Prepared?

If I asked you if you were prepared, I would expect you to ask me for what?

Clearly, the message of this 2nd Sunday of Advent is that we are to be prepared — and that God sent — and sends — messengers to help us prepare.  For what does God want us to be prepared?  For what is God preparing us?

As I look around my house, I have more decorations and décor out than at any time over the past 10 years.  Most of my Christmas cards are mailed — and I will soon finish this pleasurable part of being in touch with friends and family.

Gift giving is secondary to spending time with family and friends — and plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, including menus, is fairly well set. Gifts to be shared are purchased.

So — I can say, I am very well prepared for the celebration of the Christmas holiday.

AND, I KNOW THE UNEXPECTED CAN happen and I need to be prepared for those things, too.  Last week at this time, I certainly did not think that someone would pull out of a parking lot into the street — leaving car repairable, but not drive able.  I did not think I would wake up on December 8th to almost 2 inches of snow in my yard.  BUT, BOTH THINGS DID HAPPEN.

I can get as prepared as possible for a meeting in Baton Rouge on Monday.  I can be as prepared as possible to bring my “dish” to the work social.  AND, I better be ready — and prepared for the unpredictable, the unexpected.

In looking closely at the scripture of this weekend [Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 and Mark 1:1-8], we see that the message is for us to PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD.  This call this weekend is not about us getting ourselves prepared — it is not about watching — it preparing the WAY OF THE LORD.  The message of John the Baptist — is to ready a way for the Savior — one greater than John — one greater than each of us.

We are called to make sure that ….

  1.  God is the focus — not only for the Season — but for our lives.  More than any project or task facing us … we declare that serving God is most important.

2.  God is working through us — what we do is NOT ABOUT ME — it is about God working through me.  John declares that the one who is to come is so different, that he (John) is not worthy to loosen the sandal strap  of the one to come.

So, as a teacher, God wants to use me — to bring his word, to be a messenger, to be a witness.

So, as a parent, God wants to raise children in his image — to allow children to experience the love of God through me.

So, as a business person – God wants me to build his kingdom — to make a fair profit, to pay a just wage, to make the community a better place.

3.  To live the values of our God — “to conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion.” (2 Peter 3:8-14)  This means we have to let go of grudges, we have to accept responsibility for our actions and not blame someone else, to resolve to use my talents to benefit others.

4. To know that one day this earth and everything on will pass away — but before then, it is likely that I will pass away.  My years are limited — that I live “ready” for that unexpected day. I am not glum — I appreciate everything I have and every person around me.  I am grateful — but I do not live as if I have a guaranteed 45 more years.

Prepare the Way of the Lord.

hjm

 

 

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How to “DO” Advent

The good news:  From my viewpoint, there is no wrong way to DO advent!

I know there are many people who believe that Advent is Advent — it is a time of preparing for Christmas.  AND, Christmas does not begin until Christmas Eve.  Before then, there are no symbols or semblance of the Christmas season.

From a liturgical standpoint, I maintained “purity” for the first two weeks of the Advent Season.  The church was fairly bare with lots of purple and of course —- a HUGE advent wreath hanging from the ceiling in the center aisle of the church.  On the 3rd weekend of Advent I added wreaths to the windows and an undecorated “Christmas” tree.  Music was of Advent and no Christmas carols.

From the pastoral standpoint, I never put down Christmas decorations in the home, shopping, or Christmas music.  I always thought — it is about both and — not, either or.

As I write this — and Advent has not even started — my home has a decorated tree, decor, and an ADVENT WREATH.

The key, for me, is how we use this time to WATCH.  Each of us, individually, needs to choose what will help us WATCH.

Long before “multi-tasking” was a common phrase — if we look back — we can realize how much our mothers/moms were able to multi-task.  They were able to cook supper/dinner while they made sure we did homework.  They were unpacking groceries and transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer.  They were taking care of us kids — while being attentive to our Dads.  Moms then — and today — are called upon to do many things at one time.

So—-how can one not do Advent while starting to do Christmas — at the same time?

