Baptism of The Lord
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I am happy to let you know that our Saint Joseph Church Enhancement Project has begun on Monday, 18 November 2019.
The weekend of 16-17 November was the last time that we used the church until this project is completed. Our Saint Joseph Social Hall will serve as our temporary church and, beginning on the weekend of 23-24 November, all our Masses will take place there.
The John G. Johnson Company, our construction management team, confirms that this will be a 5-month project and the clock began to run on Monday, 18 November. We hope to be finished in late April.
These will be some exciting times for Saint Joseph Parish as we prepare to celebrate the 50th birthday of our beloved third church in 2020. Thank you for your support and encouragement. And, of course, your financial gifts and pledges are still needed and appreciated for our Saint Joseph Church Enhancement Project which is now going on.
Gratefully in Christ,
Fr. Tim O’Connor
20 October 2019
Dear Saint Joseph Parishioners,
I want to give everyone an update on the launching of our Saint Joseph Church Enhancement Project as we get ready to celebrate the 50th birthday of our beloved third parish church building in 2020.
On 9 May 2019 we interviewed three construction firms and we selected John G. Johnson to be our “construction manager.” On 4 June we reviewed the bids for the project and found them to come in much higher than our original budget figure of $1.4 million. While this figure was a good estimate in the fall of 2018, materials and labor have risen considerably. Adding to this was the wet spring and wet early summer that caused many contractors to be behind in their seasonal schedules and so were not in need of additional work.
We went out for bid again and reviewed them on 9 July. While the bids came down considerably we were still about $275,000 over the original budget of $1.4 million, and that was after quite a bit of value engineering and listing some project items as “alternates” for a later date. And then came the news about our leaking church roof that I shared with our parish at all the Masses on 20-21 July.
Brady Burmeister of the Diocesan Facilities Services office has been a great help to us. We have had three evaluations of the roof situation. We know now that the steeple base and the roof finial base are admitting water. And the steeple needs immediate restoration, due largely to weather. The consensus among those who did the evaluations is that taking care of the steeple and finial first just might solve the church roof situation. And this needs to be done anyway. We will know for sure after some heavy rains whether or not we need to proceed with a complete tear-off and re-shingling. And the roof restoration was not part of our Church Enhancement Project fund-raising.
And then, as you may have noticed, the bell tower is also in need of attention. After evaluation, we have been told that the bell tower is unsafe, with chunks of brick from its upper parts having already fallen to the ground. And, of course, the bell tower was not included in our original Church Enhancement plans.
All in all, we are going to get started this month with our Church Enhancement Project beginning with the outdoor work before the inclement weather is here. I know that so many people are anxious to see this project get underway – including me.
We do need to raise some more funds so that the project is delivered as promised and without incurring debt. As I am sure that you know, when working on an older structure there can be some unplanned challenges that arise.
How much more do we need to raise? We are looking at an additional $500,000. I am very grateful to the Catholic Community Foundation of the Diocese of Cleveland for their advice and counsel in laying out a plan to raise these additional funds during this fall and winter season while the Church Enhancement Project is underway.
Is raising an additional $500,000 do-able? I believe that it is. With 300 households from Saint Joseph Parish having contributed to our Church Enhancement Project capital campaign and enabling us to raise $1.4 million, we still have another 1700 households from whom we would welcome a pledge or a gift. Might you be among them?
Enclosed in this bulletin is a pledge form. And please note that this new pledge fulfillment period continues until 31 January 2022, one year longer than before. We want to make pledge payments easier for those who are pledging now for the first time or for those who would like to increase their original pledge by adding an extra year of contributions.
You are going to be seeing our Church Enhancement Project getting underway very soon. These are going to be some very exciting times for Saint Joseph Parish. If you have not already done so, may I please invite you to lend your support promptly with a pledge or gift to our Church Enhancement Capital Campaign? Every gift counts and every gift will help us achieve our goal to celebrate the 50th birthday of our beloved church in 2020.
May I please count on you to be “all in” for this exciting parish project?
I thank you from my heart for helping to make this dream come true for our parish. And I appreciate your personal support and encouragement for me.
May the Lord continue to bless you, and those you love, richly and warmly.
