Suggestion for a Christ-Centered Christmas

Suggestions for a CHRIST-CENTERED CHRISTMAS

I BEFORE THE DAY BEGINS:  

Invite dinner guests with musical ability to bring their musical instruments

Have family members set DVR to pre-record Football Games; pre-record or purchase/rent CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, or other cartoons, or CHRISTMAS MOVIES.  These will be handy for intervals such as between main meal and desert or as alternate After Meal Activities.

Community Games to Have on Hand:  Charades, Pictionary, Balderdash

Music via CD, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube (See item VIII below)

POST-ITS with #s on them, coordinated to # of guests.  Separate #s for Adults and # for Children.  Have each guest take a #. (Children’s # on one color post-it; adults, another)

Display and have available a Bible & Children’s Bible opened to Luke, Chapter 2.

    A Book(s) or Copy of Clement C. Moore’s THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS and the poem/song THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS.  Have these available for After Dinner Activity. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/visit-st-nicholas

http://www.wikiwand.com/en/The_Twelve_Days_of_Christmas_(song)

Christmas Carol Music Books or Song Sheet or PowerPoint copies displayable on TV (If your TV & computer are integrated, have the “tech” in the family work on this in the weeks prior to Christmas.  Otherwise, make copies of Song Sheets or just the lyrics.)

 

I             CHRISTMAS EVE (or Morning) – Replace the colored Advent Candles from your Advent       Wreathe with White Candles, and add a fifth White Candle at the center of the Wreathe.

Prayers for the Occasion available in Catholic Book of Blessings and online at

http://www.ewtn.com/library/LITURGY/adbless.htm

II            CHRISTMAS MORNING: A Short Prayer before Opening Gifts: “Thank you God for the Gift of Christ in our lives. May the beauty of his birth bring new life to our faith and help us to appreciate all life, all children throughout the world. Thank you for the gifts before us.  Fill us with Gratitude for you and for one another. Keep us young at heart.  Amen.”  If children are present and not too anxious, invite the family to sing an Inspirational Christmas Carol such as “God Bless Ye, Merry Gentleman” before opening gifts.  If no children are present, read Luke 2: 1- 21 and Matthew 2: 1-13 before opening gifts.

 III      CHRISTMAS DINNER PRAYER: Once everyone is seated, invite each person to say in ONE WORD, what they are feeling—with 2 qualifications: 1. NO EXPLANATIONS AS TO WHY they feel this way (you’ll give them examples below) 2. NO ONE MAY COMMENT or on another person’s feelings. There are no “right or wrongs” feelings.  Therefore, comments like “How can you feel that on this day of all days?” are forbidden!  God loves us and understands all our feelings whatever they may be. It’s Important that you give example that include a full spectrum of feelings: “happy,” “sad,” “worried,” “thankful,” “frustrated,” “loving,” “frustrated,” “hungry,” “pleased,” “anxious,” “grieving,” “peaceful.”  ALSO:  GUESTS MUST BE FREE “TO PASS.” After each person states his or her feeling   Start Grace with these words (Read/ Pray SLOWLY): “Dear God, Here We Are–Our family and friends–and these are the feelings we bring to this Christmas Day.  Helps us understand the beautiful way You accept each us as we are. Make us confident in your love so that we may be at peace and feel your presence among us.  Help us to make the most of this meal, this day, and our time together.”  Then invite everyone to join in the Traditional Grace before Meals, OR if your company is of mixed religions, substitute the Christian Grace with this: “Blessed are YOU, Source of Life, God known by so many names, help us to experience Joy this Christmas Day and lead all peoples on to the pathway of peace.   Bless all our family and guests.  Bless our Meal and our Conversation. Amen.” 

IV    FIRST COURSE ACTIVITY (soup/salad), and /or Hors D’oeuvres:

Ask: What do you remember about the First Christmas Story?  Include both the Biblical, Legend and Folk tales if you wish.   Begin with the children by number, then adults by number. Everyone gets “help” sharing the Christmas Story as needed.

Conclude this segment by having someone Read Luke 2: 1- 21 and Matthew 2: 1-13

V MAIN COURSE:

ASK: What event or circumstance are most significant for me about Jesus’ story today?

Invite each Guest to share his or her memories of the best Christmas that they have ever experienced and why it is an important memory for him or her. TRY TO KEEP THE MEAL AS LEASURELY AND UN-RUSHED AS POSSILBE.

