Preparation & Conversion

During these weeks of waiting and anticipation to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, we are reminded of the need to prepare ourselves to spiritually receive our Lord. In St. Luke’s Gospel, we read that familiar story of John the Baptist calling the people of his time to a baptism of forgiveness and repentance. He was fulfilling the words of the great prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths…. All flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (NAB, LK 3:4, 6)

But how do we prepare to receive the salvation being offered to us? Preparing for the Lord, making straight the crooked paths and smoothing out the rough ways in our lives is all about conversion. It means daily examining ourselves, looking deep inside our souls, finding those areas where we fail or where we can do better, and then changing how we live, with the help of God’s grace. Conversion is a daily process where we work to conform ourselves to Christ. A simple reflection, perhaps in the middle of the day and just before sleep, can change our lives dramatically. After intentionally bringing your mind into the presence of God, reflect on the day by giving thanks for your blessings, and then asking yourself: When did I experience God or feel drawn to him today? When did I miss these opportunities, and why? How did I violate God’s Law of Love? (Express true contrition and a desire to change.) How do I allow Jesus to be more fully present in my life? There are many forms of a Daily Examen, and practicing it is perhaps one of the most certain methods for staying prepared for our Lord.

Father, as I experience this time of waiting to celebrate the birth of your Son, Jesus, transform my heart so that it may be clean and clear of anything that prevents me from receiving you. Give me your grace and the persistence and courage to honestly reflect on my life, so as to rid myself of all that is contrary to your love. As I seek to do your will, may I become more conformed to Christ, for your greater glory. Amen.

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Wait for It

It seems that the marketplace has decided that Christmas begins on November 1st. Colorful decorations, tantalizing smells, and festive music fill the stores as the unsold Halloween costumes and candy are put into storage. And for those few retailers that hold off a little bit, Thanksgiving becomes their breaking point, as they too give way to Jingle Bells and Evergreen trees. We have become accustomed to not waiting for anything. We have become an “instantaneous” society, where we want what we want, and we want it NOW. We have entire industries, such as credit cards or “pay nothing for a year”-financing, built on the whole idea of getting things now and paying later. There is also the booming of companies that work toward same-day delivery, or even delivery by drones within hours. We are impatient with our desires.

Today marks the beginning of Advent, a time specifically set aside to anticipate and wait for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus. Humanity had been waiting for a Savior for thousands of years, and when the time was right, God entered the world in the form of one of us, a helpless infant born to a simple family.

We choose to wait so that we can better prepare ourselves for what is to come. It many ways anticipating the gift of God’s Son makes it all the sweeter, but much more so, we are better able to receive the gift of Love, Christ Jesus, our Lord. The Gospel of Luke reminds us that during this time of waiting and anticipation, we must be careful that our “hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.” (NAB, 21:34) We are called to “Be vigilant at all times….” (21:35), so that we will be prepared for the coming of our Savior.

Father, give me a heart of waiting. Let me use this time of Advent, this new beginning, to clean out all that keeps me from fully and totally accepting you in my life. Purify my heart and take away my anxieties, so that I may celebrate the Birth of your Son, Jesus, with a renewed spirit of love for my neighbor and for you. Through your grace, grant me the vigilance I need to be ready to receive you now, and when you come for me in glory. Amen.

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Jesus Christ, Lord & King

Roman execution by crucifixion was absolutely and grotesquely brutal. The executioners clearly wanted to make a public display of humiliation and torture for those convicted of various crimes. The hope was not only to punish the offenders, but to deter those who might consider certain criminal behaviors. To that end, next to those being crucified was displayed the charges for which the condemned had been convicted, and recall that for Jesus, Pilate had the tablet inscribed, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” (JN 19:19)

According to the Roman Procurator, Jesus was executed because he was a “king.” The crucifixion, perhaps the most well-known event of salvation history, established Jesus as King. Catholics and many Protestant communities celebrate today as the Feast Day of Christ the King. It is the day in which we recognize his supremacy over us and all of creation. It is the opportunity to celebrate as a community, that absolute and total dominion of God.

In the letter establishing this Holy Feast, we read, “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth,” then Jesus should reign as King of our mind, our will, our heart, and our body. (cf., Quas primas, #33) We say that we are followers of Christ, that we believe in Jesus, but do we really submit to the one who was ruthlessly betrayed, viciously tortured, and horrifically executed for being our King? Hail, to our King!

