A Moment before the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In a way, Sunday’s Gospel – the call of the Apostles – is the real beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. 

But what about the Baptism of Jesus? Or the 40 days in the desert that ends with the temptation of Jesus?

Not that those events don’t matter, they do - both tell us a lot about who Jesus is. But those events are the preparation for Sunday’s Gospel.

With the call of the Apostles, we often think about who they are. Or what they do. But before any of that stuff, there’s something else.

Before Jesus calls them to do anything, Jesus calls them into a relationship. 

That call to a relationship is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Because that relationship with Jesus is at the heart of everything that follows. For the Apostles. And for us.

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One thing after another

“History, it’s just one thing after another.” Sometimes the readings at Mass can feel like that. This thing happened, then this thing happened, then this thing happened... 

But how does any of it relate to you and me? 

The next time a friend of mine has a few extra dollars, she’ll be at Starbucks ordering something she’s never had before. Just because.

How do I know this? I’ve seen her do it time after time. That’s what she does. 

When we see somebody do something time after time, we get a good idea of what they’re going to do again. The same thing is true about the One in whose “likeness and image” all of us are made (where do you think we got it from?).

That’s why we get all of these readings about what God has done.

This Sunday’s readings show God calling people, and not giving up on them. Time after time.  That’s what God does.  Which gives us a good idea of what God is going to do again - with you and me.

More on this tomorrow.

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I was in there three days

Sunday’s first reading shows Jonah’s do-over. When Jonah finally does what God called him to do. It’s surprising that even happens, as desperate as Jonah was to avoid God.

If this was the Disney version, some kid-friendly, adorable creature would show up to help Jonah see things God’s way. Jonah would have a glorious, transformative moment. And show up happy in Nineveh, joyfully proclaiming God’s message. 

But this isn’t Disney. The creature that shows up isn’t kid-friendly or adorable. His transformative moment is horrifying. And when Jonah finally shows up in Nineveh, he’s anything but happy or joyful.

Jonah’s do-over? It’s begrudging (at best). And yet people respond to Jonah’s message.

Which tells you Who they are really responding to.  

More on this tomorrow.

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Working hard to not help

This Sunday’s first reading is Jonah.

Whenever Jonah shows up, we usually think about the whale. And not much else. But there’s a lot more to Jonah.

In the verses leading up to the reading, Jonah is called by God. There’s no confusion. Jonah knows exactly what God wants. And Jonah is not having it. 

Too often when I need customer service, actually getting it goes from frustrating to worse. It’s aggravating having to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

But nothing makes me angrier than when I finally get through, and I get someone who is working hard - to not help me.

That’s how Jonah treats God.

But God doesn’t react the way I would - by paying Jonah back. God’s response to Jonah is very different.

More on this tomorrow.

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The cure for bad preaching

A lot of homilies are great.

But everybody has sat through a homily that felt like random parts of 6 or 7 other homilies. Or 20 minutes in search of a point. Or a good time to nap.

Which is why the Catholic Church has historically had a (sometimes deserved) reputation for bad preaching.

When I was entering the Church (yes, I’m a convert), this was something my Protestant friends brought up. A lot.

How was I going to deal with the Church’s legendarily lame sermons?

So I asked the Dominican nun who ran our RCIA program how she did it? She had a one-word answer:

“Samuel.”

            “Samuel?”

“What Samuel said when he figured out God was calling him – speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

            ???

“I pray that right before every homily. I haven’t heard a bad one in 30 years.”

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A Moment before the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Some of us go to church once or twice a year, some of us go every week, and some of us go daily. In Sunday’s first reading, Samuel has all of us beat. He lives there. 

Being there can make it easier to hear God. But God is calling each of us to more than just being there.  

Sunday’s readings show us that God calls us in many ways. Sometimes it’s the voice-of-God-in-the-middle-of-the-night, like Samuel. Sometimes it’s someone saying “we found him,” like Peter.

God is calling each of us, and that call can vary from person to person. Because God loves us enough to call each of us in ways that we can hear. 

But God doesn’t just call people like Samuel who (literally) live in church. God is calling each of us. And it has nothing to do with our qualifications.

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More than just being there

Some of us go to church for weddings and funerals, some of us go on Christmas and Easter. Some of us go on Sunday, some of us go daily. In the first reading, Samuel has all of us beat. He lives there.

And the point would be?

That there’s more to this, more than just being there. Even for someone who is there (literally) 24-7. There’s something more.