Gratefully in Christ,
Rev. Timothy J. O’Connor
St. Joseph Church Enhancement Pledge form. Click here. You may download, print and fill out. This form can be dropped off at the Parish Office, mailed back or you may fill out, sign and email back to the following email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. (rev10/2019)
Isaiah 60: 1-6
Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2: 1-12
We call the visitors from the East who followed a star and came to Bethlehem by different names: the Magi, the astrologers, the wise men and the three kings. But in spite of their many names, they came for a single purpose: to worship the Christ Child, the newborn King.
Their reason for following that star is found in the name of today’s feast: “Epiphany.” It means “a manifestation,” “a showing.” Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, manifested Himself, showed Himself, to the entire world
through these non-Jewish visitors.
“The Gentiles are coheirs” with the Jews, “members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel,” Paul tells us today in his letter to the Ephesians.
There are many legends about these wise men.
One says that after the star that was leading them came to rest over the stable in Bethlehem, it then dropped into a well. And that if you have a pure heart, you can look into that well and see that star shining beneath its water.
Another legend claimed that there were twelve wise men. But later on, it settled upon three, although the Scriptures do not tell us how many there were. The number three is very logical since they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Another gives them names: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.
But the Scriptures do tell us that these visitors from the East were not Jewishbut followed a star and found the Christ Child, offered their gifts and paid Him homage. And in the three gifts that they brought we find a lot of symbolism.
Gold was a gift for a king. We have a practice today that, when you visit someone’s home for dinner, you take a small gift with you to present to the host or hostess. In the East, if you were fortunate enough to be invited to visit the king, you would take a substantial gift to present to him. And gold was considered the most appropriate gift to give to a king.
The gift of gold was the Magi’s acknowledgement that Jesus truly was a king – but a different kind than the rulers of this world. Jesus did not rule by fear but by love. He did not reign from an earthly throne but from the throne of His cross. And we need to submit to His kingship.
There is a story from years ago about Lord Nelson in the British Navy. He was known to be kind and gracious when other military officers came to him to surrender. One day an enemy admiral boarded Lord Nelson’s ship to surrender and approached Lord Nelson with an outstretched hand. And Lord Nelson, with his arms at his side, said to him: “First your sword and then your hand.” He needed to submit.
Christ our King comes to us in friendship, making us a part of His family. But first we must submit to his kingship. And so gold was the first gift of the Magi to Christ the newborn King.
The gift of frankincense was for a priest. In temple worship, incense was used as a sign of our prayers rising before God with a pleasing fragrance before Him.
The Latin word for high priest is “pontifex,” which means “a bridge builder.” Jesus our Priest – as true God and true man – is the bridge between God and the human race. Jesus makes God available to us and takes our prayers to God. And so frankincense was the second gift of the Magi to Christ the Priest.
The gift of myrrh was for someone who was going to die. In those days, a body was prepared for burial with a spice called myrrh. It was an early form of embalming. This gift of myrrh was a sign that Christ, the newborn King and Priest, would one day die on the cross so that we could live forever.
There is a painting by Holman Hunt that depicts Jesus in His teenage years. He is working hard in the carpenter shop late one afternoon and is tired. So He goes to the doorway and stretches out His arms against the door frame. And the sunlight comes through the door and casts a shadow on the back wall of the carpenter shop.
In the background is Mary who sees the shadow of the cross on that back wall and her face registers sorrow because she catches a glimpse of what will happen to her Son one day. He – our King and our Priest and our Saving Victim – will die on the cross so that we can live forever.
The gifts of the Magi are full of meaning: gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for someone who would die. This feast of the Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the world: to Jew and Gentile alike.
And so the response to Psalm 72 that we sang today after the first reading continues to ring true down to our own day: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” And so we are doing at this very moment.
Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph-A
Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14
Colossians 3: 12-17
Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23
Today we celebrate a very warm feast – the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. And this Feast of the Holy Family, during this Christmas season, invites us to reflect on our own home and family life.
Some time ago, Reader’s Digest carried “a family quiz.” Here are three of the questions: 1) If, on a TV show, a teenaged boy kissed his mother and father good night, would your children consider this normal? 2) If you and your spouse were both reading in one room, would your children come in and sit with you? 3) Have your children ever told you that they want to have a family just like yours when they get married?
