This Sunday's readings are PERFECT timing for us. I'm not sure about you, but I set New Year's Resolutions for myself but usually mull it over until the second week or so of January before I even decide what I am working towards! When reading the first reading, my heart smiled. Of course this is what I need to work on... LISTENING and following His will. Every second of every day.
Where to start... You DONT have to be a saint to be able to hear God either. It truly doesn’t matter how close or how far away you are from Him. For example, Samuel in our first reading, “was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.” Samuel didn't even recognize God's voice. Perhaps he didn’t know his purpose. But he surrounded himself with good people who did know God (Eli) and Eli told Samuel that GOD was calling him! Do we surround ourselves with faithful people who know God?
After talking to Eli, Samuel listened to the Lord and here’s the most important thing: He told God he was listening. God speaks to us regularly, but do we listen. Do we try? Maybe we think that God’s plan for us will make us unhappy, like that he wants us to pray all day or something. Sounds pretty boring right? Maybe he didn’t make your heart for that. Maybe he made your heart to meet new people and love them for who they are. Maybe he made your heart to encourage and support others quietly, through loyalty and devotion. Maybe he made your heart to teach others about beauty in the world.
You see, each new year people take a step back and re-aligned their lives according to what they think is important: losing weight, eating right, not wasting (as much) time on snap chat, not gossiping, etc. But what if we re-aligned our lives according to what GOD calls us to, to what HE thinks is important.
Here’s the surprise, though. God created us and therefore KNOWS what will fulfill us and make us happy. The Psalm for Sunday says, “to do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!" You see, when we are good, we are free-we are happy, joyful, even. But when we make something else more important than God and his will for us, we become distracted. When we are distracted, we float from thing to thing, searching for fulfillment and purpose, and always come up empty.
In the Gospel today, I think some disciples were searching for this peace, this fulfillment, this truth. And when they met Jesus, they asked him for it. He responded, “Come and you will see.”
So for 2018, let’s realign our hearts, minds and bodies towards something bigger, something better, something more unexpected, something perfect. Let’s listen to Him, hearts and ears open.
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.
As we approach the end of the Christmas season, we celebrate The Epiphany of the Lord and remember the wise men’s visit to see Baby Jesus. This Epiphany Sunday will be special for me because I am going to a friend’s Confirmation and 1st Communion. Adults, like my friend, who convert to Catholicism often receive the Sacraments of Confirmation and 1st Communion at the same time. Attending my friend’s Confirmation will have special meaning to me because it is at the Church I was confirmed at less than three years ago and will bring back many good memories. As many of you approach your Confirmation, I want to recall to you the very short version of why I converted to Catholicism and why that matters to you.
I grew up in a great, faith-filled Evangelical family. We went to church on Sundays and I attended youth group on Wednesdays. Faith was always a big part of our family life, and I never had any reason or desire to learn about what the Catholic Church teaches. Then, my world was rocked when I met my now wife Kendra! I started dating her even though she was Catholic! I still had no desire or intention of being Catholic and even told Kendra, “I will never be Catholic!”. As we dated longer and our relationship got more serious, me being Protestant and her Catholic became more of an issue. Kendra was adamant that if we were to get married and have kids, our kids would be raised Catholic. I respected what she had to say but didn’t like it. I couldn’t in good faith raise my children to believe something that I didn’t even believe in. Eventually I wanted to learn more about the Catholic Church to see if I could somehow make things work raising Catholic children as an Evangelical Protestant.
I went to mass a lot with Kendra while we were dating (even though a lot of the time I wasn’t overly interested in being there), and I think very slowly, sometimes without even realizing it, I started overcoming misconceptions and seeing things I appreciated about the Catholic Church. Kendra had given me the book Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn and it sat on my shelf unread for a very long time. One night out of the blue I decided to start reading it. That book opened my eyes to wanting to learn more about what the Catholic Church really taught. The book was written by a former Protestant pastor who was very anti-Catholic but had converted to Catholicism. He initially had no desire to be Catholic but through a lot of prayer and study came to recognize the truth and beauty in the Catholic Church. After reading that book, I was ready to learn more. (On a side note, if you are looking for a book that will help you appreciate your Catholic faith more, I would highly recommend Rome Sweet Home. Let me know if you’d like to borrow my copy of the book!)
