Sunday, December 26, 2010

Deferred Status (2010-12-26, Holy Family)

This is my homily for 26 December 2010, Holy Family Sunday. I am the Catholic campus minister for Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association. We resume our Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) on Sun. Jan. 23, 2011.

[__01 –___ ] “And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two” (Matthew 5:41, Douay-Rheims) “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.” (Matthew 5:41, NAB)

These are the words of Jesus in the Sermon the Mount.
So also –

“Give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away.” (Matthew 5:42, Douay-Rheims)

“Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” (Matthew 5:42, NAB)

These are examples of generosity, steadfast love as taught by Christ. And, these are also examples of what Paul writes in the letter to the Colossians [and also in Ephesians, chapter 5] about “deferral.”

Deferring to the other person. Thinking about the other person’s welfare. Deferral is something that is valuable and valued.

[__02__ ] Isn’t this also true in a professional and financial sense?

• At year end, for charitable purposes, for our taxes. What can we do to postpone – defer – property or income taxes due this year to 2011, 2012, to retirement?

• In the military. This is also valuable. If someone defers military service, he or she is postponing entry, postponing being drafted into the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines.

During election season to the Capitol, White House or Governor’s Mansion, candidates are questioned about their deferrals –

• Has this person avoided military service?
• Has this person paid (or avoided) federal taxes?

Of course, most deferrals are legitimate.

Nevertheless, the candidate is asked:

• You received advantages; What have you done with the time and money you received?
• Did these deferrals give you a jump start in life?
• Election Day becomes Judgment Day. Meet the Press.

[__03 __ ] Deferrals, then, come as gifts. Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. And, we reflect on the ways in which families are communities of love and support.
Husbands defer to their wives. Wives defer to their husbands. Children to defer to their parents. Paul writes, “Defer to one another out of love for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)

To the Colossians, Paul writes of what we are to “put on”, i.e., what we are to wear externally as a sign of deferral and charity:

“Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. And, for all of us, today is a day to reflect on the ways in which we defer to each other. This does not simply mean tolerating – and holding our breath – as others get away with stuff. But, rather, respect.

And, for our young children here who live under the roof – and supervision - of mothers and fathers, this also means obedience.

Young people, boys and girls, during this school holiday, think about everything your parents do for you. Consider the time your parents spend deferring to you.

Now, we may think – under parental supervision – that we simply take orders and carry them out, do what Mom/Dad says. But, it’s also true that Mom/Dad are deferring to you, thinking always about what you need.

They think about your wishes – what you need – food, education, medicine, rest. If your mom/dad are telling you what time to go to bed, they are also urging you to rest.

Just as they take you on vacation in the summer, they are concerned about your rest (vacation) every night.

We are called to obey our parents. In the commandments, we hear “Honor your father and your mother.”

This means doing as we are told, especially when we are young.

And, this is not only because our parents are stronger, more powerful or have the car keys.

But, rather, they use their strength and power to protect us. They would die for us. Thus we obey them. In the same way, we listen and acknowledge Christ’s commands, knowing he has died for us.

This is a way for us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family every day.

Not all of us live under the direct supervision or rule of our parents, do we?
Many of us are grown up.

However, all of us are called to respect our mothers and fathers, both living and deceased.

[__04__ ] What does respect for one’s parents, as grown-ups – what does this mean?

It means –
• Anticipating the needs of my mother or father – grandfather or grandmother – before I am asked.

• Willingly asking advice. Isn’t it true that adult parents try – out of love – not to intrude upon the lives of their adult children? My parents do not give me advice today as they did when I was younger. Our parents want to share in our lives. But, they would prefer to be neither to be invited rather than to intrude. When we willingly ask advice, we are showing respect.

• Also, when we accept their corrections, their admonitions, we show respect.

[__05__ ] If you and I were running for office, paying our taxes, meeting the press, we would be judged for the deferrals – gifts - received.

We would be judged on the value/deferrals received.

What did we do with our advantages?

The same is true in our faith. We are called to consider – give thanks – for the
ways in which our parents loved us, considered us, and given us a head start.

This is the 4th commandment, which is based on another deferral clause, a clause about advantages:
“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God, has commanded you, that you may have a long life and prosperity in the land which the Lord, your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16) [__end ___ ]

Saturday, December 25, 2010

In the Loop (2010-12-25, Christmas)

This is my homily for Christmas 25 December 2010. I am the Catholic campus minister for this Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association. We resume our Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) on Sun. Jan. 23, 2011.

