A friend of mine gave me an amaryllis bulb just before Christmas. I watered it, gave it light, moved it to a new spot, talked to it…nothing. I thought I saw a little bit of green, but no. He gave me another one that was sprouting already. I have been giving it the same treatment, and it seems to be slowly growing. I don’t have a green thumb when it comes to indoor plants; yet for some reason, it feels important to me that I get one of these bulbs to bloom. I don’t want to fail them. I feel a responsibility for their floral lives.
So God is in all things, right? Where is God in these bulbs? Why does one grow and the other doesn’t?
That’s what life does. It’s like the bulbs are different aspects of my life. Sometimes I water, water, water. I give something lots of attention, try different things…nothing. You know that feeling of wanting so much for something to go right and it just doesn’t work out that way? It’s annoying. You think you’re doing everything right. Why is it not working? It makes you start to doubt yourself and your abilities. Maybe I’m not cut out to force bulbs.
But then there’s bulb #2. I did not have high expectations. Here we go again. Let’s see how many of these bulbs I can kill. I half-heartedly watered, put it next to a window and tried to ignore my hopes that it would grow. It is a trooper! The green leaves are slowly fighting their way out of layers of root ball. I am amazed. It still hasn’t flowered yet, but it’s alive and kicking. I don’t even feel like I have tried very hard with this one.
My life can be like this too. Some things just come naturally. Sometimes things just feel right without the expectation of needing them to be. Maybe it is work but it doesn’t feel hard, because I am drawn to doing it (as opposed to being driven). Or sometimes life unexpectedly turns a different direction, but it feels okay. Maybe I can grow plants after all.
I think God is in both of the bulbs. Many times I hear that everything happens for a reason. I disagree. I don’t think we are God’s robots. God gave us free will. We are bulbs. Sometimes we make life-giving choices and we grow from them, sometimes we don’t and we still grow from them. Or not. Whatever the choices we make, we can see the meaning in them if we look through the eyes of faith. When we look back at our life choices, we can see how God is working in us from what grows and what doesn’t.
And do you know what? Yesterday, the first bulb finally started to sprout too! So there is no clear-cut answer for what works in life and what doesn’t. But I’m convinced God is in all of it anyway. Wherever there is life and love, God can’t help but be a part of it.
Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…
Third Sunday of Advent A
John the Baptist has to know. He is in prison and his life is in danger; indeed, soon it will be taken from him. He needs to know if he was right. Is Jesus truly the one, the Messiah? His needing to know seems to take on a kind of desperation. If Jesus is not the one, the hopes he raised, his mission, his dreams for his people would be naught. But if he truly is the one, the meaning of his life would resound throughout history. He would have fulfilled God’s mission. He sends his disciples from his cell to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Jesus senses where this question is coming from. It is not enough to simply reassure John with a positive answer. He must give his evidence in order to give…
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The snow hit last night, so 8:30 AM Mass was a difficult service to make. I’m glad I did wake one hour after Adam had cleared the driveway and walkways of snow. We just made it to Mass to join about 20 other brave drivers… and Al was the sole altar server for Mass. It was the only period of time today where I felt successful as a parent and relaxed enough to enjoy some time for reflection… until now?
Before the snow hit hard, we all enjoyed Jade’s school production of Willy Wonka. The kids went to bed late; yet still, perhaps, “all snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.” After church, I ran late running Jade to her matinee performance in the school musical. I lost my patience with attempting to write my annual Christmas letter (due to Alejandro’s constant demands to download more Apps and videos). He got shipped to work with Dad at the rink, and I could escape my guilt of using “screens” as a babysitter again. My nightly visions “dancing in my head” are predominantly only of “what I needed to do!” and “ways I was falling short!” Every year it seems those lists grow exponentially. I hope it is just nostalgia that makes me think it was so much easier to put on Christmas when the kids were tots.
Like many others, financial stresses seem to grow these days rather than subside despite the fact that I went back to work once the kids started school. Will I stop questioning my decision to NOT teach but work as an hourly-paid aide so I can be present for my kids after school rather than grading English class compositions? (I’ve always justified this decision as a balance between still wanting to work with kids and Adam’s around-the-clock demands of managing the athletic facilities at Union College, sitting on the Youth Hockey Board, coaching youth and women’s club hockey, working as a referee, staying tuned to ESPN updates, and all the phone calls, texts, emails… With the stress of budgeting bills instead of just paying them off each month, nostalgia for the heedless bliss of two incomes and no kids has regretfully also come into existence.