By God’s grace and after a lot of study, I came to the point where I realized Catholicism is either right and it’s all right and every Christian should be Catholic or if it’s wrong it’s way wrong and I should have nothing to do with it! By that time, I knew it wasn’t way wrong, so it didn’t leave me much of an option! The other thing I realized was I could study Catholic doctrines and Protestant doctrines for years and years to fully understand things and feel comfortable with knowing everything I could about Catholicism. Or I could accept that Jesus established one Church (as shown in the Bible) and gave that Church authority and protection to be free from error in its doctrinal teachings. If I was comfortable with that one teaching of Catholicism, that meant that every other teaching was also true. While it’s obviously still important to know the theology behind Catholic doctrines, accepting the authority of the Church made it less necessary to get buried in the details of proving every doctrine true.
The Eucharist was another huge part of my conversion. If you accept what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist (that Jesus is really present), you can’t really justify not being Catholic! Looking at Scripture passages that I hadn’t paid attention to before really helped me understand the Eucharist such as the following verses from John 6:53-58:
“Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
The writings of the Early Church Fathers that show the early Church held the same belief about the Eucharist as Catholics hold today and Eucharistic miracles throughout history also opened my eyes to the truth in the Catholic beliefs regarding the Eucharist.
After learning what the Catholic Church actually is and actually teaches, I felt like I didn’t have any other option. I had to be Catholic! I followed God’s will for my life on His terms and not mine, and that led me to joining the Catholic Church. I remember the joy I had because I knew I was being Christ’s disciple. I left some of the first masses I attended after my Confirmation with a smile on my face because I knew I was home and where I was supposed to be.
In closing, I hope you remember that you are part of the one true Church that Jesus founded and recognize how blessed you are to be part of a family that raised you in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the fullness of truth that God has revealed to man and contains so many graces for us all to receive, and God has picked us to be disciples of His in that church! As you prepare for Confirmation, I hope you appreciate the blessing that the Catholic Church is. This is the Church that Jesus founded 2000 years ago, and while the Church is full of sinners because we all sin, Jesus gave us the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. His Church and His true disciples will ultimately be faithful to the truth and will conquer death! You are all part of that Church through your baptism, but it is your choice to stay faithful to God and to daily answer God’s call to holiness.
“Light one candle for JOY! One bright candle for joy. He bring joy to every heart, he comes, he comes.”
JOY. I love the word, it attracts me, it inspires me, it makes me feel happy. But what is Joy and what does it mean?
The Scriptures for Sunday are COVERED with the words, “Rejoice” so I wanted to speak with you a bit about what joy has to do with advent.
Gaudete Sunday is “Pink Sunday” (when we get to light the pink candle) which reminds us to rejoice and not lose hope that our waiting is almost done and Christ will come soon!
To really feel and experience advent and our waiting time, we must first remember the waiting of the Jewish people for their messiah. They waited for their savior for THOUSANDS of years, so Christmas time is not just a time for us Christians to wait for Christmas to come but it is a time where we re-member our Jewish history and foundation, we re-member the struggle to continue to hope for a savior, we re-member the endurance our Jewish brothers and sisters had in waiting for the words of the prophets like Isaiah to come true. So when the savior is born at Christmas, we celebrate, we rejoice in not only the birth of Christ, Jesus, but the fulfillment of the thousands of years of waiting, the fulfillment of a promise of a loving and faithful God.
You see, all of us are waiting for something. We are waiting for an answer about what to do with our lives, or how to live our lives. We are waiting to see if our loved ones will recover from sickness. We are waiting to find a job. We are waiting for our future spouse perhaps. We are waiting for God to show up in our lives. WE are all waiting for something.
So Advent is a time for us to celebrate the waiting, to wait together in hope, in peace, in joy and in love. And Christmas is an answer to the waiting. HE is the answer to our waiting.
The Responsorial Psalm for Mass is not taken from the Book of Psalms (like usual) this week, but taken from the Book of Luke. This is Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel after he tells her of God’s plan for her to give birth to the Savior everyone’s been waiting for. Her response is the famous Maginificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit REJOICES in God my Savior, for he is has looked with favor upon his lowly servant.” He has answered her prayer, and the prayer of his people.
What are you waiting for? What are you hoping for? This Sunday, lets rejoice in the confidence that God is faithful and remembers His promises. With the birth of Christ, we get what we have been waiting for.
Hello everyone! This is Stacy’s husband, Matt. I am the guest blogger for this week’s post. The focus of my post is the theme of forgiveness found in the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Advent.
In our reading, John the Baptist is baptizing people with a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He is doing this in order to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah, in the Jewish faith, is someone whom God has anointed (literally marked with oil) to restore Israel as a nation and bring peace and prosperity to it.
For Christians, the Messiah who comes is Jesus, about whom John the Baptist says:
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
How often do we feel unworthy of someone’s love or forgiveness? We may even think we are unlovable. But this could not be further from the truth! We are created in God’s image and likeness. This means that there is (and will always be) something about us that is good, loveable, worthy, no matter what we may do wrong.