[__01___ ] A few years ago, as a seminary student at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall in South Orange, NJ our on-campus university library went to 24 hour access.

I remember hoping that our library would be open. This was good news; and it was an upgrade from the late 1980’s and my undergraduate experience at Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) at which the college library was locked – from the inside and outside at 11:00 p.m. sharp.

Very easily could one have been locked inside. This actually happened to a friend of mine. And, I am sure my tuition-paying parents wish this had happened to me. They would have been pleased if police/security had picked me up for violating library hours by the excesses of late-night reading, writing, and arithmetic.

[__02___] 24-hour access is given to things we find valuable. CNN. Wireless Internet. Movies on demand.

If something or someone is very valuable, we desire access day and night.

After hours, after the close of business for most people [but not for shepherds] comes the birth announcement of our Lord and Savior. The shepherds of Bethlehem are experiencing a 24-hour news cycle.

And, these shepherds will also become sources of information, ambassadors of the Good New Messages. They are the first disciples.

[__03__] But, these shepherds are not yet trusted sources of
information. Could I compare them to CNN in 1980? Or, perhaps, our current view of Facebook and YouTube.

Some of the more traditional sources of Temple and religious information would prefer that they be filtered or investigated….

During this momentous late-night announcement, where is are mainstream media and religious authorities of Jerusalem?

[__04 __] Well, they are sleeping, right? The Pharisees, for example, are home. They are the folks with the credentials and microphones and calculators and cameras and other technical equipment– the Pharisees, chief priests, scribes, were sound asleep at home during this first Christmas. And, they might have wondered why no one called them. Since they were not there, it must have been nothing important.

This will, in part, explain their later reluctance to hear the Good News, to heed the Gospel. They will resist the message whether it is brought by the shepherds, the apostles, or Christ himself. Crucify him. The Pharisees are not in the loop. And, these authority-figures would prefer their news in prime time.

[__05___ ] The Good News – and interruption to the regular broadcast - is that –

“For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (John 3:16)
John 3:16.

For example, Jesus is present 24 hours, all the time in –

• Holy Communion
• In the Tabernacle

The Lord waits for us, forgiving us when we repent. The Father in the Parable stays awake for his younger son – the prodigal - to return. (cf. Luke 15).

The Good Shepherd, Jesus, himself instructs these shepherds and us about steadfastness and loyalty.

Seek the one who is lost, the one out of one hundred. Leaving behind the “other 99”, we also – in love and mercy – put aside our own timetable for those we love.

[__06___] Boys and girls – brothers and sisters – this means doing the right thing 24 hours a day, even when no one is watching.

You and I face, at times, great challenges from others who are stronger, more knowledgeable. Or, we face challenges from those who may be unkind or unforgiving.

This is also the experience of the shepherds in the Gospel.

Through this after-hours and 24-hour message, they are inspired and called to interrupt their lives for the Gospel.

They are interrupting their regular pattern and work.

We might compare the shepherds to those who stayed up really late at night to watch the lunar eclipse this week.

Some of us stayed up – or woke up – in the dark for this 72 minute display of light turning to darkness, and then, darkness turning to light.

[*** The Eclipse – AP Associated Press article, December 21, 2010
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth casts its shadow on the full moon, blocking the sun's rays that otherwise reflect off the moon's surface. Some indirect sunlight still pierces through to give the moon its eerie hue.

The 3 1/2 hour celestial spectacle was visible from North and Central America where skies were clear. Portions of Europe and Asia only caught part of the show. The totality phase — when the moon was completely immersed in Earth's shadow — lasted 72 minutes.

Since the year's only total lunar eclipse coincided with winter solstice, the moon glowed high in the sky.

The last time this occurred was more than three centuries ago on Dec. 21, 1638. It will happen again on Dec. 21, 2094, according to U.S. Naval Observatory spokesman Geoff Chester. [Mark your calendar – that is only 84 years away.]

Lunar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye, unlike solar eclipses. The next total lunar eclipse will occur in June 2011 and will not be visible from North America.***]

Were there not, the day after the eclipse, some of your friends/classmates who stayed up late and some who did not?

The ones who did were the eyewitness, the messengers, similar to the shepherds, who are interrupted at an unusual time, at a late hour.

[__07__] And, you and I – who come to Holy Communion, to church to receive Christ –we are also those who saw and those who tell about it.