Then there’s that nagging trait of thinking it’s not good enough, so I just have to strive harder toward perfection. I get home–sometimes bruised or bitten–from working with kindergarteners with social/emotional needs, nearly always emotionally drained. I pride myself in gaining more empathy (rather than disdain or blaming them) for their life situations and reactions to them. Yet, when I arrive home, I’m physically exhausted. Why can’t I find it thrilling to attempt explaining multiplying and dividing mixed numbers with my son? Why is driving across town to take Jade to hockey and walking the dog outside the rink during her practice not filling me with serenity? Why can’t I take pride in buying the precooked meal deal and timing my arrival home with a rare break in Adam’s work schedule so we can all sit together? Since returning to work, I find myself having to predominantly act reactively to what is thrown at me rather than having the time to be proactive. (I took pride in being proactive when I was teaching). I wasn’t the hockey goalie growing up—reactive is not my forté! I was going to live like Thoreau; write a Great American novel or one good poem.
I understand that even in the days of Leave it to Beaver or even The Brady Bunch, working class people couldn’t relate to how rewarding domestic life was supposed to be. Still, there’s this side of me that wants desperately to live like June Cleaver. I know life back then wasn’t so rosy for even the upwardly mobile middle-class; that is, it was closer to Betty Draper from Mad Men… and I am certainly glad to live without all the sexism, infidelity, and alcohol abuse portrayed in that setting. (I think I’d like the clothes though!). But I guess being upset that life isn’t what it’s supposed to be is the whole problem.
Hence, why I wish it was more Advent than Christmas time. Advent is a more reflective time. It’s not getting caught up in “Christmas”, but taking time to reflect on what Christmas should mean… in the abstract not material sense. So the kids are going to be disappointed that they don’t get all the THINGS they want. I’m upset that my house isn’t sparkling clean and orderly as well as decorated to the nines… looking like a gingerbread creation. We can’t get a new car—yet—and we won’t pay the bills off until the tax refund. (Yeah, that instead of the Disney vacation or new furniture.) Adam being upset that the Cardinals didn’t win the World Series is just as trivial as the rest of my supposedly grave concerns.
This is as good as it gets, and maybe that’s pretty good! Being a perfect parent isn’t being perfect. I can’t explain fractions no matter how I try. I couldn’t make better lasagna than Stouffers anyway. We still have a home. I got to see most of my family this year, and we all will see Adam’s side over Christmas. What more could one want for Christmas? Even if my kids don’t get many new clothes or electronics, they are healthy and growing into better people every day. I make a difference in my job… even if it’s not getting kindergarteners to pass a common core test; but rather, they feel better about themselves by learning to deal with disappointment, self-regulate their behavior issues, and become more disciplined students. Adam’s hard work heats the house and puts food on the table. Really, isn’t life about wanting what you have instead of getting what you want? I think if we all just take time to reflect on what makes us truly happy, we won’t get caught up in achieving Christmas before we’ve honestly taken time for Advent.
The meaning of Advent comes from the Latin words, advenire (to come to) & adventus (an arrival), and refers to Christ’s coming into this world. My prayer is for all of us to come to an understanding of what “Christ in the world” means. It means allowing Christ to arrive into our hearts and find the gratitude in what we have. For me, I think making it to Mass this morning helped me reconnect with that concept, especially in seeing the Advent wreath. The first purple candle means: hope. The second purple candle means: faith. The third pink candle means: joy. The fourth and final purple candle means: peace. I hope 2014 finds us striving for hope, faith, joy and peace, no matter what our circumstances or expectations. A Blessed Advent to all!
Probing thoughts by parishioner Edwin Cano…
…and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7
I woke up in an unfamiliar place.
Once a month, we go down to New Jersey to attend our community’s prayer meeting. To cut cost on hotel, my family sleeps over a brother and sister’s home before or after the meetings. We sleep in their comfortable basement yet every time I wake up in the morning, I get this unfamiliarity. I have to take my whole bag to the bathroom, which I don’t do at home. I come up to their breakfast table wondering where will I get my tea or food which I usually and easily does in our kitchen back home. In all these unfamiliarity, I get to miss our home.