All three of these questions involve the whole family at the most basic level of family life: the love level. Let’s take closer look at this level.
One of Bob Hope’s favorite jokes was about his love for his friend, Bing Crosby. He said: “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Bing Crosby, and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for me. But that’s the trouble. We spend our lives doing nothing for each other.”
Bob Hope’s point is a good one. In family life it is so easy to take each other’s love for granted. Perhaps we rarely express our love in a verbal or visible way. For example, when was the last time that you told a family member, in a conversation or in a letter, that you loved them?
In his book, My Father, My Son, Dr. Lee Salk describes an interview with Mark David Chapman, the convicted killer of Beatle John Lennon. Chapman says, “I don’t think I ever hugged my father. He never told me he loved me. I needed emotional love and support. I never got that.”
Asked about how he would treat a son, if he ever had one, Chapman says, “I would hug my son and kiss him… and just let him know… he could trust me and come to me… and I would tell him that I loved him.”
Dr. Salk ends his book with this advice to fathers and to sons. [It applies equally well to mothers and to daughters]: “Don’t be afraid of your emotions, of telling your father or your son that you love him and that you care. Don’t be afraid to hug and kiss him. Don’t wait until the death-bed to realize what you have missed.”
Ann Landers received a letter from a mother, asking her at what age a father and son should stop kissing and saying “I love you” to each other. Ann Landers gave the mother a one-word answer: “Never!”
Shortly afterward, Ann Landers received a letter from a father. He told her: “A few weeks ago I kissed my son for the first time and told him that I loved him. Unfortunately it was at the funeral home. My son had taken his own life.”
The father continued: “The greatest regret of my life is that I kept my son at arm’s length. I believed that it was not manly to show my son affection. I now sadly regret my ignorance and stupidity.”
What is true of fathers and sons is also true of fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, and brothers and sisters.
It is not hard to imagine Jesus, who cried at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, embracing his mother, Mary, and saying, “Mom, I love you.”
It is not hard to imagine Jesus, who told how the father and son embraced in His parable about the Prodigal Son, hugging Joseph and saying, “Dad, I love you.”
Today’s Scripture readings for the Feast of the Holy Family pose a very important question to think about: “How well are we contributing to the love level of our own family life?”
We are so blessed to have the prayers, the love and the example of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family, to embrace us and help us all along the way.
I welcome members of our Saint Joseph and Nativity Parishes to this Christmas Mass. And I also welcome your guests and members of other parishes.
I also want to offer a special word of welcome to those here who might be looking for a church to belong to. We would love to have you in our parish families.
And there may be someone here today who hasn’t been to church in a while. I am glad that you came. And I am personally inviting you right now to come home to your parish family. Coming to Mass each week will have a profound effect on your life during the New Year ahead, I promise you. I welcome you here today.
Christmas is a season of gifts. And today I would like to focus on our “Christmas gift-getting” – rather than on our “Christmas gift-giving.”
When someone gives you a gift, it doesn’t necessarily say a lot about who you really are. But it does say a lot about who they think you are, or who they would like you to be.
Now, imagine someone giving you that “perfect gift” that they have selected. And they want you to open it in front of them. You do – and you are stunned! You look for something to say: “Isn’t this interesting?” “Oh, who would have ever thought?” “Where exactly did you find something like this?”
That is what you are saying. But what you are really thinking is more like: “What am I supposed to do with this?”
It is sometimes more difficult than we think to be the perfect gift-getter. And today, we celebrate the greatest gift that God could ever give us: His Son, born as a baby in Bethlehem. “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.” God is the perfect gift-giver. And God waits to see how we will be as gift-getters.
We exchange gifts with one another at Christmas. And this involves a three-part process: the gift given, the gift received, and the gift accepted.
Someone who cares about us chooses a gift carefully and gives it to us.
We receive the gift and open it to see what it is.
The gift given and the gift received are fundamentals in the gift-giving process. But the third part – the gift accepted – is sometimes missing. How many Christmas sweaters are never worn? How many bottles of cologne are never opened? How many games are never played?
The stores were crowded through Christmas Eve with shoppers looking for gifts to give to loved ones.