We tell about this Good News both by what we say and do, both when we can be seen in the light and when people cannot see us in the dark.

For example, boys and girls, we are called to:

• Kindness to the person whom others ignore
• Generosity even to someone who cannot or will not say thank you.
• Saying I’m sorry even this means taking responsibility when other people are dishonest and do not accept responsibility.

This is the Good News of 24-hour access, where we also have access where once the door was locked and power was turned off. This reminds us of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” (Isaiah 9:1)


Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Sleep Study (2010-12-19, Advent)

This is my homily for Sunday 19 December 2010 (4th Sunday, Advent) for the on-campus Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.

** This is our final Sunday Mass of Fall 2010; we resume Sun. Mass on Jan. 23, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. **

Isaiah 7:10-14 | Psalm 24 | Romans 1:1-7 | Matthew 1:18-24

[__01] Perhaps, we could see this Gospel reading – of Joseph and the angel – as the time of preparation before an important event.
Imagine we are studying for something, for an examination. This is final exam season on campus.

Joseph is the student and the child of God who is preparing for a major examination.

Mary is also a student and the child of God preparing for a challenging test. In this particular reading, we are focused on Joseph and his experience in our salvation, in “how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” (Matthew 1:18)

[__02] So – we go through times of preparation, study, evaluation.

What do we do the night before an exam?

What do we do? Usually, we study. But, sometimes – what I have done – is I stay up as late as possible trying to get the last bit of information into my brain.

Sometimes, I may be memorizing things I could have [should have] absorbed weeks ago. I stay up later rather than going to sleep at a reasonable hour.

This is what we are all tempted to do. We are tempted to use every possible moment up until the last minute. Sometimes, this means we are not as rested as we could possibly be for the examination.

What does Joseph do? He is the model student. He goes to sleep.

He is getting a good night’s rest the night before his final.

This rest is also helpful to us in our spiritual journey, our conversion, our repentance. We – on our spiritual journeys – also learn things gradually. Rarely – if ever – can we stay up all night and make a major change in our lives. And, if we are up all night worrying over something it is often because we have experienced some period of anguish over time.

And, though we speak of love-at-first-sight and the changes this brings, true love is also a lifelong project of caring for – and caring about – another person.

So, we need rest in our lives. We need rest so that we can –

• Recall what we have learned
• Revise and check ourselves.

Isn’t it true that , when we are patient, we are better able to check and re-check and correct our errors, to meditate what we have been writing?

[__03] Also, when rested, we are better able to absorb information, even new information, at the last minute. More information, unfamiliar questions.

Questions in a new format. Of course, we prefer the questions to be in familiar form. But, if we are rested, we are able to receive the question in a different format or even analyze the unexpected question and do the best we can. To receive the new information.

[__04] Joseph is confronted with some new information at the last moment, to say the least. He is confronted with information that Mary is now expecting a child, a child of whom he is not the father.

And, his first-draft answer is that they will separate. That they will go to separate rooms, be tested separately. No more helping each other out. No more talking between these two students.

But, then, the angel of the Lord visits Joseph.

This visit comes during Joseph’s good night of sleep. Joseph is asleep. But, Joseph is also open to God’s presence, to God’s inspiration through the Holy Spirit.

[__05] And, we are called to be open the same Spirit. Are we open to the Spirit speaking to us about our:

• Friendships – and what our friends may suggest we do or pressure us to do.
• The way we spend our time
• The way we spend our money

Sometimes, we have learned – or memorized certain responses – to God’s Commandments.

It is difficult to learn the new material, the new Good News of the gospel. Joseph also had a prepared answer that the angel is asking him to revise. But, when we rest, and rest in God’s presence – and pray – then, we can be more open to suggestion, to revision, even repentance.

This is means we are called to examine our lives and even to revise answers we have given before.

To change our minds as Joseph does.

Joseph shows us the example of someone who is well rested, resting in God’s presence. And, he gives us the example of meditation during Advent, waiting patiently for the Lord.

[__06] So well rested is Joseph that he is able to overcome distractions. What is this noises off stage, distractions?

Wouldn’t Joseph have experienced certain social distractions, the static of other people who would have told him not to listen to the angel?

But, Joseph overcomes those would have told him to separate from Mary. These are the other students who are always talking in class. They would be similar to the Scribes and Pharisees who are always talking in class, making trouble for Christ the teacher.

