My dear parish family, it’s true…we are a family. (One of the reasons I am called Father Kevin. Another reason we love when Sister Marietta comes and visits [By the way, for those are haven’t heard…Sister is now living at Mother of God Monastery in Watertown].) Today the Feast of the Holy Family has been celebrated by the Universal Church since 1920. Devotion to the Holy Family became popular after the 16th Century. The theme of family (and this feast dedicated to it) is of special importance for America especially in the face of challenges (threats) to the contemporary family.
Although the stores have Christmas discounted to at least 50% off and most likely the chocolate hearts are now stocking the shelves, here in Church it is Christmas! (Yes, Christmas Season has just begun on this 7th day of Christmas.) As much as it was a challenge to keep Advent as Advent (a time of reflection and preparation), so too it may be a challenge to keep Christmas as Christmas…and not move beyond it for these couple of weeks.
We are in the Octave of Christmas. Basically, this means for eight days we celebrate as it is Christmas Day itself. The Season of Christmas extends until Monday, January 8th, when we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. During this joyful season please take the time to truly celebrate the gift of life (and the gift of our faith) in our Savor, Jesus Christ. Now is the time to gather with family and friends to share the precious gift of life and love…and to see these gifts rooted in Christ…Our Savor. Now is the time for the Christmas parties! So keep the decorations, trees to be up and lit until Monday, January 8th (and the enjoyment of the great foods of the Season).
As we look to a new calendar year to begin this week, please take some time to reflect on the venerable custom of making a “New Year’s Resolution.” Sometimes these resolutions are grand in scale. My fear as I review this year gone by (and make resolutions for the next) is that my own plans may be too grand in nature. This year I ask you to join me in making a simpler resolution that is readily attainable. If that resolution is for the increase of exercise or the decrease of weight; if that resolution is to spend more time with family and friends or less time running around at warp speed; whatever that resolution may be, make it simple and attainable. Similarly, please consider making a spiritual resolution for 2018. Perhaps a simple resolution would be to pray just a decade of the Rosary, or spend five minutes reading a passage of the Scripture. The resolution may be to try to stop on the way to or from work (or school) into the church for just five minutes to collect your thoughts in the presence of Our Savor, Jesus Christ. Your resolution may be to try to find a few minutes prior to coming to Mass on Sunday to read the Scripture readings for that Sunday in advance so you will be even more familiar with them prior to hearing them at Mass. The list could go on and on and on. The point is simple: please try to make a simple, attainable goal for your personal and spiritual life this New Year of Grace – 2018!
On behalf of the staffs of our parishes and on my own behalf…we thank you for all you have done for us. We thank you for your many kindnesses throughout the whole year, but we especially thank you for your generosity to us during this Christmas Season. We thank all of the “elves” who have made our Church so beautiful during this Christmas Season. We thank the many parishioners who have helped in many, many ways to make our parish so vibrant and alive. Finally, thank you for your many cards, gifts, cookies, fruit trays, and “spiritual fluids” and other expressions of your love during this Christmas Season. Please know of our gratitude and our prayer for you and your extended family during Christmas and throughout the New Year! May God bless you, our Mother Mary watch over you and all the saints intercede for you, always.
Today we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and in a day it will be Christmas. With such a short Advent Season this year I keep thinking of the Muppet Christmas Carol movie, where Kermit the Frog sings: One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas (YouTube it…it’s great).
It is always difficult to believe how fast Advent goes and often how busy we become with parties, greeting cards, shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping gifts and more. If I have described you in any way, I remind you that it is not too late to spiritually make more out of Advent in these remaining moments of time. I urge you in the busyness to take just a little time to pray, reflect on the Scripture of this Sunday or the readings for Christmas Mass itself (I know there are a few Word Among Us magazines left in the vestibule). Perhaps as you do the last minute run of errands, put in a short visit to the church (or to the Eucharistic Adoration Chapel in Hoven) on that list, too. Believe me, if you squeeze in the time for some quiet prayer amidst the hustle and bustle, you will find a greater peace and calm as you sort through a long “to do” list with a short amount of time left.
As we look to Christmas Day, please accept on behalf of the staffs of our parishes and myself our collective best wishes for a Holy and Joy-filled Christmas Day and Season. Please know of my prayers for you as I go to the altar to celebrate Mass this day, season and every day throughout the New Year.