Any Similarities between Jesus’ story and the Christmas memories shared?

VI   AFTER MEAL BREAK ACTIVITY:  Share Birth Stories during walks & pre-dessert clean ups:

Postpone desert. Give everyone a break to sustain a slower, un-rushed pace to the day. Encourage guests to go for a walk outdoors if possible. If it’s too cold or raining, then engage everyone in a Pre-Desert Clean UP tidying up the kitchen and the table prior to serving dessert.

During the break, have all guests recall the story of the day each of them was born.  Allow time for the elders to inform youngsters if they haven’t already. For those who don’t know their story, have them imagine what it would have been like. Everyone will be invited to share his or her birth story during desert.

 VII DURING AND AFTER DESERT:

Once everyone is served, invite each guest to share his or her birth story

After each person shares (or an adult tells each child) Bless each person’s birth story by saying “As the Angels Sang for Jesus, the Angels Sang for you, too!  Everyone’s part of the story!  Everyone’s part of God’s plan!”

Invite Spontaneous Prayer: “For Whom and for What Shall We Pray for this Christmas Day?”

After all the stories have been told, and prayers are concluded, invite everyone to sing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” Why?  Because we are all part of Christ’s Story—a bigger story beyond the world’s measures of success and failure.  Life and Grace and Hope are the Eternal Gifts for everyone.

VIII AFTER DINNER ACTIVITY: Have everyone participate in Clean-Up:

OR, if space limitations in the kitchen, create Two Teams:  The Kitchen Team verses those who go for walks and/or play in the living room.  Try to have each team mixed with all ages, both men/woman/boys/girls if possible.  Spend the clean-up /walking time memorizing THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS OR THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS or LUKE 2: 1-20.  Afterwards, gather together and see which Team remembers the most.  NOTE: The Purpose of the Game: Poetry opens us up to the spiritual and to appreciation of ritual: memory, context and associations.

IX          AFTER DINNER & CLEAN-UP:

Together recall ALL the Verses of  12 Days of Christmas OR of The Night Before Christmas OR Luke 2: 1-20.

Share the story and / or song together. Which Team Wins?

    Share the history of the Poems: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Visit_from_St._Nicholas

    http://www.wikiwand.com/en/The_Twelve_Days_of_Christmas_(song)

    http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/2000/12/the-twelve-days-of-christmas.aspx

Recall and share the story of any Christmas Carol (or a person’s memorable experience of it)

Read one of the many stories and legends about Saint Nicholas

  1. https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/saints/saints-stories-for-all-ages/the-life-and-legends-of-st-nicholas
  2. http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/stories-legends/
  3. I’ve enjoyed THE BAKER’S DOZEN story of Saint Nicholas:

https://www.amazon.com/Bakers-Dozen-Saint-Nicholas-Tale/dp/0689802986?ref_=nav_custrec_signin&

X            MORE AFTER DINNER ACTIVITIVITES

Gather ‘round a piano and Sing Carols Together

Have Christmas CDs (Vocalists/ Choirs) and have people sing-a-long.

Karaoke Christmas Songs

Conclude with Christmas Caroling in the Neighborhood

XI          CHRISTMAS FAREWELL BLESSINGS:

Before Farewells or before the first person must leave:

BLESS EACH GUEST individually or collectively: “May the Spirit of Christmas remain in your heart—the joy of life, the gift of family, and angels singing your song as you continue to compose it all the days of your life. May your song(s) give God glory!”

INVITE ALL TO SING “WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS”

PLEASE & THANK YOU GAME with OPTIONAL CHARITABLE COMPONENT TO CHRISTMAS: INVTIE GUESTS TO BRING A SINGLE $ 1. BILL for each member of his or her family or party to participated in a PLEASE & THANK YOU GAME. Designate a charity and let them know what the dollars are for in advance OR have everyone vote on one of two or three choices before Grace (E.G, Catholic Charities for Puerto Rico Relief or Catholic Relief Services or Unicef.) Have some extra $1. bills around for those who forget.). The FIRST TIME anyone forgets to say Please” or “Thank You,” from the beginning of the Meal (after Grace) to end of dinner (i.e. “please pass the potatoes; thank you), he or she gets a WARNING.  The SECOND TIME he or she must surrender their dollar into a basket. Proceeds go to the previously announced charity. At the end of the day, people may contribute the Remaining Dollars or additional $ if they wish to the cause.