Do what you need to do to WATCH — while I DO what I need to watch!!!

God is about to do something new — something never done before.  God is coming into our world and my life anew.

For me — this year — I am watching with the soothing lights and calming effects of the many symbols of Christmas — and a lighted Advent wreath.  In the past, there have been years when only a few decorations have been out — and only a few poinsettias have adorned the house.  Being watchful — expecting something new — is a matter of the heart.  Externally, DO what is needed to slow us down to watch.  For me this year — it was having things set early — and sitting back ….. others will rush around like crazy — and hopefully find a few moments of quiet — to collect themselves before Christmas.  Your life situation dictates what you need and what is possible.

Traditionally, people have used Advent to:

1. Read a daily devotional

There are many devotionals prepared for Advent — some people use these daily reflections to ready their hearts for Christmas.  Some make sure to read the daily Scriptures.  Some attend daily worship.

2. Put up an Advent Wreath

Lighting the candles — one week at a time — reminds us that we are moving closer and closer from darkness into light.  Our “four weeks” are moving by — even if we do not notice.

3. Finding some time for quiet

Even if we are busy with shopping, tying things up before the year ends, and getting ready for travel or to welcome guests — finding 15 minutes in the morning or 15 minutes at night —- to simply breathe deeply in the quiet — can collect oneself and focus on what is important.

4. Reaching out to those in need

Realizing how blessed we are — we see that others are not as well off as we are.  We make Christmas better for others by sharing with them.  Coats for kids — toys for tots — food for the hungry — all are worthy causes and deserving of our support — to the level to which we are able.

5.  One visit to someone — a shut-in, someone in a nursing facility —

God came to us in the flesh in his son, Jesus.  We can embody concern and love to someone who is mostly alone — a friend, a neighbor, a family member, a fellow parishioner —- someone who was once so active and present — but because of age or health is no longer present as they want to be.  So — we are present to them as a representative of the BODY.

It seems to me, then, that preparing during ADVENT — preparing for Christmas — is about being deliberate.  It is about choosing — to see and to be open to seeing.  It is about watching for WHAT I NEED and what OTHERS NEED.

There is no one way to DO Advent.  Advent — is about active waiting — attentive watching.

Let’s start now — and do what we need to do — one day at a time.  Live these days in the spirit of the Jesus who has come and who is coming again ….. SOON.

hjm

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To the One — You are the WORLD!

To the world, you are but one.  But, to the ONE, you are the World!

I may have heard this saying before, but the first time that it “stuck in my head” was about six years ago — our Charter Schools in Lake Charles were partnering with a school in Haiti.   A representative of the school spoke to our faculty — and he used the expression. In other words, to the whole world, we were JUST helping one school in a remote village.  To the world, we were barely making a little dent in solving the problems of education in the poorest, of the poorest, parts of the world.  BUT, to that particular school, We were a life-line, we were the world.  Our school supplies of pencils, paper, crayons, books —- our uniforms —- were making a HUGE difference in their world.  AND THEN, when our teachers came to Haiti to meet with them —- we were the world — to them.

The problems of the world are H-U-G-E!  Refugees are in camps everywhere!  Syria lies in ruins.  Iraq seems like a hopeless pit swallowing money, hopes, and dreams.  Immigrants to our country are being deported.  Schools in too many cities are in decay.  Nursing homes all across our country are more and more seeming to be “hell holes”.  Hurricane victims are fighting with insurance companies and the government. Everyday reveals new accusations of inappropriate behavior in Hollywood, Washington, and State Houses.

It is so easy to be overwhelmed and to feel depressed —-there is just too much to be done; there are too many problems bombarding me; there are too many people asking for [needing] help.  Yep, that is true ….. we cannot meet the needs of everyone, we cannot help everyone who needs help.  AND, at the same time, we can do something — we can help someone.

This weekend’s Gospel [Matthew 25:31-46] on this FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING clearly tells us what God is asking us to do — what God is expecting us to do —

to give food to the hungry

to give drink to the thirsty

to welcome the stranger

to clothe the naked

to visit the imprisoned

Not all the hungry — not all the thirsty — not every stranger — not all who are naked — not to all the imprisoned — but to at least one in need.