I am sure (especially as we celebrate Christmas), there may be some among us in church who do not regularly worship with us. I am certain there are some who have come home to the hinterlands to be with family and friends. We are delighted to have you home…and please know that wherever life may take you, you are always a vital member of the parishes’ family. It is always great to see the additional faces in the pews this time of year (and to see and meet the extended families of our parish family).
Similarly, there may be some among us today who have not been to church in a long time. We are especially thankful that you have come home to the Catholic Church and thankful that you are with us. We have been praying for you throughout Advent for your experience of Mass and our parish to be a warm and welcoming one! If you have come home to Mass under duress from a parent or grandparent who said “all I want for Christmas is for you to come to Church with me,” …or if you were motivated by the “Come Home to the Catholic Church” commercials, or if the Holy Spirit has been tugging at your heart – whatever the reason – we welcome you and want you to be a permanent part of the family. Please know that we are here to listen and to discuss any issue with you that may separate you from the Church. (oh…that reminds me…the Adult Education classes / meetings will begin in January again. Tuesday nights in Hoven (starting on the 9th) and Thursday night in Bowdle (starting on the 11th)).
Sometimes we just get too busy to go to Mass and that absence from Mass becomes a habit. Sometimes we may have a particular issue with the Church…if it be regarding a Church teaching, a marriage issue or some experience from the past. Whatever the issues may be, we are pleased you are with us today and we are here to welcome you home! Please know that you may call upon me as your Pastor at any time to work through any problems or questions.
Merry Christmas to all and may God bless you, our Mother Mary watch over you, and the saints intercede for you, always…and especially through this Season of Christmas and in the New Year 2018!
This Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, is called Gaudete Sunday or “rejoice” Sunday. Yes…Rose Sunday. The season of Advent does…in a way…take on the flavor as Lent. In the midst of the liturgical color purple (the color associated with repentance […“make straight our path to God”…] and, alms giving […” the time of year where want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices”…], and…prayer) we see the liturgical color rose which calls us to rejoice (don’t give up…what we want is very close!)
This may seem a little odd or polarized to be both repenting and rejoicing at the same time. This season calls us, on one hand, to see that we need God’s mercy and forgiveness as we acknowledge our sins and weaknesses. On the other hand, this season calls us to see ourselves as worthy, capable and chosen witnesses of the Gospel in the world today. Despite our unworthiness, God finds us worthy to be part of the Body of Christ filled with His Holy Spirit, carrying the dignity of a son or daughter of God (see ourselves as, by God’s grace, princes and princesses of the Kingdom). We are to rejoice in the mercy, compassion, forgiveness and perfect love of God the Father.
I am sure that you have had it happen in your life that someone has given you something; or, someone has helped you in so great a fashion that you could never possibly repay them. We are filled with humility in those moments as well as profound gratitude, appreciation and love. We are to take that human experience and relate it to our relationship with God. God’s gift to us is so great that we can never repay the debt, and in no way can we ever come close to equaling the generosity, love, forgiveness and mercy of the Father. This is what tells us to rejoice this Sunday in the midst of the call to repent in Advent.
I am looking forward to our Christmas celebrations. I am especially looking forward to the Masses on Christmas Eve. It is usually the time in the big city churches where you cannot even begin to quantify the number of people and cars and where all of the cars will be parked! But, for our parishes…this is never a problem! Our families come together to celebrate and worship. As we ready ourselves for Christmas Mass, we need to be prepared to welcome our fellow weekly parishioners; as well as those who are, weekly church going people who have come home or come to visit us. Also, we will need to be ready for some of our separated brothers and sisters who do not regularly celebrate Mass (or our Catholic Faith) to join us again! We need to welcome them with open arms and to live the Gospel we say we believe. Our separated brothers and sisters need to see us as humble and repentant; but also, as people who rejoice in the love of the Father. I really don’t have to emphasize this very much…after the Christmas on the Prairie Concert…we can be proud of the welcome extended to those who came to our area for this moment in time.
To that point, I wish to offer my profound gratitude for your generosity from all the parishes that extended the greatest gift God gives to humanity…time. Thank you all…and you all know who you are…in giving and for giving. And, I know…as God knows…those who gave without the left hand knowing what the right hand has done! God did bless us! Now…let us prepare to continue to give Him the joy, glory and honor in the rest of our Advent…Christmas…and forever.
I want to get the date (and thoughts) into your schedules and prayers for Advent. As last week, we celebrated the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8th, let’s not experience this event in theory. In an answer to these prayers, please plan to join us next month (again) at the State Capitol in Pierre as we witness Respect of Life in Prayer, Singing and Fellowship.