The stores will also be crowded during the days after Christmas with loved ones returning Christmas gifts they received – but did not accept.
Look at the mounds of returned items in the stores after Christmas, which are no longer being handled carefully by the customers or by the sales personnel. They are clear evidence of gifts given and received – but not accepted.
God gives us the gift of His Son, Jesus. We receive God’s gift. But will we accept God’s gift? Or will we return God’s gift right after Christmas – thinking perhaps that what Jesus has to offer does not fit the way that I want to live my life, or that Jesus is Someone that I don’t really need?
“Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.” God gives the gift of His Son to us. And today God hopes that each of us will receive and accept His gift.
We have a gift to give you, as you leave church today: a copy of Matthew Kelly’s new book, Rediscover the Saints. It is easy to read with 4 or 5 pages about each of 25 holy people, each chapter beginning with a life-changing question and concluding with a prayer – and the book is only 124 pages!
This book does not just give a summary of each saint’s life. Plenty of great books already do that. This book brings the saints to life and puts them front and center in our lives. Why? Because the saints remind us that, with the gift of God’s grace, holiness is possible and that we have great friends in heaven who are always cheering us on!
An anonymous Saint Joseph parishioner has given this gift to you, our Saint Joseph and Nativity Parish Families and our guests.
Please receive and please accept this gift. It will help you know Jesus and His friends, the saints, even better during this New Year.
May the Christ Child bless you richly and warmly in your gift-getting – as well as in your gift-giving. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Fourth Sunday of Advent-A
Isaiah 7: 10-14
Romans 1: 1-7
Matthew 1: 18-24
I would like to focus today on a man who often escapes our notice as we prepare for the Feast of Christmas, although he is one of the principal characters. His name is Saint Joseph.
We pay lots of attention at Christmas to Jesus and to Mary, but we almost seem to ignore Joseph. Now from heaven, I don’t think this bothers Joseph one bit, but it seems to me that, here on earth, we ought to give a little more attention to Joseph and his role in the Christmas drama.
So I would like to offer a little Advent meditation on Saint Joseph from three angles:  Joseph teaches us about the treasure of silence.  Joseph teaches us that our actions so often speak louder than our words.  Joseph shows us the power of God’s grace when we are under pressure.
The first: the treasure of silence. How many words of Saint Joseph are recorded in the Gospels? Not a single one. And so we assume that Joseph must have been a very quiet man.
Many people are not used to a lot of quiet time. This is a hectic world with a lot of noise and distraction. We are forever trying to stay connected.
Someone asked Saint Padre Pio, “What language does God speak?” And he answered, “God speaks the language of silence.”
Isn’t that when we hear God speak to us – when we are quiet? Sometimes people complain, “God isn’t answering me!” I ask, “Have you been quiet long enough to hear what God is trying to say to you?”
A priest wrote that every time he visited a nursing home, he noticed a man seated next to his bed-ridden wife. He had learned that, because of illness, she had not spoken a word in eight years. But her husband still went there every day to be with her. And then one day she died.
The priest went to the funeral home, and that gentleman came up to him crying and said, “I am going to miss her. I am really going to miss her.” Her presence was still powerful to him, even when her words had failed.
There is power in silence.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the stillness of the night. His first thirty years we call His hidden life. Almost ninety per cent of His life here on earth was spent in veiled quietness. During the three years of His public life, He would often get away to pray alone with His heavenly Father. I like to think that maybe Jesus learned this love of silence from the example of his foster father on earth, Saint Joseph.
Saint Joseph teaches us about the treasure of silence.
The second: Saint Joseph also teaches us that our actions often speak louder than our words. In today’s Gospel, Joseph had learned that Mary, to whom he was betrothed, but before they came to live together, was expecting. And Joseph was not the father. He didn’t know what to do.
An angel came to him in a dream and said: “Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
What did Joseph do? He didn’t argue. He didn’t dawdle. He woke up and he did what the angel told him that God wanted him to do. Our actions often speak louder than our words.
Later on Jesus would give us the teaching that, “None of those who cry out, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” [Matthew 7: 21]. Perhaps when Jesus spoke those words He was thinking of His foster father, Saint Joseph.
