy Presence.

And in that encounter, we too, like Joseph, begin our holy quest.

God is with us. But we have to be alert to God’s presence. Without this holy awareness, religion may be empty and meaningless, perhaps nothing more than merely going through the motions. That's why we need faith...real faith. Faith that is not real may be the main dilemma in our journey of life.

One way to discern if our faith is real is to ask ourselves, What difference does belief in God make in my life? Do my actions show a difference from those who do not believe?

As the saying goes, Show me how you live, and I'll tell you what you really believe.

If we are to celebrate next Sunday the birth of God in our midst…in us…we must first believe that God is alive and wants to be one with us…wants to be born in us. It is not only our willingness to cooperate, but God’s very desire.

As Psalm 46 says, Be still...and know...that God is with us...and wants the very best for us. It is this conviction that opens the door to the holy encounter…the awareness of being with the Holy Presence.

This encounter, this awareness depends on us. We have the power to make God’s dream (of being re-born in our world) a reality…or not.

We have the power to make our dream of peace, joy, happiness, fulfillment…our desire to find purpose and meaning in life…a reality. Or not.

Where does this faith come from? Unlike religion, that we may have been born into, faith requires that we make a conscious decision to believe, perhaps as Kierkegaard said, by a leap of faith...a desire to believe. 
At times, despite our desire, and the awe and wonder all around, but because of the tragedies in our life, it’s hard to see God in our midst. Even the saints have wrestled with this. St. Thérese, the Little Flower, who had a very intimate relationship with the Lord, could not find him during the last days of her life as she battled tuberculosis. She would say to him, Where are you? I know what you’re doing. You’re playing hide-and-seek. Well, I like games.

I have found another way in the desert moments of my journey. I share it with you. Look for the good in you and others, and you will discover God. I am convinced that the word ‘good’ is an extension of the word, ‘God’.

To do good is to go beyond one's own needs and to illumine the reflect the hidden light of God's holiness. As much as we delight in discovering the hand of God in the mystery and wonder of creation, it is more meaningful for us to believe in the immanence of God in deeds than in the presence of God in nature.

God confirms this. When the universe was created, the word God spoke was not what we might have uttered: beautiful, sublime, grandeur. It is good, said God. God is not impressed with splendor. God is impressed with goodness. 

Goodness leads us to the holy encounter with God!

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Jesus asked the crowd, Why did you go out to the desert? He might ask us, Why are you here?

We come to the third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday…invited to rejoice! It’s not quite Christmas, but we’re almost there. We’re in the home stretch of preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ…preparing to give birth to Christ this Christmas. 

Two weeks ago we said we are pregnant with God.

Let us focus today on our Christmas shopping, hoping to find the best gift for the Christ-child…and for ourselves.

What gift would you like to give God this Christmas? What do you want for your loved ones...for yourself? Perhaps peace, joy, hope, love, happiness, fulfillment, holiness…

Today we hear of Isaiah’s Christmas wish, his joyous desire for the desert and the parched land to bloom with abundant flowers.

A few years ago preaching in Coachella, between Palm Springs, CA, and the Mexican border, I was blessed to see the desert in bloom. The cacti were alive and radiant with vivid yellows and reds, pinks and purples; as beautiful as any Fall up north.  But there is a greater meaning in Isaiah’s wish...about the parchness and pain in our lives. (I quote from an earlier blog seven years ago, River or Lake.)

"There is an illuminating book about the condition of humanity, its downfall and ultimate redemption. It is entitled, Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton. Its central character is a poor black pastor, Stephen Kumalo, in the back-country of South Africa.

"He is troubled because of the lack of news from his son and sister, who left for Johannesburg to find work.  As the story begins, the land is parched, the plants in the field have wilted, and there is an air of hopelessness – reflective of the brokenness in the relationships among the family members and society.

"Kumalo travels to the big city, where his worst fears are realized: his son stands accused of murder; his sister surviving as a prostitute. After much struggling to put his house in order, saving the soul of his son (if not his life), he returns home a broken man, expecting all to reject his ministry and tribal leadership.

"Instead, they welcome him with jubilation, sensitive to his loss, and appreciative of his sacrifice and loving efforts. The book ends with life-giving rain pouring upon the fields, symbolic of new life and new hope."

Today so much brokenness and hopelessness is still evident in our individual families and in our global family. 

We hear this same lament and hope by the psalmist today who prays that God will secure justice for the oppressed and give food to the hungry. Sadly, that’s an all too common dream (especially at Christmas).

I ask again, What is your prayer this Christmas? What do you really want, and to give? 

Forty-five years ago, John Lennon shared his Christmas dream. He wrote…Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can; No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man; Imagine all the people sharing all the world; You may say I’m a dreamer. Perhaps he was.