Does being there make it easier to hear God? Sure. But that’s just the beginning. God is calling each of us to more than just being there.

What if we don’t hear the call? God loves us enough to keep calling.

What if we don’t understand the call? God loves us enough to keep calling.

What if we’re not Samuel? After all, most of us aren’t there 24-7, and weren’t set aside for God from before we were born. 

More on this tomorrow.

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A deal with God

When we’re hurt, when we’re desperate, sometimes we promise God that we’ll do something. Anything. If only God will help us. In the moment, those promises can be extravagant. 

Not really meaning promises like that – or a least not making good on them – is so common that it’s a stock joke. And kind of a stereotype. 

In Sunday’s first reading, Hannah is hurting.  

She’s so desperate, she even promises the child to God’s service. If God will only give her a son. And God does.

But for Hannah, it’s no joke.

She breaks the stereotype. Hannah makes good on her promise. 

Okay, but what does that have to do with our faith not being a Sunday-only thing? 

More on this tomorrow.

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Part of our Tuesdays

On Christmas (and the weeks leading up to it), a lot of us complain about how the church will be filled with “CEO’s” (Christmas and Easter Only’s). We whine about someone being in “our” pew.

And then follow it up with something cutting about church being more than just a twice-a-year thing. About faith needing to be part of everyday life. 

We need to take our own advice. Because it’s not always easy to make faith part of everyday life.

Going to church more than twice a year helps. But it’s no guarantee. No matter how often we go or don’t go, it’s easy to fall into the trap of leaving God in church.

The point of this season of Ordinary Time? To help us change our relationship with God. And escape the trap of leaving God in church.

Because God’s not just for special occasions. Or even Sundays.

God wants to be part of our Tuesdays too.

More on this tomorrow.

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The Baptism of the Lord

So I finally did it. I boxed up all of the Christmas stuff - the tree, the lights, the stockings - and put it away. Every last bit it. Or so I thought.

This morning, I spotted a wreath that got missed somehow.

Today is the end of Christmastide. With one last special day, even the Church is done with Christmas.

But the readings for this last day don't call us back to the warmth and wonder of the Nativity. Instead, we get John baptizing Jesus. And the start of Jesus' public ministry, going forth into life filled with the Holy Spirit.

Because that's how the Church sees Christmas. Not as "one and done." Not something to do and then box up until next year. But as something to call us to that same Spirit in our lives. Every day.

I think I'm going to leave that wreath up.

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A Moment before the Epiphany of the Lord

Christmastide closes this Sunday with the Epiphany of the Lord. So what’s an “epiphany?”  A moment or event that reveals something about a divine being. 

The revealing of Epiphany grows out of the first reading, which at first glance seems like all of the other Isaiah readings from Advent. But there’s something different here.

Foreigners are included in God’s plan, and they’re bringing some very specific royal gifts.

It all comes together with the Gospel and its collision of cultures - God’s people waiting for Christ, suffering under a murderous tyrant kept in power by the armies of Rome.

Plus foreigners bearing the royal gifts listed in the first reading. 

And it's those same foreigners - who are at the same time open to God and so focused on God that they can see the signs - who end up doing the revealing.

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Just for you

Up to this point, everything about Christmas has been about God’s chosen people. With Sunday’s readings, something has changed. For the first time, foreigners are something other than enemies.

Foreigners, Gentiles are included in God’s plan. But just what that means isn’t clear. At least not at first.

Sometimes being included is more of an afterthought. Getting to pick from whatever’s left over.  Like the last slice of pizza no one else wants.

That’s not what it means to God. And the second reading spells it out.

God’s version of being included? It doesn’t involve leftovers.

More on this tomorrow.

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Everybody loves a nativity scene

Nobody loves a nativity scene more than I do.

…except for St. Francis of Assisi. Who staged the first one.

Okay. Nobody loves a nativity scene more than St. Francis and me.

…except for Pope Honorius. Who loved the idea and encouraged Francis use live animals.

Fine. Nobody loves a nativity scene more than St. Francis, Pope Honorius, me, and…nevermind.

Everybody loves a nativity scene.

But in the beauty and intimacy of that scene, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the wonderful moment that it shows us. And lose sight of the big picture.

Which is why today’s Gospel is so important.

There is nothing wrong with being drawn into the warmth and wonder of the nativity scene.  But it means even more when we understand exactly Who is at the center of the nativity scene.

And a love so great that becoming one of us is only the beginning.

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Epiphany? What's that?