But, Joseph is able to overcome those distractions, to welcome the Holy Spirit into his life, as we are all called to do.

So that we might rest in God’s presence, both in and out of the classroom. [__end]

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Answers and Questions (2010-12-12, Advent)

This is my homily for Sunday 12 December 2010 (Immaculate Conception) for the on-campus Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.

Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10 | Psalm 146 | James 5:7-10 | Matthew 11:2-11

[__01____] In the earliest days – and years – of our education, we are judged (evaluated) by our ability to answer questions.

The challenge for us is to RESPOND, to ANSWER:
• Spelling
• Mathematics
• History
• And many other subjects.

We answer what is asked. And, this series of answers forms a foundation of grammar, arithmetic, and other subjects.

As we go on in school – and in life – our intelligence judged partially by these answers. However, we reach a point at which we are also evaluated not by answers – but also by questions.

By questions we ask, we demonstrate, at the very least, command of the subject matter. For example, the brilliant astrophysicist or attorney is not only known for his/her ability to answer legal and scientific questions but also for an ability to pose new questions.

And, we also grow in our faith and relationship with Christ and with others by asking new questions.

And, in the Gospel today, Jesus also encourages us to be attentive to our own personal experience.

This encourages us to bring our questions to him.

[__02__ ] Bringing forward a question, asking a question we reveal something about ourselves.

And, unless we submit questions anonymously to a professor in class, we cannot
really ever ask a question without revealing who we are at a particular moment.

And, by the way – teachers generally want to know who is asking – it helps them guide the student, doesn’t it?

In the Gospel, some of the disciples of John the Baptist come forward with a basic, fundamental question of Christ:

“Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”

Jesus welcomes their question and reminds them of the miracles, parables, and teaching.

Christ the Teacher appeals to their intelligence and experience. However, by the nature of their question, they may not be ready to hear the answer.

This Gospel reminds us that these disciples do not have all of the knowledge we have. They are still in mid-semester. Jesus has not yet been crucified, died and risen from the dead.

And, they would have wondered why Jesus was not more austere / impoverished / extreme as John was.

So – they have questions. At least, they are asking. And, asking a question is part of our journey of faith.

[__03 __ ] Asking a question, we can demonstrate both our knowledge and our desire for knowledge.

Questions are part of relationships.

In a professional setting, consider what happens at the conclusion of job interview. The interviewer asks you or me what questions we have.

Then, we have the sometimes daunting challenge of asking an intelligent question about an industry or institution with which we have no experience.

Yet, by our questions, we also demonstrate our interest in the position. Also, we show interest by not asking certain things. For example, by not asking about salary, we demonstrate our interest in all the other conditions and factors that make a job what it is.

We stay away from that question, right ?

[__04__ ] In the early days of our education, we are asked to give answers. And, we spend a lot of time listening.

Consider that even before we can speak we also learn.

But, learning is not a matter of memorization. Isn’t this true no matter how fundamental the command?

For example, consider the commandment, Thou Shalt Not Steal.

The 7th commandment. We know it by heart, we memorized it by the words and by the number. And, we figure it’s going to be on the final, both now and forever.

On the other hand, this commandment does not simply ask you and me to refrain from breaking into cars and houses.

This commandment also encourages us to consider:
• how we use our goods and resources?
• Am I willing to share with someone who has less?
• How do I speak of others? Would I protect the reputation of another person in the same way I would protect property?
• Do I use other people for my own advancement?

[__05__ ] Much of our lives requires us to give answers. This is not only true in academia but also in life. Mothers and fathers – loving their children – are also responding YES to difficult questions.

Teachers who give their lives to the classroom also say YES each day. Doctors and medical professionals may be called to say YES to cases large and small, profitable or not.

Our lives involve many answers and not all of them are easy.

Sometimes, in life, we tire of asking questions. In a long-term relationship such as marriage or family, we may be exhausted at questions and exasperated at the answers.

We may feel we know everything there is not know about another. But, questions are not only about knowledge. They are also about a relationship.

The depth of our commitment – and our faith – is also shown in the questions we ask - both of God and of each other. [__end___]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Being, Doing (Immaculate Conception 2010-12-08)

This is my homily for Wednesday 8 December 2010 (Immaculate Conception) for the on-campus Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.

[__01___] Today, December 8, is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It happens to fall during these weeks of Advent and winter – times of darkness, stillness, and prayer. And, in prayer, we meditate not only God’s action … but also on God’s identity.