BOOKS

Catholic Book of Household Blessings

https://www.amazon.com/Catholic-Household-Blessings-Prayers-Conference/dp/1601370466/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509732781&sr=1-1&keywords=Catholic+Book+of+Household+Blessings

To Dance with God by Gertrude Mueller Nelson features Great Ideas for Family Rituals & Prayers for Feast Days and Holidays throughout the Year

https://www.amazon.com/Dance-God-Family-Community-Celebration/dp/0809128128/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509732206&sr=1-1&keywords=To+Dance+with+God

THE BAKER’S DOZEN story of Saint Nicholas by Aaron Shepherd

https://www.amazon.com/Bakers-Dozen-Saint-Nicholas-Tale/dp/0689802986?ref_=nav_custrec_signin

Other Resources:

Blessing of Advent Wreathe and Christmas Manger

http://www.ewtn.com/library/LITURGY/adbless.htm

Advent Prayers and Rituals:

http://www.celebratingholidays.com/?page_id=1423

Here’s a fascinating article on THE CHERRY TREE CAROL:

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/post-biblical-period/the-origins-of-the-cherry-tree-carol/?mqsc=E3923718&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDDaily%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=ZE7ADFZ02

Suggestions prepared by Fr. James DiLuzio CSP                              December  2017

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Sunday Homily 19 November 2017

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Reading 1 Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31

Responsorial Psalm Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

Reading 2 1 Thes 5:1-6

Gospel Mt 25:14-30

 If we were welcomed into a loving home with our necessities met, our toddlerhood compelled us to awaken with excitement:  We’re up and ready for a new day!  Come and play!  See Me!  Delight in me!  Know who I am and see what a can do!   Not an ounce of intimidation or insecurity.  We can do things!  We have talents!  Come and See!  And even for those less fortunate, the drive of the Divine Spark, what secularists call “the human spirit,” is strong in the young, striving to overcome parental neglect or adversity with Love.  Social workers are amazed at how even underprivileged children strive to evoke delight in others.

As we grow into new levels of creativity, childhood awakens us with surprising aptitudes. We withdraw into our own rooms with books or into playrooms with toys, or we go outdoors with tools and implements of earth and science and imagination as the Spirit moves us.  We explore and find out more about who we are and who God calls us to be.  If so blessed, we enjoy recognition from family and friends–the hug from dad, a kiss from mother, a brother or sister’s “pat on the back,” the Gold Stars from our teachers, the artwork or spelling test displayed on home refrigerators.  The Divine Spark grows within and without and our individual lights shine.

Our teen years, by contrast are filled with confusion.  A “come and go, approach / avoidance” of almost everyone and everything.  We may seclude ourselves more often in our rooms, but creativity is censored with judgments –our own judgments based on comparisons with others, social and media heroes, and constructive and sometimes not-so-constructive criticism and expectations of parents, teachers and others.  At a point when the Divine Spark needs reinforcement, we tend to question God and Faith and attend less to the spiritual self which, ironically, is the very pursuit that will guide us through this difficult time.  Still, we may find a group of friends with whom we identify and can shine, or certain talents burst forth from us–from only God knows where– to gain us recognition in school, in sports, in competitions.  And, if we’ve been blessed with confidence–an attribute not all are given nor can cultivate on their own–we navigate the storms of adolescence.  If not, we enter the Good Friday experiences of life.  We pout, we slog through our teen years with a wish and a prayer.  Hopefully, without totally eschewing enthusiasm for at least some “one,” some field of study, music or entertainment that helps us identify where we are, who we are and possibilities for the future.

Young Adult carries some adolescent residue, but college or technical school can support self-awareness and sharpen skills as we search for a meaningful livelihood and circle of friends and gain a more mature outlook on life.

Adulthood hits us with harsher realities about the degrees we can use our God-given talents including cognitive, spiritual and emotional intelligence and other skills at our work, at home and in our social networks. For decades many parents sacrificed these aspects of fulfillment for work that supplied the necessary food, clothing and shelter and education for their children.  Many adults today are surprised that they, too, still, in this age of progress, are having to do the same.   Some get depressed, some resentful, others seek either new employment or bide his or her time unto retirement.

