Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas 2015



My dear brothers and sister in Christ

Peace be with you. Merry Christmas. I’d like to thank Fr. Greg for letting me celebrate this Mass back in my home parish of St. Mary. I got a new assignment this summer, as the chaplain at Loras College and Clarke University. When the students left for Christmas break, my job also went on break so I’m thankful that I get to be with you all celebrating with all of you.

Do you ever find yourself daydreaming about a better future? I think this is a common reaction when someone is dissatisfied with their job or there is conflict with a spouse or a child or parents. It can especially be true when we expected a job or family to be different or better than what it is. I have some friends with a son born with Down’s Syndrome and many life complications who has had several surgeries in the little over one year since he has been born. Whenever I read about them running to the hospital in the middle of the night because he’s having seizures or because he doesn’t seem to be focusing or because he keeps throwing up, I can’t help but think that it doesn’t seem fair. This isn’t what they signed up for.

I imagine all of us, at one time or another, have felt like things aren’t the way we wished they were. In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah gives encouragement to his people by telling them “No more shall people call you “Forsaken” or your land “Desolate,” but you call be called “My Delight” and your land “Espoused.” In other words, the Prophet is saying that people currently call the people of Israel a loser or a taker or abandoned and refer to their land as run-down or dilpidated or the ghetto. Right now, they aren’t in a good place. They feel abandoned by God. But, the Prophet tells them, God will not abandon them forever. The will eventually be called God’s favorite, blessed, or the luckiest person that anyone has ever met and his land will be called...married to God. You’d think that the Prophet would say that we will be called blessed and our land “beautiful, winning, or perhaps even winning so much that we will be sick of winning.” But that’s not what he says. Instead, Isaiah reminds people that if they get good things, it doesn’t make them somehow better than those around them. It should make them closer to God. It should engender thankfulness, not pride.

The Gospel of Matthew also presents a difficult situation: Joseph has the perfect wife and has set upon the perfect engagement. He lives in a developing part of the State of Israel, a rich suburb with low crime and great job-opportunities. Then, he finds out that all his plans are going to completely change. Mary is pregnant. As you may know, Joseph has the right to call Mary an adulterer, drag her into the town square, and have her stoned to death. But, instead of doing that, heaven intervenes to explain what’s happening. Instead of having the perfect family with 7-12 kids, which would have been the dream of every man and woman during the time of the Holy Family, they are going to have one child that will not even biologically be Joseph’s son. But, Joseph was necessary because he supplies the connection to King David, as evidenced by the list of names that ordinarily precedes this reading. Jesus will be a descendant of David because of Joseph. His name is Jesus because that name means “God saves”

One thing that always amazes me about my friends is that they never ask why their son was born with Down’s Syndrome or why he has all these physical difficulties. They complain about going to the hospital because they hate to see see the pain that their son has, not because they see the situation as some kind of divine punishment. They have been able to see a larger plan than their own in their son’s life. But that has been the fruit of a lot of prayer, a lot of support from their extended families, and a close connection to a church family. One challenge they faced with their church family was that they weren’t always the best at attending church and they worried about being judged for returning when life got difficult. But they found that church was not the home of perfect people but the refuge of sinners who want to get to know the true perfection of God. It is where God comes to meet his imperfect people. Our lives are not always perfect and we often find that the plans, hopes, and dreams we’ve had in our past is not the reality of the present. During this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis reminds us that we need to have mercy on ourselves when things don’t go the way we expect and recognize the grace of the unplanned detour which takes us closer to God.