On 13 May 1981, Pope Saint John Paul II was shot in Saint Peter’s Square by a would-be assassin. Three bullets entered Pope John Paul II’s body. What did Pope John Paul II do when he recovered? He went to the prison where his would-be assassin was. He sat with that man and forgave him, encouraged him and embraced him. The photographers of the world were there to capture those moments, and perhaps John Paul II did more to proclaim the mercy of God by that visit than he did from all the wonderful words that he wrote and spoke.
Saint Joseph teaches us about the treasure of silence, and he teaches us that our actions so often speak louder than our words.
And the third: Saint Joseph shows us the power of God’s grace when we are under pressure.
Saint Joseph had a lot of pressure in his life. We know about some of them. In today’s Gospel, Mary, to whom he is engaged, is pregnant. What is he supposed to do? There is a census and he has to go to Bethlehem to register. Mary is near-due delivery. They get to Bethlehem and there is no room for them in the inn. So they end up in a stable with a manger for a bed for the baby Jesus.
Jesus is born and then jealous King Herod decides to kill all the boys two-years-old and younger in the area because he is afraid there is a rival king. So Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus leave their homeland and go to Egypt, where they don’t even know the language and Joseph doesn’t have a job, and they stay there until they are told to come back.
And then, when Jesus is twelve years old, He stays behind in the temple in Jerusalem – and for three days Mary and Joseph search for Him “in anguish.”
What did Joseph do in each of these trials? He relied upon God’s grace, which comes to us one day at a time, one event at a time.
We have those times when we feel that our life is a procession from one crisis to the next, times when we wonder: “How am I going to make it through today?” Look to Joseph. Pray to Saint Joseph. Ask him to intercede, that you receive the grace you need for today, for what is before you right now.
And so on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, what lessons does Saint Joseph teach us?  Cultivate the treasure of silence in your life so that you can really listen to God.  Remember that our actions so often speak louder than our words do.  And rely upon God’s grace every day, but especially when you feel under pressure.
And we pray: Saint Joseph our patron, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, pray for us.
Third Sunday of Advent-A
Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10
James 5: 7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11
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There was a businessman flying from New York to Los Angeles. He knew exactly how long the trip would take and brought along work to get done. Boarding the plane he had that look that said, “Don’t bother me. I’m busy!” And then a mother and her little boy sat down in the two seats next to him. He tried to remain distant but the little boy kept talking to him.
The man began listening to him and found that he actually liked the boy. That whole flight he put aside his work, talked with the boy, read him stories and played games. When they arrived in Los Angeles the mother said to the gentleman, “Thank you so much for paying attention to my son. You see, his father died several months ago, and you were very good to him.”
Later on the man realized what had happened: that child had really gotten into his heart. He felt a deep satisfaction that he had opened his own heart to someone who truly needed his attention.
Children can get into hearts that have been locked for years. The Child Jesus came to enter our hearts and fill them with His love. One of His names in Scripture is “Emmanuel,” a name which means “God is with us.”
There was a play written some years ago entitled, “Green Pastures.” In it, God is on the stage with the Archangel Gabriel, who has his trumpet in hand. God is looking over the world and saying, “I have sent prophet after prophet, and still they won’t listen.” Gabriel suggests, “Lord, how about if I blow my trumpet and call an end to the whole thing on earth?” And God replies, “No, this time I’m not going to send another messenger. I’m going to send my Son to them.”
And so the Son of God left His throne in heaven and became man. And not only that. Jesus Christ became our “Wounded Healer.” He is Emmanuel, “God with us.” And this Child wants to enter our hearts.
This Advent season shows us that, so many times, God comes to us through some very unexpected people and in some very unexpected ways. Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, we have John the Baptist before us. And Jesus says to the crowd, “Why did you go out to the desert? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.”
John the Baptist is the greatest and last of the Old Testament prophets, pointing the way to the Messiah, to Jesus Christ, who is “God with us.” But, to so many people, John was a rather unexpected messenger and in a rather unexpected place, the desert.
There was a Christmas pageant in his church and young Bradley wanted a part. However, Bradley was “an accident waiting to happen.” The previous year, his angel wings caught on fire and he nearly burned down the church. But the director knew that Bradley really loved Jesus with his whole heart. And she just had to give him a part.
