Tuesday, November 29, 2016

An Every Day Advent

Happy Advent! Today is the first Advent weekday.
We are waiting for Jesus' arrival on Christmas; his arrival at the end of time; and his unexpected arrivals today. If you've ever waited for a loved one to come off a big jet liner, it seems that he or she is never coming. So many others drift by somewhat dazed from their long flight. I am fascinated by the variety of folks who exit first: tanned faces and flip flops tell of a Florida or Caribbean vacation; parkas and high boots say "It's cold up north!" Some passengers sport cheerful smiles, others reflect a somber demeanor. Perhaps these are coming from or going to a funeral? While we wait for Jesus in Advent, it's good to take a look at the faces that pass us by. When others see me with a serene and smiling face, it may be that Jesus is using me to bring about an "every day Advent." What do I mean by that? As Christians, we know that Jesus Christ wants to dwell in us. He wants to use you and me to make his presence felt in the every day. Not every day carries drama and excitement. I remember the first time I rode Toronto's subway system. Everyone I met was very helpful. My first impression of Toronto still brings a smile to my face. Jesus was showing me his kindness through the courtesy I received that day. Jesus likes to use disguises. For instance, Mother Teresa of Kolkata is famous for saying that "Jesus is there in the distressing disguise of the poor." The poor are not always homeless and shabbily dressed. In our homes there may be one of our children who is rebellious, or moody, or very needy in other ways. When tempted to react to resistance or crankiness, it helps to pray "Lord, what would you have me do right now?" Then we can respond to the behavior as a Christian trying to do his or her best to be a living gospel today. Of course, when we receive Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, his Body and Blood, or when we approach him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we enjoy a very special Advent visit. Certain Christian Churches have the custom of saying that "Jesus is coming soon!" When I was assigned to Hawaii several years ago, each time we drove to the airport we passed the "Jesus Coming Soon Church." Since most of our airport runs were done after sunset, the church steeple was lit up with a big neon sign: "Jesus coming soon!" As Jesus himself said in yesterday's Sunday Gospel selection, no one but the heavenly Father knows when that final public coming of Jesus will take place. That's why we need to be watchful and ready.
I am reminded of a homily I heard in a parish recently. The priest said when he worked in retail in a big department store, the owners hired "secret shoppers" who posed as customers who were less than satisfied. Some wanted a different size than was available; others wanted items that were out-of-stock. Yet, each clerk had to do his or her best to find an agreeable solution to the problem handed to them. As Jesus said about his coming, he used the word "thief". Jesus and St. Paul both referred to his coming as a thief who uses stealth to break in. Jesus is the Ultimate Good Thief who steals into our lives at the prickliest moments. As we continue our Advent journey let's allow Jesus into our lives under his various disguises. We ask Jesus to be welcoming to him in whatever disguise he chooses. We await his "coming" in this Advent season. He awaits us in prayer.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Lessons from Football

It was a fine summer day in Maine's lake region. I was just about ready to exit the pulpit after having given an invitation to the parishioners to visit our book fair. The pastor spoke up: "Sister forgot something!" I made a quick mental fact check. Father continued: "All you men who sit on the couch watching football, there's book downstairs [in th eparish hall where our display was set up] for you." I smiled when the priest reminded me of the "football book." I think it is now out-of-print, The Spiritual Lessons of Football. Since at that time I was not a New England Patriots fan, nor did I follow any other football team, I had not even leafed through the book Father pointed out. Of course, we sold out all the copies of the "spiritual football book." Today I read an article in the Boston Globe about the New England Patriots, who so far have only lost one game in this season. Tomorrow they will face one of their strongest foes. To prepare themselves, New England's coach and all the team members watched videos of their own plays, highlighting their own mistakes. Their goal is to avoid the mistakes they made, or to execute plays they had not tried so as to win tomorrow. St. Ignatius would be glad to see how they are making a football examination of conscience. No doubt coach Bill acknowledged what each player did well, and encouraged his men to keep up the good. St. Ignatius taught that the daily examination of conscience is a "non-negotiable" element of the spiritual life. The daily examen starts with praise and thanksgiving to our God for the graces received in the last 24 hours. Then one looks over the day and checks his or her response to God's grace: You may see that you had the opportunity to practice patience with one of your kids. Did you control your immediate reaction to scold him? Or, did you let loose with a "not again" complaint? Did you show your love for your spouse, or were you too busy to give that little rub to his shoulder, or kiss or when you walked in the door? Whatever your position, married or single, lay person or vowed religious or priest, the daily review helps us to be more aware of God's efforts to draw us closer to him. When we notice our failings, our sins, we don't hang on to them like a weight to be dragged around. We admit our mistakes, we tell God "I am really sorry." And as we might say to our children, "We resolve to do better the next time" we are faced with similar challenges. After we express our contrition, then we pray for the grace to continue on our spiritual journey. We tell Jesus we trust in him to provide the strength we need to overcome our habits of sin: our impatience, our reliance on alcohol or pain killers, our cover-ups for our own shortcomings. Maybe we have fallen into gossip. We plan to change the subject the next time we are tempted to take down somebody we really don't like. Whatever the sin, we admit it. We don't white wash it. We allow Jesus to dissolve our spiritual stains, better than any "oxy" soap. Prayer gives us the power to overcome bad habits, or to do a good deed for someone we may not like; to go the extra ile for soomeone who may not be able to repay us. Blessed James Alberione practiced this Ignatian examination of conscience every day. Alberione gave his Pauline Family members a short prayer that sums up the goal of the examen. It goes like this: "By myself, I can do nothing. But, with God, I can do all things. To God the honor and glory, to me the heavenly reward." The Divine Mercy devotion reminds us to pray often, "Jesus, I trust in You." With the daily awareness prayer, we can face our daily challenges with confidence.
Like Coach Bill and his players, we can go out on the field and score our spiritual touch downs and field goals with confidence and the spiritual skills we learned in our prayer time. November brings not only football and falling leaves here in New England and elsewhere. In November the Church reminds us to remember to pray for all of our deceased family, friends and for folks we have never met--all those who have gone before us. We believe that before we can fully enjoy the presence of God in heaven, our souls need to be purified of stains of sin. The poor souls, as we call our deceased, realize how now how important is every second of our life. They realize what habits of sin, or habits of spiritual neglect kept them from fully allowing Jesus to live in them. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: "I live no longer I, but it is Christ who lives in me." The Poor Souls wait to be completely purified of all that kept them from fully enjoying the Blessed Trinity. They can no longer adjust their spiritual lives. They rely on our prayers and sacrifices to help them move on to that total bliss of the Presence of God. The Psalm says, "My soul is thirsting for the Lord. When shall I see him face-to-face?" May we perform the work of mercy to pray for the living and the dead especially during this Month of the Poor Souls. Then these souls who thirsted for the Lord will be satisfied for all eternity.