The South Dakota Right to Life will be planning the event for Sunday, January 21st. (As usual, a bus will be scheduled to pick up those who would like to have this convenience to travel down to Pierre.) Members of surrounding parishes will be invited in joining us as well.
During this Advent Season, come and visit the church in a Holy Hour with Our Lord held before the Blessed Sacrament. Pray a Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet for the success of this coming year in witnessing the Gospel of Life. (And, storm heaven and earth to end our nation’s culture of death.)
This event bridges the Feasts we celebrate – the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and the Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego (December 9), the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), Christmas (December 25), Holy Innocents (December 28), Holy Family (December 31), Mother of God (January 1) as well as the Epiphany (January 7) and the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (January 8)…ALL THESE FEASTS GIVING CELEBERATION AND WITNESS TO NEW LIFE TO HUMANITY!
Let us pray to Mary, the Mother of God (under her title Our Lady of Guadalupe) to intercede for us through her Divine Son for a return to respect for ALL life in our country.
This Advent, may we make reparation for all the lives lost in this nation to abortion and pray that parents may be conscious of their calling as they share in God’s creative power. We also pray that those who have acted against human life experience forgiveness.
A possible theme for prayer this year: “Let us bow down in UNISON across the nation before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration and Reparation for the sins against the lives of our innocent unborn and helpless ones.”
I hope and pray you had a wonderful celebration of Thanksgiving with your family and friends. Now we begin the Christmas rush which, of course, began with the famous “black Friday” shopping extravaganza! Fortunately for us, as Catholics, we do not need to be caught up in the entire extravaganza if we truly enter into the meaning of the Seasons of Advent and Christmas.
What is Advent? It is a time to wait, watch, hope and pray! (You may be seeing this reality for those who have young children. They see the Christmas tree going up. They see the lights and garland being brought in from the garage / basement / attic. They know something special is coming soon…(and, they are becoming more and more excited…until they can’t wait any longer!) Waiting is something we may not like to do, but we are well experienced with waiting. As little children we can’t wait until we are old enough to go to school with our older brothers and sisters. Once in school, we can’t wait until we make our First Penance and First Holy Communion. Then we can’t wait until we hit junior high to be with the older kids, and once we are there we can’t wait until we are in 8th Grade. Once in 8th Grade we can’t wait until we graduate and start high school and once in high school we can’t wait until we begin sports, clubs, and travel…and we can’t wait until we are Confirmed. We can’t wait to turn 16 years old because we can’t wait until we can drive…and then we can’t wait to own that first car. (We usually can wait to receive the bill for the car and insurance though!) Once in the second half of high school we can’t wait for graduation and to go to college and once in college we can’t wait to get involved in all kinds of activities. We can’t wait again to graduate and move onto either graduate school, a religious vocation or a great job.
In today’s society, once again, we already look forward to that next job because we do not like the first one. Shortly thereafter, we can’t wait to have our own apartment, can’t wait to find the right person to marry and once married we can’t wait to buy our first house, have children and buy a bigger house. Then we can’t wait for our children to start school, make their First Penance, First Communion, multiple graduations, move on their own, get a job, marry and have our grandchildren. Once we have grandchildren we can’t wait for them to come and visit and after a short time into that visit we can’t wait for them to go home and our own house to be quiet again!
It seems we do have an attitude that we “can’t wait” for things, and this Season of Advent calls us to wait, watch, hope and pray. In the business of our daily lives and the added pressures of all of the Christmas rush, please take time to wait. I do not mean to wait in line to check out at the store, but to wait in silent prayer with the Lord. Come to the Adoration Chapel, come sit in church or take some time in your favorite chair beside the Christmas tree and spend some time with the One Whose Birthday we are preparing to once again celebrate – our Savior, Christ the Lord and King of kings. Wait with Him. Watch for Him. Hope in Him and Pray in dialogue with Him. We wait for the Great Mystery coming to us as a vulnerable, fragile, little baby. May God bless you, Our Mother Mary watch over you and intercede for you, always.
Hopefully you remember some of what I wrote last week concerning the parable of the Lost Sheep. Jesus is not only the Shepherd, but he comes into the world as one of the sheep. He calls us to us when we are lost…using our own language and sounds. He gets us out of the weeds and leads us home…if we want to follow Him.