Ten years ago, Rev. Andrea Ayvazian shared her Christmas wish:

 If we dug a huge grave miles wide, miles deep
And buried every rifle, pistol, knife, bullet, bomb, bayonet…
If every light-skinned man in a silk tie said
To every dark-skinned man in a turban
I vow not to kill your children
And heard the same vow in return
 If every elected leader would stop lying
If every child was fed as well as racehorses bred to win derbies
If every person with a second home gave it to a person with no home
If every mother buried her parents not her sons and daughters
If every person who has enough said out loud I have enough
If every person violent in the name of God were to find God
We would grow silent, still for a moment, a lifetime
We would hear infants nursing at the breast
Hummingbirds hovering in flight-two lovers sigh across the ocean
We would watch old wounds grow new flesh
And jagged scars disappear…
And we would once again give birth to God.

TO GIVE BIRTH TO GOD! Perhaps the gift we really want is the one Mary gave and got…giving birth to Christ!

What a great Christmas present that would be…to God…and to ourselves!

Perhaps you’re thinking, No way...I'm not Mary. But if Mary was the only one pregnant with God, then it was all for naught. If Christ was only born 2,000 years ago but is not born in our hearts, and in our actions, then God’s dream remains unfulfilled.

God’s Christmas wish and ours is that we give birth once more to God.

How? As Jesus, Mary and Joseph did - by giving the best of ourselvesThat's the best Christmas present for God...and for ourselves. You cannot receive what you don't give.

Not as a mere response to a need or a commandment, but out of the love and joy that is at the heart of birthing life. That's why we rejoice on this Gaudete Sunday.

That's why we are filled with joy when we shop for the one we love. While we still have 14 shopping days to make our dream and God’s dream a reality, why wait?  Why not give and get the perfect gift today?

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Quo Vadis? Where are you going? Where are we going? And how do we get there? Our Jewish ancestors had the prophets to guide them, the greatest being John the Baptist, known principally for his finger - the one he used to point to Jesus: our true Star, our Guide, our GPS. It's interesting to compare John and Jesus.
Both preached a message about the dawn of a new age.
Because of this, both called people to reform their lives and have a change of heart.
Both stressed the urgency of this choice.
Both were "itinerant preachers" rather than someone attached to the Temple or a synagogue.
Both gathered disciples.

But there were significant differences:

John had the people come out to him in the wilderness, whereas Jesus went to the people in their towns and villages, and into their homes.
John's message was a fiery one, threatening dire consequences to those who didn't take it to heart, whereas the message of Jesus was a more joyful announcement of good news.
Jesus, unlike John, went out of his way to reach out to sinners, even eat and drink with them. He also took the initiative to reach out to people who were poor, on the margins of society. 
No miracles are reported of John, but the ministry of Jesus was filled with miracles, especially healing.

 The biggest difference of all is this:
 Although both John and Jesus preached repentance, a change of heart, reform, Jesus was more than a reformer. Jesus was a "transformer." Jesus changed the condition of the world by his entry into history. Jesus changed the condition of our lives by sending his own Spirit upon us.

John the Baptist himself recognized the difference. We heard John say in today's gospel: I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I...He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
We all want to re-form ourselves from time to time. New Year's resolutions are an example. Advent is also a time when we think about reform - it's the beginning of a new Church year, and we're coming upon the end of another calendar year. It's a natural time to think of changes we'd like to make in our lives.
What strikes me about reform - as we compare and contrast John and Jesus - is that we usually try to reform ourselves by using our own resources. Sort of like a self-help program.
The Baptist preached that kind of reform. He spoke forcefully about the need for reform, and then the people had to figure out how to do it.
 Jesus spoke differently.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

This is my body...take and eat...This is my blood...take and drink.

The reform Jesus talks about is never based on our own initiative or our own resources. We turn to him, not to our own self-help plan.
Last week we spoke of Advent as a time of being pregnant. Well, it is God who creates this life within us. We do our part to give that life the best chance of being healthy by how we live our life.
So, too, with respect to our re-form. What would happen if we turned to the Lord first and said, Lord, what is it that you want me to change in my life?
It might be something we haven't thought much about. The Lord might say something like, Well, I think it would be good if you and I spent more time together. Like maybe a few minutes every day. Or it might be, I'd like you to look at your relationships with other people - your family, or the people you work with, or a relationship that isn't so good.
Or...The first thing I want you to do is reconcile with your brother, or your sister whom you haven't spoken to in years. Or...I want you to feed your spirit more. I created you for more than the superficial things that you entertain yourself with most every day.
 I don't know what the Lord would say to me, but I do know that I need to give the Lord a chance to say it. 
Think of the difference it would make if we realized that something we need to reform in our lives, isn't our idea. It's the Lord's idea. It's what the Lord is calling us to do. It is the Lord who is calling us to do this, or stop doing that.
It might be the same thing we were thinking about, but now we realize that it comes from the Lord. It's a whole different story. And it's no longer simply a matter of doing it by the sheer force of our own will power. It's a matter of God's grace. That's a major difference.
The source of true reform isn't our own initiative or our own resources. The source of true reform is the Lord, who shapes us in his own image. That's our journey and our destination.
But Advent isn't a self-help or self-guided program. It's a time when we seek more fully the guidance of the Lord - our spiritual GPS.