Monday, December 26, 2016

Experience of a Lifetime!

Times does to language in the long run what alcohol does quickly – it slurs words. The word ‘Christmas’ is an example of this. The word is a slur or contraction of Christ’s Mass. Mass of course is the Catholic worship service of God and Christ’s Mass is where we come together to offer the Thanksgiving Sacrifice and celebrate the birth of our Lord. Time has further shortened ‘Christmas’ to ‘Xmas’. ‘X’ comes from the Greek Xi, or Chi, and is used to abbreviate the work Christ.

For a Christian, Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of Jesus, the second greatest event in human history. The creator of everything hung up his divinity, took on human flesh, and became one of us to dwell with us and show us through his example how to live in right relationship with God and each other. He did not choose to come forth as a mighty king demanding worship, but as a tiny, fragile baby born in a cave. In the beginning God said let there be light and it was good. Then the Light chose to dwell among us and we, in our great arrogance, have tried to snuff that light out so we can live in darkness.

Christmas is a time to celebrate the Light coming into the world. Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Christmas begins with Christ and ends with Mass. Without Jesus this season becomes nothing more than a time of greed and commercialism. People all around the globe, not only children, are excited to see what they will get and many get disappointed when the gifts received don’t match expectation. All over this country there are long lasting grudges between family members over something as small as not receiving a Christmas card from the other. Christmas is a time where we celebrate the birth of the baby God and trample over each other trying to get to the deals on Black Friday.

Today I enjoyed looking at the many posts on Facebook of the way many churches have decorated their sanctuaries to prepare for the coming of the light. Let us prepare Him room so he finds a warm resting place in our hearts and no longer has to lay his head in a manger. Then I came across one that utterly upset me. It was from the Heartland Community Church in Rockford, Illinois. Heartland is the largest non-denominational church in the area and has a large following.

Experience something more this year at a Heartland Christmas!

Great music, videos, sound, lights, and a whole lot of Christmas cheer. No tickets needed…”

Music, videos, sound, lights, and Christmas cheer. All we had was beautiful worship of Jesus. No wonder so many are leaving the conventional faith traditions for Heartland. Nowhere in their post did the word ‘Jesus’ appear. In fact this wasn’t even referred to as worship.

Come to one or all of our 7 experiences this year!”

Worship is about giving to another. Experience is about receiving for the self. Being Christian in today’s age has become more about experience than worship. There is nothing more than Christ in Christmas and all of the great music, videos, sounds, lights, cheer, and all the presents in the world are meaningless if the birthday boy isn’t front and center. If you take Christ out of Christmas you are left with ‘mas’, which in many languages means ‘more’. Without Christ in Christmas you are left wanting more.

Did Christmas morning find you talking about what you got or what you gave? Did you have a great experience or a beautiful worship?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Run, Forrest, Run!

The thing I dreaded most in boot camp was the very first PT test we had to take. I wasn’t worried too much about the pushups or the sit ups. I feared the run. I have never been a runner. I have a long torso and shorter legs and am about as graceful as an albatross on ice skates when I run. I have never had any endurance for running so I avoid doing so whenever possible. The first run we had to do in boot camp was a mile and a half in nine and a half minutes. It was done in formation at a controlled pace.

Our company recruit chief petty officer was Seaman Recruit Brewer from Louisville, Kentucky. He was a man I admired, respected, and thought of as a friend. He gave a speech to the company the night before we were to take the PT test. He told how he would be disappointed with anyone not passing the test. This made me fear the test that much more because I did not want to disappoint this man.

I did ok the first couple laps but then the fatigue and pain set in. I wanted more than anything to quit, to move to the side with the other men who weren’t up to the task. At the back of the company was Seaman Recruit Brewer. He was yelling at the company to keep going, to keep up the pace, not to stop. A few others joined him as we ran. This motivated me to keep going, to push on through the searing pain in my side. My moaning and groaning got increasingly louder with each lap. Those around me tried to quiet my screams fearing one of the instructors would pull me out of the group and fail me. None did.