But let’s go deeper. John the Baptist knows that forgiveness is the way to prepare people for the Messiah (Jesus’) coming. Why is this so? God who created us, scripture tells us, is the God of love and mercy. In order to encounter God, we have to be open to receiving him, especially his mercy. The greatest conversion—and the greatest of saints—began their life of holiness with a powerful encounter with God’s forgiveness. In other words, to become holy we must be open to receiving God’s mercy. Likewise, being holy is all about being merciful to others.
Through a baptism of repentance, John the Baptist is preparing God’s people for holiness. During this Advent Season, how will you prepare to encounter Christ, the God of mercy and love? How will you begin (or continue) on your path to sainthood. (Don’t forget: Only saints are in heaven!)
St. Joseph’s Parish, as well as the other Catholic parishes in town, have set aside evenings for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, sometimes called “penance services.” If it’s been awhile since your last confession, take advantage of this great opportunity! I can tell you personally that this sacrament has made a huge difference in my life. It has helped me to believe in God’s love for me; and it has helped me to be more understanding and merciful to others, which is what holiness is all about. The Parish Penance Service is scheduled for Dec 20th from 6:30pm-8pm. IF that night doesnt work, Reconciliation is offered every Saturday from 3:45pm-4:30pm before Mass.
I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving and are getting back into the swing of things at school for a few weeks before Christmas is here! This can be such a busy time of year with family activities, Christmas parties, school events, and much more. Once Thanksgiving is over, it seems like the Christmas season has officially started. There is definitely nothing wrong with starting to think about Christmas now. In fact, the Incarnation of Jesus, that we celebrate on Christmas, is something that we should contemplate and have on our minds throughout the entire year!
This Sunday is the 1st Sunday of Advent. A fun fact for 2017 is that December 3rd is the latest date that Advent can ever start because the 4th Sunday of Advent will be on Christmas Eve this year. As we approach this Advent season, I want to encourage you all to remember the Advent season and not to skip straight to Christmas this year. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops website states, “The Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.”
Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, and the readings at mass the next four weeks will reflect this. While we usually associate Lent with penance, the Church also considers Advent a penitential time of the Church year. During Lent there are some minimum requirements that the Church prescribes to help us with our penance and preparation for Easter like not eating meat on Fridays. There are no such requirements during Advent. This gives us a great opportunity to take the initiative ourselves to implement some things in our lives that will help us prepare for Christmas. One thing I suggest would be spending some extra time in prayer and reading the Bible. On December 4th our parish is going to start having Adoration from 10 AM – 10 PM every Monday through Friday. It would be great to stop by Adoration sometime during Advent to spend some time with Jesus, even if you can only spend 10 or 15 minutes. I would also recommend attending daily mass some time if you are able to. Our parish now has daily mass at 7 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and other parishes throughout Des Moines have it at other times. Advent is also a great time to make a point of going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I would also encourage you all to make some type of sacrifice that you offer to God during Advent. This could be not eating meat for a day or skipping dessert or passing on some other food you like. It could also be not watching TV or playing video games one evening and praying the Rosary instead. There are all kinds of options! The great thing about this is that you get to choose what you do, and it is a totally voluntary gift to God. The Church doesn’t tell you exactly what to do to prepare for Christmas, so it is up to you to do what is best for you to deepen your relationship with God and show Him your love.
While Advent is a time of preparation, also remember that it is a joyous time. We are preparing for Christmas, and we know the end of the story! Jesus came to earth as a man, conquered death, and is coming again to establish His eternal kingdom. I hope you all have a great Advent!
"The Lord is our shepherd." We have heard it before. This Sunday’s readings are full of this imagery. I don’t know much about sheep but from what I have heard, they are rather dumb animals so I used to not understand why Jesus would refer to himself as the shepherd and we the sheep. But upon further reflection, I totally understand and appreciate the analogy.
Sheep are dependent on their shepherd and they like to be a part of a group. They are easily led by the Shepherd. In the Gosepl, Jesus compares the sheep and the goats and says they will be separated at the end of the world. While sheep are gentle and dependent on a shepherd, Goats on the other hand are much more independent and stubborn. Jesus is our good shepherd:
"Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name's sake." (Psalm 23)
The shepherd protects his flock, he guides them, he feeds them and he knows what they need and gives that. The flock usually sticks together with the occasional sheep that goes astray (to which he will come and get them to bring them back!) but the key phase is that the sheep need their shepherd.
Goats don’t need nor want a shepherd. They are not dependent. Could this be the distinction that Christ makes when speaking about separating the sheep from the goats? Could he also mean that sheep, who exist as a flock, help to take care of their own while goats just worry about themselves?
