Oh good, you’re here.

The Good Word for Sunday Dec. 20th ~ For the complete Sunday readings click here.

Less than a week until Christmas and the preparations are winding down, just as the feelings of good cheer and joy are really ramping up. Besides the gifts and the tree and the lights, at Christmas we get to see family and friends we don’t normally spend time with. Sometimes this is stressful, but sometimes it’s a reason to celebrate.

A couple years ago my wife’s sister, who is just a year younger and my wife’s best friend, decided to surprise her at Christmas time. Victoria, my sister in law, lives in Arizona and keeps in good contact, but it’s always great when she comes in town. I knew that when we went up to my mother in law’s house for family Christmas that Victoria would be there, waiting.

We walked in the house, taking off boots and coats at the door, and just as Liz was making her way towards the living room, Victoria came out from the hallway to the bedrooms. My wife was in shock. She just stood there frozen. At first she didn’t say anything; she didn’t move. After many hugs and questions, the rest of the celebrations continued. My wife was so overjoyed that Victoria was there, she couldn’t stop smiling all day.

In our Gospel, John is so overjoyed to be in the presence of Jesus that he leaps in his mother’s womb. John’s reaction to being in the presence of God is to dance with joy. In the Old Testament, when David was brought the Ark of the Covenant, which represented God for the people of Israel, back to Jerusalem, David danced for joy so vigorously that he scandalized some people of Jerusalem.

The question we have to ask ourselves is: how do we react when we come into the presence of God? How do we react when we come in contact with the child Jesus at Christmas?

This Christmas we are going to stand in the presence of God. Wow. Think about that. The same Jesus born to Mary. The same Jesus in the manger. The same Jesus venerated and worshiped by Shepherds and Magi. We get to be near and, in fact, touch that same Jesus in the Eucharist.

At Christmas Mass, whether you attend 4, 6, 10 or 9:30 on Christmas morning Mass, the God of the universe will be physically present in the Eucharist. When you go to Mass, Jesus, the same Jesus who was born to Mary and caused John to leap, will be truly and really in our midst. Our God and Savior is coming. How will you react when you meet Jesus this Christmas?

LIVE IT:
Leap for Joy at Mass this weekend! Okay, maybe that is too much for a Minnesotan. Let your heart leap for joy when you meet Jesus in the Eucharist. When you go up to receive Jesus, smile, be happy on the inside, and let your heart leap for joy just like it would seeing your best friend.

Happy and Pink.

The Good Word for Sunday December 13th ~ For the complete readings click here.

It’s pink candle time! The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday.

FullSizeRender

You may or may not see your pastor in these “joyful” vestments this Sunday.

Gaudete means “Rejoice!” in Latin. We are over halfway to Christmas and so we take a little break from our quiet preparing for Jesus’ coming at Christmas and rejoice because Jesus is coming at Christmas.

Personally, this Sunday has taken me by surprise. I don’t know about you, but all-of-a-sudden, it’s the third week of Advent. All-of-a-sudden, it is almost Christmas. I think this Sunday is a great opportunity to snap us out of whatever rut we may have fallen into in Advent. The pink candle and the readings at Mass demand us to ask ourselves one simple question, “Am I joyful?”

Well, are you? Hare you happy right now?

Or are you, like most of America it seems, stressed, worried, and anxious? Do you feel overwhelmed or so busy you can’t imagine how everything is going to get done?

Are you happy?

Since we are about to spend an entire Sunday rejoicing, I thought I would find out a little more about what makes people happy. Several large, scientific studies on happiness have been in the works the last couple years and they found two things I think are tremendously interesting.

