How to get ready for Christmas

The lights are lit. The tree is up. Gifts are being purchased. Decorations in various shades of green and red are festively strewn around the house. Cookies are being planned. Meal menus are being discussed. Airline tickets are purchased for travel to relatives homes. Candle #2 is ready for lighting on the Advent wreath. Advent calendars are slowly being emptied of the chocolates (and in my household beauty supples #dadofdaughters).

Needless to say, preparations are underway for Christmas. Christmas is a big deal. Even our secular culture makes a big deal about his high holy day. There is a lot for which to get ready. By the time it is all said and done we will probably spend hours, maybe days or weeks, preparing for how we celebrate Christmas. That isn’t a bad thing. 

In the gospel this Sunday it says that John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Then he went on to quote the prophet Isaiah extorting the listener to prepare the way of the Lord. The gospel is seeking to convey that the manner by which we prepare for the coming of our Lord is the forgiveness of sins. 

In other words the way to straighten the path, to bring mountains low, fill in valleys, and smooth rough roads is to seek forgiveness for our sins. God can do anything and overcome any obstacle, but our road to God is made substantially easier if we seek forgiveness for the ways we have sinned against God and others. If we want Jesus near to us this Christmas, the way is to be near to him by seeking forgiveness from him for our sins. 

While twinkle lights, indoor trees, stockings, and cookies may be a way to prepare to celebrate the coming Christmas, we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ by seeking forgiveness. You want to give God a straight shot to your heart? You want to make your path towards heaven easier? Go to Confession this Advent. Prepare the way for the Lord by seeking forgiveness. 

Live It: Double challenge this week. 1) Go to confession. Here are the times at HNOJ for my fellow parishioners. Find your local Catholic Church and go to Confession. 2) Offer forgiveness to someone in your life. Do this quickly and without making a big deal out of it. Make a simple offering of forgiveness and mean it. I promise it will straighten some things out.

Sunday Readings for December 5th.

You’re dead to me.

I give up on people. I do. Most of us do, I think. If someone burns us enough, we get to the point where we can no longer give them another second, third, fourth chance. I’m sure someone has given up on me too. It is very likely I failed someone, said the wrong thing, or didn’t say the right thing too many times for someone.

Conventional wisdom and, in fact, the cardinal virtues probably lead us to believe we can write them off. Prudence tells us that we probably shouldn’t trust that person any more. And yes, that is probably wise. Justice tells us they aren’t fulfilling their duty and so what we owe them has changed. Temperance would have us reach a reasonable amount of latitude before we write them off. Fortitude might invite us to be strong in our stern rejection of the other. 

While it feels wrong to speak of giving up on someone in the abstract, in the particular, I bet you and I can think of a least one person we gave up on because their actions didn’t follow their words. 

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus instructs Peter that he not simply forgive someone, but that he should perpetually forgive them – seventy seven or seven times seven times. Jesus surely teaches virtue, so why can he teach this unlimited forgiveness? Perhaps it is because the most central virtue for Jesus isn’t prudence or justice, but it is Love. We forgive over and over again because of love. 

Of course that doesn’t mean we abandon the other virtues. God’s love is just. God’s love is prudent. Forgiving and loving doesn’t mean we fully trust someone not worthy of our trust. However love demands that we never write anyone off. 

God’s love is exactly that for us. We need God’s forgiveness every single day. God never gives up on us. God never writes us off. God gives us all the chances we need and then some. There is no amount of failure we can accomplish that will cause God to give up on saving us. 

In this Sunday’s gospel parable, the servant begs for forgiveness. This is an essential aspect of our forgiveness. God won’t force forgiveness on us. We must want it too. 

Live It:
Mini Challenge: Ask God for forgiveness or simply go to Confession. 

Big Challenge: Reach out to someone you have written off. Just make contact and say hello. See how God uses that act.

Sunday Readings September 13th, 2002.

Don’t Keep Score.

September 17th Sunday Readings.

233 Fenway Park - Scoreboard (June 2, 2007)-L-2During my marriage preparation our mentor couple told us a beautiful piece of advice – don’t keep score. Despite not yet being married, we knew exactly what that meant. If your married or have a deep friendship, than you probably know what that means too. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of seeking to “earn points” by doing things our spouse wants us to do. It feels natural to take away points when our spouse disappoints or hurts us. Keep score comes so naturally to us in so many areas of our life that we just naturally apply it to our relationships.

The truth is that relationships are not a competitive endeavor. No seriously. I know it’s funny to joke around about it – I certainly do that with my wife. But the reality is when we treat our spouse as our competition, as our adversary, we both loose.

In the gospel Jesus is trying to teach us that our relationships with God and with others are not competitive endeavors. No matter how many times someone else hurts us, they aren’t loosing. No matter how deeply we harm God, we aren’t down for the count. Why? Because God isn’t the divine referee. God is our Father and wants, not to have a point system with us, but instead, an intimate, lived relationship. God desires to be closer to us than we can ever imagine and keeping score just gets in the way.

God forgives you. He does. He wants to, because he wants you. We don’t go to Confession to have the score reset or to reset the clock. He go to have a conversion of heart. To turn away from keeping score and turn to acting, responding to God’s love with love. We do that by worshiping God and serving others.

The wicked servant in the story does the exact opposite. He keeps score and thus is judged by his score. Don’t keep score, love unconditionally, because God loves you first.

Live It: Do something nice for your spouse. Doesn’t matter what it is – get their car washed for them, bring them flowers, empty the dishwasher, let them pick the movie. Whatever it is, pray that you don’t do it for points, but out of love.