Either way, I think it’s a good questions to ask ourselves, “are we a sheep or a goat?” If we claim to be a sheep, do we depend on Jesus? Do we consider ourselves to be an active part of a flock? If not, I’d start to inspect yourself this advent!
Do you ever compare yourself to others? I once heard the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy” and I couldn’t agree more. Oftentimes when I read Proverbs, 31, for example, I read about, “The Perfect Wife” or “The Perfect Woman” and if compare myself, I know I have a long way to go. But that’s not why the readings this Sunday include Proverbs 31. She, of course, is an example for all of us women, but she is so great because she fears the lord. The Psalm goes on to emphasize, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord.”
So what does that mean to fear the Lord? I think this is where the other readings can fill us in. Paul writes to the Thessalonians reminding them that they are children of God and are in the light of God, not darkness. Those who are in the light ought not be lazy, and not ‘sleep’ or stand idle, but stay alert and sober.
Then the gospel reading is the Parable of the Talents. (Talents are a measurement of currency back in those times.) There are three different servants who were asked by the master to keep his valuables safe. The master entrusts each man a few talents according to his ability, and when the master returns, he expects that his servants DID something, invested in something and gained interest for him and two of the three do just that, and he is happy. BUT, the third servant just buries his talent. Out of fear of losing it, he just hides it so no interest can be earned. The Master gets mmmmaaaaaadddd! So mad, in fact, that he says, “You wicked and lazy servant!” Then continues, “throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
So what we can get out of the gospel message and Pauls letter is this: To fear the Lord, you must PUT SOME EFFORT INTO IT! So many times Christians simply accept Jesus into their hearts, but don’t DO anything about it. Jesus is good, but work needs to get done and WE are his hands and feet! We are called to be like the Proverbs 31 woman and work constantly for those around us. Paul tells us to always be awake and alert, doing God’s work, not lazy and resting all the time.
So ask yourself… Are you working hard in your faith? Are you always learning more about scripture? Do you pray, even when you feel super busy? Do you help others? The poor and sick?
The readings this Sunday are a wake up call for us (especially me!) that we have some work to do! Let’s keep our eyes focused on God and fear the Lord so he can actually USE our hands and feet to change the world! Let's get down to business... and Fear the Lord!
If you know me at all... you know I am not a planner. I mean, I want to be! I usually have ideas about what I need to pack for trip and will occasionally write lists and everything! Sometimes, when I do write my list out, pack accordingly (the night before), I feel great and can enjoy the day of travel stress free! I have also done the opposite, just put off packing and am a stressed mess the day before the trip, and oftentimes I forget a bunch of things too! So my trip usually starts off rough because I am stressed from packing AND I usually forget my toothbrush or deodorant! The moral of the lesson is... be prepared. You are able to enjoy the trip AND not be stressed.
This Sunday's gospel has a similar moral as well... When it comes to the time when the Bride Groom (Christ) comes back.... Will we be ready? The gospel is the Parable of the 10 Virgins. 5 of them are prepared with plenty of oil for their lamps to look for the bridegroom in the dark, and 5 WANT to see the bridegroom, but are NOT prepared and did not bring their oil. They set out to meet the bridegroom on his way through the city and when it gets dark, the 5 virgins without oil ask the prepared virgins if they would share their oil... to which they reply, "NO, you should have been prepared!" So when they leave to get more oil for their lamps, the bridegroom comes! Talk about bad timing!
Well here is the thing, Christ comes every Sunday to us in Mass, and the timing of Mass isn't always good timing. What about when you feel called to pray at the worst times? #ilovetosleepin
Also we are SO CLOSE to Advent, the season of waiting and preparation for the Coming of Christ. We should always be preparing our hearts, minds, and actions with Christ in mind. He is what our souls long for. He is really what we are looking for! But if you are not prepared (Aka, if we do not regularly seek Him and talk to Him and know Him), will we even recognize his face?
Ask yourself, "What am I doing to prepare for God to dwell in my life?"
“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” The Gospel reading this upcoming week finishes with this quote from Jesus. This passage reminds me of the many great Catholic men and women who have gone before us as we celebrate the great feast of All Saints Day this week. Although the saints have many different stories, one common theme in their lives is that they always give God the glory. They don’t live to be exalted by men, but rather they live their lives to exalt God and to show others God’s love and mercy.
I was talking to Fr. Pins the other day, and he told me the story of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Pier Giorgio’s life is an incredible story, and he was a great witness as to how we should live out our Catholic faith. I want to share his story with you all because Pier Giorgio epitomized a servant who humbled himself in service to others. As a little bit of background, Pier Giorgio lived in Turin, Italy in the early 1900s and was from a wealthy family. His father founded a newspaper and was also involved in Italian politics.