In JUDGMENT, the King separates the sheep and the goats — the saved and unsaved —

NOT by whether they take communion in the hand or on the tongue, kneeling or standing — OR EVEN IF THEY TAKE COMMUNION ….

NOT by whether they are straight or gay or bisexual or transgender — or asexual —

NOT by whether they or Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, or whether they go to Church or not ….

NOT by whether they are Democrat, Republican, Communist, or a community drop-out …

BUT — the STANDARD OF JUDGMENT– is what a person does for those in need.  The standard is about putting our concern — our care — into practice.

We show our allegiance to CHRIST THE KING not by singing an anthem, not by reciting a creed, not by saluting a flag — our allegiance to JESUS AS OUR KING —- is proven by the help we extend to our brothers and sisters in need.

Too many of us Americans live a bit too smug …. we pay the most taxes in the world.  NOT TRUE.

We have to deal with more illegal immigrants than anyone else in the world.  NOT TRUE.

Our country is going to “hell in a handbasket.”  NOT TRUE.

My recent trip to Italy showed me a country dealing with immigrants who arrive daily by boat — from Syria, Libya, Greece, — places of war, suffering, deprivation a few miles from the shores of Italy.

So —- what do we do?

1.  First be informed — know about the Rohingya people — who are Muslims — who are fleeing from Myanmar where they are being oppressed by the Buddhist majority.  Know about the 600,000 Rohingya people who are refugees in Bangladesh —– an already poor nation expected to protect these people in need.  600,000 HUMAN BEINGS leaving their burned out villages hoping simply to escape death.

We may not be able to help one of these men, women, or children —– but we can be aware of what is happening outside our borders — yes, we deal with security issues, and others hope to live another day.

A small gift to Catholic Relief Services or some other reputable relief agency will make a huge difference to those in need.

2.  Can’t feed everyone — but, we can make an offering to our food banks, meal preparation programs, or to SOME FAMILY we personally know who would find a $25 gift card to a grocery store to be like $100 to us.

3. Make plans to provide clothing to a child or a family in need as Christmas time approaches.  TV stations, Civic groups, the Salvation Army — are all looking for financial donations as well as donations of NEW clothing for those in need.  Make this Christmas be about ME PLUS ONE — my FAMILY PLUS ONE.

4. Don’t know anyone in prison — learn about prison reform — restorative justice.  Contribute to prison re-entry programs in the community.  Be willing to hire someone who has been incarcerated.    Look beyond the tattoos to see the person.

Someone has a car accident — not their fault — but, they end up having to pay for the damage.  Their insurance has a $250 deductible — they do not  have $250.  If this were me—- or most of us —- no problem, we write a check.  Some people do not have $250 in the bank to write a check.  Can I help them in some way?  Of course —

5.  Some starts a GO FUND ME PAGE to help medical bills — $25 makes the burden lighter.

As KING, Jesus is not someone enforcing liturgical purity — musical propriety — or political views —- Jesus is about concern, about compassion, about welcome —- Jesus is about HIS people living together in harmony despite differences.

Jesus is about bridges that unite people and not walls that separate people.  Jesus is about access to health care, education, and safety from predators.

No —- I cannot help everyone —- I cannot address all problems.  I CAN find my passion, what tugs at my heart — my neighbor in need — and to do SOMETHING, not everything.

To the world ——- I am but one —— but, to the ONE, I am the WORLD.

hjm

 

 

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Buried Talent – Buried Treasure

God, the giver of all talent(s), expects something from us — God expects a return on the investment made in us.

Talents are given to us to be used — to be used not merely for our own benefit – but to be put into the hands of God to be used for the benefit of others.

The Gospel this weekend [Matthew 25:14-30] reminds us of the expression — use it or lose it!  In reality, it is not God who “takes it away”, it is I who squander it.