This year, she decided, he could be the innkeeper. All that he needed to do was open the door and deliver a line.
Everything went smoothly at the rehearsals, but then came opening night. When Mary and Joseph came to the inn, Bradley opened the door and said, “Be gone. I have no place for you.”
Mary and Joseph turned to walk away. The people in the front of the church could see tears welling up in Bradley’s eyes and his lower lip quivering. Then Bradley shouts to Mary and Joseph, “Wait! You can stay in my room!”
Pandemonium broke out in the church. Once again, Bradley had sabotaged the Christmas pageant. The director, after wiping away Bradley’s tears and then a few of her own, quieted down the audience and said, “Perhaps this year Bradley is God’s unexpected messenger to us. Because it is only when we make room in our hearts that the Christ Child can come in.”
The world around us is already celebrating “the holidays,” and we can run the risk of missing out on the Child who made all of this possible. After all, it is His birthday that we celebrate, and it is His coming again in glory that we look forward to.
There was a four-year-old named Sarah who had been an only-child. And then her baby brother was born. Sarah’s mother and father were worried about some sibling jealousy, so they watched her carefully. Sarah began asking for a some “time alone” with her new brother. So they allowed her to go into the nursery all by herself. But they stationed themselves just outside so they could see and hear what was taking place.
Then Sarah put her face next to his and said, “Baby brother, tell me what God is like because I’m starting to forget.”
So how do we find ourselves on this Third Sunday of Advent? We can be casual observers that look at the crib and say, “Isn’t that nice. See you again next year.” Or we can be like Bradley and say, “Wait! You can stay in my room…. in my heart.”
Children can draw so much out of our hearts. The Christ Child can put everything into our hearts, if we make room for Him. And as we come close, like Sarah, we can whisper in His ear, “Baby Jesus, tell me what God is like because I don’t want to forget.”
Isaiah 2: 1-5
Romans 13: 11-14
Matthew 24: 37-44
Advent isn’t exactly a comfortable season. And I don’t just mean the frost on the windshield and the certainty of January bills. Advent has a strangeness about it that won’t be tamed by the caroling that begins at Thanksgiving or by the outdoor lighting displays.
The measured sobriety of Advent clashes with the festive rush in the stores. And the urgency of the Scripture readings clashes with our secular culture of materialism and individualism. And, if the truth be told, the threat of final cosmic judgment in today’s Gospel grips us no more than the “eager longing” of the Advent hymns.
Just how are we to identify with this season of Advent? Its purple sobriety contrasts with the red and green festival of an American Christmas that begins with October advertising. And for all of the expectancy we feel for the coming of “the holidays,” the coming of Christ Himself can seem so remote and even unlikely.
What are we to do? We can, of course, feel guilty. But guilt is not the keynote of the Advent season either. Joy is so characteristic of Advent that nearly every Responsorial Psalm is a Psalm of rejoicing. The Advent Psalms don’t say: “Feel guilty that you are not rejoicing.” They just say: “Rejoice!” But it is not exactly the rejoicing of the office party either.
Advent seems to be such an untidy season. Here a comforting Scripture passage, and there a threat; unusual John the Baptist at the edge of the desert and meek Mary in Nazareth; the purple of repentance and the songs of rejoicing; the “last day” in the Gospel on the first Sunday of Advent is a day of final judgment and we pray to greet it with joy. What a mess! No instant relevance and not even a tidy thematic.
How, then, should we deal with Advent? As a cherished heirloom, annually dusted off for a churchly For Auld Lang Syne? As a little bit of “liturgical Williamsburg”?
But here is another possibility: that we attempt to penetrate what the Bible and the liturgy are saying to us during this season – without asking them to say what we would like them to say, and without asking them to say it in a way that we would like to hear it.
For both the Bible and the liturgy are about the relationship of God with His people. And relationships – in case anybody hasn’t noticed – aren’t always tidy.
And the Bible and the liturgy are not always communicating information about the relationship between God and His people. In many cases, they are more concerned with the meaning of the relationship between God and His people.
And while the passages we read in the liturgy are grounded in the past, they are here for us to reflect upon their meaning for today.