Whatever the stage of life we are in, whatever the talents and enthusiasm, we have a God who became one like us in Jesus to guide us through these very dynamics among many others.  Jesus’ gentle yoke empowers us to accept our responsibilities and duties with His vision: God’s kingdom is at hand!   Literally, that means it is within reach within us — no matter the circumstances or personalities involved.  Although it may require more prayer than we think we have time for, more attentiveness to faith and identification with Scripture, we have within us the Divine Spark that can bring us to use our talents and enthusiasms no matter the job, or career, or studies or family situation.  We just need not gauge our worth on our salaries or bank accounts or people’s opinions—a very strong temptation in our quantifying world’s vision.

This is the Gospel truth: We have no great moments in our lives without a pile of smaller ones to stand on.  We’ve all created more “little steps” than we think!  Beneath all these, however, is the solid foundation of faith that utilizes the Divine Spark bestowed on us from the beginning—in evidenced from toddlerhood right down to today. Chapters may be finished in our lives, but, friends, our books remain open.  See yet what God can and will do to make us fully alive, never taking for granted the power of this Eucharist and the gifts of the Holy Spirit!  As God told the prophet Jeremiah, and, by extension, to all the Israelites in exile from their homeland:  “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope ( Jeremiah 29:11 )” As people of faith, disciples of Jesus Christ, we are all “oracles of the Lord” sharing witness to HOPE for ourselves and others.

You may have heard the story of a visitor to a quarry who asked the people who were toiling there what they were doing. “Can’t you see I’m breaking stone?” said one of them, gruffly.  “I’m making a living for my wife and family,” said another.  The third said something else entirely: “I’m helping to build a cathedral,” he replied. And he smiled.

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Men & Women Loving Neighbors

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homily by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 Reading 1;        EX 22:20-26

Responsorial Psalm:  PS 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

Reading 2:       1 THES 1:5C-10

Gospel:    MT 22:34-40

 Considering recent headlines of women being harassed, exploited, intimidated in the workplace, it should be evident we need to look at the relationship between men and woman in accordance with the Great Commandment that irrevocably link Love of God and Love of Neighbor.  “How should men treat woman?” is the primary topic, but its counterpart, “How should women treat men?” is also an aspect in the equation.  How may we remedy the sexism of our age and the not uncommon practice of sexual harassment?

 

First let’s look at its probable cause: There is an erroneous concept and/or belief that sexual engagement is an entitlement rather than a sacred gift.  This idea is legion in social media in ads and programs that focus on sexuality at the expense of all other facets of the human person. Who is not tempted in some fashion to indulge in the fantasies these constant images and temptations provoke?   We can and often do feel helpless in the realm of sexuality because of too many mixed messages, too many insecurities about our bodies and too little certainty of what it means to be a fulfilled human being.

 

It seems obvious today that many people are apt to let their feelings overpower logic, desires outweigh morals, appetites take precedent over respect—a respect which expresses Love of God and Neighbor.   With the prevailing attitudes toward love-making as sport and entertainment, human sexuality is reduced to “favors” and “benefits” as if our bodies are commodities, means to a financial end.

 

Sex as recreation and entitlement continue to hold sway in the mind of many—an aspect that is not at all divorced from the abuse of women, the manipulation of women and in some cases men, too, in the workplace, in college and universities and everywhere else.  It is also a component in psychological disorders and the abuse of vulnerable minors and children—scandals that continue to be a grave concern.

 

Church and society may agree that no one should be pressured into surrendering themselves against his or her free will in any circumstance.  Lacking is the commitment, time and patience required to nurture reverence of the human person-body, soul and spirit. This Spirit of Discipleship is not to control people (a common secular accusation against the Church) but to cultivate maturity, trust and commitment in all friendships and associations.  This is the role of Church and family. This is what we are called to contribute to improve society.

 

In truth, in the past, a disproportionate negativity regarding human sexuality on the Church’s part in some ways contributed to the current confusion and the libertarian approach to sexual expression.  Still, the Church has learned and keeps on learning to see the gift of sexuality in a far more holy and holistic light.  Acknowledging sexual thoughts and feelings as part of an aspect of human experience that cannot be ignored, refuted or demeaned but rather as a component of the beings God made and intended is where we now begin. This is what is called for: Respecting ALL the respective components of the human person, not dismissing or avoiding them—but rather integrating them in healthy balance: the intellectual self, the emotional self, the psychological self, creating a beautiful harmony between a well-informed conscience and the generative and creative/ productive/ artistic dimensions in each of us.