Most of us can think of talents we have developed through hard work — George Springer, outfielder for the Houston Astros, grew up with a very serious stuttering issue.  Through years of hard work, he has overcome the stuttering problem so as to not only speak clearly in press interviews —- but also to be a spokesperson for young people who battle a stuttering issue.

Every classroom teacher (and many parents) have witnessed students not living up to their potential.  Students who are not developing a God-given talent to learn as much as possible — instead, too many students want to know, “what grade do I need to pass?”

Coaches have seen star athletes not taking academics seriously enough — athletes who cannot accept a scholarship because their ACT score is too low — or they have failed to take the necessary classes to attend a major university on an athletic scholarship.

God does not want us to give the talent back — God wants us to use and develop the talent so that it becomes more than it was at the beginning.

Institutions as well as individuals can fail to meet God’s expectations:

A Church can squander [bury] its financial treasure by wasting money on unimportant things while neglecting its mission to feed, clothe, house, and educate those in need.  A Church can squander [bury] its moral authority by saying one thing and doing another — by failing to be an advocate for Gospel values while serving its selfish interests.

A school system can bury its talent by taking care of those who can care for themselves while neglecting the underserved and those having trouble achieving success.

What about us right here — today —

1.  For school students – especially those in high school and college — to what degree are you WORKING to enhance your knowledge, your critical thinking? 90%?   70%?  40%?

Is your goal to get a diploma/degree or to truly learn EVERYTHING possible?

Why might you not be living up to your FULL POTENTIAL?  Lack of interest?  No motivation?  Laziness?  Focused on something else — boy/girl friend?  Lack of belief in self?

2. For all of us —— what talent are we not sharing with the community?  the talent of music which could be used in the choir, as a cantor, by singing in the congregation?

the ability to drive a nail — which could be shared with Habitat for Humanity or home-repair projects?

3.  What about the talent of listening or compassion that could be shared with those in nursing/care facilities —- or the homebound?

4.  What about financial gifts that are being used only for our self-interest?  Are we faithful to sharing through tithing —- 5% with our Church and 5% with the needs of the world?

5.   What about the talent of courage?  Are we speaking “our truth” in a world that tends to be harsh and negative?  Do we point out the positive?  Do we speak the truth to power?

Today is a day for COUNTING BLESSINGS AND TALENTS.  Today is a day to say Thanks to God for what I have!  Today is also a day to ask forgiveness for our failures to use and develop what has been given to us.  Today is a day to think and to plan how we can use what we have for our good and the good of others —- before we lose it.

Looking back and saying, “I wish I had ….” is very sad and depressing.  Looking forward and saying, “What I have — will be used for others ….. by ____________.”

On the day of accounting [reckoning] let us not be afraid of God’s wrath when he asks “how we have used our talent” ——- but rather, let us be hopeful that God will be pleased that we have used — what little or great we have —- to yield a rich harvest.

No one has nothing —- everyone has something to share.

hjm

 

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Preparing for the un-thinkable

How do members of a Church prepare for a crazed gunman with an assault rifle to walk into their worship service and to kill 26 people?

How does a husband/wife prepare for the day when their spouse tells them that they “still love them, but they are no longer ‘in love with them’?”  And, they are moving in with their new partner.

How does a parent prepare for the news that their son has died as the result of a hazing incident while pledging a fraternity?

When we hear the Gospel story of the wise virgins v. the foolish virgins [Matthew 25:1-13] — we hear the challenge to be vigilant and to be prepared.

There are those easy challenges —

make sure that money is set aside in savings for those rainy day emergencies — when the refrigerator needs to be replaced or there is an unexpected medical need;

stay a step ahead at work so that when an opening arises you are ready to apply;

see your doctor on a regular basis to make sure all things are in order;

keep your car maintenance up to date to prevent major problems later.

Yes, better to be prepared than unprepared.  There comes a point when it is too late to prepare —- water is rising and you have no flood insurance —- too late.

But, how does one prepare for the unthinkable — the unimaginable?

How could the congregants of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas possibly be prepared for the worst mass shooting in a place of worship in US history?