At a relatively young age Pier Giorgio had a dynamic faith and a deep spiritual life. When he was only 17 years old, Pier Giorgio joined the St. Vincent De Paul Society in order to serve the needy and later also joined the Lay Dominicans. He relied on frequent reception of the Eucharist and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary for strength in living out his faith and mission of service. Pier Giorgio could have lived a life of luxury and had a high social status, but instead he dedicated his life to service of orphan children, the poor, and the sick.
Pier Giorgio cared for others throughout his everyday life. He would give his bus money away to people who needed it. Then he would run home but would sometimes be late for meals, which would not make his parents happy. One night when it was very cold outside, he showed up at home with no coat on. Pier Giorgio’s father was very upset with him for having no coat, but of course he had given his coat to someone who didn’t have one. When he received gifts of money from family members, he would give the money away to those in need. Pier Giorgio also made sure that poor children received the sacraments, and he nurtured them in their faith.
When Pier Giorgio was only 24 years old, he contracted polio and died very suddenly. It is believed that he contracted polio while taking medicine to a sick person who needed the medicine. At his funeral, the church was packed with Pier Giorgio’s family and his family’s friends. Because of his dad’s status in the community, those in attendance at the funeral were the wealthy and influential people in society. But when they left the church, his family saw the streets lined with people there to honor Pier Giorgio. These were the poor and marginalized people that he had ministered to for seven years. His family never expected this and realized they didn’t really know who Pier Giorgio was. They had no idea the impact he had had on the lives of these people in their community. Likewise, many of the poor who Pier Giorgio had served were surprised to learn that he was part of the influential Frassati family.
This is a brief snippet of Pier Giorgio’s life, but it shows the humility with which he lived each day of his life. He put the needs of others before his own not looking for any payback or reward. He lived a life of self-sacrifice in service to those in need. While he sets quite a high bar, what a great person to remember as an example of how we all should show Christ’s love to others especially those in need.
As a high school youth minister, I too often hear that young people are not attracted to Christianity because there are too many hypocrites, too many people who claim to be Christian who treat others like crap. And my response is… you are absolutely correct. There ARE many hypocrites in our faith and it is devastating to ALL of us when we treat our neighbor poorly.
Who is our neighbor you may ask? I guess my answer would be anyone who is not you! Sorry I couldn’t be more specific. Our readings for Sunday point out a few groups in particular, like immigrants, for example. I see many Christians who justify their hatred for illegal immigrants as ‘JUST’. Hatred for our neighbor is never OK, as God is calling us to something deeper. God is calling us to welcome aliens to our country! Now this is not a political rant as I agree that there should be LEGAL was for aliens to come to our country and that illegal actions should not be justified. But I digress…
Another group mentioned, widows or orphans. I would say this refers to those who are lonely or have no one to stand up for them. How many of us know a widow or orphan? Not too many of us do. But how many lonely and or defenseless people do we know? God hears their cries! This ranges from the cries of the unborn, to those who have been abandoned or neglected worldwide, to that kid at your school no one talks to… They all need someone to stand up for them, to care for them, to show love to them.
Another group mentioned is the poor! I hear many people not want to help the poor with money for fear of what they will do with their charity! There are many ways to help the poor besides giving away that dollar at a stop light!
Here’s the thing… no matter the who our neighbor is or what the situation is, we can recognize a true Christian by their love. If you have good and true relationship with God, it merely means you are open to Him, His movements, and you openly receive His love into your life. If you have a good and true relationship with God, His love overflows out of you, so showing love for your neighbor is oftentimes effortless! To hate or treat your neighbor poorly would be more difficult if you are tight with the big guy upstairs. Likewise, if you are God are tight, it is easier to be kind to others, to share what you have, to encourage, to visit, to feed, to give, to live out the love you encounter with the God who has blessed you so abundantly. You'd have an endless fuel tank of grace!
Knowing this, Christ reminds us of our primary calling, the Greatest Commandment(s): Love God with everything you are, then (with the love you’ve received from Him) love your neighbor as yourself.
So if you have shown hatred recently, if you have wished ill will, if you have lied or done someone harm in some way, or decided NOT to do something you SHOULD have done… I challenge you… How are YOU and God right now? Are you letting Him fill you with His love, peace and joy? During Mass this Sunday, pray that He may take up more space in your heart and soul, then do something kind!
Word up. I am Stacy, the youth minister of this amazing group of teens. I have 4 kids of my own, 2 heaven babies and like 60 teens I consider very large children of my own.