The same is true for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

We might consider not only what Mary does and says but also who Mary is. This feast of the Immaculate Conception reminds us of Mary’s role as Mother of God.

And, as we know, we come to know our mothers not only through what they do (in some materially productive way) but also for who they are. For we also come to share who they are, their very nature. For regardless of the origins of our relationship to our mothers, our mothers share not only their actions with us … they not only do for us. They also simply are; they simply exist.

And, this is the reason for our devotion to Mary who also shares her nature, her human nature with Christ. She simply is.

[__02___] This feast of the Immaculate Conception reminds us that God generously shares his divine life – not only as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but also joins the life of his own Son to a human mother Mary …and through Mary, makes all of us his adopted brothers and sisters. If Christ is our spiritual brother by baptism, then Mary is also our mother. And, one does not become a mother – or become a child – to a mother by one’s productivity … or even one’s own choice.

This relationship simply exists – and is to be received.

We are certainly tempted to view our relationships otherwise.

That is, we seek what others can do – or produce – for us. And, if we expect things unreasonable or if we always expect to be pleased, then, we may grow suspicious or envious.
Other people – and relationships – do not exist for our pleasure or profit.

[__03___] Our readings today remind us of the need to accept relationships as they are.

Sometimes, we desire something that is simply not in God’s plan.
Also, we are reminded to be discerning about who we listen to. Whom can we really trust?

Into any relationship – no matter how strong or emotionally satisfying at first – may will creep in doubt, suspicion about the true motives of another person.

[__04___] In the Book of Genesis, we might see the start of some suspicion. It begins with a numerical inventory, a statement about percentages, and, a lie. We sometimes say that statistics lie … but, in fact, liars lie. And, the serpent uses statistics to uproot one tree and plant the seeds of discontent and envy.

What Satan the statistician suggest?

To Eve he says, did God really say that you may not eat of any of the trees? (zero percent)

And to the serpent, Eve replies, realizing she is better at math than the serpent “no it is only of the tree in the middle of the garden that we may not eat.”

Through this conversation, about numbers, percentages, and comparisons, the serpent is able to draw a distorted image of God. The serpent presents God as jealous … and somewhat unstable in his commandments.

And, Adam and Eve give in to this idea themselves. Regarding God – whom they once loved – they are now jealous and envious of him and, soon, each other.

Genesis reminds us to be careful whom we trust …and whom we listen to.

[__05___] We have access to more and more information. But, does all of this – really – make us more discerning, more careful about how we use information? Or, do we overload on information? Do we also measure others by their productivity, by what they have done for us lately? Can we, rather, love them for who they are?

[__06___] In the Gospel, we encounter Mary is a model in this regard. She has been taken by surprise by the angel Gabriel. Yet, over the course of her life, Mary has come to understood God’s promise and faithfulness.

Justifiably would Mary have had questions about how this would all work out.

What we celebrate today is the not only what Mary does … about how Mary co-creates with God, the Savior of the world. What we also remember is who Mary is, her patience, her strength. Isn’t it beautiful when we can offer a generous and unreserved Yes also – or when someone gives us their commitment.

In this way, we are not only promising to do something, we are also promising to be someone, and turn our desires for productivity over to Almighty God, for whom nothing is impossible. [__end__]

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Xtreme Good News (Advent, 2010-12-05)

This is my homily for Sunday 5 December 2010, for the on-campus Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.

Isaiah 11:1-10 | Psalm 72 | Romans 15:4-9 | Matthew 3:1-12

[__01__ ] In the wilderness, we encounter inclines and angles to the land. Sometimes, these can be quite extreme and sudden.

What this means --
• Too sudden an incline up … get stuck
• Too sudden an incline down … fall …

John the Baptist is experienced in the back country, going up and down hills.
It would seem he is interested in a very sudden change of life – repent, prepare the way of the Lord, eat locusts and wild honey, wear a camel’s hair coat.

John the Baptist appears to be extreme, everything about his manner, his tone of voice is extreme. Is the Holy Spirit also inviting us to make an extreme change?

John the Baptist’s extreme lifestyle attracts the notice of others.

POSITIVELY - Positive support comes in the form of those who visit him, the many people from Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordan region come to the Jordan River to hear him, to repent of their sins, to be baptized.