This week we celebrate the end. The end of the year of grace of 2017. We celebrate the end of this world and look forward to the real world in eternal life. We celebrate the reality of God being “all in all”.
The circles of the cosmos and of history are now distinguished. The gift of freedom is the center of the created (us) as well as of Divine Being…and so the historical element has its own irrevocable meaning but it is not for that reason the historical element separated from the cosmic element. Ultimately, despite their differences, the two circles continue to be the one circle of being. The historical liturgy of Christendom (our worship (our play) of God given to us by God) is and always will be cosmic…without separation and without confusion…and only as such does it stand erect in its full grandeur. Christianity is uniquely new, but it does not spurn the religious quest of human history. It takes up in itself all the prevailing preoccupations of the world’s religions, and in that way it maintains a connection with them.
As I often say at weddings and funerals, we must acknowledge and accept there are different understandings of Christian communions, in our world this difference will be worked out (God is…in the end…All in all). So, as we await the King of Kings to come into the world (like the five wise virgins)…let us be united as much as we can in our common prayer. We cannot give our oil away…we may not have enough when the bridegroom comes. But, in prayer, let us work for healing, the loving transformation of broken freedom, and…yes…of painful expiation. Let our prayers have (first) Christian theologians work out the differences soon…and…for God’s sake…work to bring all of God’s creatures and creation Home.
Departure and Return
One great memory in my little life was being so lucky to be able to visit the Sistine Chapel. Looking up at the centerpiece of Michelangelo’s Creation, I always think of a quote from the 70’s: “If you love something, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever.” It has much to do with this weekend’s readings (and the basis of this week’s reflection). As we remember those who have died, we consider our ultimate relationship with God.
The act of God’s being (which causes created being) is an act of freedom. In this respect, the principle of freedom is present in being itself, from its ground upward. The departure (or rather God’s free act of creation) is indeed ordered toward the return (what we recognize as death in this world). That does not now mean the rescinding of created being, but rather what we have described above. The creature (existing in its own right) comes home to itself…and this act is an answer in freedom to God’s love. It accepts creation from God as His offer of love…and thus ensues a dialogue of love…that wholly new kind of unity that love alone can create. Like in the creation of Adam from God, the being of the other (Adam) is not absorbed or abolished, but rather, in giving itself, it becomes fully itself. Here is a unity that is higher than the unity of indivisible elementary particles. This return is a “return”, but it does not abolish creation; rather, it bestows its full and final perfection. This is how Christians understand God being “all in all”.
But everything is bound up with freedom, and the creature (each of us) has the freedom to turn the positive departure of its creation around. To rupture it in the Fall: this is the refusal to be dependent…saying: “No” to the return. Love is seen as dependence and is rejected. In its place come autonomy and autarchy (self rule): existing from oneself and in oneself, being a god of one’s own making. The arch from departure to return is broken. The return is no longer desired…and ascent by one’s powers proves to be impossible.
As in previous reflection, if “sacrifice” in its essence is simply returning to love and therefore divinization…worship now has a new aspect: the healing of wounded freedom, atonement, purification, deliverance from estrangement. The essence of worship…of sacrifice (the process of assimilation…of growth in love…and thus the way into freedom) remains unchanged. But now it assumes the aspect of healing, the loving transformation of broken freedom, of painful expiation. Worship is directed to the Other in himself, to his all-sufficiency, but now it refers itself to the Other Who Alone can extricate me from the knot that I myself cannot untie. Redemption now needs the Redeemer.
The Church Fathers saw this expressed in the parable of the Lost Sheep. For the Fathers, the sheep caught in the thorn bush and unable to find its way home is a metaphor for man in general. He cannot get out of the thicket and find his way back to God. The Shepherd who rescues him and takes him home is the Logos (the Word of God) Himself, the eternal Word, the eternal Meaning of the universe dwelling in the Son. He It is Who makes His way to us and takes the sheep onto His shoulders…that is, He assumes human nature, and as the God-Man He carries man (the creature) home to God. And so the return becomes possible. Man is given a homecoming. But now sacrifice takes the form of the Cross of Christ, of the love that in dying makes a gift of itself.
Such sacrifice has nothing to do with destruction. It is an act of new creation, the restoration of creation to its true identity. All worship is now a participation in this “Pasch” of Christ (in His “passing over” from divine to human), from death to life, to the unity of God and man. Thus Christian worship is the practical application and fulfillment of the words that Jesus proclaimed on the first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, in the Temple in Jerusalem: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (cf. Jn 12:32).