How can one prepare for the news that their child has a rare form of cancer?

How can the wife of baseball-pitcher Roy Halladay really be prepared for the death of her husband — at age 40 — in a plane crash?

There are many things that happen in life that we can do our best to be prepared for — but our world will still be rocked.  We understand that if anything can happen — then anything CAN happen.  We prepare as well as we can —-knowing that there is NO WAY to be completely prepared.

To survive the unimaginable — the unthinkable — we are called to

1. Believe that God is good — and God does not cause bad things to happen.  It was not God’s WILL that the crazed gunman would enter into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX and to take so many lives.  God’s WILL was for only good to happen — for each of those killed to go home for lunch with their families.

God does not WILL that a child be hit by a car — he WILLS  that a child be kept safe.

AND, bad things happen — evil people mess up the good God has willed.  Illness creeps into the life of every family.

2.  God is with us on our journey — and will lead us to a better day.  God did not cause or will for a spouse to be unfaithful — that was NOT in God’s plan — but God IS HERE today to walk into the future.  God will help us to create a new path.

3.  Rely on the support of friends and family —- the relationships we have built through the years are an embodiment of God’s love and support for us.  We need to let others help us — we are fragile — and we will be stronger one day — but today, we need to lean on those around us.

4. Remember, we do not deserve this — but, it is happening — there is no answer to the question of ‘WHY’ —

Through prayer, through worship, through human relationships we make ourselves strong.  By celebrating the good and being grateful for our blessings — we help ourselves understand that everyday is not a good day and there are bad things going on in the world.

Death and resurrection are real —- part of everyday life — not just Easter.

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, reflecting on the shooting in Sutherland Springs, proposes that we hold on to the Jewish expression, “from generation to generation.”  Life endures forever—and all is about heaven.  For me, his reflection means that we enjoy life here on earth and we work to make the world a better place —– but our hope is beyond us, our life is bigger than what we are doing.

This means —- there is no way to be totally prepared for the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the catastrophic.  And, it is possible to be better prepared than unprepared.  It is better to be “at 6 on the prepared scale than to be at 2.”  Hopefully the 4 steps above will help us all to be better prepared than unprepared.

Let us not be arrogant or careless.  Let us believe that with the help of God and the support of others we will survive anything that comes our way.  We will be wise to understand that life is good —- and we will go forward in life — with preparation.

hjm

 

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“Mama Cat” & Saints of Civility

“Mama Cat” is a 55-year-old woman who lives in Ferguson, Missouri.  Following the shooting-death of Michael Brown, she went to the protest lines — not to protest, but to feed those who were protesting.  As the protests ended, she realized that she was still needed to feed those who were homeless and hungry.  So, until this day, with her own resources, with donations, and with grants — she does what SHE CAN DO to feed those in need.  Sometimes it is a sandwich with macaroni salad — sometimes it is spaghetti with a meat sauce and fruit.  She does what she can to show people SOMEONE CARES.

We have always said that saints come in all “shapes and sizes” — men and women — of all ages, races, colors, languages, ways of life, and parts of the world.  Saints came with the wide range of temperaments that we see in the world today.

Some Saints were people of outstanding courage who literally had to fight evil.  Some Saints suffered the bloody death of martyrdom.  Some saints lived modest and simple lives, dedicated to QUIETLY living their faith and serving others.  Some Saints were learned people, recognized as DOCTORS of the Faith.  Many saints lacked formal education, but knew God through faith and through experience.

ALL SAINTS had a love of God and a love of neighbor.  ALL SAINTS put others above self.

What “kind” of Saints do we need today?

In a world that seems to get uglier and uglier everyday, I think we need saints of CIVILITY.   A civil person is someone who is polite and courteous in behavior or speech.

A civil person would not call someone with whom they disagree — an SOB!

A civil person would not use words to divide and conquer.

A civil person would speak up for people in need and be concerned about those not in need.

A civil person would not destroy someone’s good name or reputation by spreading false information or offering a glance of innuendo.