He woke up in an…
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This is a link to another blog. Give it a read!
BY: Parishioner Edwin Cano…
And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Luke 1:35
Clark Kent is Superman. Peter Parker is Spiderman. Bruce Banner is the Hulk. Maria Mendoza is called Wonder Woman. I can go on and on and on.
These superheroes become extra-ordinary from ordinary. A journalist changing into a flying super strong man. A teenage guy becoming a high leaping, wall crawling protagonist. A physicist being magnified physically and turn into a high level humanoid.
An expected way to save the world. From ordinary to extra-ordinary. From zero to hero. From weak to strong. From needing a savior to being the savior.
When the angel announced to Mary on how God would save us, it was just the opposite.
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Father Bob’s homily on Sunday…
2nd Sunday in Advent A
They went out to the desert. They went out and they kept coming. They came from all over. They came to see a wild figure who was addicted to the truth, whose mouth could form in no other way but to cry out the truth. They came though he pulled no punches. The Pharisees and the Sadducees came though they knew they would be excoriated. Others came to nowhere because there is always an attraction to the truth whether we want to hear it or not. It is always pulling at us for we recognize ourselves always in the truth. John was preaching a word that was good, true and challenging. And they went out to hear that they were a brood of vipers, or that they must repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand or that an even mightier one is…
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My cousin Ellen, who lives a great distance from our once big, close, Catholic family, recently wrote that she has trouble understanding and sharing the Bible with those who don’t believe it. To her, the Old Testament God seemed punitive, not connected to Jesus all that much. So, in a rather playful yet serious burst of reflection (leap-frogging through scriptural time), I tried to off my take on Tale and Truth. As Catholic girls raised in the 50s, we heard of Noah and young David, then memorized the Rosary Mysteries. THE BIBLE as a whole? Not so much. So let me offer this hop-scotch through the Bible act as PART II of my evolving STORYTELLING Ministry this Advent:
During a meeting with Moses, God describes God’s self as I AM. So let’s imagine I AM creating the world in steps. FYI, the Church now sees creation as metaphorical – not 6 literal days. Finally, God rested, teaching us to stop and rest, savor the gifts of I AM. Genesis shows us God through creation’s beauty, its majestic evolutionary ways, its stars and black holes and – then – in several stories with some sweet, lovable, but misguided, egotistical people. Genesis is an amazing dance of human and divine – our likeness to yet chosen separateness from God. In this first book we see God yearning for humanity and humans not quite trusting in God’s providence. Eventually God chooses Abraham and Sarah, offering these two very old people the impossible – descendants as numerous as the stars. Thus, our ancestors in faith, the Hebrew people begin. (The Muslim people too but that story doesn’t unfold for many years.) God’s initial covenant sounds something like: I’ve chosen YOU to carry the message. I AM is all powerful (not that I’ll fix your every woe), nurturing, providing Teacher. I’ll LOVE YOU without limit, send prophets and elders galore, make you prosperous beyond your imaginings. All I ask in return is keep turning to me…NOTICE I’m here. THANK me for creation. RESPECT that I am your guide. And God sent deliverance from oppression, rules for the road, even a promised milk and honey land.
But…for those good but miss-the-mark humans, that was just too good to be true. Soon they were whining, “Can’t we just have a KING – one who FIGHTS for us and wins? Brings us wealth and the spoils of war? You know, like all the other tribal people? Can’t you hear God sigh? Our great I AM, our Mother/Father/Mystery/Wisdom/Parent shook God’s head and said…OK, if that’s what you really WANT. Don’t say I didn’t warn you (through Samuel, God’s spokesman at the time). Human kings can be pretty horrible when they forget I AM! So Saul became the first king that the PEOPLE chose and God said, “OK I’ll bless that king, but he’d better remember I AM. Saul turned out to be not all that devoted to God. (He grew jealous at just the sight of young David and tried to KILL him! You can understand how God did not like that!)