NEGATIVELY - On the other hand, we might imagine that the Scribes and Pharisees – what are they doing in the woods ? What motivates them? Perhaps, they close his movement down. They are similar to the park rangers and police who would tell you not to stay here, camp here … you do not belong here.

And, the Pharisees and Sadducees do not want any extreme changes either. They favor their position, things as they are. They might not encourage you and me to change either.

[__02__ ]

We understand John the Baptist is a person comfortable with
• Extreme austerity
• Extreme poverty

However, he is also a person of extreme integrity, of extreme charity, of extreme love for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Our Lord praises John the Baptist and all those who are willing to seek this poverty and simplicity.

Jesus says in next Sunday’s Gospel of John:

“[there is] none greater than John the Baptist, yet the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.”

In this way, Jesus is praising John the Baptist for his extreme devotion and faithfulness … and praises all those who will go to extremes for the Kingdom of Heaven.

[__03___ ] Does this require us to move into the woods, off the grid, no electricity, phones, television, internet?

In other words, if we were to climb the mountain (the mountain mentioned in our first reading from Isaiah…), should we climb that mountain at an extremely sharp angle?

The danger with climbing – on 2 feet or a mountain bike or 4x4 truck – is that at an extreme angle … we could get stuck easily.

At an extreme angle coming down … we could slip, lose our balance.

[__04__] How might we imitate John the Baptist during our Advent worship and meditations?

First - John the Baptist invites all of us to repentance.

John Paul II observes that we might find it hard at times to say – I repent – I am sorry. This seems too extreme, similar to going up straight up an incline or down a hill.

Is it really necessary to be so extreme, to admit that I am wrong? Could not there be other factors – other people – to blame .. who made me who I am?

John Paul II further writes:

“It is clear, however, that Christian penance will only be authentic if it is inspired by love and not by mere fear; if it consists in a serious effort to crucify the " old man " so that the " new" can be born by the power of Christ; if it takes as its model Christ, who though he was innocent chose the path of poverty, patience, austerity and, one can say, the penitential life.”

So, our repenentance, our conversion may throw us off balance, may seem extreme at times. However, this is also an invitation to make gradual and long-lasting changes in our lives.

[__04__ ] Our penance and repentance is the first way to imitate John the Baptist. There is a second way. However, this second way really depends on the first. The first way of penance and repentance is necessary for all of us.

However, we might also observe that John goes into the wilderness to protest. This is what revolutionaries and rebels do. They go into the woods to gather resources.
Then, they re-emerge later, stronger.

What is John protesting?

Dishonesty, corruption, hypocrisy.

And, he withdraws from civilization to do this . He is seen as an extremist, attracting the notice of the Pharisees and Sadducees. What are they doing walking around in the backcountry? I thought they favored concrete sidewalks and places of honor at table and greetings in marketplaces.

Perhaps, they are here to observe, capture some information, put it on the internet and close down John’s ministry.

John protests them too.

Against whom do we protest?

We are also called to protest dishonesty and hypocrisy and corrupt behavior.
There are two ways to register these protests - as Cardinal Newman observes – the choice of method depends on the situation. And,

I think both require penance and prayer.

First, we can protest silently.

When we keep ourselves free from sin, we are silently protesting others who do not. It is very difficult (sometimes, impossible) to correct those who are in authority (a boss, for example). However, we can protest silently by our own example.

Also, we can protest when we choose to against the crowd, when we resist peer pressure which we might encounter – at a a party, from a group of friends. Resisting peer pressure also can seem an extreme choice … it may be so much easier to slide along with the rest. It may lose us some popularity points.

However, this is where we are strong. In Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians we read–

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Secondly, we can protest in words.

Also, if we do have the absolute need to protest someone else’s actions …we might also consider the “extremes” here. The extreme good here is that we are so interested in seeking the good of another ..that we are willing to risk some negative reaction, willing to risk my own loss of popularity by speaking up.

This is the extreme we seek. The extreme we want to avoid is to suggest that I am extremely honest or better than you. Truly, this is not the case. All of us are sinners, all of us need God’s grace.

If we were to speak to someone – in protest – we also can benefit by prayer.

Recognize that this encounter (or confrontation) is not something we do every day.

Pray for the other person, before, during and after the conversation.

And, in doing so, recognize that we are all to seek a new extreme, a new model … but that we also are moving there gradually, gradually slowing leveling the ground, to find a new road, to prepare the way of the Lord. [__end__]