Advent’s thematic is so simple that it is not likely to make the banners this year: God is present to us. For “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”
Advent looks to that great feast of God’s presence to us: Christmas.
God is present to His world through His Son, Jesus – who became one of us so that we could become one with Him.
Our medieval ancestors, in their statues and iconography, often portrayed Mary as pregnant.
In our “enhanced” church at Saint Joseph, there will be a new shrine in the back with a statue of Mary expecting the Christ Child, the Pregnant Virgin, Our Lady of the Advent of Christ. And this image has so much to say to our age which is in serious danger of forgetting that the God-given gift of human life begins at conception.
As mothers know, pregnancy isn’t a very comfortable thing. Its hope is tinged with morning sickness. You know that your child is living within you. You can feel your child kicking. But right at the moment, you can’t see the face of the one who is soon to be born. But you will.
And that is what Advent – the coming of Christ – is about. The splendor of God’s presence is hidden within the everyday untidiness of our lives – and lies beneath the pain and poverty of this world.
But we live in hope. God is present to us — in His Son, Jesus. We long to see His face, and one day we will. But even now we can feel His presence within us and among us.
This Advent season – like the pregnant Virgin Mary – is short on explanation and heavy with meaning.
Today trust in Church leadership is falling. Confidence in government and politicians is sinking. We long for trustworthy leadership but, in our times, can we ever hope to find it?
So where does our longing for trustworthy leadership lead us? To today’s feast – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
It was given to us by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It falls on the last Sunday of the Church year. Next Sunday opens the new Church year with the First Sunday of Advent.
Pope Pius XI was looking at the world and he saw dictatorships arising. Mussolini [1883-1945] was parading around Italy with arrogance. Hitler [1889-1945] was just released from jail and his scary Nazi party was gaining strength.
Pope Pius XI wanted to remind the world of its Divine Lord and Master. And so he established the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
In America, presidents are voted in one day and out on another. But a king is in office for life. In today’s First Reading, from the Second Book of Samuel, David is anointed the King of Israel, and the people pledge their ongoing loyalty to him.
In Jewish thought, if you were loyal to God’s anointed one, the king, you were also being loyal to God. But you and I know that King David, who he did a lot of good, also committed some very serious sins. And we know that with human leadership there will always be flaws and failures.
So who is the trustworthy leader for us to follow? It is none other than the Son of God and the Son of Mary. And what does Jesus our King teach us about leadership?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, our Servant King, is reigning from the Cross and suffering out of love to redeem us poor sinners. And two thieves are crucified either side of Him.
One, in a very cocky way, says, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.”
The other one, very humbly, says, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly… but this man has done nothing criminal.” And then he – the one we call the “good thief” or Saint Dismas – says to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus hears his confession on that cross. And Jesus says to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Someone entitled this Gospel scene, “The Thief Who Stole Heaven.” At the last minute, the good thief opened his heart to Jesus, and Jesus’ heart was already wide-open to him. That is the kind of leadership that Jesus teaches us to follow: being servant leaders with loving hearts.
Several years ago [December 1997] a young man in West Paducah, Kentucky took a gun to school and killed seven of his classmates. Parents were frantically praying, “Not my child, Lord. Please don’t let anything happen to my child.”
One mother’s prayer was not answered as she had wished. Her son died in the shooting. In spite of her shock and grief, that mother didn’t hesitate when doctors asked if she would donate her son’s organs to others in critical need.
Many months passed, and the mother discovered that her son’s heart had gone to a Methodist pastor. She contacted him and asked to meet him.
The day of their meeting, the grieving mother and the grateful pastor talked and prayed and celebrated the life of her precious son who had died so suddenly and tragically.
And then the mother surprised the pastor by asking him, “May I put my ear next to your heart? May I hear my son’s heart beating one more time inside of you?”
We are each called to be a person who has received a transplanted heart, the heart of Jesus within us. There are so many people today who are discouraged with scandals in the Church, with corruption in government and politicians, with violence and terrorism, with overwhelming greed and the outright rejection of God-given morals.
They desperately need to hear the blessed reassurance of His beating heart. They need to be able to put their ears to our hearts and know that Jesus Christ our King still reigns.
And so we pray: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like yours.”