Yet, God saw something special in young David, Jesse’s youngest boy, out there in the fields playing his lyre. So I AM thought, “This one just might make a truly great king.” David, like some humans, got full of himself and made some less-than-wise choices (Bathsheba). But, God’s teacher Nathan set David straight, and he turned to God (good move!) wisely and humbly saying, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” He wrote the top ten songs to God we call Psalms, and straightened himself out. So God gave David a brilliant son named Solomon who, again humbly, asked for WISDOM! God thought, “Good choice! Just maybe this king thing WILL work.” But Solomon got greedy and arrogant. He thought he’d be famous for THE BEST EVER TEMPLE for God and turned lots of God’s chosen people into slaves to build it. Then he taxed to death the rest to balance the budget. Not so wise. He also partied with concubines galore. Frankly, after that, hardly any earthly king could keep the Hebrew people close to God for a very long time.
The rest of the Old Testament is full of nasty kings, partying and fighting and foolishly building gold statues to OTHER gods like Baal, messing with “sacred” prostitutes and even sacrificing children. BAD IDEA! Poor I AM is now sighing and frowning. Wouldn’t YOU be? God started sending prophets to say, “You don’t get it! Where’s the LOVE AND RESPECT God asks for? Where’s the help for the poor, widows, orphans? And what is it with these not-even-real gods! God commanded us to spread the word about I AM, the only one!
Soooo finally God called some prophets to give a picture of what a truly great king looks like…NOT militaristic, NOT partying wildly (though he will have some good times with friends), NOT warring with factions, NOT overly stuck on himself or even on the law. God’s prophets warned the people and a lot of destruction came to wake the people up. Part of the message was “Imagine God sending a new kind of KING, as a shoot from Jesse’s tree, from the line of David, yes, but a king who will be about LOVE. Yes, LOVE of God and LOVE of others, especially the poor and downtrodden. Why, lions will lay down with lambs. Children will play with cobras. This King will be about justice and service and kindness and peace. THIS KING will GET GOD, see God as the Providential FATHER that I AM has always been for his people. Akin to David and Solomon and the better Kings (Hezekiah and Josiah), he will humbly lead like a Good Shepherd and bring back the lost of the fold.
So God sent Jesus, who truly GOT GOD, who is God, who became GOD’s WORD to the world. Jesus’ whole life spoke of what God wants for and from his people – LOVE. God had made humans hard-wired for communal, loving living! God made them to be generous not greedy, service-minded not overly-selfish, hopeful not despairing. (Not that despair is wrong, it’s just a feeling.) God simply wanted people to TURN TO GOD. Jesus did. NOTICE I AM with you! Jesus did. CRY OUT for help. The humble, broken, Jesus did and showed us how to stay connected to God.
Honor God as Father. Keep Holy God’s name. REST and turn back to God as the commandments long taught. Don’t get overly picky about humanly designed laws, lording them over those who struggle. Don’t cheat the poor. Walk with them. Stay humble. See the children as teachers of innocence and purity. Allow yourselves to be vulnerable. Depend on God. Turn to I AM for all your fears and needs. SEE the widows, the lame, the blind, the demonized. Never turn away in disgust or fear. Offer compassion toward the down-hearted. Lend a hand till they are out of trouble. Walk WITH them, as God has always walked with you. KNOW the Father. Be still and listen in prayer. Give thanks. Sing. Dance. Play the lyre, as David did. You don’t need another King. Remember my promise: YOU are MY PEOPLE and I AM your God.
Reading I: Isaiah 62:1-5
Your God rejoices in you! You are God’s Delight, God’s Espoused! How does this speak to you? When were you so full of joy you could not be quiet?
The conferral of a new name designated God’s almighty power over creation. When one was given a new name, that person was made a new creation, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 88). Isn’t it endearing when someone calls you by a nickname? It draws you close to each other. God calls you by name, for you belong to God. Relish in it.
Reading II: Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
In this reading, Paul is connecting the messianic promise in the Hebrew scriptures to its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Paul wants to be sure his audience is listening to this message. Jesus came to save them – and us! Know that this Christmas. Jesus comes to us as a small child, unlike any image of Messiah anyone could have possibly imagined. But Jesus comes to us now, in our hearts. We must listen for it.
Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25
Matthew begins with this genealogical lineage, almost like a commercial before the main event. It was so important to the people at that time to see a link between Abraham, the Father of their faith, and Jesus. The important link is Joseph, since he is Jesus’ legal father and heir to the house of David. The genealogy shows that God used ordinary, unknown men and women to be part of the greatest story over told. Not just unknown – some were downright scoundrels! David himself was no saint, and others were horrible kings. But everyone has a place in history. We all may have a sordid family tree – Jesus understands that! (Remember that when you are at your family gatherings this Christmas!) Jesus stands as a beacon of light in the midst of relational darkness, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 90).
From Celebration Dec. 2004:
On keeping Christmas all year long: believe and live as if love is the strongest thing in the world – stronger than hate, stronger than fear, stronger than death. “God-with-us” – God’s power and love is forever involved with all that is human.
From The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew Vol I, Barclay:
Jesus is the answer to the dreams of men [and women]. It is true that so often we don’t see it that way. We see the answer in power, wealth, material plenty and the realization of anticipated ambitions. But if ever our dreams of peace and loveliness, and greatness and satisfaction, are to be realized, they can find their realization only in Jesus Christ.
The relationships in this passage are bewildering…first Joseph is betrothed to Mary, then he wants to divorce her, and suddenly she is his wife. These are the steps to a normal Jewish marriage procedure in those days:
- Engagement: This was usually done when the couple were only children, through the parents or a matchmaker.
- Betrothal: This was the sealing of the engagement. The girl could withdraw up to this point. Once entered, it was binding and lasted a year. The couple would be called man and wife even though they didn’t quite have the rights yet. Only divorce could end a betrothal. This is the stage Mary and Joseph were in.
- Marriage: Full marital consent.
Jesus is the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua, meaning Jehovah is salvation. Jesus was born by the action of the Holy Spirit, a Virgin Birth. What does this mean for us? According to the Jewish idea, the Holy Spirit was the person who brought God’s truth to humanity. It was the Holy Spirit who taught the prophets what to say and what to do. This is how Mary and Joseph would have understood it. Jesus would be the one person who could tell us what God is like, and what God means us to be. In Jesus we see the love, the compassion, the mercy, the seeking heart, the purity of God as nowhere else in all this world.
From Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing:
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him. God, in his many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water tap. That is they why of the incarnation.
God is still here, in the flesh, just as real and just as physical, as God was in Jesus. The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us – it became flesh and continues to dwell among us.
I’m going to be honest…I’m not that wild about Advent this year. Advent is an impossible task. I am trying not to listen to the Christmas carols, and I’m not getting stressed over the holiday rush of what gift to buy which relative. Still, there is a lot to do. Presents don’t buy themselves, trees don’t magically appear in the living room and all of the normal stuff of life still happens whether there are Christmas preparations or not. Leaving the Christmas to-do list aside, Advent itself has its own expectations. I feel like I’m being bombarded with prayers, reflections and ideas on what I SHOULD be doing this Advent. I actually have a little Advent reflection book that starts out asking me to sketch out what my plans for Advent are. I have no plans! Am I supposed to have plans? Now I’m stressing over my lack of plans. Is this what Advent is supposed to be like? Feeling overwhelmed and guilty?
Nope, I’m not going there. Whatever is not life-giving is not God-giving. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if God is anywhere in the “SHOULDs”. Doesn’t that feel freeing? Maybe it’s not that there is so much to do…there’s just so much that we feel we SHOULD do. And Advent is here to say no to that. Stop. Pray about the “shoulds”. Do I feel called to do this? Does it help others? Do I feel a “yes” inside when I think about it? These questions will help make the choice of whether something is a “should” or a life-giving action. And through prayer, God will be part of that choice. Advent is all about prayer, reflection and anticipated life, right? Maybe this Advent stuff isn’t so bad after all.
Richard Rohr and John Bookser Feister explained this idea so much better than I am in a December 1989 Catholic Update entitled “Christmas Watch: What Are We Waiting For?” They said, “Come Lord Jesus’ means that all of Christian history has to live with an expectation – to live out of an inner longing or emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfillment. For the fulfillment we await is always to come.” Many of the expectations we have will never be met. We are not supposed to have everything figured out. We don’t have to have a plan. What we can do is live a life of prayer. And hope. Because no matter what we do, or feel we SHOULD be doing, Lord Jesus is coming.