 

The truth is that Society and even some (though not all) sexual education programs continue to give very confusing, mixed messages.   People of faith must work together to transform society’s mixed message to one of positive, healthy relationships that guide men and women to higher values and greater integrities in our friendships, in business relationships, dating, in courtship, in marriage. If the schools don’t offer courses on “how to be Friends,” “How to be Healthy Families,” “How to be Respectful Workplace companions” then Families and Church must take up the slack and take advantage of the many spiritual and therapeutic tools offered us.

 

Hopefully you know that many Religious Education courses for children up to and including teen confirmation classes explore how faith in Jesus cultivates harmony among family members, emphasizes the joy that respectful dating brings and the self-esteem that can be achieved by overcoming temptations to be self-indulgent at the expense of another human being. Yet, discipleship insists on extending these values beyond the classroom to the words we choose to use at home about our bodies and other peoples’ bodies. Discipleship must extend to how husbands and wives treat one another alone AND in front of their children and to the way parents cultivate friendship, patience and compassion among siblings, cousins and neighbors.  Compare our language and conduct in private and social situations.  What words and gestures do we use at high emotional events such as baseball and football games?  Do we insist that every woman be recognized as someone’s mother, wife or sister –with all the integrity those roles provide?  Do we acknowledge that every man is someone’s father, husband or brother?  Seeing each other first in this way needs to be the foundation of all relationships, including those that potentially may lead to dating, romance and marriage for that sacrament insists on a relationship of equal partners.  Millions of married people affirm that friendship is the most long-lasting dynamic of any marriage.  These are Catholic Christian values.  Catholic Christian goals.

 

Goals must be worked at, inform our daily choices. What we clearly need are more hours spent at-home with in-depth discussion about the songs and films and tv shows and books the children encounter –and that we adults encounter.  Yes, scrutiny is needed to discern the most age-appropriate programming for each member of a family,  but because the state of the media and electronics do not prevent kids from stumbling upon less wholesome content at home or elsewhere, our families must commit to setting time aside that not only address the topics, characters, the stories, and the friends and adults that kids encounter but allow  time for children to express feelings, explore attitudes and social conventions with parents and other trusted adults. And to assess all these in the light of Christ and our Catholic sensibilities. Of course, this isn’t only a message for parents and guardians.  We all can benefit from more conversation among adults about what we read and see—not condemnatory, but honest sharing of feelings, vulnerabilities and our temptations, too. More conversation, more understanding among friends, dating partners, engaged and married couples can bring greater integrity and respect to all adult relationships.

 

The Church’s insistence on weekly Eucharist is a constant reminder that we need help applying the Two Great Commandments to our lives.  Consider, also, the Persistence of the Word – how often and in how many ways these Great Commandments are articulated, their benefits exemplified in countless Scriptural encounters throughout the Hebrew and Christian Bibles preached for thousands of years.  What’s more, within and beyond the Bible there are innumerable historical tragedies evidencing the terrible consequences of people who thwart these Commandments.  And because we’ve all become lax and at times unwilling to incarnate them in all our relationships, in all our social, business and political endeavors, we return to Mass and Sacraments. What else can we do?  No!  Not “what we can do?” Rather, what will we let GOD DO with us as boys and girls, men and women on our pathway to heaven?

RESTING IN THE LORD! 

Homily for Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1    IS 25:6-10A
Responsorial Psalm Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Reading 2  PHIL 4:12-14, 19-20
Gospel Mt 22:1-14

RESTING IN THE LORD!   Isn’t that one or our objectives today?  We come to Mass to “Rest in the Lord,” as the Psalmist wrote: “In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me;” he refreshes my soul.”

Hearing the 23rd Psalm once again—We’re hearing it for the 4th time this year and will once more if that option is taken on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2nd –we’re reminded that it is a Psalm of consolation; confidence and trust in God taking care of us, soothing our souls. God is the God of hospitality—rewarding any weary traveler who arrives, freely, willingly with reverence and deference to the Source of All Being. We know this because the Psalmist is already a person of faith—through whom we are invited to see ourselves as rightfully and utterly dependent upon God.

Jesus’ parable extends the 23rd Psalm with its image of God as the great host, but he embellishes it with a shot of reality:  everyone is invited to the Lord’s banquet—the table is ready, but many won’t attend.  Some are busy with other things; others refuse outright; others protest with downright hostility.  We should not be surprised by the range of these refusals.  We all consider them–each in our own way, yes, even those of us who chose to be at Worship this afternoon.  Why the confusion?  Why the mixture of feelings of approach / avoidance / willingness / uncertainty?