I am returning home to the US after a 3 week experience in Florence, Italy. ONE TIME in those three weeks I listened to about 10 minutes of BBC news.  I watched no cable news, I listened to no talking heads, I heard no insulting interviews —– things that repeat the same thing over and over.  And, I still feel informed —- but less stirred up.

Like “Mama Cat”, we may not be able to do everything — but, we can do something.

As a visitor in a foreign land, I have seen over and over how a kind greeting — an attempt to speak another’s language, an undemanding attitude — has brought forth kindness and help.  [I have also seen the opposite — an expectation that someone is there to serve, demanding-impatience — brings forth a cold-formalness.]

I believe something is needed to restore civility to our world.  When national leaders and public commentators are mean, ugly, rude and shrill —-we need to see and experience kindness, ‘niceness’, polite, calm people.

Religious leaders who demean and castigate others are no better than our political leaders.  Preachers preach from the perch of perfection without kindness toward all, won’t lead others to the true love of God they talk about.

An Hispanic major league baseball player makes a racist gesture to another player who is Japanese-Iranian [born in Japan] —- reminds us that racism comes in all flavors.

Saints embody love and faith.  Saints give hope.  Saints show respect and act with dignity.

If Huffington Post had not run an article on Mama Cat, I would have never heard of her.  But that does not matter —- she isn’t serving to be known.  She is serving so that others know that goodness and kindness are real.

hjm

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What is FAIR?

Few — if any of us — can read Mt. 20:1-16 without feeling – “well that isn’t fair!”

Those who worked for one hour in the vineyard were paid the same wage as those who worked all day long.  Those who labored and sweated through the heat of the day were going to be paid the same thing as those who had — done what all day long? — come in as the day was winding down!!

But — just what is fair?  What does it mean to be fair?  Was does to be “treated fairly” actually mean?

Is it fair that I was born into a hard-working, middle-class family with parents who valued education and sacrificed greatly so that I and my siblings would get a quality, Catholic education ———- while others were born into a family who struggled to eat — or where there were problems with alcoholism — and no value of education?

Is it fair that I got a student deferment while in college & then seminary — while others were drafted and went to war in Vietnam?

Is it fair that Puerto Rico got wracked by Hurricane Irma and then hit-directly by Hurricane Maria?

Is it fair that I have an incurable neuro-muscular disease —- and GREAT INSURANCE — while there are others with the same disease who have NO INSURANCE?

Is it fair that some couples cannot get pregnant while many babies are born into poverty with only a mother to raise them?

Is it fair when a mother in her 40’s dies of cancer — leaving two young children and a grieving husband —– while a “scoundrel” lives into his 80’s with few health needs?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines fair as: marked by impartiality and honesty; free from self-interest, prejudice or favoritism; conforming to the rules.

LIFE is not impartial.  LIFE does not seem to follow rules.  LIFE is not free of prejudice.  AND, GOD IS GOOD.

YET, THE MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW and the workers in the vineyard is not about fairness —- it is about the generosity of God — a God who sends rain on the good and the bad; a God who allows the sun to shine on the good and the bad.

We worship a God who love all equally —- the unknown woman in the mountains of Peru and the Pope — a God who offers the same mercy to a homeless man in Lake Charles, LA and the Queen of England.

We worry about what we have — self-interest — compared to others.  We establish — literally or figuratively — rules that should be followed because we see the immediate.

We celebrate when a friend or family member “comes to Jesus or back to Church” right before they die — and that is great.  Because we KNOW THEM — WE LOVE THEM — WE WERE WORRIED ABOUT THEM …. but when we do not know someone — it is not easy to see the fairness of a God who welcomes someone at the last moment.

As Isaiah 55: 6-9 reminds us — our thoughts are not God’s thoughts — and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

God is so much bigger and magnificent that any government or Church or club.  God is more benevolent than the most generous and patient parent on earth.  God sees possibility and potential.

Thank goodness God did not allow us to write the rules — and to define what it means to be fair and just — kind and forgiving.

hjm

 

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