Brewer’s motivation continued the entire run. We had about ten guys who dropped out unable to finish. I was not among them. Although I screamed in agony over half the run I never quit. I never fell back or out of pace with the company. When I crossed the finish line all of the pain I suffered suddenly vanished and I was awash in a happiness and joy I had never felt before. I didn’t stop running. I couldn’t believe I had made it.

As a Catholic, I pray for the dead. I believe in purgatory. Heaven is the final place for the perfected. Hell is the final place for the condemned. Purgatory is the place where those who will warrant heaven, but are not completely perfected, go to be perfected. If I were to die right now I would die in right relation with the Lord. This means, that as far as I know, I do not have any mortal sins I have not been forgiven of. I do have a laundry list of venial sins racked up. I am not even close to being in a perfected state. I need a period in the fire of God’s love to burn away all that is not perfect within me. Then, and only then, I will be able to see God for what he actually is – perfect love.

When we pray for the dead we pray for those in purgatory. Prayers are offered in love and love is never wasted with God. We become like what Seaman Recruit Brewer was for me; motivation to continue to the fulfillment of the race. Those in purgatory can hear our prayers. They provide strength and inspiration to continue with the perfection. To let go of those stubborn attachments to sin we all have in our lives.  There are many who, through no fault of their own, have no one who is praying for them. They run the race alone and the temptation to quit is great.

Pray for the dead. Your act of love hastens the “time” in purgatory. A perfected person is a Saint living in heaven with God. There they can repay the love you showed them by intercessing directly to Jesus on your behalf. It is the goal of every person to get those they love to heaven. We do it on this side of heaven through our prayers for the ones who have gone before and those who have successfully finished the race do it on that side of heaven for us.
Love is great that way.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Be a Gift

There are few things more magical to a young child than waking up on Christmas morning. Indeed, the entire Christmas season is a special time of year. Twinkly lights adorn homes looking like gingerbread houses blinking in the night. Evergreen and cinnamon hang heavily in the air as we watch Frosty, and Rudolph, and Ralphy dream of his Red Rider range model. Children wake at a brisk 6:00am with the energy to put an atomic weapon to shame. They rouse comatose parents who swear they just closed their eyes moments earlier. Then comes the mad dash to the tree and all of the brightly wrapped boxes Santa delivered earlier that night. In the corner sits a Red Rider and Ralphy would be over the moon.

Tis the gift giving season. Once upon a time you used to be able to tell a lot about a person by the way they wrapped a present. If you really cared you took a little more time to do the gift up right. You used heavy paper carefully folded. Just the right amount of tape held the paper in place. The whole package would be wrapped with a ribbon and bow and there would be a neatly printed name tag. Proper gift wrapping is an art form quickly going the way of the rotary telephone. People lack the time and patience needed to give a beautifully wrapped gift. Wrapping paper seems to get thinner every year and now to make things even faster and more convenient you can just plop your present into a gift bag. No muss, no fuss, no problem.

Sadly, far too many people are taking the same approach when they come to worship God. They fail to see themselves as the gift they truly are and are wrapping themselves as such. They believe that God doesn’t care how they dress and all that matters is that they show up. It is the thought that counts after all. This is either complacency or arrogance. Neither is a good thing.

We worship God because he alone is worthy of our worship. We worship God because we love him. He is worthy of more than a present plopped into a gift bag. God is worthy of the extra time it takes to clean up, to put on nicer clothes, to prepare ourselves to be in his presence. When we go to worship we are going to profess our love in front of the creator of all existence. We are not running down to the mega-mart for a loaf of bread.

When we wrap a gift we are putting forth an extension of the love we hold for the recipient. The more we care for that person the more time and care we should take in the wrapping. You wouldn’t present the love of your life with a ring wadded up in dirty newspaper and you shouldn’t present the gift of your love to the Lord in shorts and flip flops.

This does not mean that you have to come dressed in a three pice suit or formal ball gown, not there is anything wrong in dressing that way. It is not so much the clothes you wear as the preparation you put into it. My children have given me gifts wrapped in brown paper bags or newspaper that they are so proud of. It wasn’t that the wrapping was special but the love they put into wrapping it themselves. When we take the time to present ourselves properly to our creator he notices the love we have for him and love is never wasted with God.

You are a gift to God. Show him the love you have for him and wrap yourself just a bit better this advent season.