Jesus, my Lord and my King, make me a faithful and obedient subject in mind, body, will, and heart. Help me to realize your dominion and supremacy over me and all of creation, and make me loyal in my service to you through my love of neighbor. Amen.

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An Unknown Time

Some in society have become very concerned about the end of the world. There are many late-night televangelists whose preaching is nearly completely focused on this topic. There are even entire book series dedicated to analyzing and making predictions about the “rapture” and “end times,” including who will be taken and who will be “left behind.” These fictionalized accounts and gross mis-interpretations of scripture are well written, widely preached, and entertaining, but are wholly lacking in fundamental Biblical and Apostolic Truth as taught by Jesus himself.

The Truth is that the end of the world will eventually come, and those who are with God will live forever in Heaven, while those who choose otherwise in their lives, will endlessly suffer in Hell. What we can be most assured of, if history is any lesson at all, is that each one of us will die and make an individual account for our lives. We trust in the God who has no beginning and no end, the one who created everything out of nothing, the one who will preside at the final judgment in infinite love, mercy, justice, and forgiveness.

As Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day or hour, no one knows.” (NAB, MK 13:31-32) So, let us keep working out our salvation in our daily commitment to our Lord. The end of the world has not yet come, but we frequently encounter “ends” in our daily life. Each of these ends is accompanied by a new beginning, a new opportunity to love, a new invitation to grow, and a new call to draw closer to Jesus. Let us take advantage of these moments in our lives while time is still on our side.

Father, I know not when my life will end, nor do I know when your judgment will come. Give me your grace to end my current life of self-centeredness, pride, selfishness, foolishness, and egoism, so that I may begin to live for you alone, by loving you and loving my neighbor. Then, when I am confronted with my life’s choices on that unknown day, I may rest in the assurance that I chose you. Amen.

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Sacrificial Giving

Jesus tells us today in Mark’s Gospel of the widow who gave two copper coins to the Temple treasury. Jesus says that she gave more than everyone else because “they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” (NAB, MK 12:44) The widow demonstrates sacrificial love by giving, not from her desires or wants, but from her needs. Furthermore, in contrast to the scribes who seek honor, prestige, and recognition for their generosity, the widow remains nameless and marginalized.

How are we as stewards? God blesses us with so much, including our finances, but also our time, energy, and talent. When we give of these, do we offer them in order to receive praise and honor? Is our charity about recognition and self-promotion, or is it about sacrificial love for a greater good? Let’s take time and examine our motivations, asking God to remove all pride and self-will, greed, and desires for excess from all we do.

Heavenly Father, all that is good comes from you, for you alone are good. Transform our lives in humility and sacrifice, so that we may serve you in love, and by loving our neighbor according to your will and for your glory. Amen.

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The Public Side of Faith

In our Gospel this week we are reminded of the Great Commandments of Jesus. When he is tested and asked which of all the commandments and laws given by God to his Chosen People are the most important, Jesus responds, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (NAB)

Jesus is reminding us that we have a relationship with God that is lived out in our relationships with others. Our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is effected and revealed in relationships with family members, friends, coworkers, school mates, and strangers. We serve Christ in each other, and so one of our greatest responsibilities is to ensure the well-being of our brothers and sisters, and to ensure that we, as individuals and as a society, are always working toward the common good. The common good is based in truth and love; it is based on authentic Christian dignity and respect. We, as Catholics, not only have the responsibility to pursue holiness, but we also have the responsibility and obligation to participate in society to ensure that others may also lead holy lives. We are called to constantly inform our consciences as we seek a greater understanding of the truth, and we are to publicly live out the teachings of Christ given to us through his Most Holy Church.

This week, we have a very real and public opportunity to impart to society what our faith teaches us that is true and good. This is election week. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly teaches us: “It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. … Service of the common good requires citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community. [Our] co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country….” (CCC 2239-2240, emphasis added)

Sadly, this opportunity is not available to all in our world, but it is to us. The Catechism is crystal clear on our duty as Christians, as defenders of love, defenders of life, and defenders of truth and justice. We are called to love God first, with everything that we are and everything we have, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Let’s not neglect them this week. Let’s fulfill our obligations of love by working toward the common good in our society, by making authentically Catholic Christian choices that impact our community to bring about the Truth and Love we profess. Let’s make choices of solidarity and unity, not hatred and divisiveness for their mere sake. May God give us wisdom in our choices, and may our choices bring blessings upon the incredible country we call home. Amen.