  1. Happiness is a choice. We decide when we are happy. We make a decision about what will make us happy, sort of a target happiness, and then when we approach it we are happy and when we are far away, we are stressed or sad. That is why the littlest things can overwhelm us with joy and the biggest, most wonderful moments can miss the mark.
  2. Because happiness is a choice, we can reset what makes us happy, and the way to reset what makes us happy is gratitude. According to a Harvard study, backed up by a U Cal Berkley study, it isn’t happy people who are grateful; it is grateful people who are happy. Gratitude resets our happiness target to a place where we already are. We come to recognize that we have exactly what we need to be happy. Grateful people are healthier, happier, and have better relationships. Turns out, gratitude is good for your marriage!

When we go to God with gratitude or thanksgiving, as the second reading says, we will rejoice. The Harvard study gave a couple ways that people in the study successfully cultivated gratitude. Make this the week, in the midst of whatever craziness is coming your way, to try one of these gratitude behaviors out. You will be happy you did.

Live It:

Write a thank you note: Your mom was right. Writing a thank you note can improve a relationship and bring you greater happiness. Send it, deliver it yourself, or even write yourself one! Write one note sometime before Christmas.

Thank someone mentally: Can’t do the note thing? Mentally thank someone. If you recognize someone does something kind or generous for you, mentally thank them.

Keep a gratitude journal: Write one to 5 thinks that you are grateful for each day. Or make a habit of writing in your gratitude each Sunday and then bring those grateful thoughts to Mass and pray through them.

Count your blessings: Same thing as the journal, but without the writing. Doing this each night before bed is a great practice.

Pray: Thank God specifically for the things you are grateful for. The Harvard study specifically mentioned this as a powerful way to cultivate gratitude.

Meditate: Take time in silence to listen for the things that come to mind. Then turn those distractions into prayers or thoughts of gratitude. Use a mantra like, “Thank you, Jesus” to focus your silent time.

 

Hiding.

The Good Word for Sunday December 6th ~ For the complete readings click here. 

Goodwill-Retail-Center-Colorado-Springs-South-Circle-8-300x168Have you ever lost a child in a store? I did for about 43 seconds and it was the longest 43 seconds of my life. I was in JC Penny’s with my wife and two daughters. I was assigned to stay near the kids, when all of a sudden I couldn’t find the younger one. She was just gone.

Eventually we found her hiding in the middle of one of those round racks of clothes. When I asked her why she didn’t answer when I called out for her, just shrugged and laughed at me. I tried to explain that I couldn’t see her because of the clothes on the rack she plainly stated, “I know; that’s why I hid there.”

I think in our faith life we imagine that God is that child and we struggle in our search for him. As Catholic Christians we believe the exact opposite. God is actually searching for us, while we hide in the middle of a clothes rack. In other words, most religions can be described as man’s search for God, but Christianity is God’s search for man.

So why can’t God find us? He is all knowing and all-powerful, right? What’s the problem?

God is a gentleman and won’t force himself on any of us. God respects our free will. If we want nothing to do with him, that is exactly what we will get. But he also isn’t complacent and constantly and perfectly reaches out to us. And the good and amazing news is that the moment we want to grow closer to God, we can.

In the Gospel for this Sunday, John the Baptist is described as going through the whole region of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. How do we let God find us? Repent our sins.

The reading from Luke’s gospel goes on to quote Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, to say that in order to get ready for God to come, we prepare the way, make paths straight, lower mountains, and fill in valleys. If we want God to find us, we need to clear a path for him to come to us. We must remove the obstacles between God and us.

How do we do that? We ask God to remove the obstacles. We ask God to clear a path. We invite God into our messy and messed up moments. We start this by simply calling out to him. We say whatever simple prayer makes sense to us. It could be, “Jesus, come help me with my mess” or “Jesus, have mercy on me” or just “Jesus, I need you.”

And if we really want to nuke the obstacles between God and us, there is no better way than the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you want to clear a wide and perfect path to God, then the Sacrament of Reconciliation is your answer.

Live It:
For one week, make the simple prayer, “Jesus, I need you,” the first thing you say in the morning and the last thing you say at night. And/or go receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You’ll be glad you did.