Christmastide is loaded with special days – the Holy Family, Mary the Mother of God, etc. After Christmas, the second most important one is the Epiphany of the Lord (this Sunday). It even has its own countdown song.

The traditional 12 days of Christmas? Those are the days between Christmas and Epiphany. 

The word “epiphany” is often used to describe a brainstorm or a moment of insight.  But that’s not what it really means.  An “epiphany” really means an event that reveals something about a divine being. 

For the Epiphany of the Lord, Jesus is the divine being in question. So what is it that’s being revealed? 

More on this tomorrow.

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Wait, the church isn't closed today?

Today’s Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God can seem kind of random. We already know who gave birth to Jesus. So what’s the point? 

The masses on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day had four different Gospel readings (Matthew, John, and two from Luke), because together they help give us the complete picture of Christmas. 

But in the excitement of Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, it’s easy to miss a perspective that’s key to that complete picture – Mary’s. 

Mary’s perspective is so important that the Church dedicates a solemnity (the highest rank of feast, just like Christmas itself) to seeing Christmas through her eyes. 

And that’s the point.  We don’t have a complete picture of Christmas until we see it through her eyes.

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A Moment before the Feast of the Holy Family

Christmas is all about the Incarnation, which is more than just the birth of Jesus. The Incarnation is, in a way, a throwback to Genesis. Where God looks at everything He made, and finds it very good. 

And in spite of everything that each of us does to mess it up, God still finds it very good.

With the Incarnation, God is saying that He doesn’t just find everything very good when seen from a distance. God steps into creation to be one of us. And makes it personal for each one of us.

In the Holy Family, we see what God thinks about us. It’s not just someone who is fully God and fully man (Jesus) who God finds good. Or someone born free from original sin (Mary).

God finds ordinary people, people like you and me (Joseph), good as well.

Not perfect. Not sinless. But good.

And God finds us good together.

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Emmanuel is a verb

Sunday is the feast of the Holy Family. Also known as “What do you mean there’s church on Sunday? We were just there for Christmas.”

Christmas is all about the Incarnation. It shows us a God who loves us so much that He is willing to become one of us. Just for the chance of getting through to us.

But even though the church still looks like Christmas, the feast of the Holy Family isn’t Christmas 2.0.

The Holy Family is all about Emmanuel (one of the names for Jesus). It means “God with us.” And not just in the sense of God being for us (although that’s true too). 

Emmanuel is a verb.

Emmanuel is exactly what God is doing. Not at a distance, But in the most intimate, vulnerable way possible.

Emmanuel is God in our shoes, dealing with everything each of us deals with. The good, the bad, all of it. From the very beginning.

Literally, God with us.   

More on this tomorrow.

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That’s enough Christmas

Christmas is here at last! 

Aaaaand it’s gone. 

At least that’s what it looks like in the stores.  The Christmas stuff that had been out since Arbor Day is already marked down for the after-Christmas sales. Christmas music is nowhere to be heard. 

But while everyone else is putting Christmas away, the Church is just getting started with Christmas.  Which means?  For starters, all the decorations that appeared on Christmas Eve will still be there on Sunday. Why?

Because there’s a lot more to Christmas than just Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. There’s a whole season of Christmastide. Christmas may start with a babe in a manger, but it doesn’t stop there. 

More on this tomorrow.

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When was the first Christmas?

What does the Bible say about when Jesus was born? It’s all in Luke’s Gospel. And it starts with John the Baptist.

The angel announces John’s conception on the day his father (one of the Temple priests) enters the Holy of Holies. That’s a once a year thing, on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Following the Hebrew lunar calendar, that happens in late September/early October.

When Mary says yes to God, the angel says “BTW, John’s mother is 6 months pregnant.” That puts the conception of Jesus in late March/early April (tradition says March 25).

Add 9 months and Jesus is born in late December/early January.  

Which means that December 25 is definitely in the ballpark.

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A Moment before the Fourth Sunday in Advent

In Sunday’s first reading, David realizes that something’s not right when he has a house but God’s Ark is in a tent. So he asks Nathan about building a house for God. Nathan (not checking with God first) says “go ahead.”

Nathan finds out that God has a very different plan in mind. One that takes a very different approach.

Nathan trusts himself. And nothing really happens.

It’s a stark contrast to Sunday’s Gospel, where Mary is told about God’s plan. Mary is asked to trust God and to be a part of that plan.

Instead of trusting herself, Mary trusts God.

And nothing will ever be the same.

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