Because coming into the presence of God can be exacting.  It requires surrender to the Spirit which in many ways confronts our busy lives, our preoccupations that so readily keep “Christ consciousness” at bay; distractions that  feed our illusions that we are as self-sufficient, self-reliant, masters of our own ships and vehicles.  We arrive at mass hoping we may take away some new insight, some thought for the day or concept to get us through the week, but we still may leave without a genuine experience of God.  We know this because our mixture of desire and ambivalence at Mass often comes from the knowledge that it takes determination and great effort on our part—far more than simply setting time set aside—be it for this for Mass, or prayers throughout each day, time for contemplating Scriptures alone and/or with others as part of our daily or weekly routine. We have these tools at our fingertips—all of us, these are the timeless tools for every age, but, like in the times of Jesus and forever after, our busy schedules and daily distractions may prevent us from the deep surrender that allows God to minister to us, Jesus to anoint our heads with oil, the Holy Spirit to make more of this meal of words and bread and wine. The point of all this: relationships take time, require tender care; insist that we persevere in vulnerability – not to everyone or everything but to the Father, Son and Spirit.   Here. Now. What we experience at Mass is meant, by its weekly repetition to develop in us the facility of accepting the Tenderness of Jesus in all places, all situations, all engagements.

Relationships take time and willingness to be still.  Without that we keep living lives of avoidance –running from God, from intimacy with God and others. There was a song by folk singer Harry Chapin that became a # 1 hit in back in 1974.  It played for months on end, and for many years afterward–so strongly did people relate to it. Entitled “The Cats in the Cradle,” it was about a father obsessed with work and scheduled activities, who neglects (if not outwardly avoids) spending time with his growing son.  When the man retires and seeks, (finally!) some quality time with his son, he finds his offspring busy with many things: Like Martha in the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary.  The refrain went like this:  And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon “When you coming home, son?”  “I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, dad, we’re going to have a good time then.”  I.e., the time that never happened, the time that will never come.

Stillness. Quiet. Prayerful Intimacy.  Surrendering our sense of time—that’s the goal of every mass! Maybe it should take more than an hour!  How much time would we need to learn the art of vulnerability with God, contemplative receptiveness, to hold and cultivate this Eucharistic reality beyond our time together.  I could remind you that in other parts of the world each Mass goes on for hours, with greater lengths of song and silence, of words and contemplative prayer, Words leading up to Eucharist and savoring the awareness God is present!  God is within!   God is everywhere –in you, in me, in our breathing, in the beating of our hearts, in activating our minds with story, with songs and images—bestowed on the faithful for our benefit.

And, yet, like the Israelites in the desert complaining to Moses, we’re impatient, we want to get going, we want to move on.   To what?  In their case the Promised Land but, as they found out, the land required work- — yes, required work, required patience, required cooperation, and, often the people made a mess of it.  The Bible tells us they even lost it.  Well, not completely lost, but certainly long delayed and still not yet fulfilled. You and I are equally guilty of delaying the intimacy with God that we continue to seek, delaying the intimacy through experiences of Jesus as Sacrament that we still take for granted by not investing the necessary patience, the hard work of total surrender.

Still, each Mass is an opportunity.  We begin by admitting our impatience with God (perhaps that is the most common, universal “sin!”)  — thus the Kyrie and penitential aspects of the GLORIA!  We give praise to God while acknowledging we so often forget to do so! Then we must follow through by an act of decision and free will to fully surrender to the power of the Scriptures—words and images–and the sensations of the Eucharist, Holy Meal that it is, to savor the Christ With US and IN US.   In other words, literally taking Jesus with us as we go to work, to home, to leisure.  In the parable, some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. We pray today, we won’t lose the bigger picture because we are often busy, over-scheduled and / or burnt out.

In the parable, the king said to one of the guests, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ The Wedding Garment represents a converted life full of good deed.  Sinners are invited but are expected to repent and willingly clothe themselves in perpetual holiness —as envisioned in The Book of Revelation as those wearing the white robes of the elect  Clothing ourselves in Christ is meant to be the purpose, the ultimate attainment of our lives. Is Christ in our business suits?  Our leisurewear? Our comfortable pajamas and nightgowns?  What does that mean?  It means we wear patience and kindness to ourselves and others, we see all life as prayer, we cultivate tenderness as strength, correct wrongs in charitable ways – filled with understanding and HOPE.

Today’s Gospel warns all believers against complacency.  Jesus offers the Vision of Isaiah – a great banquet available to all people, saints and sinners alike.  He incarnates the soothing words of the Psalm: restful waters, banquets overflowing with healing nourishment anticipating the taste of wheat on our tongues, the welcoming, healing power of the Mass.  A vision we can savor, maintain and perpetuate — or not. The Vision has it’s time, it will not delay—the banquet is PIPING HOT, i.e. ever-ready.  I often return to the words of the prophet Habakkuk 2:3 and invite you to do the same:  For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”

NOW is the TIME for there is no time like the present. As Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians:  13 I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. . .. 19 My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  And, as Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Scriptures: “Where your treasure is, there, also will you heart be.”  Peace!


 

Do Not Be Afraid

27th Sunday of OT -Year A Homily Fr. James M. DiLuzio C.S.P.

Scriptures: Isaiah 5: 1-7:   Psalm 80: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4: 6-10:   Gospel of Matthew 21: 33-43

Parents say to their children:  This is your Home; We have taken the responsibility of your material needs, your need for love and nurturing AND the essential importance of learning about cooperation, mutual respect and the give and take, patience and generosity required for appreciating life in this family, and ultimately, in this world.  Together we are building your FUTURE.  And, if the family is a family of faith, they would add, continually, “God will see us through.”

The tenant farmers in the Gospel are equivalent to children or adults dependent upon a parent/ adult / employer for their life and livelihood. But evidently, they either have not had good parenting OR, for reasons we are not given, they found themselves filled with FEAR & DISTRUST.   They turned inward instead of outward.  Rather than bringing grievances, uncertainties, disappointments to their employer, they decided to take matters into their own hands. No desire for deeper understanding, no desire for compromise, no prayer, no attempt at dialogue are in evidence. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, they empowered their fear and distrust which inevitably gave way to “Selfishness” and “Greed.”  Their fears fed envy and jealousy, their distrust, violence. In the parable, the consequences were deadly; a matter of spiritual life and death, because the true OWNER of the Vineyard was God, the Father of All, who welcomes our questioning, our prayer, our disappointments.  In hearing the parable today, we are meant to muse “If only the Tenant Farmers had turned to God who sent His Son to bring deeper understanding, and hope; if only WE could abandon our fears and distrust–be it of God, Church or State and believe without reservation that God’s Holy Spirit is with us continually to inspire, to engage and motivate us to work through our anxieties and fears and strive for a better future.

Many commentators and pundits tells us that Americans are not living in faith these days but in Fear and Distrust. We read that many Americans are afraid of immigrants, of foreigners, or people of religions other than their own.  They read, see and hear the news –which, because of the way news is prioritized—is often the BAD NEWS of community, country and cosmos—and are literally afraid and demoralized.  Others are afraid of our government limiting our freedoms, while, at the same time, many others lost faith in our government to keep us safe.  Some want protection from the economy and its impact on the workforce, others consider that inappropriate intervention.  Some make speeches about freedom of religion and freedom of speech–noting that, at times, questions as to “whose religion” and “whose speech” are not satisfactorily answered; nor is the degree to which hate and violence-inducing speech is a right or abuse of a right.  And most recently, many writers deduce that fear is what makes so many people unwilling to evaluate the benefits and burdens of the 2nd Amendment– about the right to bear arms as it applies to the 21st century.   Common sense tells us that the lawmakers of 1791 could never have envisioned the great diversity of guns and ammunitions available to the American civilian today—certainly not the kind that were used to kill a music loving crowd in Las Vegas.  But, for many, it is as if the mere suggestion of a discussion on the possible ways we could adapt an 18th century Law to 21st century circumstances was somehow “Un-American.”  We have to ask, “What price “liberty?” when fear and distrust rule the heartland?

One thing the Scriptures tell us is that Liberty has responsibilities.  Individual Freedoms of one person or group do, in fact, impact the individuality and freedom of others. When Jesus tells us that He is with us “For when two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them,” it’s not only His assurance of his answers to prayer, but to the necessity of communion with and among others for His presence to take full hold of our lives.  To apply this Gospel to ourselves today, we must ask, “To what extent do we have faith and trust in God?  In Jesus and His teachings?  In the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins as part of the road to Resurrection of the Body and Life in the World to come?”  In short, “to what extent do we offer Jesus the highest priority within our lives, positions and priorities, and, yes, even our politics?” To what extent to we cling to Jesus who repeatedly tells people of faith: “Do Not Be Afraid?”

The Gospel today is not only a reflection on religious history regarding those who did not accept Christ as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, which, on the surface, is exactly what the parable is about.   It is also about how any or all of God’s Children can misuse the faith and life situations we have been given.  It’s about how people who lack trust in God, in Providence, in the Holy Spirit active in the world bring suffering upon themselves.

Perhaps it is time for us to evaluate our contributions to America’s distrust and fears; confess our personal culpabilities as to the extent we contribute to the fears and anxieties of our age, rather than trust in God to guide us through them with patience, with charity, with hope. Saint Paul wrote in his Letter to the Philippians 4: 6-10: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

 Paul’s emphasis on Thanksgiving strengthens the foundation of faith that Everything belongs to God: every land and every people.  Recognizing our very lives are “on loan” from God, makes gratitude the only way to live.  We have this Eucharist to focus us on Thanksgiving, trust that the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus, both, will guide us through the anxieties of the age to insist on fairness, justice and hope—and not to be afraid of change that is for the better for all rather than a few; not be afraid to cultivate charitable discourse “in-person,” i.e., with persons rather than in the impersonal dimensions of the internet alone.  Not afraid to say we believe in a communion of saints-in-the making, believe in Christ Jesus and that communion commands dialogue with rich and poor, church leaders and local communities, police and their precinct constituents, neighbors with neighbors, citizens with immigrants, different colors of peoples mingling with peoples of different colors.

May this Eucharist increase the grace that endows us with courage, perseverance and hope to address this age of anxiety, its fears and discouragements. May our worship today inspire us to advance the Good News: God is with us, to help us expand God’s kingdom so that HOPE is offered to all, here, now and in the Future for generations to come.

Forgiveness & Accountability CAN go HAND-in-Hand

Some THEOLOGY FOR TODAY: Regarding how FORGIVENESS & ACCOUNTABILITY can go hand-in-hand:
It is always good that we WRESTLE with the dynamics of both, just as Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32) the night before he took the chance to return to his homeland and be greeted by his brother Esau (the one from whom he took the birthright and blessing of the firstborn). Already we see that Jacob had to take the consequences of his actions (flee his homeland, live under the authoritarian rule of Uncle Laban for over 14 years, etc.) There is a strong Biblical sense that God allows the consequences of our actions to play themselves out–assuring us that God is with us in these undertakings and strengthens us, helping us to mature and grow while still forgiving us. The magnanimity of Esau when he greets and hugs Jacob is quite astonishing but not at all unrelated to Esau being fully aware of Jacob’s years of exile. Similarly, Jesus forgave Peter for denying him, yet Jesus did not respond immediately to Peter’s tears but allowed Peter to experience the grief and self-scrutiny he needed before the Resurrection proclamation of PEACE BE WITH YOU. Of course, there is a time to completely “wipe the slate clean,” as the saying goes, but this requires prayerful discernment in relation to the offense and the harm to self and others, and the personalities and age of the persons involved. The Prodigal Son, for example, is forgiven and embraced, but the Father’s property is not going to be divided once again for the prodigal’s benefit. His brother’s portion remains intact and the prodigal will be indebted to the Father’s and ultimately his brother’s mercy until which time he is able to go out on his own with a sense of responsibility and dignity–if ever.
In the Sermon on the Plain, when Jesus says, “‘From the one who takes what is yours, do not demand it back,” I think Jesus is referring to our usual rage and insecurities that someone has taken advantage of us. He invites us to move from the bitter anger we feel and instead, find our dignity and worth with confidence in God’s love so that when we address the “robber,” there is a sense of God’s justice, not ours–i.e., some accountability but not as if our life and dignity depended upon it (in which case the punishments often do not fit the crime). Rather, “The Kingdom of God” invites us to always be about growing in wisdom, forbearance and Hope–for the offender just as much as for ourselves.
This issue is a large one with many levels and applications — including, for example, our prison systems that are far more punitive than redemptive. It doesn’t mean killers go free to kill again but it does mean that they are treated with dignity throughout their life in prison to the extent that their souls and spirits through “tough love,” if you will, are given opportunities toward remorse, empowering them to accept the consequences of their actions, take responsibility for them, and prepare for heaven– mental and emotional illnesses notwithstanding. Not everyone, not every Christian agrees with this but I believe we are compelled to wrestle with these concepts.